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Keep Informed Judgment in Funding

By | March 23, 1987

The most controversial subject in academic science policy recently is the dispute over the effects of the growing practice by which institutions seek and receive from Congress specially earmarked appropriations for research facilities. To a remarkable degree, decisions about who should be funded to do science have been made on an essentially nonpolitical basis, even though government has been the main patron. There has never been the slightest doubt that Congress has had the power and the right

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Shall We Peddle Human Genes?

By | March 23, 1987

Eager to press on with the megaproject to sequence the human genome, molecular biologists are figuring out ways to pay for it. Some of these schemes surely qualify as the most creative financing since Ollie North decided to underwrite Central American wars that U.S. citizens don't want to fight by soaking the Iranians for weapons U.S. citizens don't want to sell them. The Washington Post reports, tongue in cheek, that the scientists have rejected car washes and bake sales in favor of several oth

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The SSC Crowns 50 Years of Advances

By | March 23, 1987

The Superconducting Supercollider, the $6 billion particle accelerator whose construction was just endorsed by the President, is inevitable. The only serious questions surrounding it for the past half dozen years have been when and where. Why inevitable? Because the SSC is the unarguable means of answering the most fundamental scientific questions we can formulate: How are the forces of nature related, and what does that tell us about the underlying structure and behavior of matter? Progress in

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What Entropy Is, and Is Not

By | March 23, 1987

To judge from the writings of C.R Snow, entropy and the second law of thermodynamics were once indelicate subjects. Now things have changed, and on the cocktail party circuit we hear of entropy in art, entropy in economics, entropy in urban decay, and other erudite-sounding applications. A most difficult concept in physics is being applied to confused areas in the social sciences, with the impression being conveyed that this increases our comprehension. I have before me a letter from Jeremy Rifk

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Science Policy Needs Historians

By | March 9, 1987

Last year, the National Academy of Sciences published an eight-volume report on the current state and future progress of physics in the United States. Even more wonderful than the achievements and prospects reported there, from the standpoint of the interested layman, is the number of apparently equally worthy projects and opportunities for the consumption of federal funds. The authors of Physics Through the 1990s do not order priorities. They endorse all the worthy proposals put forward by the

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Scientific Truth and the Courts

By | March 9, 1987

As a nonscientist, I am not qualified to question The New York Times' editorial conclusion that there is no association between spermicides and birth defects (The Scientist, January 26, 1987. P. 13). But I do question its conclusion that "both law and science seek after truth." Until all those involved in the resolution of problems such as in Wells v. Ortho recognize that law does not necessarily seek truth—except in some very long-range, societal sense not relevant to the short-term needs

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Scientists and Media Madness

By | March 9, 1987

My first two scientific experiences of media madness occurred in the early 1960s when I was a real microbiologist. One day, the new local television station sent along a camera team to see what we were all up to. After a quick glance around the lab, the boss pointed at a fraction collector and asked me to switch it on. "It is on," I replied, explaining that the machine clicked around once very 15 minutes as each test tube collected liquid from the ion exchange column above. "OK, I understand," t

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Should Journals Pay Referees?

By | March 9, 1987

Like most scientists, I have had a few bad experiences during the peer review of my manuscripts. My most painful experiences have been with the delays in publication brought on by apparent referee apathy to meeting the three- to four-week deadline of most journals. May I offer a suggestion for abolishing delays due to referee apathy? As others have suggested, paying referees may improve the quality of their reviews. However, I believe that payment should be restricted to those referees who provi

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The 'Two Cultures' Have Endured

By | March 9, 1987

When I was 20 I had an English literature professor who insisted on the virtues of one's keeping a literary log—a chronicle of all the books read over the course of the year. All great men and women of letters did this, he said. In fact, it appeared that journal keeping was something of a prerequisite for being a man or woman of letters. With the enthusiasm and single-mindedness that often propel us (arid render us insufferable) when we're 20, I began such a project. At the end of two mont

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British Research and Star Wars

By | February 23, 1987

The morale of the British scientific community is at its lowest level ever, largely because of the low level of research funds. The total British government expenditure on R&D in 1987 is estimated to be 4.6 billion pounds ($6.5 billion), of which 52 percent is earmarked for military R&D and 21 percent for other government departments. Only 1.2 billion pounds ($1.7 billion) is left for nongovernmental researchers. Britons spend 12 times more on alcohol than their government allocates for nongover

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