So They Say

Resisting the SDI Temptress Biotech Advances Evade Treaty Math Assumes Priority Position It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature Slicing the Federal Pie Leaving the Sinking Ship Censored Chemistry is Losing the Budget Game Resisting the SDI Temptress For a brilliant scientist, the allure of the Strategic Defense Initiative is hard to resist: Star Wars traffics in some of the most challenging problems in physics, assuages the con-science by promoting defensive weapons and offers fundi

October 20, 1986

  • Resisting the SDI Temptress
  • Biotech Advances Evade Treaty
  • Math Assumes Priority Position
  • It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature
  • Slicing the Federal Pie
  • Leaving the Sinking Ship
  • Censored
  • Chemistry is Losing the Budget Game
  • Resisting the SDI Temptress

    For a brilliant scientist, the allure of the Strategic Defense Initiative is hard to resist: Star Wars traffics in some of the most challenging problems in physics, assuages the con-science by promoting defensive weapons and offers funding the likes of which haven't been seen since the Apollo program. But no less a scientist than the architect of the X-ray laser that inspired SDI has decided that he can resist it all.

    ... Peter Hagelstein resigned from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, a top weapons center, sold his house, called the lab to say he had the flu and slipped into hiding. Next month he joins the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his alma mater, as an untenured associate professor of electrical engineering.

    Hagelstein's defection from the ranks of Star Warriors closes a chapter in one man's life but raises larger questions about SDI. ...

    Hagelstein's departure could slow SDI's X-ray program, whose funding is due to double to $530 million next year.  ... Hagelstein is not alone: 3,700 science and engineering professors, including 15 Nobel laureates and 57 percent of the faculties at the nation's top 20 physics departments, have signed a petition pledging to refuse SDI funding.

    So far, the academic boycott hasn't noticeably impeded SDI.

    ...But many scientists doubt SDI will ever work, especially if it can't attract-and keep-the best and brightest minds in science.

    -Sharon Begley with George Raine,
    John Barry and Karen Springen
    "A Crisis of Conscience" Newsweek, p. 88
    September 22, 1986


    Biotech Advances Evade Treaty

    Officials from some 60 countries are gathered in Geneva reviewing compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972- perhaps the world's most widely signed arms-control treaty. As could be expected, platitudes are abounding about the dangers of biological warfare and the need for international restraint. But lost in the rhetoric is the simple fact that the treaty has not worked and, moreover, that advances in biotechnology are making it an anachronism. ...

    The BW Convention contains a loophole big enough to fly an attack plane through. It permits the development, production and stockpiling of biological and toxin agents so long as they are for "prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes." The treaty, moreover, doesn't provide for any verification mechanism. Each state is left to police itself.

    Biotechnological advances since 1975 are making matters worse. Science now provides the ability to quickly synthesize large quantities of biological warfare agents from preserved seed stocks contained in a few test tubes. Huge holding tanks are . no longer needed to maintain a biological weapons capability. Genetic engineering is further making possible the creation of brand-new deadly pathogens. Thus, even the most comprehensive international ban on BW agents has become utterly unverifiable and effectively useless.

    The Wall Street Journal, p. 32 September 15, 1986


    Math Assumes Priority Position

    For some time now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been supporting a variety of computer science projects. It is gratifying to see that the applied mathematical sciences have now become another "technology" that is seen as critical in assuring progress in a number of important areas, such as the next generation radar. ...

    The applied mathematics community needs to welcome this opportunity. Not since the Office of Naval Research established the Institute for Numerical Analysis at the University of California in 1949, has there been that kind of a commitment by the Department of Defense for broad support in mathematics.

    SIAM News, p.6
    September 1986
    (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics)


    It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature

    The thought of men having babies disgusts me, and in my opinion any experiments should be stopped at once. I'm all for progress but how far will scientists go? It could get drastically out of hand. We will certainly have freaks.

    What can mankind gain from men having babies? This planet would soon be over-populated. What was the Pill made for?

    I must point out that I admire scientists. But for their inquiring minds and skills we would still be in the Stone Age, but I beg them to meet and discuss all aspects of this experiment that a minority of their colleagues are contemplating and stop them playing God.

    -P. Walsh
    Letter to the Editor
    Manchester Evening News, p. 6 September 12, 1986

    Slicing the Federal Pie

    Federal sponsorship of basic scientific research at universities has soared in the first six years of the Reagan Administration, in a revival that appears unmatched since the post-Sputnik era of the early 1960's.

    The dramatic increase-61 per-cent since 1981, to more than $4 billion . . . this year-has surprised university officials. ...

    But for many academics, the surge may be scarcely noticeable. Both Government statistics and interviews with researchers across the country indicate that the Administration has concentrated much of its basic research funding in unusually large projects, such as establishing supercomputer and advanced engineering centers around the country, or in technologies it considers critical to industrial or military competitiveness.

    As a result, scholars say that funds for individual scientists, especially those not working in the heavily favored areas of advanced computer science, biotechnology or composite materials, for example, may be scarcer than ever. "More and more," Kenneth A. Smith, the vice president of research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the other day, "how well you are funded depends on what kind of research you do."

    -David E. Sanger
    "U.S. Research Sponsorship Soars at Universities"
    The New York Times, p. B8 September 8, 1986


    Leaving the Sinking Ship

    Gary Hunt, the scientist from Imperial College, London, who has worked on NASA's space missions for 16 years, announced at the BA [the annual meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science] that he is leaving science and going into industry. ...

    He explained that he was leaving his post as director of a research unit at Imperial College because of his disillusionment with the state of British science. "It's going to take 10 or 20 years for British universities to get out of the hole that they are in now," he said.

    "What's happening is that people of my generation, who should have another 20 years of academic life, are leaving the universities. We're not producing the graduate students who would be the next generation of scientists, so no one's coming through. My PhD students now are from America, Taiwan, China and Brazil. Where are the British students? They're just not interested."

    -"Out of the Hunt"
    New Scientist, p. 22
    September 11, 1986




    This year, Banned Books Week '86-Celebrating the Freedom to Read, scheduled for September 20-27, 1986, explores a controversial, but less well known area of censor-ship-increasing efforts by the federal government to place controls on scientific communications and the availability of technological information.

    The theme of this year's celebration, "The Worlds of Science and Technology: How Free?," reviews the history of censorship in the sciences by considering the Church's opposition to Copernicus and Galileo in the 15th and 16th centuries, the on-going controversy in this century over the Darwinian theory of evolution and the recent debates about how much scientific and technological information should be made available to the American people and foreign scientists.

    -Press release
    American Library Association

    Chemistry is Losing the Budget Game

    As chemistry is only a small player at DOD [Department of Defense], it could run into problems as DOD's portion of total federal R&D continues to go up. This problem is real as most of chemistry's   funding comes from the non-defense agencies. One of the things we have to have people understand is that the next generation of performance materials, in which DOD is very interested, is really dependent on molecular engineering. And the people who do this best are chemists. ...

    ... If you look at the percentage of the DOE [Department of Energy] budget that is spent on chemistry, I feel it is out of proportion to the agency's mission. It is too low.

    ... One of the things that distorts the DOE budget is that this agency is still the major funder of basic high-energy physics research in the U.S. ...I am not suggesting that we go in there and cut the budget for physics. ... The issue is that DOE has not really looked at its needs in the chemistry area.

    -"Allied-Signal's Mary Good Analyzes New Threats to Chemical Profession"
    Chemical & Engineering News, pp. 7-8
    September 8, 1986

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