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So They Say

Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science. The Weapons of Seduction Scientists and engineers work for the weapons laboratories as William Press says …, because "scientific talent will inevitably flow to those fields where national priorities put incentives of money, prestige, or excitement." The training of many scientists and engineers is heavily supported by taxpayers. After completing their costly education, those who feel they owe a debt to society tend to apply their

January 26, 1987

Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science.

The Weapons of Seduction

Scientists and engineers work for the weapons laboratories as William Press says …, because "scientific talent will inevitably flow to those fields where national priorities put incentives of money, prestige, or excitement." The training of many scientists and engineers is heavily supported by taxpayers. After completing their costly education, those who feel they owe a debt to society tend to apply their talents where society wishes, and where it offers incentives.

The obvious way to get scientists and engineers away from weapons laboratories is to stop offering the incentives that draw them there. Press refers to William Broad's "moral plea that young scientists resist the seductive attractions of military research." It is hardly surprising that … such pleas have not diverted many scientists from working for the military. I suggest instead that society direct the plea to public officials, to redirect the way our tax revenues are spent.

—Scott Hugenberger
Letter to the Editor
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, p. 59
January/February 1987

Soviet Economics

Science has never been so closely linked with economics as it is today when we are trying to restructure our whole economy. It was noted at the 27th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that the time had come for taking a fresh look at some of our theoretical views and concepts.

This is especially relevant to large-scale problems such as the interaction between productive forces and production relations, socialist ownership and the economic forms it takes, commodity….

Economic theory should and can resolve these problems. In order to do so it must be armed with an arsenal of the most up to date scientific methods, including the many and fast expanding possibilities of mathematics, cybernetics, and the mathematical theory of optimal management and microelectronics. According to Karl Marx, science will reach perfection only when it can be used by mathematics. And this, as we know from natural sciences and technical research, can only happen with the aid of mathematical models, which are capable of realistically representing the actual objects themselves.

—L. Postishev
"Science and the Economy"
Pravda Monthly Compilation, p. 26
December 1986

A Difference of Opinion

We should also recognize that many individuals in the animal rights movement have convictions emanating from the taproot of time-honored belief systems different from ours. To them all life is sacrosanct and man is only a small piece of the puzzle. They do not share our particular westernized version of Judeo-Christianity— that the earth and other forms of life on it exist solely for our benefit, to be used as we see fit. Are we right and they wrong? To maintain so makes us look foolish and doctrinaire. Respect for those of differing views is called for, not scorn and derision.

If we wish to continue using animals in our university laboratories and research institutes, we must (1) allow greater participation on the part of the general public, including animal rights advocates, in the decision-making process when animals are being considered as part of an experimental design, (2) work with animal rights groups in developing general guidelines for the use of animals, and (3) develop strong and effective internal control systems with teeth to them so that abuses will be detected and punishment meted out if appropriate.

We in the biomedical community are viewed with deep suspicion by many intelligent, concerned, and caring individuals, and perhaps rightly so. Only by cleaning up our own act and leading with the open hand of cooperation can this atmosphere of mistrust be allayed.

—Rollin Odell, Jr.
Letter to the Editor
Journal of the American Medical Association, p. 3347
December 26, 1986

A Penny for His Thoughts

Anybody worried that U.S. companies look ahead only to next quarter's earnings ought to drop by Neil Sloane's cubicle at AT&T Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. Sloane, a 47-year-old scientist working in rolled-up shirtsleeves and dungarees, will show you the fruits of his latest research: how to arrange pennies on a tabletop so that they take up the least space.

What's that doing for AT&T shareholders? At the moment, nothing. But Sloane's forays into one of the more obscure corners of mathematics—the packing of spheres—are beginning to pay off in the down-to-earth business of data transmission.

To mathematician Sloane, pen-flies are two-dimensional spheres, a warm-up to more abstract objects—spheres of eight dimensions and more….

For Sloane's employer, the immediate relevance of sphere-packing is to the billion-dollar business of manufacturing modems.

—William Baldwin
"The nth dimension"
Forbes, p. 94
December 29, 1986

Big Science, Little Science

One thing the National Science Foundation finds hard to do is decide how to distribute money between big science and small science. Lots of progress is always made in small science, and, generally speaking, biology is still small science, where the individual experiment is not terribly expensive. Biology has made more progress than any other field in the last 50 years.

It's a big question: Where do you get the money? In favor of big science, there is the point that you're not going to get answers unless you spend a lot of money….

The race so far has gone pretty well…. It has been to the benefit of both sides. But of course, the race so far was in the order of a few hundred million dollars. Once you get into the billions, as you do with the [superconducting super]collider, it's a different matter. I would be very happy if the supercollider were done cooperatively between Western Europe and the United States.

—Hans A. Bethe
"Prof. Hans A. Bethe at 80: Moving from dawn of the Nuclear Age into its future"
Cornell Chronicle, p. 5
December 18, 1986

Science or Hoopla?

Then on Sept. 1, 1985, [Bob] Ballard became an instant celebrity. In the chilly, often stormy waters about 350 miles southeast of Newfoundland, he and a French-American team of oceanographers spotted, at a depth of 12,500 feet, the first bit of wreckage of the Titanic. In the days that followed, more wreckage was discovered by Ballard's remote video camera system…. Eight days later, when Ballard and his team steamed back into Woods Hole aboard the research vessel Knorr, he had attained the fame his more purely scientific achievements couldn't gain for him....

The discovery of the Titanic was also a mixed blessing professionally. "I'm glad we didn't find it," says Barry Raleigh, the director the rival Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University. "It's not science, is it? I think it's hoopla."

—Frederic Golden
"A Man With Titanic Vision"
Discover, p. 52
January 1987

Talisman or Tool?

Screening to obtain information about medical problems such as cervical cancer or hypertension is widely used and recommended within the medical community. Increasingly, however, biomedical tests are being used in a way that reveals social and personal information. Scientific tests now offer the possibility of knowledge not only about an individual's health, but also such things as his or her sexual, drug or alcohol history.

In general, clinicians believe that test "results should complement the history, physical examination, and clinical evaluation, and [thus] help assure a correct diagnosis." Scientists rely on tests to enhance their own critical powers rather than to replace them. When policy makers force medical methodology to function in a system for which it was not conceived, they risk using science as talisman rather than as tool.

Even though scientific tests appear to provide efficient solutions to social and legal problems, these tests should not be accepted unless they also meet our standards for fair dealing.

—M. Panner and N. Christakis
"The Limits of Science in On-The-Job Drug Screening"
Hastings Center Report, pp. 7,
11 December 1986

The Whole World in Our Hands

Imagine a world where the finest foods and the most luxurious clothing—essentially the best of everything—could be yours effortlessly.

Is it the imagined world-to-come of Utopian thinkers? Or, perhaps the paradise of life-after-death envisioned by the religious? No, it is actually the vision of a radical group of scientists attempting to develop new ways to manipulate the atom.

We have all learned in school that atoms are the basic building blocks of the universe. What is foreseen by these scientists—most of them from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—is a time when people will be able to use atoms so precisely that we will actually be able to construct bits of the universe at will.

This emerging field is called nanotechnology. Its name comes from the Greek word nano, meaning dwarf. Scientists use this word as a prefix to indicate a billionth. In dealing with single atoms, nanotechnologists are working at the scale of one billionth of a meter.

"Nanotechnology will make a lot of things that previously seemed like science-fiction dreams practical and real, and force us to deal with them," [K. Eric] Drexler concludes. "Some are great opportunities and some are dangers."

In evaluating the nanotechnology concept, Freeman Dyson, a physicist at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, says, "Naturally, there is a lot of hype and exaggeration. It is possible, but it's a question of when."

—Michael Richards
"Building a New World, Atom by Atom"
The Washington Post, p. D3
December 21, 1986

Night Lights Need Friends Too

Scientists at a university here [in Boston] managed to successfully implant firefly genes in a table leg. Since there is no known use for a table with one leg that glows by itself, it was sold to Mrs. Emmaline Snetcher of Brookline. Said Mrs. Snetcher of her one-of-a-kind table: "It's OK, but I really bought it as company for my night light."

Back at the university, meanwhile, the scientists are now attempting to cross a cricket with a king-size bed.

—Richard K. Morse
"Least Important News Items of '86"
San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Punch, p. 2
December 28, 1986

Battle Plans

Scientists are future-oriented people. They have to cross bridges that haven't been built. When you identify a scientific problem you want to solve, it often looks unsolvable in the short term, and so you devise a plan of attack that might take many years. Now a young person isn't very anxious to get into a field in which the real answers will only appear after his or her death. So you've got to have some objectives that are solvable within a couple of years. You need guideposts—short-term objectives that give you a ring of success and self-confidence. You have to have a mixture of short- and long-term objectives. In many cases, something unexpected turns up, and you don't solve the problem the way you think you would have solved it to start with. But you always have to have a battle plan. If one doesn't work, you can always go on to another one.
—James D. Watson
"Discoverer of the Double Helix"
BioScience, p. 729
December 1986

No Access

…The elected representatives of all the people may not be the favorites of the generally very liberal physics faculties but they do represent the people of the United States. If they conclude, on the basis of overwhelming evidence, that the Soviet Union's direct, long-term, hands-on access to the latest US supercomputers is a threat to our national defense, whether the computers are on campus or off, then APS [American Physical Society] is irrational to assert its undying opposition to restrictions on access for nationals from countries that are obvious potential enemies.

It is the same thirst for long-term Soviet access to US super-computers that causes Roald Z. Sagdeev to ask audaciously for a satellite data link from a US supercomputer to the USSR to do some "fundamental research." Of course if some US citizen wished to run an extremely interesting Soviet basic-research calculation, that could be arranged, but in my opinion, hands-on access by Soviet-bloc scientists should be barred until the international situation changes drastically.

Are the sufferings of hundreds of refusenik scientists and tens of thousands of others in the Gulag, so eloquently portrayed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, to be forgotten in a mad rush to aid the Soviet war machine by providing untrammeled access to super-computers?

—Howard D. Greyber
Letter to the Editor
Physics Today, p. 15
December 1986

Identity Crisis

…in recruiting for "cutting edge" molecular biology and plant science programs in Du Pont's Central R&D Department, half the hires had degrees in chemistry. So chemistry can play a major role in this new biotechnology, for instance.

There's a catch, though. Of those chemistry degrees, half were in biochemistry. Are biochemists chemists? In many universities, biochemistry is not in the chemistry department. My statistics from the U.S. Department of Education reflect this confusion—they place biochemistry in biological science. This poses the key question—what is chemistry? I believe our future as a discipline depends on the breadth of our definition and how we reflect that in our courses.

—Alan L. McClelland
"Chemical education"
Chemical & Engineering News, pp. 28, 34
December 22, 1986

NASA Still Needs Help

It is time for NASA to find a leader who can get the presidential and congressional support and who can get the money and all the rest.

It is time to get someone in there who knows how to run a business.

This man doesn't have to be an engineer and in fact probably shouldn't be…. It is time for the President and the Congress to locate a man who can take charge. We'll send the professional bureaucrats…. to some agency where performance and results are not as important as inertia.

—William B. Dick
Letter to the Editor
Aviation Week & Space Technology, p. 88
January 5, 1987

Let's Privatize Research

There is little question that biotherapy will become the fourth method of cancer treatment (along with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy). A private-sector enterprise that is created to meet the needs of patients with cancer and their physicians by al. lowing more access to emerging biotechnological advances may be very useful. If successful, it will provide patients who are unresponsive to standard forms of therapy with scientifically sound experimental options, provide a new source of private funding for cancer research, and help to determine the technical feasibility and clinical efficacy of biological approaches to the treatment of cancer.

It is easy to see that a private-enterprise system, particularly one with eventual insurance reimbursement, might provide greatly increased access, across the population, to emerging technologies. Since such a benefit must ultimately translate broadly to society, society as a whole, not just the government and academe, must ultimately determine the size and scope of a private, investor-owned approach to cancer research and treatment.

—Robert K. Oldham
"Sounding Board"
The New England Journal of Medicine, p. 47
January 1, 1987
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