So They Say

Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science. Beware Mathematicians!

March 23, 1987

Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science.

Beware Mathematicians!

…scientists should always oppose the appointment of pure mathematicians to head scientific committees and institutions. Sir John Kingman [the mathematician appointed to report to the U.K. government on the teaching of English] was formerly director of the SERC, and Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer is the present head of the University Grants Committee. Mathematicians tend instinctively to view research as being done with a pad and pencil, or with sand and a stick, and without expensive equipment. Indeed, recently Sir Peter has seemed resigned to the loss of astronomy and high-energy physics as subjects of excellence in Britain. Beware mathematicians.
—Stanley Alderson
Letter to the Editor
New Scientist, p. 69
February 12, 1987

Research Subjects Are People Too

While scientists debate the ethics of working on the Strategic Defense Initiative, they might also consider the older ethical issue of conducting government-sponsored experiments on human beings. Re-cent court cases and a congressional study have spotlighted a history of such experiments, whose questionable, often secret, nature is a national disgrace.

…individual scientists who work with humans—whether or not they are under contract to the U.S. government—should constantly examine their own consciences. It's all too easy for scientists to forget that they are dealing with people, not research subjects. A vigorous sense of personal ethics will do more to prevent the abuse of human subjects than the most vigilant university panels or the toughest federal guidelines.

—Robert C. Cowen
"America's Human Guinea Pigs"
Technology Review, pp. 20-21
February/March 1987

Ann Landers On Animal Research

Animal research is of paramount importance to thousands of critically ill children and millions of children who do not get sick because they have been vaccinated against polio, tetanus, diptheria and whooping cough. Millions of children have survived strep throat, ear infections, bronchitis and pneumonia, thanks to antibiotics developed by using animal models.

It is the same with 11 million diabetics kept alive by insulin, and cancer patients treated by radiation and chemotherapy. Every major medical breakthrough has been made possible because of animal research.

Nobody is asking you to send Rover to the slaughterhouse, but researchers must be free to use stray cats and dogs in experiments to find cures for diseases and improve surgical techniques….

—Ann Landers
Chicago Tribune Syndicate
February 23, 1987

Memoirs of a Cosmonaut

There are probably few branches of science and technology that are developing as rapidly as cosmonautics. Everything that you have been engaged in, everything that you were proficient in yesterday fairly soon become the property of reports, textbooks, and archives.

You must not stay in one place, or without noticing it you will swiftly turn into some sort of "cochon" and begin to go down. Everyone has moved forwards and upwards, and you gradually become less and less recognized as a specialist and they are amazed and unable to understand how you can live like that.

—V. Soloviev
"From the Diaries of a Cosmonaut"
Pravda Monthly Compilation, p. 34,
February 1987

Inertia in India

I believe that in spite of some of the successes we have had in certain areas of science and technology, the total scientific scenario in the country [India] is not altogether encouraging. There are very few men and institutions of excellence. The morale and performance of the average working scientist are not very high. I feel that 'by merely increasing salaries and other benefits or by providing large research grants, we shall not be able to improve our performance. Change for the better has to come from us scientists who have to rise to the occasion. It appears that a high proportion of scientists indulge in conversation that is not only unproductive but also spreads an atmosphere of general dissatisfaction and hopelessness. Denigrating institutions and individuals seems to have become a preoccupation.
—C.N.R. Rao
Anniversary address delivered as outgoing president
of the Indian National Science Academy
Bangalore, India, January 2, 1987

Changing the Nature of Science

At one moment, the supercomputer digitally traces the progression of a strain of deadly virus through millions of Australian rabbits; at another, it calculates the effects of rapid phase changes as when a drop of water hits a hot skillet….

Kenneth Wilson and his colleagues at the Theory Center are not surprised at the immense variety of these and some 200 other projects now underway....

Such advances will not only further accelerate the already swift pace of science, but will change the nature of scientific inquiry, they assert. Scientists will use these computers in a radically different way from their brethren in the ancient 1980s.

"A supercomputer is a scientific instrument with which you can look at things inaccesible to the usual experimental instruments," Wilson said. "For example, an astronomer with a telescope can observe the universe over a period of perhaps 50 years, the length of his scientific career. But a theoretician with a supercomputer can 'see' for a billion years. Computer simulation is a theoretician's experiment."

—Dennis Meredith
"Theory Center: Computing in the '90s",
Cornell Chronicle, p. 8
February 19, 1987

The Gene Revolution

But the most lasting impact of biotechnology on the food supply may come not from something going wrong, but from all going right. My biggest fear is not that by accident we will set loose some genetically defective Andromeda strain. Given our past record in dealing with agriculture, we're far more likely to accidentally drown ourselves in a sea of excess grain.

The Green Revolution made America the world's breadbasket, but it has also brought on an age of intractable overproduction. Unless we plan more carefully, the Gene Revolution could do the same—on an even grander scale.

Will the supercow trample the small dairy farmer? Is the family farm about to be genetically altered out of existence? Meanwhile, will biotechnology help to feed the starving millions—or will it leave the Third World behind to eat our dust?

—Sen. Albert Gore
National Research Council
NewsReport, p. 11
February 1987

Warning: Nobel Prizes Can Be Dangerous

Nobel prizes may be bad for a nation's economy. In a new study of Nobel prizewinners of the past 40 years, Christopher Hill of the US Library of Congress said: "nations that have hosted fewer prizes per capita … have been better economic performers."

As the German economy has strengthened, its share of prizes has fallen. Britain, which has been the second biggest recipient of prizes in the past decade has taken the opposite course.

The US is top with 60 per cent of prizes for science in the past decade. Hill suggests that the emphasis in the US "on the performance of frontier science by a scientific elite, rather than on the distribution of scientific and technical skills broadly to all workers and citizens, may explain some of (the US's) current economic difficulties."

—"No Prizes for Progress"
New Scientist, p. 22
February 19, 1987

Japanese Surcharge

Because there is no practical way to achieve an appropriate relationship between the numbers of foreign graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in our two countries, I believe the Japanese government should pay any US university where Japanese nationals are studying $10,000 annually, in addition to tuition, for each such student.

The net additional income to US universities would be approximately $70 million per year....

—William C. Norris
"Equalizing US-Japan Technology Flow"
Physics Today, p. 168
February 1987

What Makes Us Tick?

…as a graduate student in high-energy physics, I am insulted to be told that I am drawn to the field because it is the "most glamorous, most high-powered, most prestigious, most arcane, [and] the smallest." My reason is the one that draws so many people to science, and physics in particular, but one that few people articulate: How did we, and the rest of the universe, get here? What makes us, and the rest of the universe, tick?
—Bruce R. Bailer
Letter to the Editor
Physics Today, p. 12
February 1987

Who's the Boss?

Aside from the possible risks of an accident, do we, as a nation, really want to slide into the era of genetic manipulation without a more general debate? Do we have the capacity, as a democracy, to publicly examine the fundamental issues in an intelligent fashion?

Although many people have expressed concern about possible health threats from radiation and nuclear reactors, when it comes to the new biology, the electorate seems content to let the scientists make crucial unchallenged decisions. The issues are complex and they straddle the borderline between the theologically inscrutable and the scientifically incomprehensible.

Americans have demonstrated a distaste for abstract debate about scientific issues. But eventually we will be forced to make decisions about the limits of genetic manipulation. We have the power to reshape life itself. We should decide now, before biotechnology engulfs us, what limits should be placed on this new power.

—Yorick Blumenfeld
"Frankensteins by Accident?"
The New York Times, p. A27
February 25, 1987

Designer Genes for Everyone

Dr Ruth Kavenoff, a cell biologist studying chromosome structure at the University of California, San Diego, is bent on bringing the beauty of science to the general populace. Through her work with electron microscopy, she has imaged "sprung" E. coli DNA molecules, confirming the DNA supercoiling model set down by Worcel and Burgi. Her technique employs an aqueous salt solution, instead of the usual formamide solution, and the result is a much cleaner view of the DNA loops involved in the supercoil. The aesthetic appeal of the resulting spread molecule led her first to produce wall posters of the image to decorate the laboratories of friends and associates. From there, she went on to print her images on more popularized items, such as postcards and T-shirts, and her company, DesignerGenes, was born. Her range of products, that now includes labcoats, sweatshirts, and totebags, all come with an explanation of the image they bear, and a bit of the background on DNA in general.
—"Molecular Biology Becoming More Fashionable?"
Nature, p. 558
February 5, 1987

Merriment on Mars

NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher last week made a pitch for colonizing Mars in a speech to the National Space Club. "Mars is a great place to live. It's a little cold, but not any colder than Washington has been for the last couple of weeks," he said. "It would be a lot of fun converting it to a nice planet, like ours used to be."
"Washington Roundup"
Aviation Week & Space Technology, p. 17
March 2, 1987

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