Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science.
The Middle Ground in Animal Rights
Through developing principles governing specific aspects of research, professional and regulatory groups are now formulating standards and procedures to ensure that laboratory animals are treated humanely. The overall aim is not to halt all animal research but rather to refine experiments to minimize animal pain, suffering, and distress; to reduce the number of animals used; and to replace animals with insentient material....
It is unfortunate that the search for moderate reform in animal research is so often ignored in favor of the more flamboyant arguments at either extreme. Most members of our society believe that there are morally important differences between humans and animals, but few would argue that these differences bestow on humans complete freedom in their treatment of animals. The real challenge lies in determining an ethically defensible intermediate position regarding our duties toward nonhuman animals.
Win-At-All Costs Physics
Particle physics has become a game in which few feel they can afford to be second. If only two particles are left to be found, the physicist who gets a chance to haul one of them in isn't about to lose it by dawdling. Call it win-at-all-costs physics, in which the pressure to be first comes close to beating out the pressure to be right.
This has led to what many consider an unprecedented triumph of politics over science. Laboratories churn out press releases, the scientific equivalent of junk mail. Physicists publicly hail their results as though they were bulletins on the Second Coming, simply because if they did otherwise the politicians and the funding agencies might not believe they were getting anything for their money.
"It used to be," says Dick Taylor, a professor at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), "that if you did a great experiment you could make a lot of racket. Now you make a lot of racket independently of whether the experiment works or not, because that's how you get funding."
T.V's Wimpy Role Models...
In the button-down world of science and academia, where numbers are safety and passions often suspect, men of action and enthusiasm tend to make people uneasy. [Robert] Ballard, a self-described romantic "kid at heart" and technology junkie who enthuses at times like a Mensa-minded porpoise on uppers, acknowledges he discomforts some.
… he appears the antithesis of the rumpled data-gatherers who often populate the world of science. Moreover, while they may spend their days in stuffy labs hunched over computer screens, Ballard cruises off to make his discoveries in places like the Tongue of the Ocean or the Mountains of the Sea. Envy stalks any man with a perpetual tan.
"We have to declare war on television," he says, "and on the role models it's extending to our kids. Look at the typical scientist you see portrayed on television: wears glasses, sort of meek, afraid of girls … How can you possibly attract kids into science and engineering if their role model is a wimp?"
...And Other Negative Images
Television's contribution to popular conceptions of science and scientists blends with other social and cultural influences into a mainstream that tends to be more critical and negative than the views of comparable groups that watch less television. Foreboding images of odd and perilous activity seem to heighten fears, strengthen the desire for restraints, and inhibit the inclination for science as an occupation or an area of public participation. Reading science magazines and watching documentary programs about science make a significant positive contribution. However, even this does not overcome the steady cultivation of relatively critical and negative public conceptions, especially among those who are otherwise the most supportive of science. In other words, science readers and science documentary viewers have more positive images than do other groups, but television viewing tends to erode these images and bring heavy-viewing science readers and documentary viewers closer to the others.
NIH Budget Game
Erich Bloch lauds the Administration . . . for its commitment to multiyear planned budget growth for the National Science Foundation, thereby making possible "the formulation and support of long-term strategies, projects, and programs."
The need for such a commitment is clear. However, this same Administration plays an annual game with the budget of the National Institutes of Health that makes any planning, much less long-term planning, impossible....
If the Administration is so wise with the NSF budget, why is it so blind with the NIH budget?
Reaching New Frontiers in Japan
The government of Japan has come a long way in the past year in its definition of its Human Frontiers project, first made public in a fog of inexactitude. By a distinctly Japanese process of consultation and iteration, what seemed at first to be a vague programme of research is slowly turning into a programme of basic biological research that could be more than merely worthwhile. . . .It is especially intriguing that, on one view at least, Japan's financial contribution to the project would be that of a source of support for research projects arising not only in Japan but elsewhere. It is high time some government broke the mould of the pretence that the pursuit of excellence in research is possible only in its own laboratories. It will be interesting to see what elements of this particular proposal survive in the final prospectus.
By presenting science as entertain-ment, museums that try to increase science literacy … are not encouraging public interest in science, but rather in entertainment. Such an approach is misleading, and it does nothing to redress the true calamity of the widespread lack of appreciation for science in our society.
There is shocking ignorance about the essence of science as a particular method of inquiry. Lacking an understanding of science as a method and a process of investigation, the fruits of scientific work are indistinguishable by many people from magic, and that is at the bottom of a renewal of people's interest in magic and so-called supernatural phenomena.
Real progress will be made when people have rediscovered that science is observation attended with patience, attention to detail, precision of measurement, imagination coupled with logic, collection of data and the formulation and testing of theories—in short, a little catalogue of the habits of mind that have become nearly extinct outside of the priestly professions of pure science. What a pity.
Our basic dissatisfaction with the [Department of Energy's] strategic planning process stems from what we perceive to be the loss of an energy mission focus on the part of the Department of Energy, and its replacement by a facilities focus. It appears to be much easier to persuade Congress and the Executive Branch to finance a $6-billion Superconducting Super Collider or a $300 million synchrotron radiation source than it is to provide basic equipment support to the hundreds of small groups making and characterizing new materials and instruments, uncovering new methods for converting coal to gas and gasoline and broadly underpinning our future energy technologies.
Big science consumes all of the funding for new starts and initiatives; no new program, no matter how small, is permitted to start when a big science project is initiated.
When the Yen Goes Up
The high yen is shriveling profits of companies already faced with slack markets and such new low-cost rivals as South Korea. But while Japan's steel companies, shipyards, textile mills and even high-technology concerns are cutting costs to survive the crisis, they keep pouring cash into research.
The strategy illustrates one of the strengths of the Japanese economy. Western manufacturers, especially in older industries, often cut costs across the board when profits fall. In Japan, where stockholders are rare, R&D in times of hardship is a must.
And when the strong yen makes dollar-denominated products competitive now, the Japanese expect their research push to help them emerge with competitive new technologies.
The Poorest Rich Man
The highest salaried person at the National Science Foundation is paid more than the foundation director, the 435 members of Congress and the members of President Reagan's cabinet.
He is E.M. Sparrow, a professor of mechanical engineering on loan to the government from the University of Minnesota, and the NSF pays him $108,000 a year. Counting health insurance, pension contributions and other fringe benefits, Sparrow's total annual compensation comes to $134,611.
Sparrow is one of at least a dozen visiting professors at the science foundation who, according to the NSF, is paid more than $70,000 a year—or more than the vast majority of civil servants. They sign up for one- or two-year stints with the government under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) and afterward return to their universities or companies.
"If you would have been here at 2 this morning, you would have found me working," said Sparrow, who is acting director of NSF's chemical, biochemical and thermal engineering division. "I work 110 hours a week. I sleep 4½ hours a night. I virtually live here.... I feel I am the lowest paid hourly worker at the foundation."
Building Bridges to Congress
We badly need to build a bridge to Congress. We know many congressmen and we interact with a number of committees. [But] we don't have an operation where people from the scientific and engineering world can sit down with people from the political world in a non-lobbying kind of atmosphere and discuss the country's problems.
The AIDS epidemic, says [Robert] May [of Princeton University], has taken people unaware because mathematicians have tended to study epidemiology in the abstract, unencumbered by any need to study messy but realistic data, and public health specialists have not had many true epidemics to deal with. In the 6 years since AIDS was first recognized as a disease, molecular biologists have learned an incredible amount about the AIDS virus, but epidemiologists have learned relatively little about how AIDS spreads in populations.
It seems to me that if we really believe that scientific research is the best way to understand nature, and if we also believe that psychic phenomena are a part of nature worth understanding, then psi research from both extensionist and conventionalist perspectives should be encouraged, or at least not discouraged in academia. Only if the two perspectives are allowed to compete on an equal footing, with each side doing research and criticizing the research of the other, can the scientific process operate effectively.
The Language of Chemistry
Much of life can be understood in rational terms if expressed in the language of chemistry. It is an international language, a language for all time, a language that explains where we came from, what we are, and where the physical world will allow us to go. Chemical language is hindered by a gulf that separates chemistry from biology. The gulf is not nearly so wide as the one between the humanities and sciences on which C.P. Snow focused attention. Yet, chemistry and biology are two distinct cultures and the rift between them is serious, generally unappreciated, and counterproductive.
Divide and Conquer
Congress, the regulatory agencies, and the judicial system have a rather poor record in making a distinction between the mainstream science and the views of those who are on the fringes of the scientific community. Anyone who has dealt with this subject must be frustrated by the apparent hopelessness of the current condition.
The situation is aggravated by the apparent presence of a constituency for the current condition. The old maxim of "divide and conquer" is still valid. Any time someone wants to promote an idea, as outlandish as it might be, that person can easily claim that the scientific community is divided. All he/ she needs to present is one scientist, preferably one with a Ph.D., or even better, a professor, who agrees with his/her views. Blaming the news media, as tempting as it might be, is no solution. The truth is that the scientific community has not taken its rightful place by expressing its views on scientific issues. On occasion, when we speak out, we enter societal issues to which we possess no particular qualifications, thus reducing our already beleaguered credibility.
More Chimps Doesn't Mean More Results
Just as in the failed "War on Cancer," scientists are leading us to believe that "animal model" experimentation is the key approach [to developing an AIDS vaccine]. The National Academy of Sciences calls for $1-billion annually for AIDS research by 1990. However, many leading scientists are privately saying that, although chimpanzees do develop an immunological response to the AIDS virus, they do not develop the actual disease and, therefore, may actually be a less-than-adequate model …Thus, more money and more chimpanzees would yield more research, but not necessarily more results.
Human volunteer-based studies (AIDS scientists themselves have already agreed to volunteer), epidemiological studies, prevention techniques, together with the kind of in vitro (test tube) studies that test new agents for their ability to block the viral enzyme reverse transcriptase should be emphasized.