Excerpts from American and European media on the conduct of science.
Show Some Muscle
Too many universities in Britain are over-spending their over-modest budgets in ways that put them in hock to the University Grants Committee and even, on some occasions, the commercial banks; no institution can expect to make an independent way in the world in such a condition. Further ahead, universities need a measure of autonomy most of them at present lack. In practice, what this means is that they should be more free to teach what they deliberately decide they must teach, and that they will pursue research in the fields best suited to the talents and interests of their members. Present circumstances cramp this freedom, but British universities have been extraordinarily compliant of these restraints. Is that another sign that the stuffing has gone out of them?
Nature, p. 381
October 2, 1986
With Friends Like That
. . . more than ever before, science is not master of its own destiny. The very success of science has made the world dependent on its progress and utility. . . . science to-day has become a mammoth enterprise, inextricably linked to engineering, its investments driven by worldwide political and commercial competition, its progress dependent on facilities of great expense.
Many people believe-as once was said about war and generals- that science is too important to be left to the scientists. To whose care, then, shall the future of science be entrusted? We scientists ourselves must become more involved in determining how science will serve society and how society will influence the progress of science.
If education is the nutrient for a healthy science, freedom is the oxygen science must breathe. But those outside the discipline who place the highest economic and military value on science are just the ones most likely to place limitations on the movements of scientists and scientific ideas. Thus it is not the enemies of science-the modern Luddites-who most threaten scientists' intellectual freedom; it is those who expect the nation to benefit from scientific success. Science may well have most to fear from its admirers.
-Lewis M. Branscomb "The Scientific-
American Scientist, pp. 462-463
What's In a Name?
Should not the name of Ernest 0. Lawrence be removed from the title of the Livermore National Laboratory? As Lawrence's widow, I have felt for some years that this government-owned facility should no longer be using his name....
First, I am unalterably opposed to the continuing escalation of the nuclear-arms race, and because this is now the primary activity of the Livermore laboratory-both in terms of the research conducted there and of lobbying conducted in Washington-I consider today's Livermore facility in no way a suitable memorial to my late husband.
It is time to put Lawrence's defense work in proper perspective with his contributions to basic scientific knowledge, peaceful applications and worldwide dissemination of such knowledge. These contributions should be the basis for his place in scientific history but the use of his name at Livermore serves only to distort the picture.
-Mary B. Lawrence
Letter to the Editor
Physics Today, pp. 11-12
Looking to the Stars
Cosmic radiation, radio waves, infrared light and other products of a grand explosion in the double star Cygnus X-3 failed to reach earth on schedule Saturday as astronomers predicted, but the stargazers aren't fretting. Cygnus is some distance away, 217,560 trillion miles roughly, and the explosion actually occurred some 37,000 years ago, so
the scientists aren't worried about a few days. "If it went off even this month, I think a lot of people would think this is a good prediction," says Ken Johnston of the Naval Research Laboratory. Certainly better than a lot of economic forecasts.
The Wall Street Journal, p. 32
October 10, 1986
Zinos, Winos and Reality
Modern people are supposed to laugh at Ptolemy and the epicycles he postulated to prop up the idea that the sun revolves around the earth. But what are they to make of gluinos, zinos, winos, extra dimensions of the universe rolled up like tiny cigarettes and false vacuums? . . . as unseen particles proliferate, apparently to address problems raised by other unseen particles, they seem like modern-day epicycles. . . . physicists appear to be teetering between a unified theory of the universe and completely losing their grip on reality.
Review of "The Nature of Reality,"
by Richard Morris
The New York Times
Book Review, p. 54
October 5, 1986
Planck's Other Law
"The scientific venture has grown much more expensive and complex. . . . Max Planck predicted that outcome when he argued that because we answer the easy questions first, arid then employ the new knowledge and techniques in approaching more difficult ones, science invariably comes to cost more and more per new unit of knowledge.
"A revolution in sophisticated equipment has driven 'Planck's Other Law' faster than Planck probably could have imagined, and the result is heavily expensive science in all the disciplines."
Speech delivered September 18,
1986 at Reed College's 75th
anniversary in Portland, Oregon
'A healthy and vigorous scientific base is important for the efficiency, competitiveness and innovative capacity of the national economy,' newly-appointed education secretary Kenneth Baker told the House of Commons this summer. 'It is true that governments today are expecting a lot from our scientists . . . the amazing thing is how well they are responding to these high expectations . . . the government does not feel too guilty about this,' his junior minister George Walden had said the day before.
Chemistry in Britain, p. 773
Congress Knows Best
Those who criticize Congressionally mandated projects by labeling them "pork-barrel science" seek to prevent the Congress from making informed judgments about research-facility proposals.
. . . It goes without saying that all federally supported activity should be carefully scrutinized. ... a strong case can be made for projects supported through direct Congressional appropriation, since the members of Congress who ap prove the projects are directly ac countable to the citizens who elected them. The scientists and experts who sit on peer-review panels are not fiscally or otherwise ac countable to the public for the projects they approve.
-M. Richard Rose
" 'Pork-Barrel Science'
vs. Peer Review"
The Chronicle of
Higher Education, p.96
October 8, 1986
Setting Up Shop in Space
The outlook for space commercialization as a growing business area will be poor for the next several years because of the Challenger accident and confused federal policy, business and space officials attending a Brookings Institution forum on U.S. space program directions said last week. "The notion of space industrialization is largely public relations," John M. Logsdon, space historian, said. "We are on the verge of a major policy failure. Our visions of sugar plums have stayed just that," David W. Thompson, Orbital Sciences Corp. president, said.
Aviation Week & Space
Technology, p. 17
October 6, 1986