So They Say

Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science. Geography of Soviet Science It is not out of place but very urgent these days to recall [Mikhail] Lomonosov's ideas on the close union between science and practice or "the arts" as he used to call it. He wrote: "Science shows arts the way; the arts hasten the origin of science. Both serve the common benefit."

February 23, 1987

Verbatim excerpts from the media on the conduct of science.

Geography of Soviet Science

It is not out of place but very urgent these days to recall [Mikhail] Lomonosov's ideas on the close union between science and practice or "the arts" as he used to call it. He wrote: "Science shows arts the way; the arts hasten the origin of science. Both serve the common benefit." Great are the tasks facing Soviet science today. One of them is to extend the geography of science. In this respect, I should like to mention the need to pay greater attention to the scientific institutions in the coastal areas of the North.

…Today there are hundreds of educational institutions in the region, three institutes and several consultation bureaux from institutions of higher education in the capital and Leningrad. But their work is impaired by a shortage of scientific staff, the poorly developed material base and scanty provision for publications. Scientists and pedagogues who are as they say "as stubborn as Lomonosov" are working to solve these problems.

—Professor I. Chudinov
"Thirst for Knowledge"
Pravda Monthly Compilation, p. 30
January 1987

Beauty at its Rawest

Science does eventually manage to explain—that's the problem. In biology, the explanations often turn out to be less highfalutin than the questions. The mathematician Ronald Graham expresses a sensible understanding of the human brain when he says: "It didn't really evolve for the purpose of trying to understand the space-time continuum or look at things in a hundred thousand dimensions. It was there to keep you out of the rain and help you figure out where the berries are." Only in mathematics itself, really, does the process of discovery always seem to peel away the gauze obscuring something like the work of God. Mathematics is beauty at its rawest.
—James Gleick
"Science on The Track of God"
The New York Times Magazine, p. 22
January 4, 1987

In Clover

The New Year brings the prospect of a boom in federal spending on research and science education, not out of a political fervor for knowledge, but from desperation about the nation's persistent economic woes.

A notable fact about federal agency research budgets is that most of them came through the first full year of Gramm-Rudman with very few wounds, and the only plausible explanation for that good fortune is the mounting deification of research as indispensable medicine for the economy.

It's been a long time since Congressional clowns have sought publicity by the formerly surefire tactic of ridiculing research titles. Given the expectations that the public has developed for research, that old ploy would today be regarded as blasphemous. The opportunities for science to hit the US Treasury have probably not been so favorable since Sputnik. With just a bit of public relations finesse, science could be in clover in the New Year.

—Daniel S. Greenberg
" '87 Political Setting is Ripe for an R&D Boom"
Science & Government Report, pp. 1-2
January 15, 1987

Thatcher Cooks Up a Storm

Mrs. Thatcher, iron maiden and international stateswoman, slips into a new role next Wednesday evening—as domestic science teacher to the nation.

In Take Nobody's Word For It, the first of a new 10-part series of 30-minute science programmes on BBC 2, the Prime Minister explains the chemistry of cooking.

Are your meringues stodgy? Is your homemade bread too starchy? Why does red cabbage boiled with white vinegar keep its colour? For the answers to these and a sprinkling of other homely questions the Grantham grocer's daughter and Oxford chemistry graduate will don her apron and take to the kitchen at No. 10 Downing Street.

—Simon Midgley
"Prime Minister's recipe for quality cuisine"
The Independent, p. 3
January 20, 1987

Attitude Adjustment

The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger one year ago produced a large and surprising change of opinion in favor of the space program, including a swing of attitudes toward more manned space flights, according to Jon D. Miller, director of the Public Opinion Lab oratory at Northern Illinois University.

Before the accident, 53 percent of those surveyed said benefits of the space program were higher than its cost. Immediately after the accident, the same people had shifted their attitudes, with 64 percent saying that the benefits were greater than the cost, Miller reported to the National Science Foundation.

An even greater swing took place when the question was money. There was an "amazing swing" in which 57 percent of those inter-viewed just after the accident upgraded their willingness to spend more money to get back on track as compared with what they had said before the accident.

—"Challenger Produces Swing in Attitudes"
The Washington Post, p. A4
February 2, 1987

Information Implosion

The Reagan administration wants to limit the U.S. scientific information available in commercial and government databases, to keep it out of the hands of foreign competitors and adversaries. In related moves, the Defense Department has blocked U.S. scientists from delivering papers on government-funded research—mostly on optics and composite materials—in open sessions and has restricted the circulation of unclassified research that its deems "sensitive."

… [Dale Corson], the president emeritus of Cornell University, says such an approach amounts to "shooting ourselves in the foot," because it also cuts off the flow of information to many U.S. engineers. For example, Martin DeVries, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin, says limiting information could have a "detrimental effect" on his work because he searches databases to ensure he isn't duplicating other scientist's efforts.

—Bob Davis
"Federal Agencies Press Data-Base Firms to Curb Access to 'Sensitive' Information"
The Wall Street Journal, p. 25
February 5, 1987

Mangoes in Midwinter

Over the years I have carried out what we call "streeters," person-on-the-street interviews. We set up a television camera and I hold a little microphone. It may be in downtown Winnipeg in February at minus forty degrees and we wait outside a supermarket to talk to people coming out with bags that hold fresh mangoes, tomatoes and bananas. When I ask them, "Do you think science and technology affect you in your daily life?" the great majority of people immediately answer, "No, not really." Now, I don't know how you get fresh bananas, mangoes and tomatoes in Winnipeg at minus forty degrees without science and technology!
—David Suzuki
Speech before 56th Congress of the Australian and New Zealand Association
for the Advancement of Science in New Zealand
January 28, 1987

Sifting Out Garbage

Science has its share of cheats and corner-cutters. But scientific frauds are especially disturbing because many sail past standard quality control procedures and are only detected accidentally. If the quality controls aren't detecting even outright fraud, how well do they sift out garbage? Without quality assurance, can new research be relied on?

… the few detected cases of fraud are only the extreme. Careless science and manipulated data are probably far more common and science's quality control system may also be letting in a lot of garbage. Poor research, like most fraud, may do little harm but it costs just as much to produce as good science and crowds out young researchers seeking funds to get started. A breakdown of science's quality assurance, as signaled by the Darsee case and other frauds, sounds an alarm worth more attention.

—Nicholas Wade
"Fraud and Garbage in Science"
The New York Times,
p. A26 January 29, 1987

The Victims of Fraud

In view of the current controversy as to whether scientific fraud is increasing, let me suggest that the insidious rise in publication costs and subtle changes of editorial policy and attitude are having serious effects on the quality of the biomedical literature.

… it would appear that some of our leading journals have established as policy to accept frankly incomplete manuscripts if they are judged scientifically exciting....

Add a growing public perception that truth encompasses all that is not explicitly false, and the message to young investigators is clear. Give us your half-baked ideas and spare us the boring details. At least 10 percent of what I read today in our leading journals, while certainly not fraudulent, is, however, incomplete, inadequate, and even incompetent.

In this milieu, if scientific fraud is not increasing, it will be. The victims will be all of us.

—Robert G. Martin
Letter to the Editor
Science, p. 144
January 9, 1987

Cleaning House

Everybody knows that the research enterprise in Britain is in a mess, but hardly anyone is confident of knowing how to put it right. The most notable exception is the Select Committee on Science and Technology of the House of Lords, which has been since the outset of the present government a powerful critic of the management of British civil science. . . .

The committee's diagnosis is right: the most urgent need is to lift the general air of depression that prevails in British research laboratories. It is hard to see how this could be fully accomplished without more money, especially when governments such as that of the United States are spending more on basic research for the sake of keeping up with their competitors. But the more urgent need, in Britain, is for a measure of leadership which, of necessity, can hardly be provided by those who have superintended the calamities of the past few years. If there is to be a council of the kind suggested, it should consist of a new crew, people whose enthusiasm for research has not been diminished by the experiences of the recent past.

—"Peers rightly protest"
Nature, p. 94
January 8, 1987

Hagelstein Returns

The scientist whose idea for an X-ray laser inspired President Reagan's plan for a space-based defense against missiles is returning to the nuclear weapons research center he left in October because of objections to its military work.

The researcher, Peter L. Hagelstein, 32 years old, said in an interview … that he would only do unclassified work on the X-ray laser program at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"I've gotten all this publicity and a lot of resentment from my colleagues in the scientific community," he said, "But they can see that my scientific reputation is undeserved because I've published so little."

"My own record of published scientific papers is not as strong as it might have been had I not engaged in classified research," he said of the weapons research.

—"Scientist Returning to Laboratory Where Idea Inspired 'Star Wars'
The New York Times, p. B18
January 22, 1987

Up, Up and Away

America urgently needs a technological goal appropriate to carry us into the third millennium with a scope and depth that recaptures both domestic and worldwide admiration. Fortunately, such a goal is within reach: it is now feasible to initiate a systematic program of exploration and discovery on the planet Mars—beginning with roving robot vehicles and return sample missions and culminating in the first human footfalls on another planet.

The cost would be much less than deployment of Star Wars, no greater than a major strategic weapons system, and, if shared among two or more nations, still less.

—Carl Sagan
"It's Time to Go to Mars"
The New York Times, p. A27
January 23, 1987

Where Have the Test Tubes Gone?

I wonder, does anyone use test tubes nowadays? My experience leads me to believe that many younger chemists have never even seen one. I can recall going into one of my laboratories about 30 years ago and asking for a few test tubes.

After a frantic search, I believe that about three sad specimens were found. As a result of my occasional forays they eventually reserved a stock for my use and even found a decaying test tube rack.

When asked to try some experiment, the average chemist's response nowadays is to set up an elaborate apparatus with mechanical stirrer, heating mantle etc. In the time taken to do this, several exploratory experiments can be carried out in test tubes before carrying out a more refined experiment which almost certainly will have a greater chance of success as a result of the preliminary test tube work.

Is test tube chemistry a lost art and, if so, is there any chance of it being resuscitated?

—J.F. Hodgson
Letter to the Editor
Chemistry in Britain, p. 27
January 1987

Chalk One Up for Peer Review

In short, the academic community has brought this conflict of peer review versus direct appropriation upon itself. I fear the day will come when all research centers and universities compete for funds like defense contractors. If I am correct about this problem originating in the academic research community, then the solution resides with that community.

No one is comfortable with peer review; no scientist I know has not had a proposal turned down or a paper rejected. But that feeling of discomfort and vulnerability coming from peer review is exactly right. The long term interests of our democracy are best served by keeping special interest politics out of science policy decision-making and strengthening the peer review system. It is the bulwark of our science policy process.

—Heinz R. Pagels
"Executive Director's Letter"
The New York Academy of Sciences
Science Focus, p. 2
Fall 1986

Recognizing French Innovation

In France, as in any other country, the continuing success of advanced science and technology depends on at least three factors: the necessity to know, to develop know-how, but just as importantly, to make accomplishments known. If I had one serious criticism of those in my country who are involved in advanced technology, it would be that they have not been as good at making known their work and their achievements as at developing knowledge or know-how.

Without underestimating the great technological achievements of U.S. companies in telecommunications (as well as those of Japan), it can be said that France has become one of the major innovators in this domain.

Our country should therefore receive increasing recognition for its accomplishments in advanced technology.

—Pierre Aigrain
"French Advances in Telecommunications"
French Advances in Science & Technology, p. 2
Winter 1986-1987

Knowledge on the Cheap

One of my objections to pseudoscience and the paranormal is that it is a way of getting knowledge on the cheap. Whereas conventional scientific knowledge is obtained in a very tedious and painstaking way, with breakthroughs and flashes of insight being rare events, it is characteristic of the paranormal that major knowledge is as easily obtained without any special knowledge. Anyone can do it. Whereas tiny bits of science take a man years, in the case of the paranormal it is seconds. The paranormal makes anyone an expert because it is personal experience that matters and the wound to self-esteem given by not understanding science is healed.
—Professor Lewis Wolpert The Guardian, p. 9
December 24, 1986

Secret Recipes

If, like me, you find the lists of ingredients which are to be seen on everything in the shops these days either faintly disturbing or downright baffling, you may like to see if you can guess where this example of the genre comes from:

"Water, isopropyl myristate, decyl oleate, propylene glycol, stearic acid, squalene wheatgerm oil, polyamino sugar condensate, allantoin, pantheol, glyceryl stearate, glyceryl stearate SE, lanolin oil, polysorbate 60, sorbitan stearate, dimethicone, carbomer 941, tniethanolamine, tocopherol, ascorbyl palmitate, methylparaben propylparaben, bucylparaben, tri sodium EDTA, fragrance."

The answer? A bottle of Miss Dior body lotion. If you've ever wondered why it's so expensive...

—"It's the chemistry"
Daily Telegraph, p. 13
January 5, 1987

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