So They Say

Something looks very wrong with the management of the President's Star Wars missile defense program. Instead of clear and steady progress toward establishing its technological feasibility, the program's managers seem to shift emphasis every few months from one vaunted breakthrough to another. Last year the free-electron laser was hot stuff; now attention veers to crash development of space-based rockets. The primary goal seems political: getting production lines running before President Reagan l

April 6, 1987

Something looks very wrong with the management of the President's Star Wars missile defense program. Instead of clear and steady progress toward establishing its technological feasibility, the program's managers seem to shift emphasis every few months from one vaunted breakthrough to another. Last year the free-electron laser was hot stuff; now attention veers to crash development of space-based rockets. The primary goal seems political: getting production lines running before President Reagan leaves office. That goal collides with any kind of orderly technical progress.
—Editorial: "Star Wars Stumbles on Itself"
The New York Times,
p. A26 March 10, 1987

British Empire Syndrome

Increased spending on British science and technology is a waste of money without more social and economic research into effectively exploiting them, according to Sir Douglass Hague, chairman of the Economic and Social Research Council.

More money for scientific and technological discoveries simply assisted other countries to exploit them, Sir Douglas told British Telecom managers. Most British scientists, particularly academic scientists, suffered from a British Empire syndrome.

"They argue that if research in any field of science and technology is being carried out anywhere in the world then it should be financed in Britain too," he said.

Instead of spreading research money too thinly, Britain should be monitoring . . . findings in other countries, particularly the United States and Japan, he said. Together with research on improving innovation, that would be better value for money.

—Karen Gold
"ESRC Head Attacks Scientific Research"
The Times Higher Education Supplement, p. 5,
March 6, 1987

Science Literacy at the Top

The U.S. has become a technological society, yet its citizens allow themselves to be governed by an army of elected and appointed officials who are largely ignorant of technology. A casual scan of the backgrounds of the current members of Congress and the Senate, as well as most top state officials, will show that the overwhelming majority of this important segment of society is made up of law school graduates with little or no scientific, technical or industrial back-ground. Few have any military expertise. Should there not be at least a minimum number of technologically adept individuals at a high enough level in our government to contribute to the decisions that affect every American? Shouldn't there be more encouragement for the most technologically competent to help govern this democracy? So far, the answer to these questions seems to be "no."
—Robert R. Ropelewski
Aviation Week & Space Technology, p. 11
March 2, 1987

Roll Call

A surprising turn of events for the [Science] Committee is its newly found popularity with the 100th Congress. For years, the Science Committee was a jumping off point for incumbents to leave for better assignments. However, this year only two returning members left the Committee. The SST [Science, Space and Technology] roster grew from 41 to 45 members, with a number of senior Democrats, such as Lee Hamilton (D-IN) and Henry Nowak (D-NY), opting for a seat on the Committee. The SRT [Science, Research and Technology] Subcommittee nearly doubled its membership from 11 to 21. . . . The renewed interest in this committee and subcommittee can be explained by their jurisdiction over two juicy issues for the 100th Congress: the science and research aspects of economic competitiveness, and what to do about NASA.
—Consortium of Social Science Associations
COSSA Washington Update, p. 2
February 27, 1987

Political Power of Biotechnology

"I have thought it was premature to be making judgments, but lately I have become openly critical," [Jack Doyle, head of the Environmental Policy Institute's agricultural resources project] said. "It is clear that biotechnology will increase the use of toxic chemicals and mechanization in agriculture.

I am afraid that it indicates a continued chemical approach to agriculture rather than a biological approach. Once things start this way, it's hard to stop....

"We are raising questions about the environmental risks and the fact that not much assessment of the industry is going on. But biotechnology is not on the screen of most members of Congress.

The lack of antitrust enforcement and our permissiveness on mergers enormously magnify the power of genetic engineering."

—Ward Sinclair
"Jack Doyle: A Warning Voice Amid the Biogenetic Revolution"
The Washington Post, p. A9
March 2, 1987

Message From the Pope

Science and technology are valuable resources for man when placed at his service and when they promote his integral development for the benefit of all; but they cannot of themselves show the meaning of existence and of human progress. Being ordered to man, who initiates and develops them, they draw from the person and his moral values the indication of their purpose and the awareness of their limits.

It would on the one hand be illusory to claim that scientific research and its applications are morally neutral; on the other hand one cannot derive criteria for guidance from mere technical efficiency, from research's possible usefulness to some at the expense of others, or, worse still, from prevailing ideologies. Thus science and technology require, for their own intrinsic meaning, an unconditional respect for the fundamental criteria of the moral law: that is to say, they must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God.

The rapid development of technological discoveries gives greater urgency to this need to respect the criteria just mentioned: science without conscience can only lead to man's ruin.

—"Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin
and on the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day"
Vatican doctrinal statement March 10, 1987

Feeding Basic Curiosity

Judging from comments at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science [February 14-18, 1987], concerns are growing about the National Science Foundation's proposal to spend more money on interdisciplinary research at cam-pus-based centers that work closely with industry.

Several researchers at the meeting publicly criticized the idea.

And Gerard Piel, former chairman of the association's board and chairman of the board of Scientific American, called the creation of university centers "a dilution of the process of self-government" in a community of scholars.

The flow of federal money should respond to "the freely motivated curiosity of scientists," he added, but researchers at centers tend to become preoccupied with more narrow questions of applied science.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, p. 6
March 4, 1987

Science in Action

The story of AIDS contains all the typical features of science in action, compressed into a much shorter timespan than is usual: mystery, hypothesis and theory, discovery, surprise, debate and disagreement, bitter rivalry, suffering, tragedy, personal glory; and controversy and confusion.

Unusually for science, every step of the way has been illuminated by the spotlight of the popular media, spreading the confusion to the public at large.

The public usually expects clear facts and answers from the world of science and medicine: does this happen or does that? Is this true or is that? When a field of scientific inquiry is reasonably mature then clear facts and answers can often be given; but AIDS research is not yet mature. A few years ago it was a chaotic swirl of competing ideas and opinions. That chaos has calmed and.cleared a little, with the discovery of the virus responsible and increasing knowledge of what it does to us and how it does it; but the phase of crystal clarity is still some way off.

That's how science works—confusion slowly clearing as the hard facts crystallise out. The public often only hears about the facts that ultimately appear, but in the case of AIDS they are witnessing, and are a part of, the phase of messy confusion.

—Andrew Scott
"AIDS and the Experts"
New Scientist, p. 50
March 5, 1981

Money's Not the Object In the Search for Understanding

"Many astronomers have very marketable skills that would enable us to make a lot more money than we do if we were to switch professions," said [Wayne Christiansen, University of North Carolina]. "Many of us know about optics, wave propagation, high-energy physics, applied mathematics and most of the other things so important to the research that goes into such defense projects as Star Wars, for example. We have families to raise, and we can't help thinking about such things. But the rewards we get from trying to understand the cosmos far transcends material temptations to abandon pure astronomy, even though there are very few jobs,
—"Illuminating 'Cosmic Consciousness"
The New York Times, p. C10
March 10, 1987

Stand Up for Science

On the 17 and 22 February 1986, BBC2 broadcast, in the highly regarded Horizon series, a film entitled 'Science … fiction?', and in the issue of 20 February 1986 The Listener published an article entitied 'The fallacy of scientific objectivity'. As is evident from their titles, the Horizon film and Listener article were massive and wanton attacks against objectivity, truth and science. After rehashing the usual old anti-science chestnuts, both the film and the articles came to this conclusion: 'The gradual recognition of these arguments may affect the practice, the funding and the institutions of science' (our italics).

At least in the UK, where a number of other factors peculiar to this country have accentuated the situation, the deleterious repercussions of these mistaken arguments are already sinking in with a vengence. The tragedy is that the scientific community has not yet begun to grasp the severity of this explicit and public notification of impending threat to the interests of its profession. What' is even worse is that most participants in the 'Science … fiction?' film were academic scientists in UK universities.

Thus instead of bemoaning the cuts and laying all the blame at the doors of Government and industry, the scientific community should better put its own house in order.

—M. Psimopoulos, T. Theochans and N. Bedding
Letter to the Editor
The Listener, p. 21
February 12, 1987

Joining the Brain Drain

The recent 24 per cent increase in university salaries over three years has done nothing to persuade me that my decision to move to the US was wrong.

After more than 20 years in UK universities, 16 of those as a Professor, I became more and more disillusioned with the conditions of service and the general attitude by Central Government to academics.

When I see young police officers of 18 earning more than young lecturers of 25 with a Ph.D. with equally ridiculous comparisons up the promotional scale, then the time has come to vote with one's feet.

In the US when you tell someone you are a university professor you feel that it means something. In the UK, the general public, encouraged by the establishment, think academics are a bunch of weird layabouts.

—M.M.R. Williams
Letter to the Editor
The Guardian, p. 12
February 27, 1987

Movie Madness

I once saw an old film in which a scientist had carelessly exchanged his head with that of a fly. He sat miserably sucking milk through his proboscis while his wife hunted the fly with a butterfly net....

Why are scientists in films so utterly implausible? And does it matter? Yes, it does matter. Just as lawyers, doctors and policemen in films colour our views of lawyers, doctors and policemen in real life, so it is with scientists. But while most people have dealings at some time with real lawyers, doctors and policemen, they rarely see real scientists at work or know what they do.

Scientists themselves are partly to blame for this state of affairs. Filmmakers could do better, of course, but the obstacles are formidable. Science is a closed world, defended by its arcane language and impenetrable literature against intrusions by the lay public. We pride ourselves on our calm objectivity, and go to great lengths to ensure that our published reports carry no inkling of the rather messy fumbling that is the scientific process. As a result, "science", to most people, is a bewildering series of pronouncements and "breakthroughs" made by, well, jolly clever people.

—Tony Jones
"Why Can't Scientists be More Like the Police?"
New Scientist, p. 68
February 26. 1987

The Challenge of Japan

It is not difficult to understand, particularly when viewing the situation from the United Kingdom, the apprehension about living and working in Japan that may be in the minds of British scientists. However, once in Japan many of the difficulties one expected to face are, in reality, much less serious than they appear from the United Kingdom. In fact, many of the so-called 'problems' are a source of real pleasure in the interest and the very challenge they present.

The 'challenge' of Japan should be viewed in a positive way because there are so many things to be gained by spending time here. First, it should be recognized that many of the research centres and university departments are of a very high standard and have truly earned their reputation for excellence. One can therefore realistically expect the time spent here to be scientifically productive and successful. Of course, one is expected to work hard and the nor mal working hours are longer than those in the United Kingdom, but this should not be a detraction. In most research groups this is hardly noticeable as there is a strong feeling of companionship and very much a community spirit.

—D.S. Jones Letter to the Editor
Nature, p. 10,
March 5, 1987

A Phony Image of Knowledge

"The number one problem in education is conveying a phony image of knowledge and how it is achieved," [D. Bob Gowin, professor of philosophy of education at Cornell] said. "Education, especially in science and math, is rigid, intolerant and unenlightened."

"The typical science class is so preoccupied with memorization of terms and 'cook book' laboratory activities that efforts to encourage meaningful learning are seen as a diversion."

—Mark Eyerly
"2 Challenge a 'Phony Image' of Knowledge"
Cornell Chronicle, p. 4
February 19, 1987

Abstract Artists

Is there a convergence between images in some 20th century paintings and those seen by biologists in the laboratory? According to Giorgio Celli, an entomologist and curator of Art and Biology, one part of the large Art and Science exhibition featured at Italy's 42nd International Venice Biennale of Art, the answer to that question is yes.

Celli … maintains that many so-called abstract artists are actually realists, "naturalists of the invisible", who paint landscapes of mitochondria or the paths of electrons instead of landscapes with trees. "In our century," he says, "the fundamental paradigm is science. Enchanted by visions from the microscope and the cosmos, artists have attempted to connect their work with science."

—Lilas Green
"There's a Protozoan in That Painting"
BioScience, pp. 181-182
March 1987

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