Letters

Taxman Blowing the Whistle Von Hapsburgs's Return Libraries Not Dead Museum Learning Stephen Greene wrote a timely article about how changes in federal tax laws affect the tax exemption status of graduate students with fellowships and assistantships (October 19, 1987, p. 1). However, he did not mention current Internal Revenue Service efforts to collect back taxes from former or current graduate students who held research assitantships during the years before the tax law changes cam

Jan 25, 1988
Edward Walker

Taxman
Blowing the Whistle
Von Hapsburgs's Return
Libraries Not Dead
Museum Learning

Stephen Greene wrote a timely article about how changes in federal tax laws affect the tax exemption status of graduate students with fellowships and assistantships (October 19, 1987, p. 1). However, he did not mention current Internal Revenue Service efforts to collect back taxes from former or current graduate students who held research assitantships during the years before the tax law changes came into effect.

The IRS contacted me in July 1986 and ordered me to pay taxes on income from a research assitantship I held when I was a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts in 1983. The agency argued that because the funds for my assistantship came from an extramural grant, the assitantship should be taxed because the grantor was expecting specific services from the grant recipient (i.e., my faculty adviser). The IRS would not accept the standard letter from my department head with the statement that had performed no services not required of all students. I know many other students who have also been chased by the IRS for similar reasons. According to the IRS review officer I met with, research assitantships were never tax exempt, and those graduate students who did exempt themselves and got away with it were just lucky, or were considered small potatoes not worth pursuing by case review officers with heavy case loads. I believe, although I cannot generally prove it, that the IRS has an ongoing program of collecting back taxes from former graduate students. Such a program would make sense because, although the individual tax is small, collectively the payoff may be great. Given the ambiguity of the former regulations, the tenacity of IRS reviewers. and the new stiff law, one can only be convinced that the federal government’s priorities do not favor graduate education.

—Edward D. Walker
Dept. of Entomology
Michigan State University
E. Lansing, MI 48824

I don’t know if I should submit entries to your contest for a slogan to describe the impending shortage of scientific personnel in the United States (November 2, 1987, p. 2) because I’m not sure the demographers are right.

We certainly won’t encourage U.S. kids to take science if we don’t offer to pay them more than these two classified ads from the November 30, 1987 issue (p. 30). Only $8.50 and $10.50 an hour for Ph.D.s! Plumbers around here get $30 an hour!

—Alan C. Nixon
Wells Fargo Bldg., Rm. 511
2140 Shattuck Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94704

RESEARCH ASSOCIATE In Theoretical Physics, to assist faculty, advise junior colleagues and perform Independent research In the areas of (i) structure: idealized chiral bag models, bosonizatlon and effective lagranglans; (ii) quark-gluon plasma physics: perturbative and nonperturbative methods, screening and deconfinement; (iii) lattice gauge theory: analytical and Monte Carlo methods. Requirements: Ph.D. in particle theory plus at least 3 years experience in the above areas, as evidenced by publications in refereed journals. Proficiency with DEC, SUN and COC systems (programming In VMS, UNIX and FORTRAN-200) for numerics and graphics. Salary $21 ,000/year for 40 hours/week. Send resume before 12/31/87

RESEARCH ASSOCIATE: Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, natural products Isolation, structure elucidation emphasis. To isolate, determine structures of bioactive compounds from marine invertebrates. Three years experience required In the following (may be gained during Ph.D. studies): NP isolation; extensive high field NMR (Varian 300) operation, including 20 NMR: IR, MS NMR data Interpretation; HPLC; mechanical, electrical equipment repair; technician supervision. Salary of $17,000/year for a basic 40-hour work week. Send vita, three letters of recommendation.

The stories of the whistle-blowers that appeared in the December 14, 1987 issue (p. 11) brought back memories. Scientific cheating is probably a great deal more widespread than we suspect. The approaches and the seductions are insidious. My experience in 1964 adds to the growing case file. I was working in a chemical laboratory in an aerospace firm, trying to synthesize a perfluorinated epoxyde. The monomer, if we could synthesize it, would have been po- lymerized to produce a strongly heat-resistant nose cone for the B-I bomber.

But I could'nt synthesize it. I tried all the existing methods to form an epoxyde, but as soon as the compound formed it opened its ring and produced an acid (a sodium salt, under the circumstances).

One day, as I reported yet another failure to my supervisor. a Ph.D. in chemistry, he scratched his head and mentioned thoughtfully that he had a quarterly report due. “We’re so close to making it. Can’t we just say we produced the monomer? We’ll polymerize it as soon as we have, anyway.”

“But we can’t just say we made it!” I said. “We have to report a boiling point, a refractive index, an elemental analysis, some confirmation of the structure.”

He shook his head sadly. “You’re right, of course.

A week later, he placed me on open transfer within the company—a formality before being fired. To my great fortune, I discussed the project with a group of chemists in another division, who looked into the theory and found that the epoxyde couldn't be made, but even if it could, it would be inert to polymerization. They, appreciated my work and offered me a place on their team. I eventually, published my results in Chemistry and Industry.

A few months later, my former supervisor was fired, and all was well. But it was luck. I could have fared a lot worse.

—Peter Barna
1771 Seaview Trail
Hollywood, CA 90046

May I thank Henry Heatherly (December 14, 1987, p. 10) for providing so many more examples to prove my contention that modern Austria (the conformist, over-politicized republic, not the vanished empire) does not provide a congenial culture for experimental science.

Talent has no choice in its birthplace, but it can choose where to work. Pauli, Kuhn and Perutz did not remain in Austria long enough to complete a doctorate, and spent their working lives here. Meitner left as soon as she had completed her doctorate.

Mach and Boltzmann are figures of the Hapsburg empire, and both better known for their office than their lab work.

Which leaves us with Hess, educated under the empire. He spent half his working life in Austria, but the other half in the United States, where he took citizenship, retired and died. (Schroddinger, at least, re- tired to Austria.)

It is exceedingly difficult to find near-contemporary Austrian experimentalists of world reputation who have spent any great portion of their working lives in Austria.

However, hope is not lost. The restoration of the monarchy in Britain (Charles II) did wonders for science. Let us, then, press for the restoration of Otto von Hapsburg. Most Austrians, and others, would prefer him over Kurt Waldheim as head of state.

—Simon roman
2 Upper Rosemary Hill
Kenilworth, Warwicks, CV8 2PA, UK

I read with interest Simon Roman’s Opinion piece on K. Alex Muller and J. Georg Bednorz’s Nobel Prize-winning work in high-temperature ceramic superconductors (November 16, 1987, p. 12). Roman implies that they disdained preliminary literature research (“shunned the library”) and plunged right, into the “dirty work” of the laboratory. I was particularly intrigued by his comment that “as for libraries, they are far from the womb of innovation, being, in fact, the tomb of dead ideas.”

Roman signs his article as a scientist working in industry, but I wonder if he has set foot in an industrial research library inrecent years. They are hardly tombs. They are very much alive and reaching out. A modem research library has access to computerized resources of up-to-date information, some of it only a few weeks old, from all over the world—ideas that are far from dead. Such libraries work closely with the “womb of innovation" in their organizations, helping researchers to know and build on what has been done in their fields and making sure that they don’t duplicate it.

Is it not possible, in fact, that Müller and Bednorz checked the current literature on ceramic superconductors before they did their Own experiment? They certainly would have been wise to do so. For instance, if they had searched INSPEC (a data base covering the world’s literature in physics, electronics and computer science) early in 1985 they would have found more than 1,000 articles and patents on superconducting ceramics, composites and semiconductors published from the mid-1960s through 1984.

Certainly researchers should not be bound by what has been written and thought in the past. But they had better not be ignorant of it either. The creative mind, the mind capable of true invention, will not be bound, but will use the knowledge of the past as fuel for new ideas and discoveries.

—Nancy E. Lambert
Chevron Research Co.
QIti Standard Ave.
Richmond. CA 94802

I found Douglas J. Preston’s Opinion piece “Too Much Theory Ruins Museums” (July 27, 1987, p. 11) quite provocative. The provocation is so great that one wonders if Preston has not deliberately waved a red flag from his bunker just to see what fire it would draw.

He heaps criticism on science museums for replacing large, dramatic artifacts with dull educational material. He does his argument no good by making exaggerated statements. First, not every museum has a skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex, or its equivalent, to show off. Or they may have such artifacts but lack the money to rehabilitate them properly. Museums must make do with what they have.

Inevitably, we are led to his main thesis: “The first role of a museum is to delight and entertain—not teach.” The sound you hear is the grinding of many pedagogic teeth. To erect an impenetrable barrier between enjoyment and education as Preston does is asking not to be taken seriously. Surely all science museum workers hope their institutions are teaching as they delight and entertain visitors. Museums of any kind are places of learning. The good ones make the experience enjoyable and the others eventually disappear.

Since Preston does'nt want teaching to take place in a museum, he certainly doesn’t want the museum to measure its success and find out how to do a better job. He castigates educators who run tests to enable museums to build more effective exhibits. At the American Museum, for example, he goes “to see the Star of India sapphire, not to read about the microscopic structure of gems,” but he pleads that “curiosity.. . is what museums are all about.” Let’s get this straight. We should go see the Star of India (the kind of item that any museum might have), then go look for another place where that curiosity can be satisfied. What an odd, perambulatory life Preston must lead.

If museums continue to exist and be successful, it will be because people come to them to learn while they are having a good time.

—Gino Aureli
8442 Chippewa Rd.
Philadelphia, PA 19128

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(The Scientist, Vol:2, #2, p.10, January 25, 1988)
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