Verbatlm excerpts from the media on the conduct of science.
Keep Politics Out of the Workplace
I find the recent infusion of ideological views, and calls for official ACS [American Chemical Society] support of those views, in your letters section to be extremely annoying. Issues such as binary chemical weapons, SDI, and weapons control are of course issues about which citizens should be concerned. But to allow one's personal philosophy to interfere with one's profession is, to me, extremely unprofessional. For example, as a libertarian I find taxation, among other things, to be abhorrent, but my research is partially funded by state and federal grants. I do not let my political beliefs interfere in the conduct of this research.
ACS is a professional society and is composed of members with a broad spectrum of political philosophies. Official policy should deal with issues that concern its members as chemists and chemical engineers, not as liberal or conservative private citizens, even though they fit both categories. I suggest that people who oppose or support various activities of this or any other Administration contact the appropriate PAC or political party to generate pressure in the direction they prefer, and to air their left- and right-wing diatribes in a newspaper or Time magazine.
A Theory of Everything
Physicists are on the verge of a "theory of everything" that will show the "all-embracing order and unity that underpins physical reality," Paul Davies, Professor of Theoretical Physics at Newcastle upon Tyne told a conference on Mystics and Scientists at Winchester.
He said God could then provide the simplest logical explanation for why the physical laws were chosen as the basis for a self-conscious universe.
"God creates the laws of physics, which then go on to create the universe which then creates us. Of course any such God has to transcend the universe along with the laws. He is thus an eternal god in the sense of being completely outside time," Dr Davies said.
On Campus in Japan
Scientists at Japanese universities lead an isolated life. Most professors are graduates of their own departments, and stay there until retirement. . . . When, several years ago, Teruhisa Noguchi left Tokyo University to head Suntory's Institute for Biomedical Research, it was so unusual that it made front-page news in the Japanese newspapers.
Japanese universities certainly do not look like places capable of inspiring creative research. Consisting for the most part of buildings that are dilapidated without and dingy within, they evince an atmosphere of stagnation and decay. Fifteen years ago, these same campuses were the scene of riots. Student councils accused professors, particularly those in engineering faculties, of maintaining connections with industry, or, in their phrase, "monopolistic capitalism". Fear of such criticism coupled with the leftist bias of the Japanese scientific community itself led to a severing of links with industry. Today, according to Toshio Sata, former professor of precision engineering at Tokyo University, "80 per cent or more of university professors think their laboratories are independent from industry."
Science and Morality
There are very few diseases where morality and science walk hand in hand. I did not write the surgeon general's report [on AIDS] as a moral treatise. I wrote it as a scientific report. But if you go through it, there are 13 statements having to do with what people call morality. Abstinence is a social term for a scientific fact that absolutely will prevent AIDS. It's also a moral term. Monogamous marriage is a scientific term; it is also a moral term.
Mathematicians, as a rule, don't worry about utility. In fact, many of them view with disdain suggestions that their work might improve technology or later have commercial use. Instead, they see themselves engaged in a much loftier pursuitadvancing human knowledge in one of the most fundamental areas of thought. That's essentially what Godfrey Hardy, a British mathematician, had in mind when he proudly proclaimed in 1940 that "No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world."
But Hardy, like other mathematicians who have made similar claims, was wrong. Hardy's esoteric work in number theory, it turned out, formed the basis for secret codes used by the military. Many other important, but seemingly useless advances in mathematics, have also had equally significant applications.
UK Higher Education Minister on the Brain Drain
The importance of scientific research is common ground, but abstract invocation of its benefits is not enough. Nor is it enough, as some appear to think, to spray the status quo with more government money. We must ensure that scientific excellence nourishes the economy, and hence science itself. Positive changes are taking place more than is generally realized.
Take, for example, the government's response to the "brain drain." Young scientists leaving for America are refugees not from the Treasury but from the cumulative effects on British science of educational, industrial, fiscal, and cultural failings. In America they can expect more pay, lower tax and more dynamic career prospects. That is why the recently agreed structural changes in university pay, in exchange for a 24 per cent increase, are so important. In future, universities will be able to reward performance and scarce talent more directly and more generously.
Judging from the letters to C&EN's [Chemical and Engineering News] editor or the impressions of the American Chemical Society's president, Mary L. Good, the topic of most interest to ACS members these days isn't a new breakthrough in chemical research or the salaries being paid to chemists. It's how to label the columns in the periodic table.
"I've not seen an area that has generated as much interest in the chemical community in a very, very long time," Good tells C&EN. "I think the whole exercise is kind of good for the discipline, frankly, because it has gotten people aware of nomenclature issues. It's got people aware of what's going on at [the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry].
Math is the Key
Mathematics and the physical sciences are inseparable disciplines, and mathematics is the key. A concerted program for increasing substantially the contact hours in mathematics for all students and at all levels of public education is fundamentally more important to the general advancement of the intellectual abilities of students rather than exposing them to chemistry and physics when they are ill-prepared to deal with the conceptual demands of the subjects.
The solution is not to be found solely in a plea for additional funds. The long-term solution requires the training of dedicated instructors competent in the fields of the physical sciences and mathematics from our liberal colleges.
Fads and Fashions
Scientists' research priorities can be influenced by fads and fashions within the scientific community or from society at large. With AIDS becoming more prominent as a national concern, and its control destined to be debated in the Presidential campaign, even more scientists may be drawn into the research effort.
The Depths of the Ocean
Today more and more biological scientists are focusing on fewer and fewer problems. Although the current surge of activity in molecular biology, biochemistry, biotechnology, immunology, and neurobiology is no doubt leading to one of the great eras of biological research, it is no doubt also producing a biology of extreme specialization. Some of us are concerned that limits are being imposed on future discoveries. Where are the scientists who will define the systems for the next waves of biological discovery, when we begin to investigate more intensively the interactions among cells, tissues, organisms, and communities?
For such researchers the ocean ... offers a vast unexplored territory. It hosts a multitude of organisms living under extreme conditionsorganisms that have devised unique ways to survive, employing unusual, little-studied, and little-understood adaptations. These organisms may provide solutions to complex problems in biology.
Warnings in Belgium
King Baudouin of Belgium yesterday called for more ... attention to be paid to the effects of scientific advances on society.
He asked the European parliament to focus on the technical applications of the information and communications sciences, which he described as ambiguous in their effects.
A devout Roman Catholic, the king also gave a warning of the dangers inherent in the scientific development of genetics and "everything that concerns human procreation". No political power could remain unconcerned by the ethical questions raised by recent advances, he said.
Talking about the funding of British science, Walter Bodmer, director of the Imperial Cancer Re search Fund, had a pithy comment to make last week about the government's antics. You don't, he said, award people pay rises unless you know that you have the money to pay them. Scientists, he said, are like nuts: you screw them and they bolt.
[According to Professor Jan Kostszewski, the president of the Polish Academy of Sciences] when speaking of Polish-Soviet scientific cooperation, it should be noted that there are still a great many capabilities and potentialities for increases in its effectiveness that are going on unutilized. For example, the complex and costly equipment on hand in the scientific institutions of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the USSR Academy of Sciences could be put to much more efficient use. But first of all, in my view, we must free ourselves from formalism in our ties and expand the contacts of scientists. It is essential to further improve the structure of reciprocal field trips by scientific workers so that they will be more in accord with the implementation of the most important and promising plans.
"We value our cooperation with Soviet scientists and greatly appreciate it," said J. Kostszewski in conclusion, "and we will do everything possible to strengthen and expand it so that it will more successfully serve our countries and peoples...."
The Real Plight of the Postdocs
I note that you continue to publish letters on the "plight of the British postdocs". I write now to suggest a comparatively simple step that would at least remove one irritation. I refer to the use of the word "assistant". While it is not unreasonable to advertise for "research assistants" at the grade of postdoctorate, it seems both insulting and inaccurate to refer to "postdoctoral research assistants". Surely those advertising are seeking people who should contribute originality to the solution to a problem and are not mere assistants.
AIDS and Insurance
… the White House has been obstructing Congressional funding of the C.D.C. and N.I.H. for research on [AIDS] treatment, virology and epidemiology. The inadequacies are documented in the February 1985 Congressional Office of Tech-nology Assessment Memorandum and the October 1986 report of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.
If the AIDS health crisis costs the insurance industry so much, why does it not protest publicly the documented, White House-directed mismanagement and obstruction of adequate research?
So many scientists have been ordained in recent years that they have now formed an organization for themselves.
It was at the Foxhill Conference Centre, near Chester, …that twenty-four of them committed themselves to observe the aims and to follow the rules of life of the Society of Ordained Scientists for an initial period of one year. Another three, not present at the event, also made a similar commitment.
A statement from the group said that members aimed to offer to God the work of science in the exploration and stewardship of creation to express the commitment of the Church to science and their concern for the impact of science on the worldthereby serving the Church in its relation to science and technology.
The age profile of Ph.D. scientists and engineers in academia has changed considerably over the 1973-85 period. In 1973, 76 percent were under 50 years of age and 27 percent were under age 35. By 1985, 67 percent were under 50, and only 13 percent were under age 35. This shift toward older age groups reflects, in part, the relatively low growth in employment in educational institutions. Younger doctorates are more likely to cite research and development rather than teaching as their primary work activity.
Drying Up Acid Rain
President Reagan's promises this week in Canada and his pledge last month to seek $2.5 billion for the development of commercial technologies to combat acid rain have generated a wave of excitement among researchers.
The proposed financing would provide an opportunity for researchers to demonstrate the viability of a wide range of technologies designed to redesign sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants and other coal-burning sources.
The Department of Energy, which is coordinating the Government's efforts to develop new pollution-control devices, plans to build several test facilities where new clean-coal technologies can be demonstrated.
Going to the Undertakers
The atmosphere in British universities is "funereal", according to James Watson.
Interviewed … in a Granada TV World in Action programme about the "brain drain", Dr Watson says: "It's hard to see the real future there are so many good jobs available on the Continent, and in the United States, which pay three or four times more than the United Kingdom.
"Going to your English universities is like going to the undertakers."