APS News


Redirect Military Spending to Science and Education

Ernest Moniz' Back Page article (APS News, May 1996) effectively summarizes the Clinton administration's view of the current state of science and education. However, there is a glaring omission in his presentation.

Moniz notes that discretionary spending in the current budget amounts to $250 billion. An equivalent sum is being proposed by the Clinton administration for the current military budget. It occurs to some of us that much of the current malaise in society would be cured if military spending were to be reduced dramatically and channeled into societal problems. The Center for Defense Information has stated that, "The United States can reduce its annual military expenditure to $175 billion without endangering military security by adopting a more realistic military strategy and paring down the existing excessive military force structure (The Defense Monitor)." (XXIV, No. 7) Although we know the political reasons for the current taboo regarding a critical discussion of military spending, it is deplorable that discussion of the issue of the excessive military budget and its consequences upon discretionary spending is avoided in the science and education community.

We have a deep systemic problems. Throwing money at the military and its hangers-on will only worsen it.

M.K. Brussel
Urbana, Illinois

Support Good Russian Science, Not Bad Russian Translation

Wallace Manheimer's article in the June 1996 issue, "Going Against the Flow: A Sabbatical in Russia," prompts me to suggest an additional way to support Russian science in this difficult period: support good Russian science, not bad Russian scientific translation.

I have a Ph.D. in chemical physics and have been a scientific translator (into English from several languages) for 18 years. Part of my work has included translating Russian journal articles for cover-to-cover translation journals. In an understandable effort to help the Russian economy, the Russian publishers have increasingly been insisting that native Russians (in Russia) be hired to do the English translations, despite the universal wisdom that we should translate only into our native language whenever possible. Since those Russians who "do science" are rarely those who "do English," the result has been translations which really should be stamped "read at your own risk." In addition to hopelessly tangled sentences, the scientific terminology is often completely wrong. The translators usually demonstrate little understanding of the Russian text, as well as practically no access to the English scientific literature (not even basic college-level textbooks). This means that they are sabotaging Russian scientists during this crucial period by making Russian science much less accessible, especially in the era of keyword-based online searching.

Sometimes it takes me longer to "fix" bad translations than to do the translation entirely myself. Most are obviously done by non-scientists, but one was done by a co-author of the paper and still used incorrect English terminology. So beware the catch-phrase "close consultation with the authors" from "in Russia" translation agencies!

Most of us with the required background to accurately "fix" the awful results find the work so frustrating that we increasingly avoid it. The publishers avoid us, too, once we set our fees to match the real time such fixing takes. In order to cut costs, I was sometimes hired to just "fix the English" (i.e., told not to compare the English with the Russian except when necessary).

Translation journals are so important both for the world scientific community and the original authors, that it is crucial to maintain high standards for them.

Cathy Flick
Richmond, Indiana

Public Based Affirmative Action

While I agree with the basic sentiment expressed by Elizabeth Baranger in "Questioning Affirmative Action" (APS News, June 1996) the suggested actions that she proposes are, in my view, inappropriate.

In particular, she advocates that we give preference in hiring/admissions to under-represented minority and women physicists, justifying this by saying that we have traditionally favored some groups, such as athletes, in-state students, certain fields of research, etc.

What we really need is an attitude toward affirmative action based not on race or gender, but one based on serving all of our public. For example, my own institution is a state-assisted public university housed in a black-majority city. Our student population, though not proportionally representative of the metropolitan area, does have a substantial percentage of African-Americans. Our faculty does not. Does that mean that we should be hiring African-Americans? No. We should be hiring faculty who can effectively teach and mentor our black students, who currently are not being served as well as they should be.

A similar argument can be made for hiring faculty to better serve our female science students. A statement of those goals should be in any job announcement, and applicants should be expected to present a case that they can effectively meet those goals. Following such guidelines would shift the focus to accomplishing the mission of the university rather than meeting racial and gender quotas. Perhaps I am being idealistic, but it seems to me such a client-centered approach is more ethical, and less likely to be blocked by court challenges and white male backlash.

Ronald L. Greene
University of New Orleans

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin