APS News


Happer to Remain on Princeton Team

In a letter to APS News, Dan Kleppner pointed out that a recent article on MRI rare gas imaging had failed to mention that this new and valuable technique was conceived and developed by William Happer of Yale University. It falls to me to correct the corrector: Will Happer is a member of the Physics Department of Princeton University and we have no intention of trading him to Yale!
Curtis G. Callan, Jr.
Princeton University, Princeton New Jersey

Readers Reply to Chodos Regarding Foreign Students

In his Viewpoint article (APS News, October 1999), Alan Chodos claims that "the ability to change this [perceived shortage of American physicists] rests very little with professors in universities." But professors can do a lot, because declining interest in physics stems largely from faculty disinterest in teaching. The hiring, pay, promotions and tenure of essentially every faculty member at PhD-granting departments is based nearly exclusively on research. Most departments are eager to hire promising researchers, regardless of teaching skills. This imbalance has implications for K-12 education, for congressional and public attitudes, and for the much-lamented problems of physics. Here at the University of Arkansas, we have demonstrated that attention to students can have big payoffs. We have added two new applied BS tracks geared toward immediate employment, broken our large introductory course into smaller sections that combine lecture and lab, added a BA physics degree for students headed for careers in such non-physics fields as business and law, expanded our course for non-scientists, added two applied interdisciplinary MS programs and an MA degree for teachers, and paid greater attention to teaching and mentoring. The result? Physics course enrollments are up, the number of physics majors is up, and the physics baccalaureate graduate rate is up from an average of 2.5 per year during 1990-1997 to 12 in 1998, 13 in 1999 and 16 on track for 2000.
Art Hobson
University of Arkansas

When APS was founded at the turn of the last century, Europe was the world center of physics. Americans went to Europe to learn physics, and the shift to America was the result at least in part of mass immigration of European physicists to the US in the 1930s. Thus the internationalism of physics has been one of its characteristic, proud features and great strengths, and Americans have learned more than they have taught. Today, America is a magnet for foreign physics students in part because of the wealth of federal funding available for physics. It is very hard, therefore, to understand why Chodos expects increased federal funding to shift the national composition of physics students in favor of Americans. And it is not obvious that such a shift should be engineered as a matter of policy. Once we start down the road of national selectivity in science, we move in the direction of quotas and other forms of restriction, such as characterized medical school admissions in the US in the 1930s, and which now are thankfully behind us. Assuming that to first approximation national groups contribute to the pool of physics talent in proportion to their numbers, it is reasonable that students of Asian origin should be particularly numerous. We should be grateful that they favor American schools as much as they do and that so many remain in this country. Our need for scientific manpower is such that currently 55,000 persons with special skills are exempted from our immigration quotas. In World War II, we learned from experience with nationals of Japanese origin that national origin alone should not be a test of security risk, while native-borns like Aldrich Ames and the Walkers did us incalculable damage. We need better tools for credibility assessment in security investigations - not a xenophobic manpower policy.
Lawrence Cranberg
Austin, Texas

In his article concerning a shortage of American-born physicists for national security projects, Alan Chodos has ignored an obvious source of talent - those of us who were working for the national security at the national labs and other federal and private laboratories but were laid off or forced into early retirement at the conclusion of the SDI program. The question that occurs to me, however, is do we really need another large national effort on behalf of national security?
Bill P. Curry, Ph.D.
EMSciTek Consulting Co.

New DOE Polygraph Rules Don't Protect National Security

The Department of Energy's proposed new polygraph policy should be of concern to many physicists. All APS members in particular should realize that polygraph screening has no theoretical foundation and is without validity; anyone can be taught to beat this type of polygraph examination in a few minutes. Any spies at our national laboratories will take those few minutes and more to learn to beat the polygraph. The following sources should make this clear:

Drew C. Richardson, testimony to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, http://www.nopolygraph.com/drewtest.html

Charles R. Honts, "Counterintelligence Scope Polygraph Test Found to be Poor Discriminator," Forensic Reports, 5 (1992), pp. 215-218.

Scientific Validity of Polygraph Resting: A Research Review and Evaluation - A Technical Memorandum. Washington DC: U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, OTA-TM-H-15, November 1983.

David T. Lykken. A Tremor in the Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector. 2nd ed. New York: Plenum, 1998.

By substituting cheaper polygraph exams for more expensive background investigations, the DOE is shirking its duty to protect America's atomic secrets. The proposed rules fail to protect both national security interests and employees, and I urge the DOE to rescind its proposed polygraph rules and to use its discretionary authority to halt all polygraph screening of DOE and contractor employees. For an account of my personal experience with the polygraph - I was falsely accused of being a spy - see http://www.nopolygraph.com/captain_jones.cfm
George W. Maschke
University of California, Los Angeles

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Editor: Barrett H. Ripin
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette