APS News


Keyworth's SDI Comments are "Déjà Vu"

George Keyworth (Back Page, February 2001) devotes a quarter of his remarks, which are supposedly on future weapons, to the ridiculous and irrelevant claim that Ronald Reagan was a strategic thinker, and then tops even that by stating that "SDI was effective in restoring counter-force deterrence to its more stable alternative..." This is patently false, SDI was a research program, it never produced any functioning "defense!"

As for future weapons, Keyworth's piece is Reagan's SDI speech all over again, full of extravagant but very vague promises: "digital defense will result from displacing the nuclear weapon. This is not, by any means, to imply that nuclear weapons can, or will, go away." So what good it is really? The main advantage of chip-laden and space-based weapons seems to be that 3rd world countries won't have them, so the US can launch zero-US-causality strikes against them whenever the president needs a headline. The contribution to US security seems marginal at best.

The real threat to the US is loose nukes and political instability in the former Soviet Union, but somehow our hardware peddling "defense experts" never display any real interest or urgency about that.
Ted Lawry
Boulder, Colorado

Alert Reader Catches URL Error

While trying to look up the reference cited in David Lupfer's letter "Science Textbooks Riddled with Errors" in the April issue, I discovered that the website http://www.psrc-onhne.org does not exist. After some effort I found the correct address at http://www.psrc-online.org. Apparently even the letters about science textbooks are riddled with errors.
Laurence Lurio
Argonne National Laboratory

Early Artists Did Use Optics

The March 2001 issue of APS News contained a letter from Matthew Lybanon repeating information from a year-old article in The New Yorker about David Hockney's observation that some early artists appeared to have used optical aids. His letter says "there is a great deal of skepticism in the art world about Hockney's ideas." Whether or not that overstates the case at the time, certainly much has transpired in the intervening year that Lybanon was unaware of when he wrote his letter. A few weeks after The New Yorker article appeared I was introduced to Hockney by a colleague at the Guggenheim, resulting in an unusual, and remarkably productive, collaboration between an artist and a scientist.

On May 3, 2000 Hockney and I presented our early optical discoveries to a group of eminent art historians in a day-long symposium organized for this purpose at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Space limitations permitted us to publish only a portion of our scientific evidence in the July 2000 issue of Optics and Photonics News, and we will have a second manuscript with considerable additional material finished shortly. Also, this fall, Viking will publish his book Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. These discoveries convincingly demonstrate optical instruments were in use-by artists, not scientists-nearly 200 years earlier than previously even thought possible, and account for the remarkable transformation in the reality of portraits that occurred early in the 15th century. As such, they have many implications for the history of science as well as for the history of art.
Charles M. Falco
University of Arizona

The Last Word on Science, Religion and Creationists

Editor's Note: Last November we published a Back Page by Stephen Brush on the battle between science and creationism. This triggered a deluge of letters, which then led to a series of replies, which have now generated even more replies... With the current batch of letters, this discussion in our pages is now at an end. Please don't send us any more on this topic; they won't be published.

I was disappointed to see the recent letter by Robert Gentry in APS News. In Science, Oct. 6, 1989 Odom and Rink rather thoroughly discussed the anamolous RICHs known as Polonium halos. Adequate mechanisms for the halo production were presented. Gentry's interpretation and subsequent cosmological speculations are, as Pauli would say, "Not even wrong."
Wayne Hayes
Greenville Technical College

I was somewhat appalled by the letter favoring "recent creation" in the March APS News. Clearly scientific training does not clear away what most of us see as irrational beliefs. However, nothing we may write to the author will likely change his mind. We need to be aware of how beliefs are melded into one's world view and be careful in attacking what we feel is irrational. The psychologist Gregory Lester published an excellent article ("Why Bad Beliefs Don't Die", Skeptical Inquirer, November/December 2000) on irrational beliefs and how skeptics can best work to dislodge them. His techniques are patience, patience, and patience.
Tom Barber
Houston, Texas

Adrian L. Melott's letter in the March APS News is replete with misrepresentations of my January letter. Big Bang cosmology is the precursor to the evolution of the life itself. Linked invariably with the question of the origin of man, it is hard to understand how a cosmological theory developed by man can ever explain the very existence of man. Theories propounded by man, even the elusive TOE, cannot bring anything into being and only a Creator can do that-even quantum vacuum fluctuations do not bring the vacuum into being! I am an evangelical Armenian who believes that man was created in the image of God and thus has the ability to "detect" God in a more convincing fashion than we have in inferring the reality of, say, the microworld. Our belief that "Man shall not live on bread alone" surpasses all scientific knowledge and lies at the very foundation of the humanity of man. Our purpose for doing science and reading Scripture is to reconcile in man scientific knowledge with revealed truths.
Moorad Alexanian
UNC at Wilmington

I'm wondering why the letters to APS News have become a literary discussion group about works of fantasy. You can have fans of J.R.R. Tolkien write in and debate the details of Lord of the Rings. I'm not against people doing that. I'm just wondering why this is taking place in APS News. I thought APS stood for American Physical Society. I thought APS News was supposed to be about physics. I'm not against people inventing elaborate fantasy world such as Lord of the Rings, and describing the details. I've done this myself. (See my homepage at http://www.geocities.com/jefferywinkler) I'm just wondering why this is taking place in APS News which used to be about physics. I'm very interested in mythology, legends, folklore, religion, the occult, and modern fantasy novels, film, and television, but I didn't know that these subjects were now under the domain of the American Physical Society. Perhaps I'll write a paper on the Force in Star Wars, and submit it to Physical Review Letters.
Jeffery Winkler
Hanford, California

The editors are to be congratulated for publishing Robert Gentry's creationist letter in front of Patricia Schwarz's letter on religious apologetics (APS News March 2001). Gentry's letter shows the dangers of mixing religion in science, dangers which Schwarz seems to want to gloss over. Gentry is one of a handful of otherwise technical people who want to read the Bible literally although he has yet to choose which of the biblical versions of creation he wants taught. Gentry's letter is typical of creationism in action as described in the accompanying article by Adrian L. Melott ("Kansan Dissects Soft Creationism"). Overlooking the overwhelming evidence for a multi-billion-year-old universe and for evolution, Gentry finds some (to him) problem with age dating and loudly proclaims that the Earth is only a few thousand years old. This is a classic case of "argument from ignorance" and "God is in the gaps" rhetoric. One of the current crop of creationists, Phillip Johnson, a UC-Berkeley criminal law professor, wants to replace science with something he calls theistic science. In short, he wants scientists to look for God's hand in everything.

This is akin to the Dark Ages view that angels moved the planets. While these so-called "intelligent design" advocates claim they don't know who the "intelligent designer" is, in private they admit they are promoting the concept of an ultraconservative fundamentalist Christian God. What makes their deceptive sales pitch so dangerous is that they now have allies in the White House, Congress and the Justice Department. Our local rabbi has pointed out that Genesis can be read about 70 different ways because, in the original Hebrew, there are no capitals and no punctuation and the verb tense is very, very unclear. He has termed people who read the Bible literally as "metaphorically impaired". With religious leaders like him science will continue to advance. But under fundamentalists like Robert Gentry and Phillip Johnson civilization will sink once again into a world of ignorance with superstitious beliefs that spirits inhabit everything. The APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers need to become very active in turning back this vicious assault on science.
Gary L. Bennett
Emmett, Idaho

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette