APS News


Wen Ho Lee, Dreyfus Cases Eerily Similar

James Riordon's excellent article on Wen Ho Lee in the July 2002 APS News issue rightly emphasizes ethnic profiling. To this I would add national hysteria. From beginning to end, this case bears a remarkable resemblance to another episode of national hysteria, the notorious Dreyfus case, which rocked France a century earlier.

There, in 1894, at a time of widespread anti-Semitism, Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army officer, was accused of passing military secrets to a member of the German general staff, and imprisoned after a secret military trial. Here, Wen Ho Lee, a Chinese-American scientist, was suspected of passing nuclear secrets to Chinese agents, charged with improperly downloading computer files, and held without bail or trial.

There, Dreyfus was imprisoned under heavy armed guard on Devil's Island and chained to his bed at night. Here, Lee was kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day, and shackled hand and foot when he left his cell.

There, an army colonel admitted that he had forged the principal documentary evidence against Dreyfus. Here, an FBI agent admitted that the evidence he gave against Lee was incorrect.
Richard Williams
Princeton, NJ

Wen Ho Lee is no Mahatma Ghandi

During Wen Ho Lee's incarceration, I participated in the petitions, etc. protesting his obvious mistreatment and the probable ethnic prejudice against him. Never, though, was I more aware of the admonition (usually attributed to Justice Brandeis) that those who would stand up for civil liberties will often find themselves defending some truly despicable characters. Such is Wen Ho Lee, who has made his living inventing nuclear bombs to exterminate cities, or even whole nations, of human beings. And he did this for a country already possessing a nuclear arsenal orders of magnitude in excess of any plausible need for deterrence, defense, or even aggression. While it was our duty to protest the violation of Lee's rights, let's not delude ourselves. This guy is no Mahatma Ghandi.
Jonathan Allen
Titusville, NJ

Article Presents Impression of Bias

As a regular reader and admirer of APS News, I was dismayed by the shoddy journalism in the article about the Wen Ho Lee Case in the July 2002 issue.

For example, "But one spy suspect on the CNN list stands out: Wen Ho Lee is an Asian-American, a former Los Alamos National Laboratory hydrodynamics expert, and, it now seems, probably innocent."

In the phrase I have italicized the author speculates without presenting any justifying evidence that Lee is probably innocent. Unfounded speculation on a suspect's guilt or innocence has no business in a news article — least of all should it be part of a newspaper sponsored by an organization of high scientific standards.

Compounding the impression of bias this article presents is the final reference to a web site where one can find "further information on Lee's case and a petition drive for his presidential pardon ..".
William R. Frazer
Aspen, Colorado

Wen Ho Lee Violated Trust

I am puzzled as to why Wen Ho Lee would be looking for a job [APS News interview, July 2002]. He is, after all, receiving full retirement benefits from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Imagine any company giving a wayward employee full retirement benefits!

If I were an employer, I know why I would not hire this guy: he violated workplace rules, then tried to justify his actions by the lamest excuses. By downloading an enormous amount of classified material, Wen Ho Lee has violated the trust of his friends, colleagues, and in his case, the country that provided him with opportunities to succeed.

It's high time for Wen Ho Lee to come clean. I want to know where the "missing tapes" are. I want an apology from Wen Ho Lee for the trouble he has imposed on his former friends and colleagues at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Karen Pao
Los Alamos, New Mexico

Climate Change Needs Stronger Effort

I'd like to respond to J.C. Watts' comments in the "Viewpoints" column of May 2002 APS News. The damage-mitigation policy he advocates for dealing with climate change is certainly necessary, but without an accompanying stronger effort to reduce greenhouse gases (especially CO2), it is like sending in a bucket brigade to bail out a rapidly submerging Holland, without sending in a task force to identify and plug leaks in the dike.

The Bush administration has NOT announced a policy of carbon reduction-on the contrary, under their plan for what they call greenhouse gas "intensity" reduction, the actual carbon emissions would rise!

They have refused to sign on to the Kyoto accords, a small step, but at least one in the right direction. Watts' "climate change policy for America" ignores the root causes of all the extreme weather phenomena it is trying to deal with.
Eric Nelson-Melby
Lausanne, Switzerland

Alpher and Herman's Work Often Forgotten

The Physics History story, "June 1963: Discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background" in your July, 2002 APS News issue fails to give a proper historical background for the prediction of the CMB.

Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman, in 1948, predicted a present temperature for it of about 5 Kelvin (Nature, vol.162. pg.774 (1948)).

Robert Dicke, credited in your story, was unaware of Alpher and Herman's prediction when, 17 years later, he predicted a CMB of about 3 Kelvin (R.H. Dicke, P.J.E.Peebles, P.G.Roll, I.D. Wilkinson, Astrophys. J. vol.142, pg. 414 (1965) ).

Alpher and Herman have published informative histories of the Big Bang in "Reflections on Early Work on 'Big Bang' Cosmology" (Physics Today, vol.41, pg.24 (August, 1988)) and "Genesis of the Big Bang", Oxford University Press, 2001.

A quote from the Physics Today article, "But we have derived enormous pleasure from the creative process, considerable pain from lack of appreciation of our work, and some measure of satisfaction and pleasure from realizing that at long last some scientific colleagues view our contributions as meritorious," gives some indication of their feelings about their early work being so often ignored or misrepresented.
Ralph de Blois
Schenectady, New York

I liked your feature "This Month in Physics History" [APS News, July 2002] on the discovery of the cosmic background radiation. It's a wonderful story, but there's more to it than you told. The missing bit is that a cosmic thermal background at about 5 K was predicted by Alpher and Herman in 1948. That prediction was then forgotten or ignored. Even now the origin of the idea is commonly overshadowed, as in your story, by its rediscovery 15 years later by Dicke. He was instrumental in communicating the significance of Penzias and Wilson's work, but priority ought to be priority. The question of why experts were unaware of significant existing work is one that is probably still relevant.
Charles Kaufman
Kingston, Rhode Island

Typo Understates Age of Universe

There was an obvious typo in the July 2002 (Vol. 11, No. 7) APS News in "This Month in Physics History." The first paragraph mentioned the CMB originating from 16-million years ago. I believe 16-billion years was the intended figure.
Daniel Fromowitz,
Niskayuna, NY

Motivation of Penzias and Wilson Clarified

It is my understanding that Penzias and Wilson were decidedly NOT trying to "measure radio signals from the spaces between galaxies" [This Month in Physics History, APS News, July 2002].

Rather, they were assuming there would be no signal in that region and were seeking to use that "fact" to enable measurement of the intrinsic noise in their amplifiers.
Terry Goldman
Los Alamos, New Mexico

Land mines & US Policy

Having been a teacher and research physicist for more than forty years, I was conditioned to not being surprised at the way the great majority of physicists feel about ethical issues, i.e. that such soft talk is irrelevant to physics and should also be to physicists. But even then I was not prepared for the article by Richard Craig on land mines in the July 2002 issue of APS News. A few remarks will make clear why:

  • 133 countries have signed the treaty known colloquially as APM or the Ottawa Convention concerning "the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of Anti-Personnel mines, and on their destruction".
  • The U.S., however, has not signed, together with Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Syria, China and Russia. Does this list of seven countries ring a bell somewhere in the memory of the reader?
  • The U.S. has refused to give agencies trying to clear mine fields technical information on mines that would make mine clearing easier and safer.

Does anyone really doubt that the original refusal of Clinton to sign the treaty had a lot more to do with protecting the profits of companies making mines than with protecting American military personnel? American companies continue to design, produce, and sell to anyone the land mines that Richard Craig wants physicists to help clear. Isn't that like mopping the floor with the faucet open? Why doesn't Craig ask physicists to help in a more effective way against the scourge of land mines by asking the elected representatives from their districts and states to put pressure on the government to sign the treaty, now? More than 120 congressmen have already done this. [See http://www.fcnl.org/issues/arm/sup/lan_chron.cfm]

I know, of course, what the answer will be: physicists shouldn't engage in politics. In answer I would close with a thought that may wake up some dormant moral qualms: Not engaging in politics is a political act — you can't get off the hook by doing as Pontius Pilate.
Philip Smith Groningen,
The Netherlands

Richard Craig's Reply

As noted on the Back Page I am not an expert in land mines. I am even less an expert in the politics of land mines.

However, within my very limited knowledge, Smith's assertions cannot be supported; the US government is in the process of fabricating land mines that are very unlikely to injure noncombatants and that will be destroyed, made inert, or retrieved instead of being abandoned in-place.

Furthermore, it is my understanding that, despite the failure of some nations to sign the Ottawa treaty, there is a moratorium on the manufacture and sale of antipersonnel land mines.

Finally, I cannot imagine technical information about U. S. or other nations' land mines that cannot be obtained simply by testing one of the many contaminating the landscapes of Cambodia, Angola, Bosnia, etc.
Richard A. Craig
West Richland, WA

Can't Have it Both Ways

In the July 2002 APS News, in an article entitled 'Panel Probes Possibilities in Particle Physics', Raymond L. Orbach is said to have "stressed that the next big accelerator must be an international effort from the start, regardless of where the machine is built", an opinion with which I agree.

Two paragraphs further on, in referring to the Japanese computer 'Earth Simulator', which is 50 times faster than any US machine, he is quoted as saying, "To find ourselves second on an international scale is a national disaster".

It is precisely this attitude that contributed to the failure of the SSC, and will need to be overcome if his first expressed wish regarding the NLC is to be met.
Len Bugel

We Don't Mess Around in Texas

Last November Physics Today published a book review written by Hans Bethe - "Edward Teller: A Long Look Back," about the Teller "Memoirs: A 20th Century Journey in Science and Politics."

This review is just about what one would expect to see in Physics Today. It opens with the phrase "In his fascinating Memoirs..." and ends with "I strongly recommend the book."

A somewhat different review of "Memoirs" appears in a recent issue of The Texas Observer (7/5/02), by Anna Mayo. Its title is "And the Shark Has Pretty Teeth, Dear."

Since most APS members 1) have probably read Bethe's Physics Today review and 2) probably don't subscribe to The Texas Observer, I'll quote a bit more from the latter review. She begins as follows: "When the review copy arrived, I couldn't bring myself to touch it; a horrid thing, it gave off poisonous vapors - like an alchemist's toad. Finally, using tongs, I managed to get it up on the shelf alongside the autobiographies of Judas Iscariot, Dr. Strangelove, and Faust."

It goes on: "The toad-like book is the memoirs of Bohr's sometime pupil, the Hungarian-born physicist Edward Teller, who achieved worldwide fame as 1) Betrayer of J. Robert Oppenheimer, and 2) Father of the Hydrogen Bomb. "Since our Dr. Faustus is ninety-something and in failing health, his book may be seen as a last effort to prove that he's not a heel."

Near the end: "But he is to be condemned not only for having played Judas to Oppenheimer, but for adhering to the belief, in the face of unchallengeable evidence to the contrary, that low-level radiation is a beneficial agent of evolution, that it weeds out the weak to produce a super race.

"Together with his sponsors in the military and industry, he is to be condemned for the deaths of uranium miners, of victims of the atomic tests in the Marshall Islands and Nevada and of persons living in the vicinity of nuclear power reactors; for promoting the Star Wars anti-missile system so favored by the present administration; for promulgating false studies to cover up these deeds against humanity; for having sanctioned the persecution of scientists such as Linus Pauling, Ernest Sternglass, and Teller's ultimate nemesis, John Gofman."

Obviously there are differences of opinion regarding Teller, his "Memoirs", and his work. As I said at the beginning, we don't mess around in Texas.
Robert A. Levy
Austin, Texas

Machines Can't Defy Entropy Either

In the August/September 2002 APS News I read that the APS Executive Board approved a resolution that calls claims of perpetual motion machines fraudulent. While I applaud the resolution, I believe that there is a more important need to also include "entropy-defying machines" into the ranks of fraudulent claims. Many proposers of such devices do not deny the existence of the second law of thermodynamics. They argue that entropy-decreasing systems are energetically possible, just unlikely. Then they argue that a clever scheme (machine) could be fabricated that would make it possible to overcome the thermo-dynamic (DT/T) efficiency limit.

In my area of expertise, solar cells, the unfortunate situation has developed that solar cell device schemes have been proposed that promise unbelievably high conversion efficiencies (>70%) for two-terminal solar cell device structures converting the solar radiation spectrum into electricity. The high conversion efficiencies arise from concepts where it is suggested that the energy in excess of that required to excite an electron-hole pair to the "collection energy level" (i.e., the semi-conductor band edges in a conventional semiconductor solar cell) would not be necessarily lost to thermalization. Such arguments, I believe, artificially separate the generation of carriers (electron-hole pairs) and the collection of such at the terminals of the device, thereby leading to the illusion that the thermodynamic limit could be overcome. Such schemes come from authors that are well respected in the field, and papers proposing such solar cell schemes have passed the muster of the review process in AIP journals.
Bolko Von Roedern
Golden, Colorado

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