"It only takes a little tiny difference overall to make it so that the universe now is made out of matter,"
—Fred Gilman, Carnegie Mellon University, on CP violation observed in B mesons by the BaBar experiment at SLAC, Los Angeles Times, August 7, 2004
"Only now, eight months after these storms, are the effects of these storms reaching the very outer edge of the solar system."
—Eric Christian, NASA, on the huge solar storms that erupted last fall, Dallas Morning News, July 13, 2004
"I bet my professorship that the Higgs particle, or whatever stands in its place, will be found."
—Chris Quigg, Fermilab, on the search for the Higgs, New Scientist, July 17, 2004
"Other technologies are big boxes. Our sensor can be in a shoebox. So it's something you should be able to mass-produce since it's so small, and in theory can be very cost-effective. You can deploy them over the whole volcano, and put antennas on them, beam to satellite, and sit anywhere in the world and monitor over the Web. It's a real advantage."
—Frank Tittel, Rice University, on a laser-based sensor he and coworkers are developing to detect volcanoes that might be about to erupt, United Press International, July 20, 2004
"There is such a fire hose of data coming down that we'll need all the help we can get making sense of it, writing up the results and publishing it,"
—Stamatios M. Krimigis, Johns Hopkins University, on data from an instrument called MIMI aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which is now observing Saturn, The Baltimore Sun, July 12, 2004
"What we're talking about is something that could change the way we look at the most fundamental forces in the universe."
—Dave Tedeschi, University of South Carolina, on the pentaquark, The Post and Courier (Charleston, SC), August 16, 2004
"People should be doing something now to reduce their oil dependence, and not waiting for Mother Nature to slap them in the face."
—Alfred Cavallo, Department of Homeland Security, National Geographic, June 2004
Several quotes on Stephen Hawking's announcement that he no longer believes black holes permanently swallow information, and therefore loses his bet of an encyclopedia with John Preskill:
"There has long been a split between those who believed information was really going to be lost and those who didn't."
—Sean Carroll, University of Chicago, Newsday (New York), July 22, 2004
"This puzzle that Hawking raised is going to be one of the things that drives us on to the next revolution of the understanding of the laws of nature. I wouldn't have accepted the encyclopedia because I don't think the issue is closed."
—Andrew Strominger, Harvard University, The Boston Globe, July 22, 2004
"Hawking is completely revising his prior belief that what goes into a black hole is washed out. Now he believes that anything emitted from a black hole can be identifiable back to its source. He's running away from what we still believe."
—Robert Wald, University of Chicago, Associated Press, July 22, 2004
"Part of the problem is he's providing so few details, so it's impossible to know whether we can believe these calculations. Stephen Hawking's not stupid, so we're going to take what he says seriously...but the whole theory we're hearing seems extremely speculative."
—William Unruh, University of British Columbia, Associated Press, July 22, 2004
"I'll be honest. I didn't understand the talk"
—John Preskill, Caltech, Associated Press, July 22, 2004
"Betting is a part of science. It's a way to challenge colleagues about their ideas and have your ideas challenged as well. Laying a wager is really a way to organize your thinking. If you're going to bet, you've got to figure out how to set it up, what exactly you're betting on and which side you want to be on. It's a way to carry on the scientific conversation. Not to mention, it's often quite amusing."
—James Peebles, Princeton University, Copley News Service, August 30, 2004
Don't Suppress Debate on Evolution
Mary Lu Larsen's letter in the June issue of APS News was very disappointing. She tries to make her point by resorting to the old red herring of a Biblical claim of 6000 years for the age of the earth (or the age of the universe as another variant goes).
A literal reading of the Bible shows that no such claim can be found in its pages. Most of the best modern scholarship by those who do take the Bible seriously, and as literally as such literature allows, shows persuasively that the "days" ("Yom" in Hebrew) of the Genesis text were intended to be read as long periods of time (i.e. periods of very many days, years). Such a view has been held throughout Christian history with Augustine (A.D. 354-430) being perhaps the first to clearly write about such issues.
Genesis, when read with an awareness of the original Hebrew and within the context of the rest of the Bible record, actually offers an account in surprisingly good agreement with most key aspects of what physical cosmology and natural history is now basically telling us.
Recent books by Robert Newman, Hugh Ross and many others have made this point very lucidly. These people, often with extensive physics training and respect for the actual physical data, would also claim the title of 'creationist' and they do not hold to a 6k old earth.
It is not helpful to trot out the extreme and unfortunate views of a very vocal minority of English speaking North American Christians and then pin those views on all Christians who would also seek the literal meaning of the Biblical text.
It would be much more useful to refocus this discussion on the fact that many professional physicists and practitioners of just about every other field of science see very serious problems with macro—evolutionary theory. As P.C.W. Davies elegantly points out in a recent paper in the International Journal of Astrobiology (2(0):1-6, 2003), the physical processes operating in our universe do not spontaneously generate the massive amounts of information that would have to occur to drive any credible macro- evolutionary process. The complaint that macro-evolutionary theory does not persuasively account for the colossal information content of life is one solidly rooted in hard science and not religion.
The real issue here is the suppression of dissent and debate. There are scientifically valid reasons for controversy here. As with other areas of Science, we would do best to allow the debate to occur and to teach both sides of this controversy to anyone beginning a study of Biology.
There are apparently many who very badly need macro-evolutionary theory to be true to justify a particular philosophical view of life they have chosen.This is their choice and they should be allowed to have it.
However such people should not be allowed to solely determine the rules of this debate or to suppress questions others would ask. Science flourishes best when assumptions are ruthlessly put to the test and free inquiry is encouraged.
With regard to macro-evolutionary theory, many are concerned that this is not what is actually happening.
Douglas L. Keil
Regarding the Former Ronald Reagan
"The Back Page" of the July issue contains a sentence with this clause: "soon after the collapse of the former Soviet Union". The former Soviet Union did not collapse. Something that no longer exists can not collapse. What collapsed was the Soviet Union.
This may seem like pedantry on my part, but the inappropriate use of "former" attached to Soviet Union is a form of gloating fostered by those on the right, which has no place in APS News.
Time To Say the "N" Word
I read with interest the commentaries upon the content of Harold Varmus's Back Page in the June 2004 issue.
It seems to me that the American Physical Society would do very well to print a Back Page that offends both political parties: Someone should lay out the actual numbers concerning energy in the future. We are NOT going to get off oil via renewables like wind and solar. It is going to take a return to nuclear power on a large scale to achieve any change at all in the long-term energy policy of the United States.
In the present election, neither party will speak the "N" word, but instead recite platitudes about how renewables will save us. However, every reader of APS News can tell a Gigawatt from a Kilowatt. The very necessary task of educating the public begins with such extremely simple arithmetic.
Lobbying Efforts are Misdirected
I recently attended DAMOP, where it was pointed out on several occasions how the funding for physics has been decreasing under the current administration. Then in the same issue of APS News that reported on DAMOP, I found an article titled "Slakey's Low-Key Approach Pays Off for APS Lobbying Efforts."
The article points out that Slakey is employed to work on budget issues aimed at increasing federal funding for physics. Slakey has instead chosen to focus on "politically volatile" issues: climate change, nuclear weapons, and creationism.
While Slakey has been very successful in pursuing his own liberal politics, the funding that he is supposed to be lobbying for has steadily decreased. I can't help but think that APS would be better served if our lobbying efforts were indeed focused on funding.
Time Flies When You're Having Fun
You got it right to an order of magnitude, a decade to be precise. In "This Month in Physics History...Discovery of the Positron," you note the "thirty years" between the discovery of the antiproton (1955) and the production of the first anti-atoms (1995).
Perhaps the Sixties got lost in a purple haze, or maybe you prefer to think that the Eighties didn't count?
Ann Arbor, MI
Ed. Note: We apologize-we did the calculation in the rest frame of the anti-proton and neglected to transform back to the laboratory frame.
Cosmic Rays Discovered in 1911-1912
Victor Hess received the 1936 Nobel Prize for the discovery of cosmic rays in experiments during 1911- 1912, not 1930 as cited in the article about the positron ["This Month in Physics History," APS News, August/September 2004]. To explain the increasing intensity of ionizing radiation with increasing altitude during manned balloon flights up to 16,000 feet, Hess proposed that the radiation arrives on the earth's atmosphere from "outside."
The mysterious radiation was called "Hohenstrahlung" until Millikan coined the term "cosmic rays" in 1925. See V. Hess, Phys. Zeit. vol.12, p. 998 (1911); vol. 13, p. 1084 (1912).
George W. Clark
Positron Not Predicted Until 1931
Contrary to what is stated in "This Month in Physics History," [APS News, August/September 2004], Dirac did not show "that Einstein's relativity implied that every particle in the universe had a corresponding antiparticle" in 1928.
Dirac published the Dirac equation in 1928, but he did not get around to thinking about an interpretation of the "Dirac sea" until 1930, when he tried to identify the proton as the antiparticle of the electron. It was 1931 before he made the correct prediction of an anti-electron as a partner of the electron.
J. D. Jackson
To Tell the Truth
Thanks to Roman Czujko ["National Science Board: Getting it Wrong Again?", APS News, July 2004] for his honesty. His article reaffirms my faith in APS to tell the truth even when it's bad news.
Palo Alto, CA
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