APS News


Scientists Need More Insight Into the Religious Community

As a member of both the scientific and Christian communities, I am frequently exasperated at the manner in which persons who purport to speak for one community portray the other. The latest example is "The Back Page" article by Lawrence Krauss in the April APS News.

I am not a fan of Intelligent Design and agree with Krauss' discussion of the operation of good science. However, his portrayal of the motives of ID proponents and religious persons is distorted. He greatly exaggerates the threat they pose to science.

Krauss describes the Taliban's destruction of Buddhist statues. Connecting one's opponent to the most extreme example one can imagine is a commonly used polemic technique, but it is terribly unfair and ultimately ineffective. This polarizing tactic just ratchets up the emotions on both sides.

For personal reasons I was particularly offended by his mischaracterization of James Dobson as a "televangelist." I attended the same church as Dobson in the 1970s and admire his character, convictions, and efforts for the well-being of children and families. He is not an ordained minister (his degree is in psychology), does not pastor a church, and has no television ministry. It would have taken very little research to discover Dobson's true background, education, and organization.

Many religious persons do not accept the scientific description of origins, because they perceive the scientific establishment to be hostile to religion, and therefore biased and not to be trusted in this area. The only way to reverse the numbers that Krauss deplores is for the scientific community to gain the trust of the public. This will not be accomplished by scientists loudly attacking "scientific creationism" as nonsense, even though such attacks are correct. It will be accomplished by the scientific community loudly disassociating itself from the philosophical (as opposed to methodological) naturalism of Richard Dawkins and his ilk. I am not optimistic that this will happen.

The American Scientific Affiliation (http://www.asa3.org/) is a good resource to provide some insight for scientists into the religious community.

Ronald Hodges
Palo Alto, CA

Rutherford's Whereabouts Clarified

Because of his immense contribution to the study of radioactivity and the understanding of the atomic structure, Ernest Rutherford is well deserving of the excellent article that appeared in “This Month in Physics History” [APS News, May 2006]. I would like, however, to correct a small error in the article about the discovery of the heterogeneous nature of the uranium radiation first observed by Henri Becquerel in 1896. This discovery was not done at McGill but rather when Rutherford was still at the Cavendish Laboratory. In the only paper on radioactivity that Rutherford wrote before joining McGill one finds the sentence, “These experiments show that the uranium radiation is complex, and that there are present at least two distinct types of radiation-one that is very readily absorbed, which will be termed for convenience the alpha radiation, and the other of a more penetrative character, which will be termed the beta radiation”, names still in use today. This article entitled “Uranium Radiation and the Electrical Conduction Produced by It” communicated by J.J. Thomson to the Philosophical Magazine is dated September 1st 1998, a week before Rutherford boarded the Canada-bound ship that brought him to Montreal and McGill University, where he performed most of the work that led to his 1908 Nobel Prize.

Jean Barrette
Montréal, Québec

French Ship First to Deploy Radar

Having read about the work of Robert Watson-Watt in "This Month in Physics History" in the April issue of APS News, we would like to point out that the first commercial ship equipped with a radar system was the French transatlantic liner Normandie; this radar had been built by the French company CSF, and its purpose was to detect icebergs by night or in foggy weather. However, it had no echo chamber and one could not know if the absence of a signal indicated that there were no icebergs or that the system was not working, so the commander of the ship did not dare to use it.

Michel Soutif and Pierre Averbuch
Grenoble, France

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