APS News

Letters to the Editor

Creation Argument Begs the Question

In the June 2009 issue, Jeffery Winkler treats us to a cute refutation of the dominant view that the universe was created. He first equates the word “magic” with “impossible.” This is an example of begging the question, since Webster makes no such association. He next asserts that Christians believe the universe was produced by an act of “magic.” I’ve never heard it put that way and doubt any Christian would agree with this formulation of his belief. Nevertheless, it provides a convenient straw man which Winkler has set himself up to vanquish. One assumes he was writing with tongue in cheek.

Indeed, Christianity has always opposed magic, or sorcery, and deserves credit for replacing the pagan view of a chaotic, magical world controlled by warring, whimsical gods and spirits with that of a rationally comprehensible world of order, purpose, laws and beauty created by a single omniscient and omnipotent God. Without this shift in perspective, we would never have reached the point where modern science could take root. 

It should also be pointed out that “the Christians” are not alone in believing in creation's Creation; they share this conviction with religious Jews and Muslims, and several other religions as well. Focusing on the former group may be perceived as discriminatory and cause the others to feel left out.

Christopher Nantista
Redwood City, CA

Foundation Could Help Demystify Indirect Costs

The July Back Page, by Arthur Bienenstock, points out how administrative costs associated with federal funding are burdening both universities and those carrying out the research. Many faculty are troubled by the opaque nature of indirect cost: how the rate is calculated, what expenses go into it, what use is made of it.  This would be greatly helped if all Universities were to establish a Foundation (research and training) to receive and administer all awards (maybe restricted to federal awards, and maybe to those agencies that allow indirect cost).  

The Foundation would have its own budget process, separate from the rest of the University. It would ‘rent’ space and administrative services as needed or appropriate (outsourcing could be an alternative). If the University were the supplier, the Foundation would be charged the local going rate for space of the quality provided. Services like budget administration would be done by the foundation. So, for example, if a researcher needs office space, the foundation would rent space with defined amenities (HVAC, lighting, parking, etc.). For lab space, there are definitions by GSA of different types of space, and there are types (like light industrial) that could apply. The Foundation would be a tenant of the University, but if good space could be found more cheaply or with better maintenance, then going outside the University would be a possibility. Getting services like internet access could also be outsourced. Clearly there are areas of overlap that have to be negotiated.

The general policies of the Foundation, and an annual income/expenses statement should be available to all PIs.
Kenneth W. McFarlane
Yorktown, VA


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Editor: Alan Chodos