APS News


Members may submit letters to letters@aps.org. APS reserves the right to select letters and edit for length and clarity.

APS Bridge Program

Kudos to Theodore Hodapp and APS staff for the initial success of the APS Bridge Program, which is significantly increasing the number of underrepresented minority students engaged in Ph.D.-level physics research (APS News, July 2015). Readers of APS News may be interested to know that the first physics bridge program began back in 2002 at Fisk and Vanderbilt universities.

As of spring 2015, the Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program has produced 16 Ph.D. graduates in Physics, Astronomy, and Materials Science, with many more underrepresented minority graduate students in the pipeline. The Fisk-Vanderbilt Bridge Program provided proof of concept that led to the APS Bridge Program.

Richard Wiener
Tucson, AZ

Kepler’s Mother and Science Fiction

The article about Kepler’s mother in the August/September issue is interesting. But when the writer suggests that Kepler’s Somnium is “arguably the earliest work of science fiction, given its description of a trip to the moon,” I must take the other side of the argument. Lucian of Samosata, who wrote in Greek in the second century AD, is widely considered the earliest science fiction writer. His Ἀληθῆ διηγήματα (Verae historiae, or “True Histories”) also describes a trip to the moon, among other interesting (and equally implausible) adventures.

Mary K. LeBlanc
Livermore, CA

Shipping Container Security

The method for examining cargo containers for nuclear devices proposed at the April Meeting by Danagoulian and reported in APS News (May 2015) is not competitive with the elegant method of muon tomography (C. L. Morris, et al. Science & Global Security 16, 37 [2008]) or with the similar method of X-radiography (J. I. Katz, et al. Science & Global Security 15, 49 [2007]). Danagoulian’s method suffers from two critical drawbacks:

First, the quoted scanning rate of two minutes per container is not compatible with the loading and unloading rate of container cranes, which is about one container per 70 seconds. The resulting port bottlenecks would be unacceptable.

Second, the 15.1 MeV gamma-rays used have a large cross-section for photoneutron emission on most nuclei. Irradiating a container with these gamma rays would produce a neutron flux that would activate cargo and environmental materials by neutron capture, rendering them radioactive.

Jonathan Katz
St. Louis, MO

More on Double-blind Review

I enjoyed reading Shannon Palus’ article on double-blind reviews in the July issue of APS News. I totally agree with the statement that application across the board is essential for the method’s success. However, I believe that the reason for this is simpler than explained in the article. If double-bind review is optional, an author may reason that by requesting this type of review, he/she will be admitting (or be seen as admitting) that they are less sure about the validity of their work than authors who don’t mind being identified. Therefore, I believe that studies of the double-blind effectiveness are useless unless they are restricted to journals that apply it across the board.

Besides, I believe that double-blind reviews, if successful, may not do a lot to remove gender bias. (In fact, I would not be surprised to find out that paper refereeing is the area where gender bias manifests itself the least). But it may play a much more positive role in the area of institutional or country bias. There is plenty of at least anecdotal evidence that big-name institutions predispose referees favorably, and if you do a survey of practicing physicists in developing countries, you will be able to collect many refereeing horror stories that those practicing physics in the U.S. or Europe have never heard of.

José Menéndez
Tempe, AZ

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