Volume 23, Number 2 April 1994
High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program: Are There Issues to Concern Physicists?
In 1988, discussion first appeared in Physics and Society about a recently patented concept dealing with modification of the Earth's upper atmosphere using high-intensity radio frequency radiation (1,2,3). Not only did this approach seem to have ramifications relating to ionospheric physics, but also certain of the proposed activities appeared to potentially threaten Earth's upper atmosphere and to have arms control implications.
Briefly, the patented invention involves generating an extremely intense beam of circularly-polarized radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation of appropriate frequency and directing this toward the upper atmosphere (1). At certain altitudes, electron cyclotron resonance heating of existing electrons would be expected to cause further ionization of the neutral particles in the atmosphere, and a range of other consequences could ensue (1,2). The patent presents claims that changes in Earth's atmosphere could be created which would persist for prolonged periods of time, and the language of the patent also indicated that it is intended to produce effects on a global scale (1,2). It has been suggested that these changes may pose a danger to the upper atmosphere, in that irreversible damage to the upper atmosphere may ensue from tests of the types described in the patent (1).
Among the proposed applications are the disruption of microwave transmissions of satellites; the selective enhancement, modification, or interception of communications; and causing total disruption of communications over a large portion of Earth (1,2). Other proposed applications include weather modification; changing the chemical composition of the atmosphere; transporting plumes of particulates or plasma within the atmosphere; lifting large regions of the atmosphere; and intercepting or destroying incoming missiles or aircraft (1,2). That this invention has features satisfying the requirements of a weapons system is emphasized in the patent (2).
It was pointed out in subsequent correspondence in Physics and Society that realization of this invention might lead to violations of the Environmental Modification Convention (3). This Convention, signed in 1977 and ratified by the United States in 1979, prohibits military or any other hostile use of environmental modifical techniques, and states that "Each State Party to this convention undertakes not to engage in military or any other hostile use of environmental modification techniques having widespread, long-lasting, or severe effects as the means of destruction, damage or injury to any other State Party." Both the Convention itself and the accompanying Understandings Regarding the Convention make it explicitly clear that the atmosphere, the ionosphere, and near-Earth space are included in the Convention (4).
Currently, the patented invention (which is reportedly also covered by classified patents (1)) has been developed and is being implemented in military programs, most recently in the new High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) (5). In part because of its potential to disrupt communications as a side effect as well as deliberately, this project is received with apparent apprehension by Alaskans, and with favor due to its economic impact (6,7).
The High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program, which is managed cooperatively by the Air Force and the Navy, is described in information sheets as a project having the goal of studying fundamental physical principles governing the ionosphere (5). The proposed research would use high-power radio transmitters to probe the overhead ionosphere, in conjunction with a complement of diagnostic instrumentation. A unique feature of the facility would be a high-power high-frequency radio transmitter with the capability of rapidly steering a narrow beam into a designated direction. HAARP would transmit HF radio waves within the 2.8 to 10 MHz band in a narrow beam, several degrees wide, depending on frequency, thus influencing a region several miles in diameter in the lower ionosphere (5). The power demands for the transmitters are reportedly 12 megawatts (5). Much higher power levels of 109-1011 watts are also considered in the original patent (1,2).
Potential applications for HAARP are described as including developing DoD technology for detecting cruise missiles and aircraft and for communicating with submarines (5). It is planned to construct HAARP at auroral latitudes in Alaska. The US Air Force has specifically settled on a site near the village of Gakona, northeast of Anchorage, where construction was scheduled to begin in 1993 and be concluded in late 1977 (5,7).
It would appear that, while construction of the HAARP facility may provide new equipment for ionospheric studies as well as applications, this technology does present issues that need to be publicly addressed by the technical community. Related research, and particularly the fact that that research has been non-competitively funded, has already drawn the attention of physicists (8). However, a detailed examination and explicit critique by members of the physics community of the characteristics of this particular technology might clarify the issues and contribute to allaying concerns and resolving questions that have already arisen, and to suggesting courses of action to address the issues raised by this project.
1. Richard Williams Physics and Society, Vol. 17, No. 2, p. 16 (April 1988). 2. Bernard Eastlund US Patent Number 4,686,605 (August 11, 1987). 3. C.L. Herzenberg Physics and Society, Vol. 17, No. 3, p. 2 (July 1988). 4. Arms Control and Disarmament Agreements: Texts and Histories of the Negotiations, "Convention on the prohibition of military or other hostile use of environmental modification techniques," US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Washington, DC (1990). 5. HAARP Fact Sheet, Office of Naval Research (4 November 1993). 6. C.J. Zickuhr, Anchorage AK, private communication (November 1993). 7. Peter S. Goodman, "Gakona Gets Ionosphere Project," Anchorage Daily News, Vol. 48, No. 319, p. B-1 (15 November 1993). 8. Robert L. Park, in What's New, American Physical Society, Washington DC (2 November 1990, 9 November 1990, 29 November 1991, 6 March 1992).
Comments on Guidelines
The APS Ethical Guidelines (APS News January 1982, p. 1) is probably one of the most important documents sponsored by the APS in recent years. A part of this document deals with peer reviews. It points out that peer reviews are an essential component of the scientific process.
Unfortunately the significance of peer reviews has not been sufficiently recognized in our scientific community (Physics and Society October 1993, p. 3), especially in the case of "letters" or "letters to the editor." These important scientific communications have been incorporated in many widely read publications. An unexplained and secret censorship completely alien to the traditions in science has been established in these publications. If a "Letter" is rejected, editors do not feel any responsibility for disclosing to an author reasons for rejection. However, in an orderly scientific process an editor has not only a responsibility but an obligation to disclose to the author pertinent reasons.
I made considerable efforts to clarify this unfortunate situation. The most I learned from the editor of one of these publications was that a rejection had been decided upon "after some deliberations." I was left with no choice but to accept these very secret deliberations and an incontestable and final verdict.
The editor of another publication came out with a different but interesting and original approach. I was informed that the publication in question is a "magazine" rather than a scientific periodical, and that it is not the policy of a "magazine" to disclose to the author any pertinent reasons for rejection. I do not wish to enter into a debate on how to label a publication which is devoted almost entirely to problems in science and which is read almost exclusively by scientists. I am mainly concerned with an arbitrary and an improper handling of important scientific information.
The lack of an appeal process creates a particularly disturbing situation. An editor is considered to be infallible. An error in judgment on the part of an editor is an absolute impossibility. Clearly such an assumption is contrary to sane judgment and common sense.
I suggest that a public discussion on the issues outlined above be considered, for two reasons. First, according to the guidelines, "no amendment to the bylaws will be sought until there has been an ample opportunity for public discussion of the guidelines." I suggest that before amending the bylaws, the current situation be openly and realistically appraised. The APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) should recognize the existence of two contradictory criteria for evaluating scientific information. One of these is open peer review. The other is secret and unexplained personal censorship by an editor or an editor's staff. The situation is on the verge of absurdity.
Second, our scientific community should be adequately informed on the relative merits of two conflicting criteria. Literature on peer review is abundant (see for instance a discussion between Jacob Neufeld and S.A. Goudsmit, Physics Today April 1970, p. 9). As far as I know there has not been a single reference pointing out the rationale behind the secret censorship.
Saving Science from the Fate of "Scientific Socialism"
With the demise of what since 1860 has been called "scientific socialism," scientists must recognize that there may be a significant backlash against science itself. Such a backlash is evident for example, in Vaclev Havel's op-ed article "The End of the Modern Era" in The New York Times, 1 March 1992.
Scientists themselves have done little to dissociate science from socialism. On the contrary, the roster of those who have been avid supporters of socialism includes the names of such scientific luminaries as Einstein, Oppenheimer, Haldane, Blackett, J. Huxley, Needham, and Bernal, while no prominent scientist has forthrightly attacked the claims that socialism can be validly called "scientific". My own efforts to show that socialism is in fact pseudoscientific have been buried under a pile of letters of rejection from editors and publishers that have often angrily denounced my efforts, the most important of which is an unpublished book, Road to Gulag--A Century of Pseudoscientific Socialism.
There has in fact been no dearth of attempts to expose the scientific fallacies of Marxism, but the fate of the early attempt by Eugen Duhring, the brilliant physicist, economist, and philosopher, illustrates how frustrating such attempts have been. Duhring's work was attacked by Engels in characteristically bitter Marxian style in a book that became a Marxian classic under the abbreviated title Anti-Duhring. Three chapters from that book, published separately as a pamphlet in 1880 as Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (SUS), spread socialist ideas quickly around the globe. SUS was to prove even more influential in promoting socialist ideas than the Communist Manifesto of 1848 or any other Marxian writing, and its success must be attributed at least in part to its characterization of Marxian socialism as "scientific."
Engles was a high-school drop-out, and neither Marx nor Engles had any education in science, including economics. They knew only catch-phrases of popular science, but were shrewd enough to garnish their works frequently with such phrases. They were both boastful, vain autodidacts who operated out of reach of the main scientific currents of their time. They denounced Newton at very opportunity and, as has often been pointed out, usually in works that have received little public attention, were in fact part and parcel of the romantic reaction against the enlightenment and the scientific revolution. One of the supreme ironies of the last century has been the willingness of many educated people to see Marx and Engels as sons of the enlightenment, when in fact they were its dedicated enemies, as has been shown by many writers including this one.
As one contemplates the debris of scientific socialism, one must press for answers to questions about the reasons for its unwarranted, temporary success. It is a relatively simple matter to expose its profound intellectual flaws, but as critics have long observed, socialism has deep political appeal. Even today, in capitalist countries, politicians vying for office pit rich against poor and haves against have-nots in shameless imitation of Marxian class-struggle tactics and their play on envy.
But for scientists there may be a special, deeper lesson to be learned from the downfall of scientific socialism that goes to the sources of financial support for modern science. Ever since 1950, science in this country has become increasingly dependent on the federal government, thereby giving an entirely new meaning to scientific socialism. There has been little tendency to criticize federal support of science. No one will bite the hand that feeds, and the federal government feeds a large number of American scientists. The science establishment has bent every effort to elicit more and more federal support, and many would make it seem that the fate of science itself hangs on federal subsidies. But as we contemplate the failures of Marxian scientific socialism, and the reasons for those failures in the economic disfunctions of socialism, we should question the increasing dependence of modern American science on its emergent socialist characteristics.
Is it time for science to enter the marketplace more consciously and with greater confidence that it has, while gradually slipping the leash of governmental dependence and the myths of Marxian socialism?
Statement on Nuclear Energy
The American Physical Society has a long standing interest in the establishment of a technically sound national energy policy. Such a policy must include steps to decrease the heavy dependence of the United States on fossil fuels. Their use entails significant environmental costs, including possibly substantial changes in global climate with uncertain consequences for human well being. Moreover, since resources of oil and, less immediately, natural gas are limited, U.S. reliance on foreign sources creates economic burdens and military dangers. We therefore endorse increases in federal funding and general support for programs in conservation and in the development of renewable energy sources.
A balanced energy policy, however, also requires that the Department of Energy have strong programs to keep the nuclear energy option open, through: (a) the continued development of nuclear reactors which can be built, operated, and eventually decommissioned in a manner which is simple, safe, environmentally sound, and cost-effective; (b) the development and implementation of programs for the safe disposal of spent fuel and radioactive wastes; and (c) the development of an effective public education program to allow a more informed debate on the strengths and weaknesses of nuclear power. The APS is deeply concerned that the current progress in these areas is inadequate.
Adopted by the APS Council
Statement on Protection Against Discrimination
The elected APS Council affirms the commitment of the Society to the protection of the rights of all scientists, including freedom from discrimination based on race, gender, nationality, religion or sexual orientation. The Society bears a particular responsibility to protect the participants in its meetings from possible discrimination.
Therefore, the Council resolves that The American Physical Society will not sponsor meetings in any state or locality that discriminates or prohibits protection from discrimination.
Specifically, the Council deplores the passage on 3 November 1992 of Amendment 2 to the Constitution of the State of Colorado removing and prohibiting protection from discrimination of persons owing to sexual orientation. Although implementation of Amendment 2 has been suspended pending judicial review of its constitutionality, the APS prohibition on meetings would apply if the suspension were lifted.
Adopted by the APS Council
Fermi's Question and the Human Condition*
"Enrico Fermi was a frequent visitor to Los Alamos. ...A lunchtime conversation took place in 1950 when someone brought up the question of flying saucers. ...They all agreed that flying saucers were not real alien spacecraft... Fermi said 'Don't you wonder where everybody is?' He followed up with a series of calculations... [concluding] that we ought to have been visited long ago and many times over. ...He went on to conclude that the reason we hadn't been visited might be that interstellar travel is impossible, or if possible, it is always judged not to be worth the effort, or technological civilization doesn't last long enough for it to happen."
The quotation is from an article printed originally in Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience, edited by B.R. Finney and E.M. Jones (University of California Press, 1985), and reprinted in the American Association of Physics Teachers' excellent anthology Extraterrestrical Civilization, edited by T.B.H. Kuiper and G.D. Brin (AAPT, 1989).
Fermi's "series of calculations" is by now a standard exercise for those who like to speculate about extraterrestrial life. Typically, one focuses on our own galaxy, and makes estimates like those of Table 1.
Table 1. Extraterrestrial life in our galaxy, range of plausible estimates
upper lower estimate estimate Number of stars in our galaxy 4 x 10^11 4 x 10^11 Fraction of these that are single stars 0.5 0.5 Fraction of these that are sun-like 0.1 0.1 Fractions of these that have planetary systems 1.0 0.1 Number of Earth-like planets/planetary system 1.0 0.1 Number of Earth-like planets in our galaxy 2 x 10^10 2 x 10^8 Fraction of these where life has or will arise 1.0 0.1 Number of planets where life has or will arise 2 x 10^10 2 x 10^7 Fraction of these where intelligence develops 1.0 10^-6 Number of planets where intelligence arises 2 x 1010 20 Fraction of these that become technological ???? ???? Different speculators would put different numbers into Table 1, but most estimates fall within the ranges indicated. The table reflects broad agreement that there is life out there, but large uncertainties about the emergence of intelligence and of technology.