Volume 23, Number 1 January 1994
ELECTIONS OF THE FORUM ON PHYSICS AND SOCIETY
We present here the backgrounds and statements of the candidates for the offices of theForum on Physics and Society. Election ballots will soon be mailed to all Forum members.
Edward Gerjuoy, vice-chair
Professor of physics emeritus, University of Pittsburgh, and "of counsel" (in effect, a consultant) to a Pittsburgh law firm, primarily on environmental law topics. Fellow of the APS and of the AAAS. Long-term Forum member who in past years has served the APS as chair of CIFS and as chair of POPA. Also a present member of the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the ACLU and a former chair of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Health Physics Division Advisory Committee. Earned a J.D. degree in 1977, and thereafter was admitted to the Pennsylvania and California Bars. In this second career, Gerjuoy has been editor-in-chief of the American Bar Association Jurimetrics Journal of Law, Science and Technology, and a member of the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, a gubernatorial appointment. He divides his research time between atomic collision theory and issues of joint interest to lawyers and scientists, such as how to improve the courtroom handling of scientific evidence, a subject on which he delivered an invited paper at the APS 1993 Washington meeting.
Statement: Unfortunately the collapse of the Soviet Union has not diminished the problems besetting physics and society. These problems include, to mention only a few: the growing threat of nuclear proliferation into unstable third world countries; numerous environmental concerns such as global warming, the decline of the ozone layer, contamination of the world's ground water, etc., etc.; and this nation's increasing disenchantment with science in general and physics in particular, manifested in a dearth of physics majors, the lack of jobs for those majors who survive to obtain physics Ph.D.'s, and the near-total absence of scientific literacy in all three branches of our government, for example in our judicial system.
In the past the Forum has admirably illuminated many such problems, to the benefit of its members. I will work to carry on these illuminations, of course, but will also strive to have their light reach more of our non-physicist fellow citizens, an endeavor in which the Forum has not been as successful to date as might have been hoped. Increasing efforts also should be made to bring the subjects and contents of Forum programs to the attention of our political leaders, a difficult task to accomplish in view of the time constraints on most politicians and their staffs. I will seek to foster these endeavors in cooperation with the APS officers and Council, as well as with other APS entities concerned with public policy, such as POPA.
In sum, I want the Forum to continue its important role of enabling the APS to examine and participate in public-policy disputes of interest to its members, but believe the entire nation would profit from making the special viewpoints physicists bring to those examinations more accessible to the wider non-physicist community.
Dietrich Schroeer, vice-chair
Professor of Physics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Schroeer's background includes a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the Ohio State University; a NATO postdoctoral fellowship at the Technical University in Munich; Fulbright and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the Deutsche Museum, Munich; Research Associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London; and Fellow of the APS. He has organized various symposia and short courses for the Forum, often together with the AAPT, on teaching physics-and-society courses, on the physics and technology of the nuclear arms race (AIP Proceedings #104 and #178), and other topics. He was Secretary/Treasurer and Vice-Chair and Chair of the Forum 1980-84 and 1986-1988 respectively. He has developed and taught various courses on the relationship between science and society, resulting in the textbooks Physics and Its Fifth Dimension; Society (Addison Wesley, 1972, AIP-US Steel Science Writing Award) and Science, Technology and the Nuclear Arms Race (Wiley, 1984). His current research is on arms races in conventional weapons, including studies of the transfer, dual use, and conversion of military technologies.
Statement: The primary role of the Forum on Physics and Society should be to help the physics community to understand and respond to the significant challenges it is now facing. The Forum should assist physicists to show that, in spite of the end of the nuclear era in weapons and electric power generation, they still have something to contribute to important public-policy debates, including those on energy issues. Even more dramatic challenges are the rising public questions about the value of science; the current employment problem is partly a result of these questions. Doubts are being raised among the public and physicists about the value of basic research, the usefulness of the tenure system, and the social wisdom of scientists. The Forum should stimulate and facilitate discussions of priorities within physics and between physics and other science, of the relative importance of basic and applied research, and of the input physicists can have into public-policy debates; but it should not impose any conclusions.
The Forum should emphasize three major functions. (1) Its primary goal should be to assist its members with self-education on physics-and-society issues through organized sessions at APS meetings, short courses and symposia, studies, and publications including the Forum Newsletter. (2) The Forum is the "home" within the APS of some physicists who are not obviously a part of one of the other divisions. It can be more supportive of these teachers, applied scientists, policy analysts, and administrators, and improve their integration into the physics community through the connections of the Forum with the Forums on Education and on the History of Physics, the APS Panel on Public Affairs, the APS Council, and the AAPT. It can legitimize activities in physics-and-society issues by giving recognition through speaking invitations, participation in studies, nomination as APS Fellows, and the Forum Awards. (3) The Forum can help physicists when they want to participate in public affairs on the basis of their technical expertise.
J. Greg Dash, executive committee
Greg Dash received a B.S. degree in Physics from the City College of New York in 1944, and a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1951. He worked at Los Alamos from 1951 to 1960, on unclassified research and weapons development. He has been a faculty member at the University of Washington since 1960, doing research in cryogenics, gamma-ray spectroscopy, and absorbed films and surface physics, and also publishing one book and editing another. He has been an AEC and a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow of the APS, and had visiting appointments in France and Israel. In 1989 he was awarded the APS Davisson-Germer Prize, and in 1991 an honorary doctorate from the University of Aix-Marseille. He has been active in science and public affairs since his student days, and is currently working on ground-freezing technology for the containment of hazardous wastes.
Statement: Environmental problems today are presenting society with serious and difficult threats, perhaps more dangerous than any that have ever been experienced. The control and disposal of nuclear and chemical weapons, the development of safe and renewable energy sources, the containment and disposal of hazardous wastes and the restoration of the environment are some of the more familiar. These problems are more refractory and complex than were faced in the Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Physicists are needed to contribute to the solutions, and the Forum can help to explore how and where we can participate. To this end the Forum should continue to sponsor interdisciplinary symposia and workshops on specific scientific problems in the general area. In addition the Forum can take an important role in promoting our collective response as physicists. Examples of such discussion topics are: means of broadening private foundation and governmental agency support for environmental research, exploring employment opportunities for physicists in environmental science, and developing instructional materials for undergraduate courses.
Robert Ehrlich, executive committee
Professor at George Mason University since 1976. Previously was a member of the Physics Departments at SUNY New Paltz, (1970-76), Rutgers University (1966-70), and the University of Pennsylvania (1963-66). Ehrlich's physics research has been in experimental high-energy physics, following a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1964. He has written about teaching, and written and edited two books and held three conferences on issues concerning nuclear war and peace. In recent years he has also been involved in physics education, through public lectures, book-writing, creation of instructional films, and instructional software development (the CUPS Project).
Statement: My membership in the Forum reflects a belief, I suspect shared by most members, that physicists can offer important insights on the diagnosis and solution of some of society's problems. I also believe that the Forum needs to take an "early warning" approach to problems which society may not have fully recognized. The penchant of the media to focus on a particular crisis of the moment (or year) is well-known. But, since the most serious problems we face are long-standing, and sometimes out of fashion, we must help society to develop a balanced assessment of a wide array of global threats. One example of a possible not-fully-appreciated threat is the renewal of a full-fledged superpower nuclear rivalry, following the collapse of moderate forces in Russia, or following a nuclear arms race in Asia, leading to serious Japanese rearmament. Although it is appropriate that the Forum has broadened its previous narrow focus on arms control, it is also true that arms control should remain an important issue.
Another possible example of a not-yet-appreciated societal threat would be the significant rise of mysticism, as we approach the year 2000. The deplorable state of scientific literacy in the US is well-known, and the Forum should be involved in efforts that help the general public see science, and physics in particular, as positive solution-providers, rather than negative problem-creators. Finally, I would like to see the Forum be involved in efforts to help alleviate the current dismal employment prospects for physicists, and participate in studies that could help determine whether that situation is likely to be long-lasting.
Gerald L. Epstein, executive committee
Senior Analyst, Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, 1983-1989 and 1991-present. Project Director, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 1989-1991. Developed course on arms control and nonproliferation, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, 1992. OTA Congressional Fellow, 1983-84. Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 1984. Nominating Committee Chair, APS Forum on Physics and Society, 1992. Member of Forum study group on Energy, 1988-89. Currently directing studies of magnetic fusion energy (project director), antisatellite arms control, ballistic missile defense, and the defense technology base. Co-author of Beyond Spinoff: Military and Commercial Technologies in a Changing World.
Statement: The relationship between physics and society has entered a period of reassessment and evaluation. Policymakers are asking that research support to tied more explicitly to national goals. They warn that public funding sources cannot indefinitely keep up with an ever-growing physicist population. Scientific and technological megaprojects have surpassed the United States' willingness to pay for them, yet this country's ability to participate in true international collaboration (for example large-scale projects that may not be led by or sited within the US) remains to be proven. The Forum can and should contribute to these debates.
The Forum will also continue to participate in broader public policy issues that have significant technological components. It has almost become trite for Forum office seekers to advocate areas for Forum involvement, starting with arms control and disarmament but quickly extending to nonproliferation, global environment, economic competitiveness, and information technology, among others. Yet these contributions are important, in process as well as substance. Over the past two decades or so, a number of mechanisms have been institutionalized for physicists and other technical professionals to take part in such discussions. The Forum dates back to the early 1970s, with its publication Physics and Society entering its 23rd year in January. Several university graduate teaching and research programs in science and technology policy have emerged. Both the Congressional Science Fellowship program and the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment celebrated their twentieth anniversaries this past year, and both took the occasion to engage in some introspection. The Forum should take stock as well. In particular, it can perform a valuable service to both the physics and the policy communities, as well as optimize its own role, by reviewing its own activities and placing them in context with the many other mechanisms available for physicists to participate in policy debates.
Marc Sher, executive committee
Associate Professor of Physics, College of William and Mary. Senior Staff member of the CEBAF Theory Group. Ph.D. from University of Colorado in 1980. Postdoctoral positions at University of California at Santa Cruz, University of California at Irvine, and Washington University. Current research interests include high-energy theory, electroweak phenomenology, and cosmology. Director of Physics Program for the Governor's School for the Gifted in Science and Technology. Consultant for the Center for Gifted Education, supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the Department of Education. Recent recipient of alumni teaching award.
Statement: The Forum sponsors workshops and publishes reports on a wide range of issues, from nuclear disarmament to global environmental change. Rather than give a vague and/or overly broad discussion of these issues, I would like to focus on two specific areas in which the Forum can make an important contribution.
Since the end of the Cold War, public and congressional perceptions of physics have changed dramatically. The Manhattan Project mystique has faded, and the public is demanding a return on its investment. The result has been an unprecedented attack on basic curiosity-driven research. The Mikulski amendment, which requested that the National Science Foundation devote 60% of its funds to technology-driven research, the recent death of the supercollider, and even the proposed name change to "National Science and Technology Foundation," all portend a potentially severe cutback in fundamental, basic research. The Forum can play an important role in communicating the benefits of basic research to the public and to Congress. Along with our colleagues in other scientific disciplines, we can discuss the numerous spinoffs and applications of fundamental research and the close relationship between university and industrial science. In the past, physicists have not been very effective in such communication, often oversimplifying and overstating the case (for example, justifying the SSC as a cancer research facility). I would like to see the Forum sponsor and publish studies, workshops, etc. which look at the benefits of basic research in all areas of physics.
Another issue which the Forum should address is the education of future physicists. The current problems of math and science education in this country are well known. Recently, a comprehensive report by the Department of Education pointed out that the "smartest students sit bored and unchallenged in classrooms." Cutbacks in programs for the gifted and talented, the drive toward heterogeneous grouping, the failure to identify talented minority students and other "at-risk gifted," all threaten the development of the next generation of physicists. During their elementary school years, most Ph.D. physicists were "gifted." Could the dearth of physicists of color be related to the failure to identify and nourish talented minority students during these years? The Forum could study the early education of physicists, and, perhaps in conjunction with the Department of Education, report on the impact of potential cutbacks in gifted education on the nation's scientific future?