Physics and Society Apr '97 - News
Volume 26, Number 2 April 1997
Henry H. Barschall, 1911-1997
The Forum has lost a good friend. Henry H. Barschall died at his home in Madison, Wisconsin on February 4. A member of the National Academy of Science and recipient of the first Bonner Prize in nuclear physics, Barschall had a distinguished career in nuclear physics dating back to the Manhattan Project. He was 81 and a valued member of the Forum on Physics and Society.
Heinz was a busy person who certainly did not need more to do, but his dedication to the issues and open discussion of them enticed him to serve the Forum as secretary-treasurer from 1988-1993. His example as a distinguished senior physicist and his untiring attention to organizational detail were crucial in establishing Forum's present mainstream role in the American Physical Society. Dedicated to the seeking truth, he refused to back down from well-demonstrated positions even in the face of law suits. We'll miss his hard work, his good advice and his great personal kindliness.
The Forum and the Division of Nuclear Physics will sponsor a memorial session at the April APS/AAPT meeting, probably on Sunday, April 20 at 11am; speakers will be: D. Allan Bromley, Sam Austin, Robert Adair, Jay C. Davis, Ruth Howes, Robert Sachs.
Ball State university
Szilard Award Goes to Tom Neff
At the April meeting in Washington, DC, APS will give the Leo Szilard Award for Physics in the Public Interest to Thomas Neff, a senior member of MIT's Center for International Studies. Neff is being cited "for proposing and working to keep on track the historic agreement for the US to purchase uranium from the former Soviet Union weapons stockpile and to transform it from highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium for civilian purposes, thereby significantly reducing the numbers of nuclear weapons." According to Frank von Hippel (Princeton University), this agreement has also helped to stabilize Ukraine's decision to become a non-nuclear-weapon state by giving that new nation an economic interest in disarmament.
After receiving his PhD in theoretical physics from Stanford University in 1973, Neff held postdoctoral positions at Berkeley, Stanford and MIT. At Stanford, he worked as an assistant to Wolfgang Panofsky, who was APS president at the time, on matters of science and public policy, helping with the first studies of these topics and assisting in the formation of the Panel on Public Affairs. From 1977-85, Neff was manager and director of MIT's International Energy Studies program. He has been an advisor to numerous US government agencies as well as to governments and companies around the world.
Over the years, Tom has worked on issues of energy policy and nuclear nonproliferation. He was a senior staff member of the Ford Foundation's study, "Nuclear Power Issues and Choices." He has written books and articles on oil and nuclear fuel markets and on solar energy.
In a New York Times Op-ed on 24 October 1991, Neff proposed the purchase of Soviet weapons-grade uranium by the US government. The Government picked up his idea and agreed in January 1994 to purchase 500,000 kilograms of Soviet weapon-grade uranium after it has been blended down to low-enriched uranium for use in power-reactor fuel. Since then Neff has worked creatively and successfully to help devise strategies to overcome the obstacles to the agreement as they have arisen. The obstacles have ranged from trivial to profound commercial and policy problems on both the Russian and US sides of the deal. In Neff's words, "I've had to become part of the interagency process in Russia as well as the US, broker a deal between the US Administration and Congress (the Domenici legislation) and keep the commercial players true to the terms of the deal. The larger issue is that policy processes and institutions still reflect the cold war, rather than being redesigned to undo it. I hope to talk about this in Washington."
Barbara G. Levi
Senior Editor, Physics Today
Forum Award Recognizes Martin Gardner
The Forum Award for Promoting Public Understanding of the Relationships of Physics and Society will go to Martin Gardner, who is now retired from his 25-year tenure as the mathematical games columnist for the Scientific American. Gardner is being honored "for his popular columns and books on recreational mathematics which introduced generations of readers to the pleasures and uses of logical thinking; and for his columns and books which exposed pseudoscientific bunk and explained the scientific process to the general public."
Gardner earned a BA from the University of Chicago in 1936 and spent his career as a journalist and writer. His jobs included a stint as a contributing editor to Humpty Dumpty (1952-62) as well as his term at Scientific American. Now retired, Gardner is still active as a member of the executive council of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), and columnist for its magazine, Skeptical Inquirer.
Gardner has published dozens of books on everything from cryptography to pseudoscience and an exegesis of Alice in Wonderland. One nominator praised the approach Gardner took in all these books: "It is characterized by exemplary scholarly thoroughness, excellent taste in the choice of topics, refusal to take anything for granted, and a keen nose for nonsense."
Two of his books, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science and Science: Good, Bad and Bogus, were among the first to directly attack fraudulent science and pseudoscience, and have been used in many science courses around the country. A review of the former noted that "Gardner has written a highly critical and at times hilariously entertaining account of cults and fad sciences in various fields." Gardner delved into the philosophy of science and its relation to theology in The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener and in The Flight of Peter Fromm. Among his contributions to science education are Great Essays in Science and Entertaining Science Experiments with Everyday Objects. Accepting the award, and speaking, for Mr Gardner will be James Randi, a famous "magician" and previous award winner.
Barbara G. Levi
Looking for Work?
It is with regret that we must announce the resignation of Lee Sorrell from his position as articles editor for this news letter, owing to other professional commitments. Lee will remain as articles editor through the publication of the July 1997 issue of Physics and Society. We, the remaining editorial staff at P&S, wish to thank Lee for his contribution during the past year and to extend our very best wishes to him. We'll miss him!
Which also means: we need a new articles editor! Might you be interested? The work is interesting, and you won't pay a penny of taxes on the money you make editing for P&S (...it's a volunteer position....). If you might be interested in helping produce this periodical, contact Laurie Fathe, Chair of the Editorial Board, whose address is Department of Physics, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA 90041, phone 213-259-2812, and e-mail address
email@example.com. Or, if you know somebody who likes to write and who might be interested, please pass on Laurie's name.
Forum Sponsored Sessions at Washington APS/AAPT Meeting
Federal Funding of Science Education, 8am; 4/18 .
What Do Scientists Owe Society? 8am; Awards Session, 2:30pm; 4/19.
Memorial Session for Heinz H. Barschall 11am; 4/20.
The Low Level Radiation Risk Controversy, 8am;
Teaching in Other Countries, 11am; 4/21.
Political Prospects for Fusion Energy
The AIP's FYI #165 contains quotations from Energy Secretary O'Leary's speech, in May 1996, to the congress. Some of the numbers cited in her talk are sobering: By 2010, world wide energy consumption is expected to increase to over 3.5 billion tons of oil equivalent. By 2020, India and China, alone, will have an energy demand that is twice today's entire world demand, assuming that per capita consumption in those nations rises to that of present-day South Korea and that population increase is as presently expected.
O'Leary went on to say that a good way to try to provide for such energy demands is via fusion energy research. In particular, she said, "Fusion is our longest term option that shows significant promise....Fusion research is exactly the kind of program government should support. The payback period is long term. Industry can't and won't do it alone because of the payback period and because of high front end costs." She went on to demonstrate how progress in research into fusion energy production has far outstripped progress in increasing the capacity of semi-conductor chips. She also argued that international collaboration will be essential, since even the U.S. government does not have sufficient funds to unilaterally support the required research effort.
Quality Control in Science
In line with many U.S. corporations, the Federal Government is in the process of instituting formal quality controls as part of departmental and agency management, in the form of written progress assessment reports. The American Institute of Physics' FYI #140 describes a report from the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) Committee on Fundamental Science concerning the assessment of government's role in fundamental research, entitled "Assessing Fundamental Science", and its relationship to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) of 1993.
Government agencies that are involved in fundamental science are learning what technology corporations have long known: Quantitative measurement of the effectiveness of basic research programs is very difficult. Government agencies that perform science are now involved in pilot studies to develop metrics for this task. In the meantime, the Clinton administration has identified the intermediate goal of U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge as a yardstick against which government research is to be measured. It is not clear how such leadership is to be measured.
According to "Assessing Fundamental Science", "...merit review based on peer evaluation will continue to be the primary vehicle..." for assessing the quality of scientific work. Although the report warns that methods for measuring impacts on creativity, innovation, and risk-taking are as yet not well developed, it concludes that, "The passage of GPRA offers scientists and science managers the best planning and management methods to build world-class science programs."
Clinton Administration Space Policy
FYI #139 from the American Institute of Physics summarizes President Clinton's new National Space Policy, a fact sheet which
can be seen at
The National Space Policy concerns objectives for civilian, military, and commercial uses of space. As far as NASA is concerned, the Policy unveils no dramatic changes from current activities. In particular, it reiterates U.S. commitment to the International Space Station. It also urges NASA to work with the private sector on the development of a next-generation reusable launch vehicle to reduce the cost of access to space. Perhaps in line with budget realities, the Policy advocates a robotic presence on Mars by year 2000, but not manned exploration of Mars or any other destinations in the immediate future.
In terms of long-term goals, the Policy directs NASA to explore other bodies in our solar system and planets in other solar systems.
With respect to commercial space activities, NASA is directed to promote partnerships with the private sector, and to facilitate private access to NASA expertise. In connection with this, the Policy recommends whatever modifications that are required of laws and regulations that now impede private space activities.
No Health Effects of Residential EM Fields
An expert panel convened by the National Academy of Sciences has made a definitive statement regarding health effects of residential electromagnetic fields: There aren't any. The panel concluded, at the end of a 3-year study funded by DOE, that there is no evidence linking exposure to such fields with human illnesses, including cancer and neurobehavioral,reproductive, and developmental abnormality. For information regarding a similar study by APS, see the May 5, 1995 issue of What's New.
History of Physics Web Site
There is a new WWW site
(http://www.aip.org/history/) for the History of Physics, Astronomy, and Geophysics. The site gives information about programs and services of the Center for History of Physics (e.g., grants), about AIP's Niels Bohr Library and access thereto, about the Emilio Segre Visual Archives, links to related Web sites, an Einstein exhibit, and more. A search engine is now being developed to support on-line access to abstracts of all the Niels Bohr Library's archival holdings, its catalog of books, and the entire International Catalog of Sources for History of Physics and Allied Sciences.
Physics and Government Net
The Physics and Government Network (PGNet) was established by the APS three years ago to provide physicists' inputs into science policy formulation, and appropriation, in Washington, D.C. Physicists who join PGNet are alerted, via e-mail, of pending science crises/issues in Washington, D.C. that potentially effect the national well-being. They are also given specific suggestions of actions that they can take.
In a review of PGNet's 1996 activities, D. Allen Bromley (APS President) and Robert Schrieffer (APS Past President) described five ACTION ALERTS during 1996, including strategies and outcomes for each ALERT.
ALERT #1 concerned the proposed sale of the nation's strategic helium reserves. The final outcome was bipartisan acceptance of an amendment that requires the NAS to report on implications of the sale. The amendment was eventually signed into law.
Other alerts concerned lack of full-year appropriations for NSF during FY1996 (outcome: full funding was restored to NSF in March), proposed major cuts to the DOE FY1997 research budget (outcome: a slightly more than 1% increase in spending for Office
of Energy Research relative to FY1996), and requests for additional funds for the NSF to come from $350 million that had been added to VA-HUD appropriations funding. (outcome: zilch extra for NSF).
Physicists who are 1) interested in public affairs and 2) wish to work with the support of, and in conjunction with, the APS can join PGNet by contacting
firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning Delia Victoria there at 202-662-8700.
International Comparison of Mathematics Education
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), considered by many to be the most important study of education during this decade, is described at
http://www.ams.org/notices/199605/comm-timss.html The study included curriculum analysis, student surveys, performance assessment, teacher questionnaires, teacher reports on content goals, and other components. In this article, I describe some of the contents of the Executive Summary of the study, which can be seen in its entirety at
The summary starts out by stating that TIMSS involved, during the 1995 school year, the testing of a half-million students from 41 nations at five different grade levels.
With respect to President Bush's exhortation to be number one in math and science by the year 2000, U.S. eighth graders scored below the international average of the 41 participating countries in the field of mathematics. In science, they scored above the average, with U.S. students scoring comparably with Canadians, Germans, and English children at grade eight. In the fields of geometry, measurement, and proportionality, our eighth graders perform below average. Five percent of U.S. students perform with the top 10% of all students (in the 41 TIMSS countries) in math. For science, the corresponding American fraction is 13%.
With respect to curriculum, the summary states, "U.S. policy makers are concerned about whether expectations for our students are high enough, and in particular whether they are as challanging as those of our foreign economic partners....[The U.S. is] atypical among TIMSS countries in its lack of a nationally defined curriculum." Eighth-grade math in the U.S. is taught in the seventh grade in other TIMSS countries, and the content of those U.S. classes is not as focused as in Germany and Japan. U.S. eighth graders spend more hours per year in math and science classes than German and Japanese students.
Other subjects included in the summary include teaching ("U.S. mathematics teachers' typical goal is to teach students how to do something, while Japanese teachers' goal is to help them understand mathematical concepts."), teacher's lives (" Unlike new U.S. teachers, new Japanese and German teachers undergo long-term structured apprenticeships in their profession."), students' lives ("Eighth-grade students of different abilities are typically divided into different classrooms in the U.S., and into different schools in Germany. In Japan, no ability grouping is practiced at this grade level."), and conclusions (e.g., "Evidence suggests that U.S. teachers do not receive as much... daily support as their German and Japanese colleagues.")
For people interested in math education reform, the web site
http://ourworld.compuserve.com:80/homepages/mathman/#where is the homepage of Mathematically Correct, a group of parents and scientists who are concerned with math reform and standards. This particular web site is rich with linkages to related sites and is a great place to enter the fray of math education reform.