Volume 27, Number 3 July 1998
The election of officers proceeded smoothly. There were 470 votes cast via the Web, and 175 cast via paper ballots. Of the Web ballots, there were 22 duplicates (people who forgot that they'd voted weeks or months earlier),and 4 votes from non-Forum members. There were 10 people who voted both via paper and via the Web, and (unfortunately) the votes were generally different! This could have been a problem, since we hadn't stated which ballot would be discarded in this event. Fortunately, the results would not have changed whichever solution (keep the paper, keep the Web, keep the earlier of the two, keep the later) was adopted. Next year, the Web ballot will state explicitly that the Web ballot will not count if a paper ballot from the same person is received. Elected as vice-chair was Patricia Auchincloss, and the new executive committee members are Philip Goldstone and Steve Fetter.
About 1200 people attended the April "Washington Meeting" of the APA/AAPT, held in Columbus, OH this year; it's estimated that less than 100 of them were the students which this "wandering Washington" meeting was designed to attract. At the Forum Awards Session, Robert Park received the 1998 Joseph Burton-Forum Award "For 'telling it like it is' with his widely-read What's New and through other means on physics-related aspects of science and public policy issues", Howard Geller and David Goldstein were the 1998 Szilard Award recipients "For their significant contributions to enhancing efficient energy use, particularly for applying physics and economics to optimize energy-efficient appliance standards", and, unfortunately, no Forum APS-Fellow Awards were made. (This should be an urgent reminder to our readers to submit nominations for these Fellow Awards to our new Fellowship Chair -Priscilla Auchincloss; details can be found in the Awards Section of the APS Home Page.) The Forum-sponsored Symposium in Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Leo Szilard was very well attended whereas its sessions on Current Technology Transfer Issues and Current Issues in Arms Control, Energy Policy, and Science Policy drew disappointingly small audiences. Our readers can look forward to seeing some of the very good papers from these Forum Sessions in future issues of this journal.
At the the Forum's Executive Committee meeting, we learned that FPS membership has dropped from 12% of the APS to 11% in the last year; this is quite disconcerting, though such drops have occurred for all other Forums as well. We also learned that there are now 4726 subscriptions to this journal (including 500 foreign). There was considerable discussion as to how to deal with the costs of the 346 non-member-subscriptions which cost us about $780/year. It was decided to keep the library subscriptions at the current voluntary rate; the problem of individual-non-member subscriptions was left in the air, given the growing accessibility of our Web edition and uncertainty as to whether the Forum could enforce fees upon non-members. Finally, a great deal of discussion was devoted to the Centennial Meeting of the APS, to be held next March in Atlanta, and the anticipated roles of FPS in that huge and exciting meeting. We have been warned that accommodations might be hard to get so that anybody who does intend to go should get hotel reservations as early as possible.
The APS Council met in San Francisco on Sunday, November 23, 1997 as part of the annual meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics; and in Columbus, Ohio, April 17, 1998 as part of the annual "Washington" General Meeting. The following reports and actions from those meetings may be of particular interest to members of the APS Forum on Physics and Society.
Major reports at these meetings focused on the economic health of science, physics, the APS, and APS publications. The economic health of science and physics was boosted in the last Congressional session as a result of a concerted effort by many scientific societies to persuade the White House and Congress of the value of science. The resulting Federal budget increase for science and technology was close to 7%. This exercise was so successful, that 110 scientific societies have now banded together in an effort to get Congress to double scientific funding over the next ten years. The budget prognosis for this year resembles an opaque crystal ball, but the societies are lobbying hard.
The American Physical Society itself is also healthy, with a ration of 1.4 in Net Assets to Annual Expenditures projected for the time after the Centennial celebration of next year.
APS publications make up 2/3 of the APS budget, and hence are always a major item of concern. The "electronification" of the APS publications is proceeding rapidly, only REVIEW OF MODERN PHYSICS and PHYSICAL REVIEW D are not yet on-line. A new purely on-line journal PHYSICAL REVIEW SPECIAL TOPICS - ACCELERATORS AND BEAMS (PRST-AB) will be launched this spring. Who knows, maybe even PHYSICS TODAY may someday go on-line? The electronic PHYSICAL REVIEW ONLINE ARCHIVE (PROLA) will soon be available - free until the end of 1998. Amuse yourself by using PROLA to find all mentions of your name in PR and PRL back to 1985. But U.S. submissions to APS journals are still decreasing at about 3% per year, although foreign submissions are making up for it. There will be a 7% increase in the cost of the bundled print/electronic journal package next year. In the long run the hope is to sustain APS activities from the income generated by APS Reserves, so that the journal endeavors only have to pay for themselves.
Work on the APS Centennial in Atlanta in March of 1999 is progressing. The cost to the APS is expected to be between $2.6 and #3 million. The preparations for the Centennial celebrations are already inducing reviews of the relationship of the APS to the public. A public relations firm has been hired, with Eugen Merzbacher as senior advisor. A media effort at the Los Angeles March meeting was quite successful in producing newspaper articles and op-ed pieces, TV spots, etc.
A membership survey done for the APS showed that members felt that the APS should be active in outreach - e.g. in education. Unfortunately the survey also showed that members were unaware of what the APS is actually doing in these areas.
The recent TIMSS report (Third International Mathematics and Science Study) showed that the performance of U.S. 12th-grade students in physics is rated the lowest of the 16 participating developed countries (not including Japan, whose students were too busy preparing for their national tests to take this examination). The Council's discussion of the reasons and cures for this problem was inconclusive. Might it be useful for the AAPT and APS to ask high-school teachers about the reasons for this problem? In the end the Council voted to authorize a statement about the current debate in California on physics school standards.
The APS Task Force on Prizes and Awards produced a recommendation that "APS units may allocate revenues from meetings for award travel expenses or to supplement prize and award funds." At the same time the Task Force recommended the goal that all major APS prizes should be raised to $10,000. It has recommended that no one should receive more than one major prize from APS units for the same work. And if more than one person shares an APS award, this sharing must be justified on grounds of "unique, original and indispensable contributions."
The APS Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) proposed a statement on "What is Science":
"Scientific results and theories have created new stores of knowledge, stirred public imagination, and brought great benefit to individual life and to human civilization. The American Physical Society wishes to affirm the crucial core values and principles of science. (1) Science is a disciplined quest to understand nature in all its aspects. It always demands testing of its scientific knowledge against empirical results. It encourages invention and improvement of reliable and valid methods for such testing. (2) Science demands open and complete exchange of ideas and data. Science cannot advance without it. Part of this exchange is to insist on reproducing, modifying, or falsifying results by independent observers. (3) Science demands an attitude of skepticism about its own tenets. It acknowledges that long-held beliefs may be proved wrong, and demands experimentation that may prove its theories false. This principle has built into science a mechanism for self-correction that is the foundation of its credibility. Scientists value other, complementary approaches to and methods of understanding nature. They do ask that if these alternatives are to be called "scientific," they adhere to the principles outlined above.......The American Physical Society stands ready to work with other scientific, engineering, and educational organizations, the media, and interested public bodies to define and communicate the principles and methods of science."
The resulting Council discussion showed a general sentiment supporting the idea of such a statement. But it also revealed comprehensive disagreement about the wording. The Council ultimately passed a motion that a revised statement is to be developed by POPA, taking into account various comments and criticisms. The revised statement is then to be discussed with other scientific societies for their input and for their possible agreement with the revised statement.
Inspired by the FPS success, the APS is heading toward electronic balloting. It is rewriting the constitution of various divisions and sections to allow such balloting.
Dietrich Schroeer, FPS Councilor
In a show of support for civilian R&D, President Clinton's FY 1999 budget request proposed an eight percent increase for programs in his Research Fund for America. The Fund includes research with the NSF, DOE, HHS, NASA, USDA, USGS, EPA, VA and the Depts. of Commerce and Education. Increases for the NSF and DOE were up 11 percent. Furthermore, Clinton's request projects a 32 percent increase for the Fund by the year 2003. Congress also seems to be favorable to significant increases in the budget for civilian R&D. Just before leaving town for a long spring break, the Senate passed an amendment introduced by Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and cosponsored by Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) which states that "It is the sense of the Senate that the assumptions underlying the function totals in this budget resolution assume that expenditures for civilian science and technology programs in the Federal Budget will double over the period from FY 1998 to FY 2008". This is just a resolution, of course, since appropriations are passed year by year. Members of the House are also generally supportive; however the House Science Committee Chair, James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) called such legislation "very well-intended, but premature", stating that a long-term science policy must be in place before such large increases can occur (such a policy is under development by Vern Ehlers (R-MI)). He did say that with an established science policy, he would "absolutely" consider larger increases in R&D spending. For this coming fiscal year, however, it seems as if the House, Senate and White House are all supportive of significant increases in the NSF and DOE research budgets (of approximately 10%).
Unfortunately, the way the White House intends to pay for the increase seems to be from the expected tobacco settlement. Should this settlement not materialize, it is unclear what the source of the funds will be. At the hearing for the NIST budget, House Commerce Appropriations Chair Harold Rogers (R-KY) asked NIST Director Ray Kammer "suppose the tobacco funds don't show up"; Kammer responded that in his understanding, if a tobacco settlement was not reached, funds could be taken from the projected budget surplus". Rogers noted that the President had designated the surplus to go toward fixing Social Security, "so what are we to do?" At the NSF hearing, it was clear that there is widespread support for a 10-11% increase, but there are grave misgivings about the likelihood of using tobacco settlement money; subcommittee chair Jerry Lewis (R-CA) said that few people in Washington are confident that the settlement will occur, and asked what NSF's priorities would be if the increase was smaller. Lewis said NSF enjoys great support among Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. What is beyond his control, that of NSF Director Lane, and the research community, is whether that tobacco money is going to materialize. Administration representatives echoed the statements of former Science Advisor John Gibbons that there was not a "one-to-one correlation" between science increases and tobacco money. He said "It is not the position of the White House that if we don't get a tobacco settlement, we don't get additional research funding" But if tobacco money doesn't contribute to the research increases, funds would have to come from the budget surplus, the breaking of last year's budget caps, or offsets from other discretionary programs. All of these options have political problems. (Note--this is being written in late April. By the time it appears in print, much more information will be available. It can be found at www.aip.org/enews/fyi/1998).
The AIP has put out, via FYI (#71), a brief description of the most effective ways to correspond with Congress. They point out that most Members receive very little mail about science and technology issues, and that well-written letters from scientists can make a big difference. They suggested the following guidelines:
(For the Senate, the zip is 20501)
TALKING POINTS AND ENCLOSURES: Unsure of how to make the case for physics-related S&T programs? AIP has prepared a dozen "Physics success stories" that briefly describe billion dollar industries founded on physics research. Draw from them for background material, or include them as an enclosure. These exhibits are free unless you require them in bulk numbers. See the web site at http://www.aip.org/gov/ for titles and web versions.
DOE Secretary Federico Pena will leave the Dept. of Energy on June 30th. In a hastily called news conference, Pena announced his resignation "for personal and family reasons" saying that he and his wife "have three wonderful children, and it is now time for us to focus on their futures". Pena has been at the DOE for about one year, having formerly served as Secretary of Transportation. He said that Deputy Energy Secretary Elizabeth Moler was on the short list of replacements (at the time of this writing, no replacement has been announced). Pena said that his replacement's biggest challenge would be nuclear waste disposal. A detailed statement from Pena, dealing with issues such as Brookhaven, the NIF, global climate change, the CTBT, etc., can be found at the AIP site, under FYI #52.
The State Department has declared 20 Russian agencies and research facilities ineligible to receive millions of dollars in US government assistance because they may have provided missile technology to Iran. The list of agencies was sent in March to managers of American programs that finance commercial ventures for Russian institutions formerly involved in weapons work. Since then, funding has been denied for at least three Russian projects because they were on the list, and future such projects will also be denied funding. Despite longstanding concerns about the exodus of weapons technology from Russia to rogue states, the move marks the first time specific institutions have been penalized. The list includes Russian institutions ranging from universities to government agencies.
Among the projects denied funding: A proposal from Baltic State Technical University in St. Petersburg to apply rocket motor technology in the high-T destruction of chemical wastes; a project using aerospace technology to develop high-tech plastic joints for industry; a project led by the Moscow Aviation Institute to develop new methods for evaluating the thermal properties of composites.
In April, many physicists received a petition card in the mail opposing the Kyoto global-warning according. It included a note from former APS president Fred Seitz (1961) and an 8 page "paper" explaining why carbon dioxide is good. It explains how burning hydrocarbons "moves them from below the ground and turns them into living things...No other single technological factor is more important to the quality, length and quantity of human life than the expanded and unrationed use of hydrocarbons". The article was in a format identical to that of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences articles, although it had never been published (or even submitted). Some members of Congress assumed that the NAS supported the petition, leading the Academy, on April 24, to take the unusual step of disavowing any link to the petition, saying "The petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy". The author said that the style of the PNAS was used because "he liked the way it looked".
A few days later, the New York Times reported that industrial opponents of the treaty (including Exxon, Chevron, Southern and others) have drafted a multi-million dollar proposal to recruit a cadre of scientists who share their environmental views and to train them in public relations. They wish to provide "a one-stop resource on climate science for members of Congress, the media, industry and all others concerned" and to develop "sound scientific alternatives" to the Intergovenmental Panel on Climate Change. They call for recruiting scientists to argue against the Administration's views on climate change. One of the scientists mentioned is Fred Seitz.
Last April, the Council of the American Physical Society unanimously passed a statement urging the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Starting last November, the APS Washington office began addressing the issue: organizing grassroots teams in key states, assembling briefing packets, marshaling Nobel laureates, etc.
Unfortunately, the Treaty sits in legislative limbo. Senator Helms opposes the CTBT, and he is blocking it in his Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Lott promised the Republican Caucus that he would not let CTBT come up for a vote this year. The Administration is currently occupied with other foreign relations issues.
The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the "largest, most comprehensive, and most rigorous international study of schools and student achievement ever conducted", recently reported its results for students in their last year of secondary school (twelfth grade in the U.S.). The performance of American students was compared with those of 20 other countries in general math and science, and with 15 other countries in advanced math and physics. In general math and science, American students outperformed only two countries, Cyprus and South Africa; in advanced math and physics, only the same two countries were outperformed. Looking at just physics, TIMSS found that the US didn't outperform any other country. NSF Director Neal Lane, noting that results for fourth-graders were more favorable said that "the majority of twelfth-graders tested in 1995 would not have been exposed to the initiation in the early 90's of math and science education reform efforts across the country". The results for the fourth, eighth and twelfth grade testing can be found at http://www.nces.ed.gov/timss/
Therapeutic touch (TT) has 40,000 practitioners in North America who can "palpably sense an energy field that extends 10 centimeters beyond the surface of the skin, and can manually smooth the field". It is endorse by major nursing organizations and offered by 70 hospitals in the U.S. For two decades, TT therapists have concentrated on which diseases can be treated, before first demonstrating that such a field, if it exists, can be detected. The James Randi Educational Foundation has offered a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate that they can detect such an energy field. Now, in a beautifully simple experiment designed as a science fair project, a 9-year girl (Emily Rosa, now 11), persuaded 21 TT practitioners to submit to a simple test in which they were asked (without looking) which of their hands was near Emily's hand. In 280 trials, they scored 44% (random chance would give 50%). The paper was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, making Emily one of the youngest (the youngest?) authors ever of a scientific paper. It thus appears that there is nothing for therapeutic touch practitioners to touch.
The House Science Committee recently held a hearing, aimed to provide input to the National Science Policy Study, on the progress made in graduate science and engineering education in providing students for a wider choice of careers. The Committee Chair, physicist and Congressman Vern Ehlers, said that "the era of perpetual expansion of the academic enterprise is over, yet we continue to train scientists at the same rate and in the same way---which is to focus them on careers in academia". Testimony indicated that graduate programs in engineering have adapted more effectively than those in the sciences.
David Goodstein, Vice-Provost of CalTech, noted that while the fraction of undergrads continuing on to graduate school in physics has declined, the influx of foreign grad students has allowed us to pretend nothing's changed. He called the U.S. system a "mining and sorting operation that selects the best and discards the rest". This results in a surplus of highly-trained Ph.D. and scientific illiteracy in everyone else. A student from Johns Hopkins, Catharine Johnson, added that "the system is designed to replenish the ranks of academia...and is too narrowly focused on training specialists in a market that increasing needs generalists". Philip Griffiths, Director of the IAS, said that the system "promulgates a misalignment between how graduate schools train students and what employers are seeking--skills in communication and teamwork, experience in applied and multidisciplinary research, and adaptability". He blamed the misalignment on the way graduate education is funded: research grants to faculty members support most grad students, but force them to work on specific projects. He praised the NSF for offering a variety of new and interesting programs to give graduate students more varied experiences. When the committee members questioned whether anything should be done about the number of foreign graduate students, none disagreed with the statement that "when international students don't want to come to the U.S. anymore, that's when we have to worry."
Rep. Connie Morella of Maryland, chair of the Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, has introduced legislation (HR3007) called "the Advancement of Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Development Act", which establishes a commission to study what factors have contributed to the relative lack of women in science, engineering and technology, and to issue findings and recommendations to improve practices related to recruiting, retaining and advancing women scientists and engineers. On March 10th, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) testified in support of this legislation The bill was marked up in the Technology subcommittee. According to a committee staff member, "The subcommittee marked up a bill establishing a commission.... However, the mention in the bill of the need to promote workforce diversity, the problem of under-representation of women in these fields compared to men, and other specific mentions of the problems the commission was to study caused problems with conservative Members of the subcommittee so these problems were struck from the bill. We now have a commission studying women in science, engineering and technology development that never states what the problem to be studied is. This should not be a difficult report to write...." It is quite possible that the bill will be strengthened in the full committee. The bill can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov by entering HR3007 into the 'search bill number slot'. The testimony of AWIS and others can be found at http://www.house.gov/science/hearing.html#Technology
In the last issue, we reported the possible demise of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, a 57-year-old institution often considered the "Nobel Prize" competition for U.S. high school seniors. A new title sponsor, the Intel Corporation, has been found. The Intel Science Talent Search is administered by Science Service, a nonprofit organization that promotes public understanding and appreciation of science. Craig Barrett, Intel's president , commented "as scientists, we understand the importance of the Science Talent Search--the importance of challenging our students to come up with the next inventions, the next great ideas, the next important scientific discoveries. It is critical to encourage students' spirit of discovery and enthusiasm from their earliest days in school".