Hydrogen Is Not the Answer

Senator Domenici (APS News Back Page, October 2006) was correct on many of the energy issues he covered, but his advocacy of the administration’s hydrogen program raises problems. Since the major source of hydrogen in the foreseeable future is the dissociation of water, we must inquire: what is the energy source for the dissociation factory? In an energy-independent state, until enormous discoveries are made, the source will be combustion of coal.

What we will have done is moved the atmospheric pollution of hydrocarbon-based vehicles from urban areas to suburban areas. The effect on climate and atmosphere remain equal. In addition we have placed a potentially explosive tank of high pressure hydrogen on every hydrogen-equipped vehicle, and have created a nightmare for hydrogen distribution and dispensing.

One of the alternatives is the acceleration of the development of liquid coal and biomass. The technology behind the process has been around since the 1920’s, and with increased funding could provide a source of gasoline-like fuels for several hundred years. In the meantime we would have the time to develop next generation technologies without bankrupting the nation.

Jerome Eckerman,
Potomac, MD

No Natural Definition of “Natural”

Some of those who contend that science must limit itself to “natural” explanations, including Lawrence M. Krauss (APS News Back Page, April 2006), provide no definition for the term. Others disagree with one another about its meaning, for example: Such notable defenders of science as Paul Kurtz and Eugenie Scott say that a “natural” explanation is one based on concepts like matter and energy. This constitutes an unwise limitation on future theories, requiring that they resemble currently accepted ones. Where would we be if Einstein and the founders of quantum mechanics had similarly tied themselves to the past?

Alan D. Franklin (Letters, October 2006) defines the term differently, asserting that “natural” equates to experimentally testable. This of course guarantees that science is “natural,” but what benefit follows from assigning a new name to an old concept?

I suggest that it matters little whose definition is accepted, because science can be fully characterized using Occam's razor, assumptions about “naturalism” being entirely superfluous.

John G. Fletcher
Livermore, CA

Don’t Demonize Fundamentalists

Alan Franklin's letter (“Unnatural Causes Don't Exist,” APS News, October 2006) writes that “Only a small subset of religious thought, the fundamentalist believers in a personal God, active in human affairs..., is represented in the challenge to the theory of evolution.”

I believe that in any poll, this “small subset” of “fundamentalist believers in a personal God, active in human affairs” would include at least half the U.S. population. It would also include Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address–possibly the greatest speech ever given in America. Rather than demonizing “fundamentalists,” we need to nurture public support.

James E. Felten
Greenbelt MD

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Contributing Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff

December 2006 (Volume 15, Number 11)

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Articles in this Issue
Mile-High City Will Host 2007 March Meeting
APS Kicks Off Campaign to Support Education and Outreach Initiatives
New Management Tackles Difficult Problems at Los Alamos
Apker Award Honors Three Undergrads.
Council Passes Statements on Linear Collider, Careers in Physics
Kadanoff Wins Lorentz Medal
DPP Meeting Features Latest Advances in Plasma Physics Research
APS Establishes New Committee On Informing the Public
Clarification Eases Visa Procedure
MuCap Results, Nucleon Spin Structure Highlight 2006 DNP Meeting
Meeting Briefs
Decker Finds the Physics in Building Graphite Guitars
Members in the Media
This Month in Physics History
Washington Dispatch
Zero Gravity
International News
The Back Page