APS News

January 2011 (Volume 20, Number 1)

Letters to the Editor

APS Should Stick to Scientific Matters

We read with some interest the story headlined “APS Responds to Member Resignation over Climate Change” (APS News, November 2010.)

It seems to us that the real question is not whether global warming ideology is a scam or not. The real question is what type of an organization does APS want to be? Since joining APS in the 1960’s we have noted a constant drift from a scientific agenda toward a socially relevant agenda. We believe that APS should limit its activities and publications to scientific matters and avoid political and societal issues altogether. We are not saying that scientists should not be concerned with politics and social issues. They should. It is their duty to do so.

But they speak for themselves, according to their own beliefs. APS is on a slippery slope.

Once politics and societal issues creep into its agenda scientific integrity will suffer at the hands of political correctness and demagoguery. As a trivial example, in APS’s response the following occurs: “...APS notes that virtually all reputable scientists agree with the following observations:...” In science truth is not determined by a majority vote. Words such as consensus and incontrovertible do not play a role. The annals of physics are rife with instances in which the majority of scientists agreed on something that turned out to be wrong. (Light propagates through the aether, and the atom is the smallest unit of matter.)

We feel that APS should limit its activities to establishing facts and finding the truth by scientific means. Individuals or groups of individuals within the APS membership have every right to express political or policy views as it may affect various funding scenarios, but identification of those individuals who espouse a particular point of view should be explicitly provided. The APS Council, and POPA in particular, should not attempt to speak for the membership as a whole on political policy matters. As a start to move toward openness and transparency, the APS should publish in this newspaper a list of individuals who formulated and wrote the current climate policy statement(s). It is their statement and not necessarily the statement of the APS membership. The APS should also publish on the web the 1600 (or so) members’ commentary statements on the climate issue solicited this past year. Then, we and the public as a whole can begin to see the diversity and divergence of views, knowledge, and expertise amongst physicists in the US.

Thomas Wolfram,
San Clemente, CA

Sam Werner,
Gaithersburg, MD

Early Use of Scotch Tape Cited

The adhesive tape technique used by the recent Physics Nobel Laureates Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov has at least one precedent, although I suspect there could be more than one.

In 1966-67 I was a physics student at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, working in the lab of Professor Henn Soonpaa (formerly a research scientist at Honeywell). We were measuring how the resistivity of thin films of Bi8Te7S5 crystals might be affected by its thickness. Professor Soonpaa taught me the technique of peeling off layers of the film with scotch tape to obtain extremely thin samples. Eventually, the measured thickness of the film was down to 5 atoms thick. My recollection of that time is that very few people, if any, believe the film was that thin.

The published reference is E. Ugaz and H. H. Soonpaa, “Electrical conductivity in an extremely thin single crystal,” Solid State Comm. 6, 417 (1968).

Eduardo Ugaz
Minneapolis, MN

Enforcement Necessary to Prevent Nuclear Spread

The Back Page on tactical nuclear weapons by Irving A. Lerch entitled “Invisible Nukes” [APS News, October 2010] expresses the misguided conviction that nuclear deterrence is a priori bad and should be done away with, the sooner the better. It is particularly outrageous that he writes that “the risk... had been relocated from the war zones to [our] homeland.” He seems to argue that it is preferable that the US suffer an attack on its soil with nuclear weaponry to deterring it (unless we are sure to start with that no nuclear state will consider it). He states that “the threatened use of such [nuclear] weapons against states like Iran...[is a situation where] we should be  considering reductions–or better yet a total ban....”

If he wants to reduce the motivation for nuclear proliferation, I would argue it makes more sense to work on enforcement. We should increase security in nuclear power plants and marshal support for sanctions. I would also recommend task forces on international intelligence, case studies to minimize risk and bringing nuclear sites under international scrutiny.

He writes that ‘the use of any nuclear weapon, however small, is of strategic import.’ How do you disseminate that knowledge to rogue states whose government hides in schools and sends women out to blow themselves up?

Igor Kleyn
New York, NY

Tactical Nukes? What Tactical Nukes?

Irving Lerch’s Back Page in the October APS News is completely wrong. There is no cover-up regarding tactical nuclear weapons because the US has none.  

In 1991 President Bush (41) and Chairman Gorbachev agreed to mutually eliminate tactical, or battlefield, nuclear forces. The US promptly removed its tactical nukes. Since I retired from Los Alamos National Laboratory, I no longer have access to intelligence information on whether the Russians have too. The US enduring stockpile consists of two land-based missile systems (ICBMs), two submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), two aerial bombs, and a warhead deployed on several cruise missiles. All are under control of STRATCOM, Strategic Command headquartered at Omaha. The army and surface navy including marines do not have any nuclear weapons. During the 1991 Gulf War, there were six nuclear-weapon-armed aircraft carriers prowling the waters off Iraq; during the 2003 Gulf War, there were aircraft carriers in the theater but they were not armed with nuclear weapons.

John L. Richter
Albuquerque, NM

Laura Ingraham’s Role Questioned

With regard to the front-page article in the November APS News headlined, “Fox News Fails at Fact-Checking 101”: I do not speak for either Laura Ingraham or Fox News, and I did not see the program referred to. But I do frequently watch Fox News and observe Ingraham there. She is not a “correspondent” of Fox News.  She is a commentator who sometimes appears on Fox and in many other venues. On Fox she always appears on “commentary” rather than “hard-news” programs and is frequently balanced by someone of opposite opinion. She is not a Fox employee and does not have access to Fox’s news-gathering (and-checking) ability. Since she is independent, Fox News cannot “retract” what she says, contrary to the implication of your article. Laura Ingraham is intentionally confrontational and sensational in her commentary, and because of your error the article gave the issue more exposure. I am surprised that Fox did not clarify her position.
J. Roland Gonano
Clarksburg MD

Ed. Note: Not only did Fox News not clarify her position, they have been unwilling to discuss any attempt to correct the facts, despite much effort by APS to do so. And not only did they air Ingraham’s report (or “commentary”), they also simultaneously displayed a picture of Curtis Callan, thereby compounding the error and assuming at least some complicity in promulgating erroneous information.

Resignation Story not Balanced

I was disappointed to read your coverage of the Hal Lewis resignation and the accompanying piece on Fox News–both of which read more like partisan drivel than news meant for the membership of a premiere scientific society. Had APS News been interested in presenting its readers (most of whom are very educated scientists) with a balanced view of the controversy, it would have printed Lewis’s resignation letter along with President Callan’s response and let the reader make up his or her own mind. I could not miss the irony that the APS News response to a letter detailing how APS has stifled debate was to present only half of the story.

Peter Friedman
Dartmouth, MA

Ed. Note: Hal Lewis's letter is quite long and, as our story noted, available on the internet. We quoted from the letter in our story, and endeavored to present Lewis's main points as well as the APS rebuttal.

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