Volume 28, Number 3 July 1999


Excerpts From the Minutes of the Fps Executive Board Meeting

(The full text of the minutes can be found here).

The American Physical Society,FORUM ON PHYSICS AND SOCIETY

Executive Committee Meeting March 21, 1999

Pete Zimmerman discussed the idea of a study on pseudo-science or junk science. He is concerned about the prominence given to "pseudo-scientists" on public TV and in other venues, particularly those receiving government support. A number of possible Forum responses were suggested by Zimmerman and by John Ahearne, including a study of where junk science is appearing in the public and commercial media, and setting up a web site to which members could submit reports of junk science. Congress particularly should be aware of federal funds channeled into junk science, and the Congressmen who are scientists should bring this issue to the attention of their colleagues.

Zimmerman asked that we urge POPA to send a message to the Secretary of State commending the official who cancelled the free energy conference.

It was agreed to set up a web site on pseudo-science and to announce it in the Newsletter and via e-mail to the membership. A steering committee will supervise the project, and screen contributions to the site. In the next issue of this newsletter, details on the web site will be given.

Bill Colglazier mentioned some of the Forum-sponsored sessions at the Atlanta APS meeting. For next year the Forum will ask for two sessions at the March meeting, to be held from the 20th to the 24th in Minneapolis, and for four sessions at the April meeting, to be held from April 29th through May 1st in Long Beach, California. A number of people questioned the wisdom of APS's policy of planning meetings in relatively out-of-the-way locations. This policy is primarily based on lower costs at the meeting hotels.

Mike Sobel presented the election report. Aviva Brecher was elected Vice-chair and Carroll Quarles and Lee Collins were elected members-at-large of the Executive Committee. Ed Gerjuoy was elected Forum Councillor, his term to begin January, 2000. There were 688 valid ballots, 178 on paper and 510 on the web.

Sobel presented the Budget Report, with expenses and income through January and projections through the end of the 1999 fiscal year in June. Newsletter expenses have increased during the past two years, and the projected cash balance for the end of the fiscal year is down to about $7,000. The Forum's contribution of $5,000 to the Szilard Lectureship was made during the year. The Lectureship is now fully funded at over $70,000, approximately the same sum as the Burton Forum Award.

Dietrich Schroeer was not able to attend the meeting, but his report from the APS Council had been distributed earlier. On nuclear testing, the APS hoped to facilitate discussions between Pakistan and India, possibly at a physics meeting in Trieste, but this effort has not been fruitful. On a "what is science" statement for the public and the media, last year there was considerable disagreement about what such a statement should contain. This year a revised statement, prepared by POPA, was accepted by Council as a working document, and it will be presented to other scientific societies for discussion. Council also considered the question of a study on climate change, and decided that it would have to be done in collaboration with other scientific societies.

A number of issues were raised in connection with awards. About the Szilard Lectureship, a stipend of $1,000 will be given to the speaker, and $2,000 will be available for travel. We agreed that the speaker should submit for prior approval a plan for speaking engagements and travel, and that after the engagements he or she should submit vouchers for expenses, a short report on the engagements, and an article for the Newsletter. Mike Sobel suggested that there be a standing committee to handle these things; Barbara Levi will draft a set of guidelines.

There was a short discussion of the law passed last fall by Congress, requiring that scientists make available under the Freedom of Information Act all data produced by federally funded research. Serious concerns have been expressed in the scientific community, including the possibility that data would have to be made public before it had been analyzed. The Office of Management and Budget has proposed guidelines under which only published data used to determine policy will have to be released. Considerable uncertainty about the consequences of this legislation remains.

Pete Zimmerman and John Ahearne proposed that the Forum sponsor a study on ballistic missile defense, based on unclassified information. The study would consider a national defense system, using hit-to-kill technology, against an attack that included penetration aids. Zimmerman felt a credible study is feasible in a six-month period, using volunteers from the Forum membership (screened by the Executive Committee). A small amount of grant funding (around $10,000) would be needed, and approval from the APS would have to be sought.

Nominations Sought for Burton Forum and Szilard Awards

The Forum invites nominations for the Burton Forum Award and the Leo Szilard Lectureship Award. The Burton-Forum Award is for "outstanding contributions or resolution of issues involving the interface of physics and society." The Szilard Award recognizes "outstanding accomplishments by physicists in promoting the use of physics for the benefit of society in such areas as the environment, arms control and science policy." The Burton Award has a stipend of $3000, and the Szilard Award was recently endowed and has a stipend of $1000 and $2000 for expenses for giving two or more public lectures.

Please send the nominations by July 1 to Dr. Beverly Hartline, Chair, Selection Committee for APS Szilard and Burton Awards, LANSCE SNS PO Box 1663 MS H 824, LANL, Los Alamos, NM 87545 (hartline@lanl.gov). The package should contain a suggested citation, at least three letters of recommendation INCLUDING A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH, copies of up to 2 to 5 publications, and a recent CV AND LIST OF PUBLICATIONS. Other members of this year's nominating committee include: Philip Goldstone (pgoldstone@lanl.gov), David Hafemeister (dhafemei@calpoly.edu), Tony Nero (avnero@lbl.gov), and Bob Park (park@aps.org).


Update on the "Data Access" Law

The lead news item in the last issue concerned a rider that was added to the omnibus appropriations bill last fall by Richard Shelby (R-AL). This rider requires that all data obtained under a federal grant be made available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). As written, this appears to apply to all data, even if it has yet to be analyzed, peer-reviewed or published.

After a massive outcry from the scientific community, the Office of Management and Budget issued formal regulations to satisfy the requirements of the new law. They limited the scope of the rule to "published research findings" and only for instances where the data are used in "developing policy or rules". This ameliorates some of the concerns of the scientific community. In its February meeting, the APS Executive Board passes a resolution, which says (in part):

"The Executive Board of the APS affirms that government agencies in establishing federal regulations and policies should rely only on scientific results that have been peer reviewed and subjected to fair and open appraisal. To the extent that [the new law] addresses that issue, the APS Executive Board endorses its intent. However, the APS Executive Board believes that the language contained in the Law is too broad and will lead to a number of unintended consequences that are extremely harmful to American interests. Specifically… the Law

--creates the potential for releasing into the public domain flawed data that have not been subjected to adequate peer review

--compromises the privacy of individuals who participate in clinical research tests

--undermines the viability of university-industry partnerships and inhibits entrepreneurship by restricting intellectual property rights

--places an extraordinary burden on researches to maintain their records for perpetuity through an absence of a statute of limitations

--exposes researchers and their employers to potentially expensive litigation, thereby raising the cost of research.

The Board believes that the proposed revision published by OMB …provides a reasonable starting point. Final language, however, should define the word "publication", establish a statute of limitations for maintaining records, provide a grace period to enable researchers and their institutions to file patent applications, safeguard the privacy of human subjects, and provide an explicit recognition that the normal costs associated with compliance will qualify for inclusion in indirect-cost allowances."

The OMB will issue a final regulation by September 30. In response to a public comment period, NSF Director Rita Colwell wrote:

"The NSF has long encouraged the broad dissemination of NSF-funded research data in support of the science and engineering enterprise. NSF’s current data access policy promotes free and open exchange by expecting researchers to promptly publish their findings and share their data and supporting materials with other researchers…. .. I understand that P.L. 105-277 specifically directs OMB to apply the FOIA procedures to data produced under federal awards for the purpose of improving dissemination of federally supported data. I appreciate your (OMB’s) efforts to limit the scope of the proposed rule regarding the use of FOIA to "published research findings" and only for instances where data are used in "developing policy or rules". This language may help avoid untimely release of raw data by researchers as well as limit the proposed rule’s application to specific studies.

I remain concerned, however, that the proposed revisions are unclear and open to different interpretations that could ultimately harm the research process. For example, it is unclear what constitutes "data" in the proposed rule. Also, the phrase "developing policy or rules" is ambiguous and needs clarification…. Unfortunately, I believe that it will be very difficult to craft limitations that can overcome the underlying flaw of using FOIA procedures to achieve broader access to federally funded data. No matter how narrowly drawn, such a rule will likely harm the process of research in all fields by creating an complex web of expensive and bureaucratic requirements for individual grantees and their institutions. It also runs counter to the efforts of the NSF and other science agencies to less paperwork burdens on our grantees….Using FOIA in this manner also undercuts the successful, balanced and flexible approach to science and engineering data access adopted by NSF and other science agencies…. That is why I believe we should work towards enactment of the bipartisan legislation, HR 88, sponsored by Rep. George Brown (D-CA), to repeal the FOIA provision of PL 105-277…"

The bill to repeal this new rule, HR 88, is currently in committee.

The Ed-Flex Bills and the Physicist-Congressmen

The two physicists in Congress, Vern Ehlers (R-MI) and Rush Holt (D-NJ), had a significant role in the debate over the recently passed "Ed-Flex" bills. This legislation would give states and local school districts more flexibility in the use of federal funding. The Department of Education could grant any state the right to waive some of the requirements that come along with federal education funding. Local school authorities could then apply to the state for a waiver of certain state and federal guidelines, in order to try new experiments in education reform.

Rep. Ehlers introduced an amendment which asked the states, when granting a waiver of federal guidelines, to ensure that the local education agency obtaining the waiver still had some way of fulfilling the underlying purpose of that federal requirement. Rep. Holt then introduced an amendment to the Ehlers amendment which would have required local schools wanting to waive federal requirements for math-science teacher training to first submit a plan describing how they would meet those needs in another way.

Ehlers commented that he agreed with the intent behind the Holt amendment, but felt that it was an unnecessary addition to his own amendment, and would increase the burden on school administrators, "My concern is the increased paperwork and the lack of flexibility". The Holt amendment generated a lot of discussion on the House floor about the importance of having teachers knowledgeable in the fields of science and math. Holt noted that "math and science are two areas where teachers have traditionally needed the most help." Rep. Johnson (D-TX) pointed out that "in 1991, in secondary schools in this country, students were less likely to have a qualified teacher in math than any core subject. 27% of students had a teacher without at least a minor in math, and for science 32% had a teacher without at least a minor in science". Rep. Miller (D-CA) added that "most parents would be shocked at the qualifications of the people who are teaching their children math and science". Opposing the amendment, Rep. Wilson (R-NM) said "I think that [Ehlers] has been creative in giving us the best of both worlds. He focuses on making sure that the intent of the Federal law is upheld and the State must review all of those applications, but it does not require longer paperwork by the local schools".

The Holt amendment was then defeated by a vote of 218-204. The Ehlers amendment passed by a vote of 406-13. A House-Senate conference reconciled the two bills, and the President recently signed it. The Ehlers amendment was retained in the final version. For more details, consult the AIP's FYI (http://www.aip.org/enews/fyi).

China---National labs

On April 27th, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), responding to the recent release of very sensitive computer codes used in the analysis and design of nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, introduced legislation which said "The Secretary of Energy may not admit to any facility of a national laboratory any individual who is a citizen of a nation that is named on the current Department of Energy sensitive countries list". This list of countries includes China, Russia, India, Israel, Pakistan and Taiwan. The affected labs would include Livermore, Los Alamos, and Sandia.

The bill did allow waivers, provided that Congress is notified ten days in advance "on a case-by-case basis with respect to specific individuals whose admission to a national laboratory is determined by the Secretary to be necessary for the national security of the United States". All other citizens to these labs would be required to undergo a security clearance or background check.

Sen. Shelby stated "this and prior administrations failed to heed our warnings. Consequently, a serious espionage threat at our national laboratories has gone virtually unabated and it appears that our nuclear weapons program may have suffered extremely grave damage….In the interim, we must take steps to ensure the integrity of our national labs. I understand that a moratorium on the foreign visitors program may be perceived as a draconian measure. Until the Department fully implements a comprehensive and sustained counterintelligence program, however, I believe that we must err on the side of caution. The stakes are too high".

Speaking before the Associated Press Annual Meeting, Energy Secretary Richardson commented "The recent allegations of espionage at the Department’s nuclear weapons laboratories have created an uproar among some who believe America should close its labs off from foreign cooperation. Now, I’ve said it before and I will say it again–and explicitly: the so-called belief of closing-off our labs is short-sighted, and it is wrong.

We engage in lab-to-lab research because it is in our national security interest. We would not be making the progress in Russia [controlling nuclear materials] without this cooperation. It is the key that unlocks many of our national challenges. It would be a disastrous mistake to throw away such an asset.

The interaction also serves other national interests. It expands our scientific base, to include minds that are the world’s first and finest. No matter how patriotic you are, you know that America does not hold a monopoly on innovation. The names Szilard, Einstein, Teller, Alvarez and Fermi remind us of that. And let me remind you that the person accused of misappropriating Department information was an insider–not a foreign visitor.

For science to rapidly advance at the frontiers, it must be open……Anyone who wants close off our labs will have to go through me---and I never give in. I will hold my ground because I believe our national security interests can be safely defended."

The Shelby bill, S. 887, is working its way through the Senate.

Imbalance in Research Funding

A report produced by the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy recently addressed the issue of the imbalance in research funding. The report noted that "Continuing the current distribution of appropriations could distort the nation’s research portfolio with adverse long-term consequences for our country". It looked at the federal science and technology (FS&T) portion of the annual research and development budget. In constant dollars from FY1994 to FY2000, the Committee calculated the following changes: FS&T excluding NIH: down 5.7%; DOD FS&T: down 19.8%; DOE FS&T: flat; NSF FS&T: up 15.8% and NIH FS&T: up 31.2%

The Committee found, "From FY 1993 to FY 1998, federal obligations for research in the physical science decreased by 11.2% and for engineering increased by only 0.4% (in constant dollars). It appears that budgets for mission agencies for FY1999 and FY2000 would continue this trend…..

Funding for the physical sciences relies heavily on DOD, NASA and DOE, which together provide 33% of the federal funding for basic research. Additionally, DOD provides a large fraction of all computer science research funding and graduate education support. Because of its relatively small size, increases at NSF cannot compensate for the significant decreases at DOD or the other mission agencies. The downward trend at DOD could lead to a gradual erosion of such fields of research as the physical sciences and engineering, thus weakening the research enterprise". The nation must recognize the importance of investing in a balanced way across a broad range of fields to maintain the overall health of the science and technology portfolio". In discussing the issue, Rep. Ehlers (R-MI) said , referring to the large increase the NIH got last year, "They are making a big mistake". He added, "I believe the message is starting to get through" about congressional awareness of the need to balance science funding among all disciplines.

Following this Report, the Frist-Rockefeller bill, which calls for a doubling of federal civilian R&D funding by FY 2010, was passed the Senate Commerce Committee. The sponsors added an amendment which says that if Congress increases the funding for a single agencys R&D by substantially more than the bill authorizes, that agencys increase would be exempted from the total for all agencies under the bill, so it wont slow the growth of the others. The amendment stated "Because all fields of science and engineering are interdependent, full realization of the nations historic investment in health will depend on major advances in both the biomedical sciences and in other science and engineering disciplines. Hence, the vitality of all disciplines must be preserved, even as special considerations are given to the health research field". The bill passed unanimously and will now go to the Senate floor. One must keep in mind that it is a guideline and a recommendation, and doesnt authorize actual spending.

Clinton’s Comments on Science and Technology

At the ceremony awarding the National Medals of Science and Technology in late April, President Clinton made some remarks on science and technology. Excerpts follow (more detailed comments can be found in FYI #74):

"Three years ago, I directed my National Science and Technology Council to look into, and report back to me on, how this challenge. Today, I am pleased to present their findings.

The report makes three recommendations. First, we must move past today’s patchwork of rules and regulations and develop a new vision for the university–federal government partnership….Today, I ask the National Science and Technology Council to work with universities to write a statement of principles to guide this partnership into the future.

Next, we must recognize that federal grants support not only scientists, but also the university students with whom they work. The students are the foot soldiers of science. Though they are paid for their work, they are also learning and conducting research essential to their own degree programs. That is why we must ensure that government regulations do not enforce artificial distinctions between students and employees. Our young people must be able to fulfill their dual roles as learners and research workers.

And I ask all of you to work with me, every one of you, to get more of our young people---especially our minorities and women students–to work in our research fields. Over the next decade, minorities will represent half of all of our school-age children. If we want to maintain our continued leadership in science and technology well into the next century, we simply must increase our ability to benefit from their talents, as well.

Finally, America’s scientists should spend more time on research, not filling out forms in triplicate. Therefore, I direct the NSTC to redouble their efforts to cut down the red tape, to streamline the administrative burden of our partnership. These steps will bring federal support for science into the 21st century. But they will not substitute for the most basic commitment we need to make. We must continue to expand our support for basic research.

Half of all basic research, research not immediately transferable to commerce, but essential to progress, is conducted in our universities. For the past six years we have consistently increased our investment in these areas. Last year, we launched the 21st Century Research Fund, the largest investment in civilian research and development in our history….. Unfortunately, the resolution of the budget passed by Congress earlier this month shortchanges that proposal and undermines research partnerships with NASA, the NSF and the DOE. This is no time to step off the path of progress and scientific research. So I ask all of you, as leaders of your community, to build support for these essential initiatives. Let’s make sure the last budget of this century prepares our nation well for the century to come….."

Quantum-Mechanical Consciousness Field and the War in Kosovo

As reported in What's New (April 9), particle theorist (Ph.D.--Harvard) and Natural Law Party presidential candidate John Hagelin proposed an elite corps of 7,000 trained "Yogic flyers" practicing transcendental meditation. With a quantum-mechanical consciousness field, they would spread tranquility throughout the Kosovo region. Hagelin noted that this effect was proven, citing a demonstration in 1993 in Washington DC. When it was pointed out that the murder rate soared to an all-time high during this 8-week demonstration, Hagelin explained that it would have been 18% higher without the meditators. He noted that NATO would have to guarantee the security of the flyers. Madeline Albright rejected the plan. As Bob Park notes, "The press conference ended with 12 trained Yogic flyers bouncing around on mattresses. It was clear to me that his plan would work. Serbian troops viewing 7,000 Yogic flyers bouncing on mattresses would be rendered helpless by laughter".

The Pigasus Awards

The James Randi Educational Foundation, on April 1st, bestowed two "Pigasus" awards, which come with a coveted flying pig trophy. The first went to Jacques Benveniste. He has been a long-time proponent of homeopathy, which claims that remedies can be effected even after a dilution by sixty orders of magnitude. Apparently water retains a "memory" of its former contents. Benveniste now claims that this memory can be digitized and sent over the internet from Paris to an ordinary bottle of water in Albuquerque. The second award went to Joe Firmage, who gave up a two billion dollar computer business to spread the "truth", which is that humans aren't smart enough to have invented the computer chip. It was reverse engineered from debris from crashed UFO's. The government is hiding the truth to preserve our self-esteem. Both of these flying pig awards were sent to the recipients psychokinetically. It is not known whether they were received.

Gibbs Didn’t Know What Free Energy Was

In early March, the Integrity Research Institute (IRI) announced the First International Conference on Free Energy. The phrase "Free Energy" means just what it sounds like (not Gibbs or Helmholtz). This Institute publishes books entitled "Free Energy: The Race to Zero Point Energy", "Anti-Gravity: The Dream Made Reality", "Electrogravitics Research", "Inertial Propulsion", etc. The Conference seemed to be just another "new age" gathering. However, the attention of the scientific community was aroused when the IRI announced that the Conference would be held "under the auspices of the U.S. State Department in the Dean Acheson Auditorium".

Thanks to some fast footwork by members of the Forum, who work at the State Department, the invitation of the Department was withdrawn. One argument used to persuade State to cancel the invitation was to suggest that IF any of these free/infinite energy devices actually worked, then there could be a safety risk to the Department. What could the organizers say?

A few days later, the IRI announced that the conference had changed its name, replacing "Free Energy" with "Future Energy", and would be held "in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Commerce". It seems that one of the organizers of the conference, Tom Vallone, is a patent examiner, and employees of the Commerce Department may reserve conference rooms. At the Centennial APS Meeting in Atlanta, this conference was discussed at a well-attended session on Pseudoscience. Apparently, someone from the Commerce Department reported back that there were thousands of physicists laughing at the Department, and the invitation was then withdrawn. Finally, the IRI announced that the conference would be held at a Holiday Inn in Bethesda.

The conference was attended by Bob Park, who reported that Vallone opened the meeting by saying "A century of energy oppression" is about to end; we would have free energy now if it weren’t for powerful economic interests. "How many of you want free energy?" Every hand, including Park’s, went up. Vallone then led the audience in a chant of "We want free energy. We want…".

The conference had several important speakers. David Wallman demonstrated his carbon-arc machine. When turned on, 40 amps of current leaps the gap between carbon rods and electrifies the sugar water in the tank. The bubbles are very special bubbles called carbo-hydrogen gas. This gas is much less polluting than gasoline, and actually produces more energy than it consumes. Wallman claims that the only explanation is that small-scale nuclear reactions are occurring in the tank (since it is around 10,000 K, this is "cool fusion"). Paul Pantone has a "GEET engine", which runs off junk fuel, including paint thinner, crude oil, gasoline, Sprite and Mountain Dew. It will double your car’s gas mileage, he says. A lawnmower powered by this engine, he claims, puts out exhaust which is less polluted than the surrounding air. He asked his wife, Molly, to explain the details. She volunteers that she got a C+ in a college-level physics class, and then realized that "These laws that are in our physics books are truly wrong". The crowd gathered around the lawnmower (which was belching fumes and smelling very bad) and stared at it as if were from Area 51. One of the most popular sessions was called "Evidence for Free Energy Technology Suppression", by Steven Greer. He claimed that the same forces that have hid evidence of UFO’s also try to thwart new energy technologies. "It really is the same thing. They are identical issues….The implication of having this information released is so vast, profound and far-reaching that no aspects of life on earth would be unchanged."