What's New | 4 Aug 22:54 2006

What's New Friday August 4, 2006

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 4 Aug 06   Washington, DC 

1. PLAN B: THIS WEEK THE FDA IS BEING RUN FROM CRAWFORD, TX.
Timing is everything, but Senate Democrats aren't falling for
that one again.  On Monday, the day before confirmation hearings
for Bush family friend Andrew von Eschenbach, the agency said it
would meet with the maker of the emergency contraceptive, Plan B,
to talk about over-the-counter sales.  The FDA has only had a
confirmed head for 18 months of the entire Bush Presidency, but
Democrats want over-the-counter approval first.  The FDA said its
initial rejection was based on concern for the safety of young
girls.  It proposes limiting over-the-counter sales to 18 or
older.  You might think the "emergency" would be greater for the
young, but opponents say it would encourage sexual activity.  To
insist that society rely on abstinence is to deny an instinct
against which the gods themselves seem unable to contend.  The
entire history of mankind is testament to its inexorable power. 

2. KANSAS: VOTERS DROWSE THROUGH ANOTHER PRIMARY ELECTION. 
Moderate Republicans took a 6-4 advantage over conservatives on
the Kansas Board of Education.  Evolution, of course, was the
issue.  In principle, evolutionists could increase that to 8-2 in
November, but this is Kansas where the general election is just a
formality.  Whether this is more evidence of the "Dover effect"
is not clear http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN06/wn021706.html ,
but don't count the intelligent design movement out.

3. BLEEP: WILLIAM TILLER AND "RAMTHA'S SCHOOL OF ENLIGHTENMENT."
August is a slow month, and I promised last week to say a little
about Ramtha and William Tiller.  Ramtha is a 35,000 year-old
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What's New | 11 Aug 23:12 2006

What's New Friday August 11, 2006

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 11 Aug 06   Washington, DC

1. JAMES VAN ALLEN: THE FIRST AMERICAN SPACE HERO, DEAD AT 91.   
Almost nothing was known about conditions beyond the ionosphere
when the US launched Explorer I on 31 Jan 58.  The Cold War was
at its peak, and the Soviets seemed to own space.  Sputnik I,
launched 4 Oct 57, carried no instruments.  Sputnik II, a month
later, could only send back Geiger counter readings taken when it
was in sight of the ground station.  In June, however, at a
conference in the USSR, James Van Allen, a physics professor at
the University of Iowa, announced that Explorer I had discovered
the first of the two "Van Allen radiation belts."  Soviet space
scientists were crushed; the "space age" was not a year old and
already the U.S. had taken the lead in science.  Two years ago I
visited Prof Van Allen in his office at the U. Iowa.  At 89 he
was down to a 7-day work week.  He showed me an op-ed he was
sending to the NY Times in which he described human space flight
as "obsolete" http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN04/wn072304.html . 
I don't believe they used it.  Van Allen said using people to
explore space is "a terribly old fashioned idea." 

2. CLIMATE: FUEL PRICES MAY DO WHAT THE ADMINISTRATION WON'T. 
The Wall Street Journal, which is not exactly the voice of
environmental extremism, commented today on NASA satellite
measurements that show melting of the Greenland ice sheet to be
more rapid than expected.  On the same page was a story about
General Motors cutting production of big SUVs.  It seems that
rising gas prices are causing sales to sag.   An editorial by
Donald Kennedy in today's issue of the journal Science, says the
public is concerned about climate change and favors government
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What's New | 18 Aug 22:53 2006

What's New Friday August 18, 2006

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 18 Aug 06   Washington, DC

1. THE VISION: SPACE AGENCY MANIPULATES THE ADVISORY PROCESS.  
Three members of the Science Committee of the NASA Advisory
Council, including its chair, are out the door today for giving
advice.  Wes Huntress of the Carnegie Institution of Washington,
was previously NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science. 
In March he testified before the House Science Committee that the
President's "Vision for Space Exploration" has forced NASA "to
cannibalize the agency's science program."  Gene Levy, professor
of physics and Provost at Rice, said "a strong commitment to
science is not the kind of advice" NASA was looking for.  The
chair of the Committee, Charlie Kennel, Director of the Scripps
Institute, apparently resigned to protest the action.  Jack
Schmitt, chair of the Council, said he will serve as acting chair
until a replacement for Kennel can be found.  Like who would want
the job?  NASA has been in total free-fall since President Bush
announced his "Vision for Space Exploration" two years ago. 

2. THE PLANETS: SCIENTISTS SUPPORT PROPOSED REDEFINITION. 
Feeling a little disoriented today?  Small wonder: Mercury in Leo
forms a frictional square with Jupiter in Scorpio.  That's really
big, but we're not certain what it means anymore.  A committee of
the International Astronomical Union proposed a new definition of
"planet" which will be voted on next week in Prague.  A planet
would be defined as a body in orbit around a star and big enough
for gravity to make it round.  Well, almost round.  You may think
it doesn't matter to you if Ceres is round or cubic, but if it's
cubic, it won't be a planet and therefore won't affect whether
you're gonna meet a mysterious stranger today that will change
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What's New | 25 Aug 23:01 2006

What's New Friday August 25, 2006

WHAT'S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 25 Aug 06   Washington, DC

1. PLAN B: IT'S NOT AN EMERGENCY IF YOU'RE UNDER THE AGE OF 18? 
Better late than never, the FDA announced yesterday that the
emergency contraceptive will be available over the counter, but
only if you're over 18.  One might suppose the consequences of
unplanned pregnancy would be greater for women under 18.  That it
was approved at all after a 3-year struggle must be credited to
three women.  Susan Wood, resigned as head of women's health at
the FDA a year ago to protest failure to approve over-the-counter
sale http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn090205.html.  Senators
Clinton and Murray made it clear that without it Bush family
friend Andrew von Eschenbach would not be confirmed to head FDA.

2. EVOLUTION: GUESS WHAT WAS MISSING FROM THE SMART-GRANT LIST?
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on Tuesday that the
list of majors that qualify for Smart grants, prepared by the
Department of Education, had a blank line.  It turned out to be
the line where Evolutionary Biology should have appeared.  The
Department says the exclusion was inadvertent.  That's possible,
but it reminds us that evolution denial in America is not only
widespread, it's growing.  According to a study by Jon Miller of
Michigan State University in Lansing, acceptance of evolution by
Americans declined from 45% in 1985 to 40% in 2005.  Only Turkey
and the Vatican trail the US.  For example, intelligent design
critic Rev. George Coyne was replaced as director of the Vatican
Observatory http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN05/wn111805.html .

3. NASA: GRIFFIN ACCUSES SCIENTISTS OF WANTING TO DO SCIENCE. 
Michael Griffin in an Aug 21 message to Science Committee members
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