What's New | 7 Mar 21:13 2008

What's New Friday March 8, 2008

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 7 Mar 08   Washington, DC

1.  WEATHER: THE 2008 ICCC ENDS.
The 2008 International Conference on Climate Change held in New York, 
ended Tuesday.  No, no, it wasn’t that government thing; this one was 
sponsored by the Heartland Institute.   No, I have no idea what the 
Heartland Institute is, or where it gets its money, but I can guess.  
Don’t feel bad if you missed the meeting; a lot of people did.  One third 
of all the scientists at the meeting thought the chilly temperatures in 
New York this week were evidence of climate cooling; one third thought it 
was just cold weather, and the other one said he had no opinion.

2.  THEORY: FLORIDA IS TEACHING THE WHOLE COUNTRY.
As WN has been reporting, the compromise on science standards approved by 
the Florida Board of Education calls for replacing the word "evolution" 
with the phrase "scientific theory of evolution."  This gives teachers an 
opening to explain to students how science works.  Now, according to an 
editorial in yesterday’s New York Times, school officials have 
inserted "scientific theory of" before every major scientific consensus in 
the standards, such as the "scientific theory of electromagnetism". Thanks 
to a free press doing its job, what began as an attempt by religious 
conservatives to impose their superstitious beliefs on Florida students is 
now a lesson to people around the country on the openness of science.   

3.  LAW: WILL THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE INTERVENE?
A Republican State Senator filed a bill she calls the "Academic Freedom 
Act."  It would disallow actions against students for taking a position on 
evolution and ban penalties for teaching alternatives to evolution.   
The "scientific theory" rule should take care of that; there is 
no "scientific" alternative to Darwinian evolution.    
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What's New | 14 Mar 21:53 2008

What's New Friday March 14, 2008

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 14 Mar 08   Washington, DC

1.  PHYSICS BLOC: FERMILAB PHYSICIST WINS HASTERT SEAT.  
Tuesday, on his first day in office, Bill Foster (D-IL) cast the deciding 
vote to prevent tabling a Congressional ethics bill that would create an 
outside panel to investigate ethics complaints against House members.  He 
will have to run again in November, but Foster’s victory in a special 
election on Saturday to fill the seat vacated by the resignation of Dennis 
Hastert looked pretty convincing.  Hastert had represented the vermilion 
14th District for 20 scandal-filled years.   Foster’s PhD in physics is 
from Harvard (1984) and he had been at Fermilab for 22 years.  Prominent 
scientists contributed both time and money to Foster’s campaign, and he 
becomes the third PhD physicist serving in the House.  He campaigned 
against the Iraq War and called for research on alternative energy.  

2.  A BIGGER PRIZE:  TEMPLETON BUYS ANOTHER SCIENTIST.  The 2008 Templeton 
Prize was awarded yesterday to Polish cosmologist Michael Heller, 72 a 
Roman Catholic priest.   The monetary value of the award is adjusted to be 
larger than the Nobel Prize.  Initially, the prize was given to more 
saintly types, beginning with Mother Teresa in 1973, but of the last ten 
winners, seven have been physicists or cosmologists.  After all, what’s 
the point in becoming rich and powerful if you can’t buy that which is 
important to you?  For the governor of New York, what was important was 
submission of beautiful women.  For Sir John Templeton the important thing 
is scientists declairing that they see the hand of God in the laws of 
nature.  In 1998 he tried to buy the AAAS Dialog in Science and Religion.  
He came close, but settled for buying one scientist at a time.  Heller 
believes God’s existence can be found in the mathematical nature of the 
world.  At the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow, Poland, where he 
is a faculty member, Heller says he will use his prize to create a center 
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What's New | 21 Mar 22:33 2008

What's New March 21, 2008

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday, 21 Mar 08   Washington, DC

1.  EXOPLANETS: THE SEARCH FOR LIFE BROADENS.
The great discovery in astronomy at the beginning of the third millennium 
is that there are planets around other stars - lots of planets around lots 
of stars.  But is there life?  If there is it won’t be on HD 189733b in 
the constellation Vulpecula 63 light years distant.  A "hot-Jupiter" 
planet hugging the skirts of a star a bit smaller than our sun, HD 189733b 
is too hot and too massive for life.  Nevertheless, the detection of 
methane and water in its atmosphere, reported in this week’s issue of 
Nature, is an important step in the search.   Not that the presence of 
these gases tells us anything about life, rather it confirms the 
technique.  As the planet passes in front of the star the absorption 
spectra of the light at the rim of the planet gives its atmospheric 
composition. The measurement stretched the capability of Hubble’s near 
infrared spectrometer to the limit, but should be much easier with the 
more powerful James Web Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2013.  

2. SOLAR SYSTEM:  NO EXTRATERRESTRIAL LIFE - YET.  
The search for life to which we are not related is the great science quest 
of this century.   Spirit and Opportunity are still hunting for the most 
likely spots on Mars.  In the highly unlikely event that Bush’s Moon-Mars 
proposal ever lands people on Mars, the first mission is unlikely to find 
life.  The odds of finding life, however, will increase sharply with each 
subsequent landing.   Any life they find is going to look very familiar. 

3. PEER REVIEW: COURT UPHOLDS CONFIDENTIALITY.            
The guarantee to reviewers of confidentiality is regarded by editors as 
essential to candid commentary.  Pfizer however, sued by patients who 
suffered serious side effects from the arthritis drugs Celebrex and 
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What's New | 28 Mar 22:39 2008

What's New Friday March 28, 2008

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday   28 Mar 08   Washington, DC

1.  ASLEEP ON MARS: THE "WASHINGTON MONUMENT" PLOY?  
It’s a lot easier to get Congress to create popular new initiatives than 
to pay the cost of keeping them up.   The most popular tourist attraction 
in the Capital is the Washington Monument; if Congress threatens to cut 
its operating budget the Park Service announces it will have to close the 
Monument.  Told on Tuesday that the cost of the Mars Rover mission must be 
cut 40%, Steve Squyres of Cornell, the PI, announced that either Spirit or 
Opportunity would have to be euthanized or at least hibernate for the rest 
of the fiscal year.  Are they kidding?  The cyber generation has bonded 
with the rovers.  Designed for a three month lifetime, the cuddly rovers 
have been going for four years, living on sunshine and never complaining 
about the cold nights.  You might as well announce that the National Zoo 
plans to cut expenses by tossing the panda cubs into the pirana tank.  
That was clear to, Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator, and on Wednesday 
he ordered the budget cut rescinded immediately. 

2.  NASA: RESIGNATION OF TWO TOP SCIENTISTS UNRELATED.
We know Michael Griffin immediately overrode the decision, but we don’t 
yet know who ordered the cut in the Mars rover budget in the first place.  
NASA Chief Scientist Alan Stern then announced his resignation.  Maybe he 
he had ordered the money be taken out of the Rover.  Stern joined NASA 
less than a year ago as head of the Science Mission Directorate.  The NASA 
staff was still trying to absorb the news about Stern’s resignation when 
it was revealed that NASA’s chief scientist, John Mather, had submitted 
his resignation.  A senior astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight 
Center in Maryland, and an adjunct professor of physics at the University 
of Maryland, Mather shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics with George 
Smoot http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN06/wn100606.html .  However, it was 
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