What's New | 4 Apr 23:41 2008

What's New Friday Apr 4, 2008

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday   4 Apr 08   Washington, DC

Technology has changed in the 400 years since Cervantes first told the 
story of Don Quixote.   Windmills are now particle accelerators and the 
knight’s lance is a federal court injunction, but the plot is the same.  
It begins with a befuddled lawyer in Hawaii named Walter Wagner.  Having 
read far too much science fiction as a youth, Wagner fantasizes that he is 
a physicist by virtue of an undergraduate biology degree with a minor in 
physics.  Accompanied by Sancho, his loyal TA, Wagner embarks on an 
adventure to slay the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a doomsday machine that 
he believes is posed to destroy the world by creating a black hole.  He 
seems to have forgotten the last time he tried this.  In 1999 Wagner 
warned that RHIC, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven 
National Laboratory, must be slain lest it create a black hole 
http://bobpark.physics.umd.edu/WN99/wn072399.html .  The then BNL 
director, Jack Marburger, named a distinguished panel of physicists to 
investigate.  Their report noted that nature has been conducting the 
relevant safety test for billions of years by colliding heavy-ion cosmic 
rays with the moon.  It concluded that creation of a black hole 
is "effectively ruled out by the persistence of the Moon." 

A couple of weeks ago the Metro Section the Washington Post ran a front 
page story about a pilot program in a Washington suburb to incorporate 
acupuncture into the treatment of drug addiction.  There is something 
called the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association that certifies 
people to administer acupuncture for drug addiction.   As I read this I 
paused to watch a chiropractor on Good Morning America wrenching some poor 
women’s neck to lower her blood pressure.   It raised mine.  But back to 
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What's New | 11 Apr 23:56 2008

What's New Friday Apr 11, 2008

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday   11 Apr 08   Washington, DC

It seemed to be going well for efforts to arrange a debate on science 
issues.  The National Academies, the Council for Competitiveness and the 
AAAS had agreed to serve as official cosponsors; the plan was endorsed by 
all major research universities and scientific societies.  However, in a 
world faced with the threat of global warming, dwindling fossil fuel, 
continuous warfare, disease and starvation on the rise in Africa, 
spiraling food prices world wide, the candidates must focus 
on "solutions."  They have therefore chosen to attend "The Compassion 
Forum" instead, a "wide ranging and probing discussion of policies related 
to moral issues."  It will be held at Messiah College somewhere in central 
Pennsylvania.  Founded by the Brethren in Christ Church in 1909; Messiah’s 
motto is "Christ Preeminent."  It has not been decided whether the 
candidates will remain on their knees during the debate.

You will not be surprised to learn that WN got a lot of disagreement about 
the item on acupuncture last week.  As one reader pointed out, "millions 
of people have been treated with acupuncture and say it works; scientists 
should be trying to find out how it works rather than ridiculing it."  
Look at it this way, an even larger number of people around the world say 
astrology works.  If you think they’re right you’re beyond help.  What we 
need to understand is why people think acupuncture works.  If you ask an 
acupuncturist how it works, the answer is “qi.” What’s qi?  I refer you to 
http://www.csicop.org/sb/2000-03/qi.html for a full discussion.   Briefly, 
dissection was forbidden in ancient China, as it was in the West before 
about 1500 AD.   Beheadings, on the other hand, were common.  The carotid 
artery and jugular veins sticking out of the severed neck looked like 
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What's New | 18 Apr 22:53 2008

What's New Friday April 18, 2008

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday   18 Apr 08   Washington, DC

The "Compassion Forum" on Sunday night at Messiah College was not exactly 
the debate scientists had hoped for.  It wasn’t a debate at all; Hillary 
Clinton and Barack Obama were interviewed separately.  Jon Meacham of 
Newsweek asked Senator Clinton straight out, "do you personally believe 
life begins at conception?"  "I believe the potential for life begins at 
conception," she began.  Would she now try to explain to this Christian-
conservative audience why a single cell is not just a very small person?  
Not a chance; she wandered off into a discussion of her Methodist roots.  
It would be up to Senator Obama.  Campbell Brown of CNN, Meacham’s co-
host, asked Obama what he would say to one of his daughters if she asked 
him if God really created the universe in six days.  Glory!  It was the 
opening scientists pray for, a chance for an audacious young man to tell 
the story of creation to the entire nation.  "No dear, the story of the 
beginning of the universe is far grander than that.  It is 14 billion 
years old and still changing.  Science has learned much, but there is far 
more still to be learned . . ."   Of course he did not say that.  He 
said, "Six days in the bible may not be 24-hour days."  Sigh!  They 
debated again on Wednesday - nothing to report.

Vioxx was a top selling painkiller until Merck took it off the market in 
2004 after evidence linked it to heart attacks.  Merck reached a $4.85 
billion settlement of thousands of Vioxx lawsuits, but, according to a 
story by Stephanie Saul in Wednesday’s New York Times, documents released 
in those cases reveal a practice of promoting Vioox by recruiting doctors 
to sign drug studies actually ghost written by Merck.  

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What's New | 26 Apr 00:59 2008

What's New April 25, 2008

WHAT’S NEW   Robert L. Park   Friday   25 Apr 08   Washington, DC

In a lecture at George Washington University on Monday, Professor Hawking 
marked the 50th anniversary of NASA by calling for increased emphasis on 
space exploration.  Such occasions seem to call for a little futuristic 
excess and Hawking obliged with a talk completely divorced from reality.  
Mars may harbor life but it won’t be very smart, so he wants to visit 
planets on other stars.  He compared people who think the trip would be 
too expensive to those who opposed the risky voyage of Columbus.  
Actually, Columbus was a careful man; had he possessed the technology he 
would probably have sent a drone first.  After all, he had miscalculated 
the Earth’s circumference.   It was a good thing he ran into America or 
they would have perished.  We know the distance to the stars much 
better.   They are very far away - so far that we aren’t going there.  The 
good news is that "they" aren’t coming here.

Seemingly without warning, an additional 100 million people have been 
plunged into poverty by the abrupt increase in the price of food.  Most of 
the people on Earth could not dream of owning an automobile. For them the 
doubling of the price of wheat and rice is vastly more serious than $4 
gasoline.  Contributing to the severity is hoarding, the high price of 
fertilizer, a shortage of fresh water for irrigation, and yes, the 
diversion of food crops into bio-fuels.  It’s been thirty years since the 
world faced a food crisis of this magnitude, but no one seems willing to 
mention the Devil’s name.  A recent BBC report on the Sudan captured the 
crisis perfectly: "The reality is that there are more people in one 
refugee camp in Darfur today than there were in the whole of Darfur and 
Khordofan in the 1930’s!"  The problem is not too little food, but too 
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