From the Newsletter (9/1/06)   

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The Other "Inconvenient Truth" - by Steve Chase

Climate Change is Hot in London - by David Schartzman

Salvage Logging - a New Scientific Scandal - by Doug Boucher

Response and Resistance to Corporate Agrobiotechnology - by John Tharakan

Junk Science, Wrongful Convictions and Terrorism - by John Kelly

Women in science: disparity in achievement and challenges for the future. - by Tracy Vivelemore

Somethin's Fishy about Agricultural Biotechnology - by Jane Zara -- by by Jane ZaraOOOOOoo

Editorial: Katrina, Hurricanes and Global Warming - by Peter Caplan

An Interview with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard - from New York Times

Ask Dr. Science - by Dr. Science

Books of Interest

Pluto Demoted; Public Reacts - by Peter Caplan

And, in case you missed it...NEWSLETTER - First Issue - May 1, 2006





The Other "Inconvenient Truth"
posted by STEVE CHASE, July 14, 2006 at The Well-Trained Activist

[I recently offered the following remarks to over 400 citizens in Keene as part of an Antioch University-sponsored panel discussion following a showing of Al Gore's new movie An Inconvenient Truth]

Watching Al Gore's new movie “An Inconvenient Truth” reminds me of a scene in a cheesy Hollywood blockbuster a few years back. It was a military courtroom drama called “A Few Good Men.” In one climactic scene, Tom Cruise turns to Jack Nicholson, who is on the witness stand, and shouts, “Just tell me the truth.” Nicholson’s character jumps up and shouts back, “The truth? The truth? You can’t handle the truth!”

I think that’s where we are today. How are we going to handle the hard truth shown in this documentary--that, because of our massive burning of fossil fuels over the last century, we are now in an accelerating and very dangerous period of global climate change. I'm not even sure the phrase global warming does justice to this situation, or even the term global climate change. What we are really talking about is worldwide local climate disruption, with increasingly severe and almost unimaginable consequences.

As Al Gore suggests in this movie, if we are really going to handle this hard truth, we are going to have to help our households, our businesses, our governments, and the international community adopt a hugely ambitious set of policy changes. First, we need to implement policies at the local, regional, national, and global level that will result in the highest levels of energy conservation. Second, we'll need to implement policies at all levels that will result in a rapid shift away from fossil fuels towards safe and renewable energy sources. Finally, we will need to implement a variety of policies that strengthen our emergency preparedness and redesign our public and private infrastructure in order to minimize the damage and death toll when severe weather events or other kinds of climate disruptions occur.

The magnitude of these changes is staggering and in many ways unprecedented. How are we possibly going to make this shift happen? It is at this point that I think Gore's documentary actually soft-peddles a very hard truth about what we need to do to end our industrial addiction to burning fossil fuels. I sensed this timidity especially in the closing credits. As much as I liked all the personal life style changes suggested at the end of the movie, I’m absolutely convinced that just switching to eco-friendly lightbulbs, buying local food more often, and walking and riding our bikes more is not going to get us all the way to where we need to go. Even the couple of suggestions the movie makes about voting regularly or writing letters to our elective officials is not going to be enough—especially when not all our votes are counted and thousands of people of color are repeatedly pushed off the voting rolls in states like Florida and Ohio.

The inconvenient truth not highlighted much in the movie is that we don’t just need a power shift away from fossil fuels to renewables. We also need a power shift away from a government that has become a corrupt, elitist, corpocracy toward one that is much more of, by, and for the people—and the common good. By the word “corpocracy,” I mean a government that is increasingly of, by, and for corporations, and especially dominated by Big Oil, Big Coal, and the Military-Industrial Complex that President Dwight Eisenhower warned us about 50 years ago. As long as corporate giants like Exxon-Mobil write our nation’s energy policy, bribe our elected officials, pay for their electoral campaigns, and spend millions in a cynical PR effort to make people doubt the factual case for climate change, we will be blocked from making many of the long-term reforms and policy changes needed to address global climate disruption.

We need to face the inconvenient truth that our government has been captured by powerful corporate interests, many of whom will do everything in their power to resist a positive policy approach to global climate change. Life style changes, voting every four years, and writing letters to our representatives are all very needed, but these basic acts of civic virtue are not enough. Many more of us also need to become intensely politically active, volunteer with progressive activist organizations, and build a social movement even more powerful than Gandhi’s Independence Movement in India, or the 1960s US Civil Rights Movement, or even the Polish Solidarity Movement that helped bring down the authoritarian Communist regimes in Eastern Europe. The task ahead is simply of this magnitude.

It may be an inconvenient truth, but I am convinced that we are going to have to draw on our country’s inspiring revolutionary tradition of intense citizen activism, sacrifice, and courage and go up against powerful corporate interests in the years ahead. We are going to have to learn to work together to take our country back and put it on a path towards sustainability, justice, and democracy. I think one of the key questions before us all then, is “Can we handle this inconvenient truth?”


Climate Change is Hot in London

by David Schwartzman, July 25, 2006

Still another Inconvenient Truth: Global warming is hotter in the political discourse of the UK than in the US, the world’s leading contributor to carbon emissions. In spite of Blair’s born-again nuclear enthusiasm, joining his bosom friend and partner-in-crime Bush, the British government is in the mainstream on the issue of global climate change, having ratified Kyoto, but is now attempting to bar more radical actions.

Here’s a short report on a program sponsored by Campaign against Climate Change on June 3rd at London School of Economics. Speakers included Caroline Lucas, UK Green Party MEP, Norman Baker, Lib-Dem MP, senior environment spokesman. Both the UK Conservatives and the Lib-Dems are critical of Blair’s new commitment to nuclear power, which is unfortunately still supported by major trade unions. Others included Jeremy Leggett, Solar Century (photovoltaics),.and Robin Oakley, Greenpeace UK, who spoke on decentralized energy systems. Workshops included “Do we have to sacrifice living standards to fight climate change?”

For me the highlights were the presentations on decentralized energy systems, soon to be discussed and the one on the feasibility of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) for generating electricity. Dr. Peter Foreman gave a presentation that claimed that if CSP were implemented soon in the Sahara, all the electricity demand for Europe and much more for N. Africa could be provided, plus a 70% reduction in C emissions by 2050, at a cost of 5-6 eurocents/kwh or less, compared to present market costs of 10. My reaction in the question period: the plan is technically brilliant (in British usage meaning “wonderful”), but politically naïve, given the immense power of the fossil fuel/nuclear/military industrial complex; so the challenge is clearly to create a strong enough movement to overcome it. Plus, given today’s asymmetry between the North and South, insuring equity and democratic governance of such a promising solution would be challenging. Peter Foreman agreed. Blair’s re-embrace of nuclear power was challenged by Greenpeace UK and other environmental organizations. Alternative approaches to reducing carbon emissions include energy conservation and a rapid conversion to decentralized energy systems, since big fossil fuel-burning power plants are now situated way out in the countryside in the UK, resulting in massive waste of energy in the form of heat vented to the atmosphere, along with carbon dioxide. Putting smaller, more efficient plants in urban areas would enable the use of waste heat for both heating and cooling. Coupled with a transition to retrofitted solar power, this approach is already being applied in several European countries such as Denmark , Germany and Finland. This would work well in the US too, but automobiles and trucks generate a greater share of carbon emissions, so that greening transportation is even a greater challenge. For starters, how about a Congestion Charge here in DC, learning from London’s example? It might even be within Home Rule, unlike a commuter tax, since DC residents would also be affected. And DC’s children would benefit most of all by the reduction in photochemical smog, whose causal links to asthma are now undeniable.

Both Caroline Lucas and Mark Lynas, an environmental journalist, called for an end to economic growth, instead of emphasizing a phase-out of unsustainable growth. Apparently both are still influenced by the Limits-to-Growth/Georgescu-Roegen/Rifkin discourse on entropy, without really understanding the radical promise of solarization. This invocation of the naïve End-to-Growth paradigm reproduces the isolation of greens from the global working class. I think red greens would do much better in advocating sustainable economic growth that goes along with the immense task of solarization, demilitarization, ecosystem repair and even carbon sequestration/desalination powered by solar energy, plus reconversion of the urban space to green cities, retrofitting, all which would end unemployment and create the conditions for 21st Century Ecosocialist transition to solar communism (For more on this subject go to: )

Some useful websites:

The Potential of CONCENTRATING SOLAR POWER TREC: the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable. Energy Cooperation. TRANS-CSP: Trans-Mediterranean. Interconnection for Concentrating Solar Power ... Decentralizing power:


A short tutuorial on Nuclear power: environmental and health impacts For a start, both nuclear weapons production and nuclear power are linked to the nuclear fuel cycle. This starts with the mining of U ore ( bringing high lung cancer rates among Navajo miners in NM), and ends with the disposal of hazardous nuclear wastes. The cycle consumes substantial fossil fuel energy (bringing air pollution, global warming etc.). Even peaceful use of nuclear energy leaves depleted U as a byproduct, put to murderous use in missile and artillery shells by the Pentagon starting in the 1st Gulf war, then the illegal NATO war on Yugoslavia in 1999 and now of course in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars/occupations, with already plausibly demonstrated health effects (cancer) from inhalation of the nanoparticles of U oxide. Environmental effects of operating nuclear power plants include thermal pollution, and of course the risk of catastrophic accidents, thought to be virtually impossible until 3-Mile Island and then Chernobyl. Radioactive emissions under normal conditions may only be comparable to that from coal-fired utilities (U series radionuclides naturally found in coal). Institute for Environmental and Energy Research (IEER) Nuclear Information Resource Service (NIRS) Public Citizen Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program Insurmountable Risks: The Dangers of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate Change Brice Smith Institute for Energy and Environmental Research IEER Press and RDR Books, 2006 Climate Change Why nuclear power is not the answer, Martin Empson, 2006, Socialist Workers Party London, UK Latest on global climate change: Warming hits 'tipping point',12374,1546824,00.html Global warning risk 'much higher' Story from BBC NEWS:

--> Climate Science Watch website


Salvage logging – a new scientific scandal

by Doug Boucher

Recently, a scientific scandal has broken out concerning ecological research, the timber industry, and an attempt to suppress the publication of an article in the journal Science. The scandal concerns the common practice, especially in the publically-owned National Forests of the western United States, of salvage logging. Salvage logging means cutting down trees in forests that have been affected by some sort of disturbance, such as a fire, a windstorm, or an outbreak of leaf-eating insects.

The idea of salvage logging often seems to be simply common sense: if the trees in the forest have already been damaged or killed by a disturbance, why not cut them up and use the lumber rather than simply let them rot? Thus, when a forest fire or a hurricane passes through a region, there is often political pressure to “clean it up” by removing the damaged timber. But in fact, salvage logging is not the simple straightforward practice that it seems. .

First of all, loggers and timber companies are not particularly interested in removing the damaged trees – precisely because they’re damaged. Charred, uprooted, split, twisted or insect-damaged trees are far less valuable on the market than live standing trees, so salvage logging operations do no remove all the damaged timber, and do remove some of the healthy, “green” trees. Moreover, it’s often argued that one has to salvage the damaged timber because it’s a fire hazard, but loggers prefer to take out only the large, valuable tree trunks, leaving the branches, twigs and stumps behind, sometimes even piled up by bulldozers to get them out of the way. Thus, it’s quite possible that salvage logging will increase the likelihood of catastrophic fire rather than decrease it. Finally, there is the question of environmental impacts. What does salvage logging do to the regeneration of the fire-, wind- or insect-damaged forest? A number of scientific studies in recent years have demonstrated that salvage logging can have quite negative impacts on seedlings, saplings, soil erosion and other ecological aspects of the re-growing forest. .

Thus, when ecological researchers recently found more negative environmental impacts of salvage logging in Oregon, other scientists linked to the timber industry were upset. They took the unprecedented step of trying to stop Science from publishing the results. The study, led by Daniel Donato, a graduate student at Oregon State University’s Forestry School looked at salvage logging after the “Biscuit Fire”, which burned half a million acres in Oregon in 2002. Their research results showed that salvage logging after the fire substantially reduced the number of seedlings regenerating, while increasing the fuel loads that raise the risk of future fires. .

Donato and his five co-authors wrote up their work in a short paper that they submitted to Science, and it was peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the journal’s editors in the normal way. At this point, however, things took a dramatically different turn. The Dean and several other professors of Oregon State’s Forestry School took the unprecedented step of asking Science not to publish the already-accepted paper. And when the journal refused and went ahead and published it, the Bureau of Land Management – a federal government agency that had funded the research – announced that it would suspend Donato et al.’s grant, making it impossible for them to continue their research. .

However, when the news of these attempts to put pressure on science became public, the tide of the debate shifted. Donato defended his work at hearings held by Congress and the Oregon legislature, and newspapers denounced the attempt to surpress scientific findings that the government, the timber industry and their academic allies didn’t like. The BLM backed down and agreed to continue the funding for his research. The Dean of the Forestry School, Hal Salwasser, was forced to appoint an independent committee to investigate his and the school’s own actions. .

That committee has now issued its draft report, and it’s quite damning of Salwasser and his colleagues. It points out that he and the other leaders of the Forestry School, as the Portland Oregonian summarized it, ” are primarily white middle-aged males who get advice dominated by timber industry views and took the industry's side.” The report criticized “the inability of the leadership to recognize the academic freedom issues involved in their participation in the letter to Science calling for delay of the Donato et al. paper, and their coaching of groups interested in attacking the Donato et al. paper”. It also pointed out that Salwasser’s emails concerning the issue, including one referring to environmentalists as “goons”, show his close connections to the timber industry. So, the upshot of the episode seems to have been positive. An attempt to surpress ecological findings and cut off the money that led to them, has instead turned into an embarrassing scandal for the timber industry and its academic and government supporters. But it also raises the question of whether academic freedom will always be in jeopardy, in a system in which science is so dependent on industry for its money.


  • Donato, D. C., J. B. Fontaine, J. L. Campbell, W. D. Robinson, J. B. Kauffman, and B. E. Law. 2006. Post-Wildfire Logging Hinders Regeneration and Increases Fire Risk. Science 311:352.
  • Milstein, Michael. 2006. Report faults OSU forestry dean, urges reforms -- A panel cites poor judgment and urges a need for distance from timber interests. The Oregonian, 19 May 2006.

Online at:



Response and Resistance to Corporate Agrobiotechnology
By John Tharakan

Monsanto, the world’s largest biotech and agrobiotech company responding to public pressure and outrage pledged that it would not commercialize ‘terminator seed’ technologies in 1999. Terminator seed technologies are genetically modified plants that produce sterile seeds, hence forcing farmers to continually and annually buy seeds. Monsanto has now reneged on that pledge, revising its commitment by saying it will develop sterile-seed technologies for non-food crops. Various corporates and countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK, are campaigning to have the Convention on Biological Diversity lift its ban on the commercialization of these technologies and instead to review them on a case-by-case basis as Monsanto would like to see. Sterile seed technologies will do incredible harm to the over 1 billion people who depend on small scale farms and agriculture and practice saving seeds (farm-saved seeds) for future cultivation. As the protests from NGO’s, peasant and small farmers appear to be growing, Monsanto has apparently issued a disclaimer saying it stands by its earlier pledge not to commercialize the sterile seed technology.

Many farmers are resisting these practices and turning towards organic methods of farming. Companies are also being established responding to this need, promoting concepts such as Integrated Pest Management and Integrated Crop Management (ICM), and working at the village level in educating farmers and assisting them in implementing these practices...

See SftP website for full story

Junk Science, wrongful convictions and terrorism

by John Kelly

Gemar Clemons is a free man thanks to former FBI chemist Fred Whitehurst. On April 19, 2006, the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned his conviction solely on the basis that comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA) is an invalid technique. Clemons is the first one ever to be so exonerated. No one has done more to discredit CBLA than Whitehurst and his colleague Bill Tobin who performed the scientific work demonstrating the invalidity of CBLA. Now he and Tobin have forced the FBI to stop using CBLA, and no one will ever again be convicted on the basis of CBLA, CSI Miami, notwithstanding.

This is an unprecedented achievement. It means that thousands of cases will have to be re-opened and the potential for exonerations dwarfs the numbers of those released by DNA analysis. Not resting on his laurels, Whitehurst is now identifying and notifying prisoners and their attorneys around the U.S. He is also attempting to bring criminal charges against the FBI which never even attempted to validate CBLA during its 30 years of use...

For the full article, go to our dc metro sftp website site.


Women in science: disparity in achievement and challenges for the future.
by Tracy Vivelemore
=>NOTE: Be sure to read the interview with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, also in this issue of the Newsletter!

It can be disheartening: for those of us who remember the 1992 talking BarbieTM doll who said, “Math is hard”, it may seem the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even in the 21st century, the president of a prestigious university can in a public forum suggest that the reason women lag behind their male counterparts is due to innate differences between men and women that result in women having a lesser potential for success in science. The surprising thing about this episode isn’t that such comments were made, but that they found a welcome reception in some circles in spite of the fact that actual scientific evidence of gender differences having such effects is lacking.

The idea that women are innately inferior to men in scientific ability has recently been addressed in the journal Nature, where in a commentary Stanford University scientist Ben Barres characterizes the recent discussions of the innate ability of women as nothing more than a blame the victim mentality and that the different experiences of women in science can be easily explained in one word: discrimination. Barres cites studies that show no difference in math ability between boys and girls throughout school and likens the recent debate to the type of junk science that 100 years ago might have been used to show that blacks were innately inferior to whites. Barres, who is transgendered, has a unique perspective on this issue; his work as a man has been compared to that of his “sister” and found to be much better.

Barres acknowledges that some of the experiences recounted in his commentary are anecdotal and that data is preferable. Another recent paper by Ding, Murray, and Stuart in the journal Science provide some data by performing a statistical analysis of gender differences in men and women in the life sciences and the quality of their work. The authors compiled a random sample of Ph.D.-level scientists working in academia and studied the number of patents and the gender of these scientists to determine how likely a particular scientist was to obtain a patent on their research. They found that over the course of the last 35 years male and female scientists have translated their scientific research into patented inventions at different rates, but that the gap is shrinking. Their results show that, after controlling for productivity, social network, field of endeavor and employer, women scientists obtain patents at 40% the rate of male scientists. However, the gap is shrinking; for scientists who earned their Ph.D.s in the early 1970s, men were 4.4 times as likely to patent their research, while for those earning doctorates in the early 1990s, men were only 1.8 times as likely to produce patentable results.

Clearly men have more patents than women and therefore have the greater potential for commercial success that a patented invention creates, but why is this? Is it due to social or cultural differences, or are men simply better at science? The authors address these questions. To answer the last question first, no, men are not simply better at science. Ding, Murray and Stuart analyzed th scientific publications of the inventors identified by their analysis and found that in terms of citations by others and the journal impact factor (a ranking of scientific journals that can be used as an indicator of the quality of an individual’s publications) of the analyzed publications, women actually had a slight advantage over men in producing quality scientific publications.

Ding, Murray and Stuart point to two other factors in gender differences in patenting of research and two ways in which women can increase their chances of obtaining a patent and possible commercialization of their work. Based on interviews with faculty, Ding et al. found that while men tend to have extensive industry contacts within their social network that allow them to quickly get an idea of whether a patent is feasible and likely to be commercializable, women have fewer such contacts and thus have to make more of an effort to discover if their research is likely to be translatable into a patentable invention. On the plus side, the support of universities was not found to be an issue: support from colleagues and the technology transfer offices of academic institutions appear to be provided equally to men and women.

Dine et al. also found that some women were hesitant about patenting, perceiving pursuit of commercialization of their work as possibly affecting the quality of their research by requiring too much of a juggling act between teaching, research and commercialization. These attitudes were partly generational, with more senior women less likely to have commercialized their work due to feeling of having been shut out of industry contacts. This perception has declined through the years, with younger female scientists being just as likely as men to want to patent their work.

Why is the status of women in science important? The proportion of women in scientific and technical degree programs has been increasing steadily. In 2001, a National Science Foundation survey of women, minorities and persons with disabilities in science and engineering reported that women accounted for more than half of the bachelor’s degrees and 37% of doctorates. Women accounted for 41% of the enrollment in graduate schools, up from 34% in 1991. Clearly women are an increasing presence in science programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and tapping increased presence is considered vital to the continued competitiveness of the US in the world’s economy. The numbers of Americans pursuing science and technology jobs has been falling to the point that in technological occupations, more than 50 % of workforce having Masters or doctorate level degrees are foreign born. Enrollment of women and minorities is up, but these groups are more likely to leave grad school, leading to uncertainty in how the United States will maintain its scientific workforce.

Andrea Stith, a policy analyst at Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, suggests in AWIS magazine that the United States needs policy makers to step up to make sure the demand is met. Possible ways of stimulating interest in science and technology include increased federal funding, tuition reimbursement tax credits for those pursuing technology degrees and increased sponsorship of scholarships and fellowships.

Perhaps the most important way to support and foster involvement of women in scientific positions is mentoring and social networking, cited by Stith, Barres and Ding et al. One organization devoted to such mentoring and networking is AWIS, the Association for Women in Science, a nonprofit organization devoted to full participation of women in all areas of science and technology. AWIS has headquarters in DC with local chapters nationwide, their website is .

The following references were consulted in preparing this article:

  • Stith, AWIS Magazine, vol. 33, number 4, winter 2005, page 16-17.
  • AWIS magazine also summarized the 2004 NSF report on “Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering”.
  • The full report is available at: Barres, Nature, 2006, vol. 442, pages 133-136.
  • An editor’s summary of the Barres commentary can be found at: e060713-04.html Ding et al. Science 2006, vol. 313 pages 665-667.
  • The abstract of this paper can be accessed free of charge at:
  • 66 5


Somethin's Fishy About Agricultural Biotechnology

by Jane Zara

The agricultural biotechnology industry emerged in the early 1980s as a product of advances in molecular biology research. Federal and state governments and private corporations have spent billions of dollars on research and commercial development of the biotech-agriculture industry. Despite the tremendous amount of capital invested in agri-biotech, few significant commercial successes have materialized. What’s more, the US government provides very little post-market oversight of biotech foods, while risk assessment and risk management are pathetically underfunded. And since genetically engineered foods are not labeled, potentially harmful substances could end up in people’s food products as a result of physical mixing of pharmaceutical crops and food crop grains or though the movement of pharma pollen into fields of food crops.

According to the Pew Institute, the most significant development in 2005 and continuing into 2006 was legislation preempting (disallowing) local ordinances. Second in prevalence to GMO regulation bills were closely related bills in that they are in support of agri-biotech, including “favorable tax treatment for investment, approved bond issues for laboratories and the creation of high level commissions to promote the industry.” The origin of the "seed preemption" legislation sprang from a conservative public policy organization, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which boasts hundreds of corporate sponsors, and is being carried to legislators by Agribusiness Councils and state Farm Bureaus. Since November 2004, nineteen "seed preemption" bills have been introduced. In fourteen states, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia, the bills were passed into law quickly and with very little public input.

See full article on the SftP site.

The above information was derived from these Relevant links: ed_food
http://www.gene- sources/factsheets/legislation/factsheet.php
http://www.environmentalcommons. org/seed-law-update-March2006.html d/preemption072705.cfm an/pdfs/letter_pirg_hr_4167_12.14.05.pdf


Editorial - Katrina, Hurricanes and Global Warming

by Peter Caplan

The occasion for this piece was the August 26 demonstration outside NOAA Headquarters in Silver Spring, MD, accusing the agency of(among other things) covering up the connection between Katrina and global warming. The demands included resignations of high-ranking officials.

We know that global warming is happening, that we're causing it and that we must fight it. It's also true that, along with air temperature, the sea-surface temperature (SST) on average is slowly increasing. If a look at global maps of SST anomalies, however, reveals a constantly changing and complicated pattern. In some hurricane seasons, a developing storm may find itself over an area of warm SST and some point during its long migration across the tropics. All other things being equal, it can quickly intensify.

It's true that during the 2004 and 2005 seasons, large-scale atmospheric wind patterns were favorable for an unusual number of storms to develop in our back yard, and also true that the storms coincidentally encountered a large and persistent area of positive SST anomaly there. So the shit hit the fan for the poorest folks in the Southern U.S., first Florida and the Eastern Gulf, then LA and the Western Gulf. If there had been less global warming, the storms would *probably* have been less destructive. Nobody can say for sure, because the global warming also changes the large-scale atmospheric patterns, and while we're ok at predicting hurricane tracks, we are still far from understanding how to predict intensities - much less small changes in intensity due to small increments of SST.

I could go on about the prediction problem, but let me just say something about historical trends in hurricane frequency, intensity and destructive potential (wind energy x core area x duration). There is currently a hot debate raging among hurricane experts and other meteorologists over the direction of these trends. An important factor is that if you back 50 years, there were no satellite data; 25 years ago the data were far inferior in resolution to what we have now. A lot of very smart folks all over the world, in and out of NOAA are right now tearing out their hair and examining the data to try to correct for this gross inhomogeneity. Even if you could estimate the max wind speed of a 1980 hurricane over the ocean to within 10% (not easy), trying to say something about its destructive power would give you an error of some 30% (cubic relation), which is way beyond any possible climate change effect.

So demonstrate against NOAA, but keep in mind that at this point, strange as it sounds, we are not sure if global warming has had an important effect on hurricanes. And also, quit criticizing the former director of the National Hurricane Center, Max Mayfield; Max (now retired) was one of the few government heroes in the whole Katrina affair.

Skeptical comment by SftP's D Schwartzman: While Dr. Caplan may still be somewhat skeptical of the causation alleged here, at least he is no longer on the NOAA payroll, owing to his principled, even heroic, stand against the Iraq war. Kerry Emanuel (MIT), one of the leading researchers on this causation, has a great article in the August 2006 Physics Today, "Hurricanes: Tempests in a greenhouse. .. That additional warming [from greenhouse gases] is an important driver of hurricanes". The physics? Hurricane as a Carnot heat engine. Unfortunately I will be in Australia during this demo. I urge all that can to participate.)


An Interview With Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

- from the NY Times Science Section, July 4, 2006 - followed by a letter to the author by David Schwartzman (not published)

If a list were made of the great biologists of the past 100 years, Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard would certainly be on it. In the 1980's, she and Eric F. Wieschaus solved one of the central mysteries of life: how the genes in a fertilized egg direct the formation of an embryo. For their discovery, Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard, Dr. Wieschaus and Edward B. Lewis received the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard was just the 10th woman to win a Nobel Prize in one of the sciences.

Now 63, she directs the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. In her off-hours, she works to improve the status of women in science. With her own money and a $100,000 award from Unesco-L'Oréal's Women in Science Program, she has organized the Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard Foundation, which offers grants to young female scientists for baby sitters and household help. Dr. Nüsslein-Volhard was in New York last month to talk about her Kales Press book "Coming to Life: How Genes Drive Development."

Q. Grants for baby sitters and housecleaners? Is this the kind of foundation a male Nobel Prize winner could have thought of?
A. No one thought of it! (Laughs) Not even non-Nobel prize winners! I am often asked why there is discrimination against women in science. And I have given it some thought. With prejudicial attitudes, you can't really do much. You can point out when people discriminate and ask them not to. At the Max Planck Institute, we made a little pamphlet telling the men when they do it, because they often don't know. In German science, we have a special problem. We lose talented women at the time they get pregnant. Some of it occurs because they are encouraged — by their husbands, bosses and the government — to take long maternity leaves. Germanic thinking has it that children can only be properly brought up if the actual mother is cleaning and picking up. Many stop their research for two or three years. Later, these young women find it difficult to get back. They drop out.

Q. And how does a $400-a-month grant plug a brain drain?
A. We try to find the gifted ones, where it would be a real pity if they dropped out. We say: use these funds to buy yourself time away from household matters. We still expect they'll work full-time and get day care for the kids. This is meant to ease the extra workload they have because of children.

Q. Did you experience gender bias when you were a student?
A. I didn't have children. But when I finished my doctoral thesis, it was published and I was only listed as the second author. The boss at the laboratory where I worked said: "Let this man be first author. He started the project and has family, and he needs his career." I had done almost all the work. And yet, I agreed! I could still foam: I get so angry about it.

Q. Did you foam last year when Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard, suggested that women were less likely to have "an intrinsic aptitude" for scientific careers?
A. He missed the point. In mathematics and science, there is no difference in the intelligence of men and women. The difference in genes between men and women is simply the Y chromosome, which has nothing to do with intelligence. What troubles me is that some might think: "Well, if the president of Harvard says this, it must be true. He's just being attacked because he said something politically incorrect." What Summers said was scientifically incorrect.

Q. When you made your Nobel discovery, was there a moment when you felt: "Aha, I have changed what humans know about nature?"
A. At the time we did the experiments, Eric Wieschaus and I knew the work was important. Nonetheless, one always struggles with whether the experiment is right.

Q. Can you describe your Nobel experiments in lay terms?
A. We first bred a large number of fruit fly families where just one gene was absent. If an embryo did not develop a head or a gut, we could then say, "This gene is important for the shape of a head or a gut." In our first published paper, we described 20 or so "control genes" affecting the subdivision of the embryo's body into regions. Using what were then newly developed technologies, we and others then isolated the genes. We figured out what they did biochemically and how they interacted. The sum was: We developed a detailed understanding of how an embryo's shape is determined by genes. We found many of these genes were similar to those implicated in human genetic diseases. This was not anticipated by us but was important for the Nobel Prize, I think.

Q. Your country is being led by a Ph.D. physicist. Do you think Chancellor Angela Merkel's election has improved the status of German women in science?
A. It might be of influence. I am happy that she is there because she understands science outside of ideology. In the Green Party and among some in the Socialist Party, there are people who are anti-science. They are against genetically modified foods and atomic energy. She sees through it, and maybe this will help.
Another thing, we have since 1990 this Embryo Protection Law, which says that eggs are human beings from the time of fertilization. Cells in a Petri dish are considered the same as a full human!

Q. Is Germany's embryo-protection law a reaction to the pseudo-science of the Nazi period when physicians performed experiments on concentration camp prisoners?
A. It's probably the reason why German research laws are so restrictive — just to be on the "safe" side. If the people don't understand stem cells or gene diagnosis, they say, "Let's make laws that make it impossible that something bad can happen."

Q. You were born in 1942. Did you ever speak with your parents about their activities in the Nazi years?
A. Nearly everyone in my age group had those conversations with their teachers — though often the parents would not speak about it. In my family, we talked. They were not heroes, but it was OK. They were not in the Nazi Party. My grandfather was dismissed from his job because he was not in the party. Also, he hid Jews. And one aunt was put in a concentration camp. One of my colleagues is a nephew of Dietrich Bonhoeffer [the anti-Hitler resistance leader]. What we observed, with consternation, is the way people tried to live normal lives. When you read letters between my mother and father while he was at the front, it's about where to get food and knitting a pullover for "Little Janni." After the war, my mother was in a group of women with Emmi Bonhoeffer [Bonhoeffer's sister-in-law]. They helped refugees from Auschwitz give testimony against those who ran the concentration camps. My mother told us there were things from that time she felt awful about and she had to do some good.

Q. It's often said that artistic work and scientific inquiry are similar. Do you find it so?
A. Yes and no. It is certainly a creative act to understand phenomena in nature. But after some time, scientific discoveries no longer depend on the personality of the scientist. Whoever discovered the double helix, it is true. It doesn't matter whether Watson and Crick discovered it, or Rosalind Franklin. Yet, no matter how much time passes, Mozart is still Mozart.

Q. Every article I've read about you mentions that you bake an incredible chocolate cake. Why is that?
A. It's true! They want to make sure "she's still a woman." There is terrible prejudice against women who are successful. If she's beautiful, she must be stupid. And if a woman is smart, she must be ugly — or nasty. I think it makes some people feel better to learn I bake good chocolate cake.

Letter from David Schwartzman:
Dear Dr. Christiane Nuesslein-Volhard,
I read your interview in the July 4 Science Times, NY Times. I applaud your committment to end gender bias in the sciences. However, I am puzzled by your quoted remarks that opposition to genetically-modified food and atomic energy (I take this as nuclear power) is anti-science. While there are pros and cons in the use of both technologies, the technological appropriation of scientific knowledge is not automatically good for human society. Nuclear weapons are also derived from discoveries in nuclear physics, yet they continue to pose a grave threat to human existence. Neither science nor technology is "outside" of ideology because both are products of human activity occurring in the context of politics and economics.
Sincerely, David Schwartzman


Ask Dr. Science

Dear Dr. Science,
    I remember reading in your earlier (May 1, 2006) newsletter that several countries, including Iraq and Kuwait, are now contaminated due to depleted uranium explosives furnished by the US and other worldwide manufacturers. I also understand that the largest environmental catastrophe in the history of the Mediterranean Sea is now underway due to Israel's bombing of Lebanon's oil reserves, and now exacerbated by Israel's usurpation of the surrounding airspace and sea.
My questions are these:
1. What environmental laws and criminal laws now exist to hold responsible parties financially accountable for this environmental devastation that they are causing?
2. Is it true that environmental treaties are merely voluntary? How can this be?
3. I am vaguely aware of eco-terrorism laws about which Bush proudly boasts. These "eco-terrorist" laws are being used on environmentalists in the US to imprison them for over 20-30 years. And as I understand it, the acts for which these environmentalists are being imprisoned have caused no human bodily harm. Can such laws be used against responsible parties for these international acts of eco-terrorism, e.g. against responsible officials in the US and in Israel, as well as against weapons manufacturers for all of the devastation and long- term pollution they are generating in the Mediterranean and in Iraq?

I look forward to your response. Thanks,
Just Curious about Justice

Greenpeace: Lebanon Oil Spill Could Take a Year to Cleanup -BD62-4D4B-9F16-559AF4BCFD27.htm
http://www.rollingsto co
http://www.democracynow.or g/ tyendorse.shtml
http://www.democracynow.or g/

Dr. Science replies:
   We will respond to this question in the next newsletter.


Dear Dr. Science,
    In your article about depleted uranium you stated that 234U is the radioisotope that forms as a by-product of the enrichment process in generating uranium for energy, etc., and that serves the nuclear industry by helping to get rid of its radioactive waste for free while enriching arms manufacturers by supplying them with free DU to coat their weapons. But, aren't there other radioisotopes that also form in this process, and that become incorporated into munitions bound for Iraq?

Just Wondering

Dr. Science replies:
   We will respond to this question in the next newsletter.



Books of Interest

·  Tainting Evidence, Inside the Scandals at the FBI Lab, by John Kelly & Phillip Wearne - "The list of documented instances of malpractice, flawed science, doctored lab reports, posed evidence, woeful investigative work and false testimony is truly stunning"

·  Among the Lowest of the Dead: The Culture of Capital PUnishment, David Von Drehle - "Perhaps the finest book ever on the death penalty"

·  Executioner's Current, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, & the Invention of the Electric Chair, by Richard Moran - "The amazing story of how the electric chair developed not out of the desire for a method of execution more humane tha hanging but through an effort by one nineteenth- century electric company to discredit the other."

·  The Execution Protocol, by Stephen Trombley - "reveals what happens when the state decides to take a life, what procedures are followed, what precautions are taken."



Pluto Demoted; Public Reacts

by Peter Caplan

Solar system downsized

former planet demoted to second-class status

Some headlines from around a confused and troubled nation -
  • Walmart public relations director suggests calling Pluto an "associate" planet.
  • Small-planet astronomers organize to fight future demotions; Earth could be next!!, they warn.
  • From Disney Enterprises, confusion: Pluto Division vows to initiate lawsuit to protect "beloved canine creation for all of America's kids"; "Goofy could be next to go!" warns spokesman; but, Snow White Division, pleased with the news, says it plans to request still more dwarf planets.
  • Evangelists all over the nation stage joyous public celebrations of the demotion of "planet of the Devil"
  • ACLU sees "chilling effect" on rights of all planets with deviant orbits
  • Flat Earth Society demands investigation of all remaining planets; in a related story, Rush Limbaugh demands demotion of all planets not discovered by Americans
  • Plutonians withdraw envoy to UN, hint at alliance with terrorist Klingon factions