Friday, May 11, 2007

Political Science:

More nonsense about pencil-necked scientists from those savants on the Hill, via the American Institute of Physics' FYI listserv edition.

Discussing the reauthorization bill (H.R. 1867) for the National Science Foundation, there were several attempts at amendments to limit the increase in the budgets for the NSF or to at least limit the areas in which NSF was allowed to invest taxpayer moneys:

There was far more discussion about an amendment offered by Rep. John Campbell (R-CA-48): "None of the funds authorized under this section may be used for research related to seven activities such as "the accuracy in the cross-cultural understanding of others' emotions" or "archives of Andean Knotted-Sting Records." Said Campbell: "What this amendment does is it says that there are certain things upon which we should not be spending money through this bill during this time of budget deficits, stealing Social Security funds, and increasing taxes." He added, "I understand that there is a process of peer review from which these studies come in the National Science Foundation, and that's all well and good. But our job here is we are the elected representatives and stewards of the taxpayers' money, not the academics in the National Science Foundation, and it is our decision whether or not we wish to spend taxpayers' funds on studies of the social relationships and reproductive strategies of Phayre's leaf monkeys or on bison hunting on the late prehistoric Great Plains. I think we should not do that. I am sure that some believe that these are very fine academic studies. That's excellent. Within the realms of academic halls, they may think a number of things are fine academic studies. That's not the question. The question before us is, do these things rise to the standard of requiring expenditures of taxpayer funds in a time of deficits, proposed tax increases and raiding Social Security funds? I think the answer is a resounding no."

Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA-3) immediately refuted the logic of the Campbell amendment, first quoting a letter from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the similar position of the Association of American Universities. He then said, "the gentleman [Rep. Campbell] seems to suggest, it seems, that we here in the Congress, with a cursory evaluation of the abstracts from studies, should insert ourselves in the peer-review process. I wonder if the gentleman had looked at chemistry research or physics research in the same way, and do we really want to spend this body's time, and do you, sir, or you, sir, have the expertise to evaluate these studies? That's why we have a peer-review process. That's why we have a National Science Foundation. It is why we have a Science Foundation Board to direct us."

Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI-3) outlined his opposition, telling his colleagues: "you can't always judge the full proposal by the title. This was evident a few years ago when we went through exactly the same charade when discussing the National Science Foundation budget. Some of my colleagues came down to the floor to amend the NSF appropriations bill, and one offered an amendment to remove grants for the study of ATM. This person gave a magnificent speech why we should not spend money at the National Science Foundation or the Department of Energy to study ATM. His argument was, let the banking industry do the research on ATMs. What he didn't know is that the proposal was not on automatic teller machines but the proposal was on studying asynchronous transfer modes, which involves the way computers talk to each other. This research led to a substantial change in the speed at which computers were able to talk to each other. This is a good example of why it is dangerous to just look at titles and make a judgment."

Sigh. Echoes of "why do we need NOAA? We have the Weather Channel to do that."

Ranking Member Vernon Ehlers (R-MI-3) is a Ph.D. physicist, one of only two Members of Congress with scientific degrees.
"Only two members of Congress hold doctorates in the sciences, both in physics: Rep. Vern Ehlers of Michigan ..., and Rep. Rush Holt [(D-NJ-12)] of New Jersey (leader of the congressional Science Coalition and former Congressional Science Fellow). Sadly, the House Science Committee and the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space are not considered high profile committees and many of the members assigned to these committees have little expertise in the broad array of scientific issues that come before them, yet they are being asked to determine the direction and funding of federal science."
(Michèle Koppes, 2004-2005 GSA-U.S. Geological Survey Congressional Science Fellow)

Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA-3) is the House Subcommittee on Research and Science Education Chairman.

Labels: , ,

 Thursday, May 10, 2007

Póngase las pilas!

A very useful primer on batteries, written by Isidor Buchmann, via Adam Goddard of the NewtonTalk list:

Battery University


 Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Jean Monnet & Robert Schuman:

Today is Europe Day. On this day in Paris in 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman laid the first plans for what was eventually to become today's EU. With his now-famous declaration, Schuman sketched the outlines of an initiative to consolidate the coal and steel industries of Europe, binding nations—and their principal war-making industries—so closely together that renewed war would be unthinkable.

Jean Monnet was the diplomat who helped draft the declaration, and later became the first President of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would evolve to become the European Union.

Go ahead and read the declaration. Now substitute "gas and oil" for "coal and steel" and think of it in terms of the Middle East. Unfortunately, this is not a credible way out of the Middle Eastern mess for us (us being mankind, and not the U.S.).


 Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Captain John Smith's Voyage of Discovery from an "Out of this World" Perspective

Fellow Code 600 Employees:

Several people have been asking about the Earth science gift that was presented to the Queen today by Dr. Colleen Hartman of NASA HQ during the Science on a Sphere portion of the Queen's visit.

Attached is a jpeg of the artwork, and below and attached is a written explanation of the content of the artwork. PAO has expressed plans to mass produce a poster of the artwork -- but that would probably be a couple of months down the road. The concept was conceived by me and the artistic interpretation/implementation was done by Ms. Laura Rocchio of SSAI, supporting the Landsat Science Office. The basic idea was to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Smith's exploration by using three of NASA Goddard's Earth imaging sensors (MODIS, Landsat 7 ETM+ and EO-1) to tell the story of the expansive portion of the Earth that he traversed that year.


Darrel Williams
Associate Chief, Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory
and Landsat Project Scientist

Credit: NASA

On December 20, 1606, a group 105 men and boys plus 39 sailors set sail from London, bound for the shores of America, some 4828 kilometers (3000 miles) distant. After 144 days at sea, the three Virginia Company ships made landfall at Cape Henry, Virginia on April 26, 1607. The Company went on to establish Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in what eventually became the United States of America. In 1608, one of the sailors, Captain John Smith, embarked upon a three-month surveying expedition of North America's largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. With no map or sextant to guide him, Smith relied upon compass and astrolabe for navigation.

This poster celebrates the Virginia Company's long journey from London to Jamestown and Captain Smith's exploration of the Chesapeake Bay. The 400th anniversary of Smith's Voyage of Discovery is commemorated here using data from three of NASA's Earth imaging sensors.

A cloud-free image showing the North Atlantic Ocean, eastern North America, and western Europe and Africa, features Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data captured in July 2004. This serves as the body of the poster, and helps convey the expansive portion of Earth that John Smith and his cohort traversed in 1607.

A Landsat 7 Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus (ETM+) image of the Chesapeake Bay region is featured in the center. The white line demarks the path of Captain Smith's Chesapeake expedition in a 10-meter long shallop. White crosses indicate locations where Smith and his small cadre of sailors nailed wooden crosses to trees, marking the farthest extent of their explorations.

The small circle on the upper right of the bay image features an Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) Advanced Land Imager (ALI) image of central London acquired on February 14, 2001. The opposite circle shows a corresponding image of Jamestown acquired on April 3, 2007.

The rhumb lines across the Atlantic Ocean and the engraving of Captain Smith over Africa are taken from Smith's 1616 map of New England, the first published map to name America's northeastern seaboard. A small image of the Susan Constant, the largest of the three Virginia Company ships, can be found near the Chesapeake Bay on the MODIS image.

Captain Smith would surely marvel at the present day map-making capabilities, illustrated here. Today, images such as these, and the data used to create them, are relied upon by many nations to better understand and manage the natural and cultural resources of our planet.

Hmm. Give HRH the Queen a 'poster,' eh? Argh.


 Thursday, May 03, 2007

Farewell Wally:

Photo Credit: NASA
Walter M. Schirra, Jr. 1923-2007
Photo: NASA

  • Navy
  • Fifth American in space
  • Only one to fly Mercury, Gemini and Apollo
  • Mercury-Atlas 8 "Sigma 7"
  • the corned beef sandwich smuggler
  • w/ Stafford in Gemini 6A, held off ejection after ignition misfire
  • "my name is Juan Jimenez - I yam astronau"
  • Successful docking w/ Gemini 7, "The boring mission"
  • made the "lowest bidder" remark
  • UFO sighting - turned out to be St. Nick
  • Apollo 7 was 'return to flight' after Chaffee, Grissom & White tragedy
  • Winner of an Emmy
"I left Earth three times, and found no other place to go. ...Please take care of Spaceship Earth."