Archive for the ‘Author: Maricle, G.’ Category

Space Science and Nuclear Proliferation: An Opportunity for Reflection

June 30th, 2005

Posted by: admin

This past Tuesday, the House Science Committee held a hearing to discuss the future of NASA with its Administrator, Michael Griffin. In its hearing charter, the committee raised several issues that NASA will face in the coming months, and in so doing, voiced concern over the future of the International Space Station (ISS).

To complete construction and use the ISS, NASA needs the cooperation of the Russian space agency. According to the hearing charter, “the US is totally dependent on Russian Soyuz capsules for crew rescue, and without access to Soyuz capsules, Americans will not be able to stay on the space station for long duration missions.” Yet after April 2006, Russia’s obligation to participate expires, and we may no longer have their support. That is, unless we pay for it.

But this is not merely a matter of money. Section 6 of the Iran Nonproliferation Act (INA) “prohibits the US Government from making payments in connection with ISS to the Russian space agency, organizations or entities under its control, or any other element of the Russian government … unless the President makes a determination that Russia’s policy is to oppose proliferation to Iran, that Russia is demonstrating sustained commitment to seek out and prevent the transfer of WMD and missile systems to Iran, and that neither the Russian space agency nor any entity reporting to it has made such transfers for at least one year prior t such determination.” (From “The INA and ISS: Issues and Options” March 2005 CRS report). The President has almost no chance of making that call.

Thus, we must consider our options:


A Nation Undivided: Misperceptions about Moral Values

November 9th, 2004

Posted by: admin

If you have turned on the news or picked up a paper at any point in the days since the election, you have surely heard that 22% of exit-polled voters in last Tuesday’s election held “moral values” as the most important factor in their choice for president. This statistic, while suspect, has produced a firestorm of discussion about the state of the nation by those eager to determine the surefire explanation for the victory of the Republicans this time around.
And out of this discussion has emerged the overt assumption that values belong to one of the two major parties, and that those values are inextricably linked to faith. Some quotes to that end:

-From Thomas Friedman’s Nov. 4 column:
‘”The Democrats have ceded to Republicans a monopoly on the moral and spiritual sources of American politics,” noted the Harvard University political theorist Michael J. Sandel. “They will not recover as a party until they again have candidates who can speak to those moral and spiritual yearnings.”‘

-From Todd Purdum Nov. 4 News Analysis:
Rahm Emanuel, representative from Illinois asserted that the democrats “need a nominee and a party that is comfortable with faith and values. And if we have one, then all the hard work we’ve done on Social Security or America’s place in the world or college education can be heard.”

- From Jeffrey Bell and Frank Cannon, Oct. 11 Weekly Standard:
“If you had to pick a single reason why the Democratic party is weaker at all levels than at any time in the last 50 years, it is the transformation of moral-values issues into an overwhelming Republican asset.”

These are just a few of the many election-related proclamations that values lie on the other side of the aisle from the Democratic Party. Some analysts have taken these proclamations a step further and have declared that the foundation of American democracy, “Enlightenment values – critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences” have in fact dissolved with the election of George W. Bush. (From Garry Wills NYTimes op-ed).

With this and the previous assertions, analysts on both sides of the aisle define the Democratic Party as the party of reason and evidence and the Republican Party as the party of values and faith. And each side surrenders to a land divided.

But I argue that this surrender is both misinformed and dangerous. It assumes that values can be one-sided, that value-free decisions are possible, and that Democrats operate in this value-free realm. None of these assumptions are true.


Gadgets over Glitz

June 25th, 2004

Posted by: admin

A recent UK poll indicates that the British public covets practicality in its technological innovations (as reported by the BBC News and the Guardian). When asked to rank their top 10 innovations, 2000 British citizens opted for gadgets over glitz. The smoke alarm came in first place, followed closely by the microwave oven, air bags, and long-life light bulbs. These results back the assertion expressed in the report that “technology is no longer the main driver of product innovation… user requirements are now leading”

According to David Harrison, head of design at Brunel University and the lead author of the survey, “these choices demonstrate that people in the UK are more interested in practical, everyday innovation than revolutionary dreams.”

While not entirely surprising, these results have noteworthy science policy implications as they play into research funding debates of basic versus applied science. The study raises the question – if the public primarily values utility, should technological research funding reflect that? And if so, will this require a shift in current funding patterns or will it simply promote business as usual?

And out of curiosity, what would the poll results have been stateside?

Read the rest of the report. Download file

Hurricane Forecasts: From Computer Screen to Evacuation

June 23rd, 2004

Posted by: admin

Several US newspapers recently ran an Associated Press story on a new NOAA research initiative called the Joint Hurricane Testbed. The project aims to better facilitate pre-hurricane evacuation decisions by brining together “the academic, operational, and research communities in hurricane forecasting.” In other words, it gives everyone a seat at the hurricane forecasting table from the beginning. And as a result, it hopes to “transition research projects into operations faster and more efficiently” according to Max Mayfield, National Hurricane Center Director.

At a time when agencies are all abuzz with dreams of fast and efficient technology transfer, this program has definite potential. It coordinates the activities and goals of each community – the academic, the operational, and the research – from the outset, rather than relying on the often-flawed academy-to-research-to-operations information pathway.

Several other elements must be in place to ensure a successful transfer of research from operations, but this program is starting right so it’ll be worth checking back after the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

Beyond the Dustbowl: BT in Africa

April 28th, 2004

Posted by: admin

With southern Africa facing its fourth consecutive growing season of low crop yields and food insecurity, genetically modified crops and food aid are sure to be front-burner issues for yet another year.

For the past three years, southern Africa has faced debilitating drought and a resultant demand for both food aid and drought-resistant crops. Consequently, the EU-US led debate over genetic modification (GM) has spread to Africa, thereby engaging African leaders and diverting attention from other severe agricultural problems like poor soil, a failing transportation infrastructure, and unwelcoming markets for crops from subsistence farmers.

At its core, this is a technology policy debate about willingness to accept risk. Yet as both sides politicize the issue within Africa, they drag African leaders into what the New York Times called “an undeclared trade dispute between the EU with its powerful environmental activists and the US and its influential biotechnology industry.”

The result is an African GM debate as politically charged as ours. On one side lie leaders calling for agricultural biotechnology as a means to end hunger altogether. And on the other lie leaders who see agricultural biotechnology as “poison” sent to exploit the third world, even in the form of
food aid.

As this politicization continues, African agricultural development lies in limbo, waiting for an unlikely solution to the bickering. And yet, it cannot wait. African soils are severely nutrient depleted such that they can barely provide the crops necessary for a single season, let alone a surplus for seasons of drought.