APS News

April 2012 (Volume 21, Number 4)

Letters to the Editor

Intellectual Property Belongs to Authors

In the “Bill to Kill Open Access Mandate” story in the March APS News, Michael Lucibella writes “Publishers who oppose it have had to walk a fine line between supporting the mission of greater dissemination of science, while at the same time protecting their investments and intellectual property.” My response: “What intellectual property?” For example Elsevier demands all rights be given to them on publication, and conveniently “allows” you personal use of your own work, all for the laughable reason that “the scientific record must be clear and unambiguous.” Let’s be very clear and unambiguous here: we are TRIPLE paying in this case. First to publish, second to access, and third in our taxes!

Ross Mayo
Columbus, OH

Role Models Should be Sensitive to Diverse Values and Motivations

Cultural perspectives are often extremely complicated and I believe the article on PhysTEC that appeared in the March APS News did an excellent job in capturing some of these broad ideas. Because the concept is complex, I just want to add a few comments to amplify my remarks that were quoted in the article.

Although there is a grave need for minority physicists and physics teachers, it is my belief that minority students do not need role models that look like them in order to be successful in physics and physics teaching or to be inspired to pursue careers in those fields. Research, as well as my own personal experiences, suggests that role models need not be the same race, ethnicity, or gender as the student. However, when it comes to motivating and inspiring students, I think that more than good teaching is required. Students of diverse backgrounds and cultures, generally, have diverse value systems and motivations. Thus, teachers, mentors, and other potential role models should be cognizant of and sensitive to these differences. It may be true that individuals of similar backgrounds are more aware of these differences and how to address them. However, with effort–and possibly training–all have the capacity to be positive and influential role models regardless of background.

Geraldine Cochran
Miami, FL

Dudley Buck Remembered

It was a pleasure to see some of Dudley Buck’s ingenious work reported in the February “This Month in Physics History” column in APS News. However, categorizing me as his “classmate” greatly overstates my then status. At eleven years older, he was a mentor, a substitute father, and a wonderful friend. His sudden death at age 32 was a crushing event.

Buck was a very early advocate of the huge potential societal benefits which would result from reducing both the size and the cost of computer components by several orders of magnitude. He was also an amazing human being, with an acute sense of humor and a propensity for clever practical jokes.

His philosophy that one should be “ambitious for the entire human race” should be a guiding principle for all of us. Interestingly enough, this philosophy can work in private industry as well as in academia. In our small but quite successful fifty-plus-person Delaware Corporation, the goal is not making money. It is “to advance humankind by doing good physics.” And this policy has one hundred percent director and stockholder support. Presumably there are numerous other organizations that feel the same way. Buck was right.

Chuck Crawford
Wilton, NH

Ed. Note: The writer is President of Kimball Physics, Inc.

Self-interest Drives Political Loyalty

Felix Smith (letters, August/September APS News) cites Michael Lubell’s Inside the Beltway column which quotes the PEW Foundation numbers that 55% of scientists identify themselves with the Democratic party, while only 6% with the Republican. (A lot of us are independents.) He notes that this correlates strongly with being liberal or conservative. Lubell, Smith notes, reports that the imbalance may be understandable: “Professionally and personally scientists need to be more dedicated and more sensitive to the pursuit of truth and the correction of error...scientists tend to be more idealistic–and perhaps more public spirited than the general population.”

Wow! What a slap at the non-dedicated, self-interested, “uncorrected,” less public-spirited, etc., Republican and independent scientists. In every income range conservatives and Republicans give appreciably more money and time to charities than do liberals and Democrats. The latter argue that instead they seek to redistribute taxpayer money through the government.

So surely the above claims re scientists are questionable, if not nonsense. Scientists are just like everyone else. Self-interest plays a big role in the DEM/GOP ratio. Most scientists at universities, national laboratories, etc. are public employees and would tend to support the party that they feel will give them more funding and support more spending. The “tax and spend tag” is clearly attached to the Dems, and public employees are a large part of their constituency. The Democrats’ strategy is clear: bigger government, with more public spending and more public employees, more entitlements and more hand-outs will beget more votes. It has been working for many years.

In Congress the House defines the spending and the Dems have controlled it for 48 of the past 60 years, and controlled the Senate for 46 of those. Republicans are seen as trying to get our deficits and debt (now $16 trillion–more than our GDP) under control, which involves spending reductions (as well as revenue increases –as can be done without seriously slowing the economy).

As G. B. Shaw said: A government that takes from Peter to give to Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.

Regarding Smith’s other claims: It was not Clinton and the Dems, but Clinton dragged along by Gingrich and the GOP budget balancers–who for the first time in four decades held the House– that produced federal surpluses. Large factors were defense industry reductions due to Reagan’s ending the cold war, and to the economic and high-tech boom Reagan helped unleash. The tech bust, among other things, ruined Clinton’s last year. Bush inherited the resultant recession–followed by 9/11.

Paul Brady
Davis, CA

PS: California is an extreme case of public employee “self-interest” where the public unions basically run this Democratic state from top to bottom. CA K-12 school performance has fallen from the top 10% to the bottom 5% in national tests. Rising carbon taxes will cripple or shut-down many industries and stunt state economic growth. And, we owe hundreds of billions for public pensions and retiree healthcare–a cost soon to average nearly $10,000 per family per year for the several million public retirees.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos