American Institute of Physics
Maiellos letter on nuclear insecurity (December/January,
p.5) posits all kinds of fanciful scenarios. I wish that Richard
Meserves reply had been less diplomatic, but I suppose it
was written when he was still chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission. As the current head of the Carnegie Institution, he
could have told Maiello more explicitly:
- Nuclear plants are the best protected of all of our industrial
installations, certainly more so than refineries, chemical plants,
pipelines, et cetera. Just-published studies show that they
could withstand the impact of a fully loaded airliner.
- Storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel are a most unrewarding
target, difficult to hit and easily protected.
- Dirty bombs are indeed a potent psychological
weaponas long as the media propagate unreasonable fears
of radioactivity among the public. They are often confused with
nuclear weapons. By contrast, dirty bombs are easy to detect
and extremely hazardous to the assembler; and they will melt
most containers. Personally, I am much more concerned about
biological weapons, which are difficult to detect, easily assembled
and released, and lethal.
S. Fred Singer
Science & Environmental Policy Project
Author replies: Dr. Singer focuses
only on power plant concerns. I had hoped to make it clear that
nuclear security concerns were much broader and complex. I also
hoped that the references I cited indicated that the scenarios
were not fanciful. U.S. nuclear security concerns
include the issues of a well-run domestic nuclear-waste repository,
nonproliferation of nuclear weapons post 9/11, the security of
enriched uranium and weaponsgrade plutonium in Russia, and the
transportation and disposition of mixed-oxide fuel.
In my opinion, it is dangerous to be so absolute in our language
when we discuss these issues, lest it breed complacency. To say
that nuclear plants are the best-protected industrial installations
in the country may be true and may make everyone feel better,
but that needs to be repeatedly shown and resolutely maintained.
And when warranted, plant protection must be vigorously improved.
I indicated in my response to Dr.
Meserves article that containment structures are robust
structures. But if we cannot reach a consensus on a realistic
power plant terrorist mock drill, so what? A spent-fuel storage
facility may be hard to hit (who needs to be right on target with
a fireball?), but if questioning its integrity results in an improvement
to protected dry-cask storage, then weve made progress.
And Russian nuclear security is such a concern that the U.S. has
committed $750 million to enhance it (1).
As for dirty bombs, the Health Physics Society and the Federation
of American Scientists are not writing them off as mere psychological
weapons that are hard to construct. They are designing education
programs and first-responder training (2, 3). Municipalities such
as New York City are already on guard for bomb-making materials
(4). Detection is easier with trained personnel and the right
equipment in place. If you dont make a move, you dont
If Dr. Singers point is to call attention to other terrorist
threats and to other vulnerable industries, then his point is
well taken (5). Let us protect both nuclear and nonnuclear facilities.
Physicists should be interested enough to contribute to the cross-disciplinary
nature of the technology needed to address security threats, including
longdistance surveillance; detection of chemical, nuclear, and
biological weapons; facial, retinal, and fingerprint identification;
and analysis of the vulnerability of the global commodity transportation
system to terrorism. But being complacent about nuclear (and nonnuclear)
security post 9/11 does none of us any good.
Mark L. Maiello
1. Bumiller, E. U.S. drops threat to cut aid to Russia for disarming.
New York Times, Dec. 28, 2001.
2. Blackwood, V. Utilizing information technology to prepare the
nations responders to chemical, biological, radiological,
and nuclear threats. F.A.S. Public Interest Report, May/June
3. Radiation Safety Aspects of Homeland Security and Emergency
Response (American Academy of Health Physics Courses). Health
Physics Society Newsletter, Oct. 2002.
4. Santora, M. Finding the Scary in the Merely Messy. New York
Times, July 23, 2002.
5. Nuclear News. Exercise shows NPPs not good terrorist
targets. Dec. 2002.
It aint necessarily so
Your article Building
the nanofuture with carbon nanotubes, by Jennifer Ouellette
(December/January, p. 18), intimated that they are the most expensive
of all materials. I submit that this honor belongs to antimatter,
which has been routinely produced and used for quite a few years.
In keeping with its pricefour and a half trillion dollars
a pound at last lookit is traded in appropriately small
Also in that issue, Buying
patterns in ecommerce contains a slight but meaningful
error. Zita Paprika states that e-business provides the
necessary framework to cope with these demands by cutting the
waiting time for a service. This is true only where the
vended service or good can be acquired wholly within the online
transaction. For consumer goods, this is often the case. In the
industrial world, where product diversity is far greater, some
actual customer service is generally required, and this is now
less, rather than more, available.
Just as voice mail gave vendor personnel something to hide behind
when it was introduced, so e-mail enables them to evade dealing
with customers who need more service than can be obtained with
a computer mouse. This trend has accelerated in the past decade
and promises to make life in the industrial marketplace increasingly
unpleasant and less productive.
Fisher Aircraft Corporation
Rochester, New York
The traditional peer review process, as discussed in your article
shows peer-review flaws, by Eric J. Lerner (December/
January, p. 12), is long overdue for a major overhaul. The process
of anonymous reviewers fosters political backstabbing of research
rivals, stifles innovation, and erects barriers against new researchers
entering the various scientific communities. I wish to suggest
the following changes to the peer review process: The names of
the reviewers who approved the paper for publication should appear
somewhere in the paper; the writers/researchers should have the
option of selecting three reviewers of their own choosing to review
and endorse the paper instead of anonymous reviewers chosen by
the editors; reviewers should themselves have papers published
in the same field and/or have a Ph.D. in the field and/or be actively
working in the field; and the authors of the paper need not meet
the requirements of a reviewer to be published.
This process would allow radically new ideas to enter the system
of knowledge that today would fail the review process because
of secondary reasons unrelated to the quality or originality of
the work. It would encourage the writing of cross-disciplinary
papers that have the potential to significantly advance a field,
yet whose authors lack reputations outside their specialty area.
It also would allow the occasional innovator, who completely lacks
any kind of professional reputation, to get published in a journal
that reaches the appropriate audience.
The amended process would not result in the literature being
filled with fraud and nonsense any more than it now is. A person
choosing his or her own reviewers would have the arduous task
of convincing three coworkers, teachers, or unrelated researchers
to read his or her paper and endorse it as legitimate. Even if
the reviewers were personal friends of the author, they would
be unlikely to give their professional endorsement and risk their
reputations on a worthless paper.
Eric Lerners article chose to address the problem of research
fraud using the rearview mirror approach. It addresses the outcome
but not the cause. This is the typical modern approachlet
the bank be robbed, and the law can catch the bad guy. The real
question is, Why did fraud take place, and why dont
controls that worked previously work now?
I read the article with more than a bit of sadness, having spent
43 years at Bell Labs during its golden years of the
1950s through the 1970s. It also brought me to the realization
that a prediction I read in the mid-1980s has come true (Another
endangered national resource, Electronic Design,
Nov. 10, 1983). Prior to the breakup of AT&T into its component
parts, funding for Bell Labs came from a tax on the operating
segment of the Bell System. This stream of funding isolated the
scientific processes from the mundane world of business and finance,
that is, from the world of M.B.A.s, lawyers, and C.P.A.s. Then,
in the early 1980s, our legal profession, through the courts,
accomplished the disassociation of the Bell System begun in the
1950s. The result was the elimination of independent research
and development and the substitution of the M.B.A./C.P.A. idiom
of quarterly reports. When profit motive enters the scientific
process, the unscrupulous will capitalize on any possibility that
can improve the bottom line. With the incentive to push advances
and make a faltering organization appear as a front-runner, why
not remove obstacles to publicity and come up with a scientific
During my tenure at Bell Labs, discoveries, developments, and
publications were subject to significant scrutiny. One of my early
discoveries was subjected to review by my peers, supervisor, department
head, director, vice president, and Nobel laureate Bill Shockley.
And this was even before I thought of publication. How any person
could publish a paper every other week (in groundbreaking areas)
without being intensely reviewed blows my mind. He did not accomplish
his mission in a vacuum; he was aided and abetted by many others,
either willfully or through omission. The call of fame and fortune
has created many charlatans. Unfortunately, a formerly prestigious
organization, living on its laurels, chose the easy
route to new glory. It didnt work, and now the recovery
process is more difficult because, as we all know, every action
has a reaction.
Bell Labs Technical Manager (retired)
Watchung, New Jersey
Author replies: Maurice Daniels
suggestion that authors be allowed to pick reviewers would certainly
help to overcome the problems faced by those with innovative ideas.
Again, as many authors have pointed out, the key reform needed
is to ensure that reviewers sign and publicly take responsibility
for their reviews, thus cutting back on both unfairly hostile
and unfairly generous reviewers who hide behind anonymity.
My article did, in fact, point out that controls formerly in
place at Bell Labs were no longer employed, as Paul Michaelis
emphasizes. Michaelis accurately describes an incentive to fraud
- the closer linking of research and commercial profit. With the
deregulation wave of the Reagan era (and after), which induced
the break-up of AT&T into "more competitive" units,
companies could no longer "afford" basic research, and
the emphasis shifted to fast research, closely linked to the bottom
line. Corner-cutting became inevitable, which has been only made
worse by the mass layoffs of recent years. As everyone learned
last year, scientific fraud was hardly the most common type of
deception in the corporate world, but the incentives for scientific
and financial fraud are linked. The reduction of funding for research,
especially long-term research, in the physical sciences by industry
and government has also exacerbated problems with the peer-review
system. When competition is fierce for a dwindling supply of funds,
the temptation is much greater to use anonymous reviews as a means
to eliminate rivals and support allies. There is no doubt that
a more secure and expanded funding of research is essential. But
in the meantime, reforms of the review system, such as eliminating
anonymity, can serve to mitigate some of the effects of the funding
Eric J. Lerner
In his article "Superconducting
magnets get bigger and better" (October/November, p.
32), Alan Street refers to niobium-titanium wire as "a workhorse
superconductor developed in the 1970s at the Rutherford Appleton
Laboratory (Chilton, England)." Although that laboratory
did indeed make significant contributions to the later application
of Nb-Ti technology, the discovery of the superior high-magnetic-field,
highsuperconducting critical-current-density properties and easy
manufacturability of Nb.Ti took place at the Atomics International
Division of North American Aviation (Canoga Park, CA) in 1962.
These early results were first reported in a post-deadline paper
authored by R. R. Hake and me at the April 1962 meeting of the
American Physical Society (APS) in Washington, D.C. We presented
additional results in a contributed paper at the Evanston, Illinois,
APS meeting in June 1962 (Bull. Am. Phys. Soc. 1962, 7,
408). Subsequent extensive investigations by commercial producers.
among them Atomics International, Wah Chang, Supercon, and Westinghouse.
were required to establish the most appropriate compositions and
metallurgical structures to optimize performance for various applications.
Details of the early history of Nb.Ti can be found in a historical
account, "Emergence of Nb-Ti as supermagnet material,"
which I published in Cryogenics (1987, 27, 283).
Ted G. Berlincourt
Author replies: I did not intend
to imply that the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory originally developed
niobium-titanium superconducting wire. It is, of course, well
known and documented that the first niobium-titanium conductor
was developed in the United States, and in fact the initial supplies
of such material to Oxford Instruments came from U.S. companies.
However, significant problems were associated with this newly
developed material that resulted in a large number of magnet failures.
In 1967, the IMI company in the United Kingdom found a solution
to these problems and was able to deliver usable conductor. IMI
joined forces with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and developed
multifilamentary Nb-Ti conductors that became available around
1970. It was this material that became the workhorse for Oxford
Instruments' range of superconducting magnets in the 1970s.
I thank Mr. Berlincourt for his letter and would be happy at
any time in the future to discuss the contents of this article.
Oxford Instruments Superconductivity Ltd.
Tubney Woods, Abingdon, U.K.