PLEASE NOTE:


*

CCNet 76/2003 - 18 September 2003
ROW ERUPTS OVER ASTEROID SCARES - AND OTHER FALSE ALARMS
--------------------------------------------------------


There is a crisis emerging in the scientific community. The ideals of science
are being sacrificed to the god of political expediency... The latest example comes
in a Science article that advocates nothing less than promoting alarmism of
environmental hazards, on the basis that the end justifies the means.
    --Iain Murray, The Financial Times, 16 Sept. 2003


FIRST they warned an asteroid could destroy the Earth. Now astronomers are becoming
alarmed that such reports could cause unnecessary panic, and are considering toning
down or even scrapping their Richter scale-like asteroid warning system after claims
that media reports have exaggerated the threat....

...However, Dr John Davies, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh
(RoE), said UK scientists (sic) had been happy (sic) with British media reports of QQ47.
--Alasdair Dalton, The Scotsman, 18 Sept. 2003


They are scare indexes. They tend to create anxiety.
    --John Remo, organiser of the United Nations NEO conference


So scientists are toning down the scale in order to reduce the potential for cheap headlines.
We predict the media will go on reporting imminent asteroid Armageddon, scale or no scale.
It's too much good fun, and nobody really believes it anyway. Besides, Bruce Willis will
save us when a level ten does eventually turn up. 
    --Editorial, The Scotsman, 18 Sept. 2003

(1) ROW ERUPTS OVER ASTEROID SCARES

(2) END OF THE WORLD IS NOT NIGH: ASTEROID WILL MISS BY (MILLIONS OF) MILES

(3) TONING DOWN THE SCALE

(4) DOOMSDAY UPDATE

(5) HOW IMPACT SCARES IMPACT ON THE REST OF THE WORLD

(6) SCIENTISTS TRACK SPACE JUNK TO AVERT PRETTY-BIG-BANGS

(7) SCIENTISTS AGAINST TRUTH

(8) SCIENCE MAGAZINE ADVOCATES HYPE AND ALARMISM

(9) FALSE ALARM OVER ENVIRONMENTAL FALSE ALARMS

(10) ARE WE SAFE FROM GAMMA-RAY BURSTS?

(11) AND FINALLY: A GENERAL SOLUTION TO ALL OUR PROBLEMS


=============
(1) ROW ERUPTS OVER ASTEROID SCARES

Eurekalert, 17-Sep-2003
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-09/ns-reo091703.php

Contact: Claire Bowles
claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk
44-207-331-2751
New Scientist

ASTRONOMERS are horrified by press scares over asteroids - including the recent furore over QQ47 - which briefly had a one-in-a-million chance of crashing into our planet in 2014. So much so that they are toning down the scale they use to rate the threat posed by asteroids in an attempt to discourage journalists from covering potential collisions. Some even want the way asteroids are assessed to be completely overhauled.

The Torino scale, developed in 1999 by Rick Binzel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is used to inform the public about potential impacts. It rates an asteroid's threat on a scale of 0 to 10, based on its speed, size and probability of impact with Earth (see Graphic).No asteroid has ever exceeded a hazard rating of 1- the same chance as a random object of the same size hitting Earth in the next few decades.

Despite that, last week's category-1 asteroid made headlines. And as searches for near-Earth asteroids grow more systematic, sightings of potentially dangerous rocks are becoming routine. Even as the commotion over QQ47 was dying down, astronomers found another, even larger asteroid that earned a similar hazard rating. QQ104 [QO104] is 2.7 kilometres across, and for a couple of days last week looked to be heading for a possible impact as early as 2009.

While journalists insist they reported the information on QQ47 accurately, astronomers feel they were misrepresented. "That was certainly much ado about nothing," says Steve Chesley of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It was like a virus solely within the realm of the press." [never mind that the 'virus' was intentionally spread by a team of senior
NEO researchers....,BP]

Binzel himself is so upset by the press coverage of asteroid scares that he is toning down the scale's wording. Instead of "requiring careful monitoring", a category-1 event will now be described as "normal". Brian Marsden of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, worries that the public will stop taking the asteroid threat seriously if false alarms continue. He says altering the scale isn't enough: "It's time we got rid of it."

At the moment, newly discovered "threats" tend to start higher on the scale, when astronomers still have little information on them, and then drop down as further observations rule out the hazard.

Marsden says incorporating a measure of how long the asteroid has been tracked would help prevent false alarms. His colleague John Remo also believes the Torino and related Palermo scales have got it wrong. "They are scare indexes," he says. "They tend to create anxiety."

Rather than quantify the damage an asteroid will cause on impact, Remo says it would be more positive to rate how difficult an asteroid would be to deflect into a safe orbit.

But despite disagreements over how best to avoid crying wolf too often, astronomers insist keeping the data secret is not an option. "I hope people take away the idea that if there is actual news, it will be out in the open," says Binzel.

New Scientist issue: 20 September 2003.


###
PLEASE MENTION NEW SCIENTIST AS THE SOURCE OF THIS STORY AND, IF PUBLISHING ONLINE, PLEASE CARRY A HYPERLINK TO: http://www.newscientist.com.

"These articles are posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to quote extracts as part of fair dealing with this copyrighted material. Full attribution is required, and if publishing online a link to www.newscientist.com is also required. Advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full - please contact celia.thomas@rbi.co.uk. Please note that all material is copyright of Reed Business Information Limited and we reserve the right to take such action as we consider appropriate to protect such copyright."

UK CONTACT - Claire Bowles, New Scientist Press Office, London: Tel: 44-0-20-7331-2751 or email claire.bowles@rbi.co.uk
US CONTACT - Michelle Soucy, New Scientist Boston Office: Tel: 1-617-558-4939 or email michelle.soucy@newscientist.com.

============
(2) END OF THE WORLD IS NOT NIGH: ASTEROID WILL MISS BY (MILLIONS OF) MILES

The Scotsman, 18 Sept. 2003
http://www.news.scotsman.com/scitech.cfm?id=1032462003

ALASTAIR DALTON SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT

FIRST they warned an asteroid could destroy the Earth. Now astronomers are becoming alarmed that such reports could cause unnecessary panic, and are considering toning down or even scrapping their Richter scale-like asteroid warning system after claims that media reports have exaggerated the threat.

The concern follows reports earlier this month that a newly-spotted asteroid could hit the Earth in 2014. The giant rock, three-quarters of a mile wide, was initially given a one in 909,000 chance of colliding with Earth, but further observations soon considerably lengthened the odds.

The asteroid, codenamed QQ47, was given a hazard rating of one on the Torino scale, defining it as "an event meriting careful monitoring".

However, days later, the rating was dropped to zero, which is defined as "no likely consequences".

The scale, which was named after the city of Turin where it was devised, is the cosmic collisions version of the Richter scale, which measures earthquakes. It ranges up to ten, where the Earth's destruction is certain, but no asteroid has ever been given a rating of more than one.

However, according to the magazine New Scientist, some astronomers want the scale overhauled or abolished to give the public a better impression of the scale of threats involved.

They made the call as asteroid sightings become increasingly frequent with improvements in telescope technology.

An even larger asteroid than QQ47, codenamed QQ104 and more than 1.6 miles across, was given a hazard rating of one for two days last week when it looked like it was heading for a collision with the Earth in 2009.

Rick Binzel, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who invented the Torino scale in 1999, said changes were required.

He is so upset by the press coverage of asteroid scares that he is planning to tone down the scale's wording.

He said the definition of category one should be changed from "requiring careful monitoring" to "normal".

However, Brian Marsden, of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, feared the public would stop taking the asteroid threat seriously if false alarms continued.

He said altering the scale is not enough: "It's time we got rid of it."

His colleague, John Remo, also believes the Torino and the related Palermo scales have got it wrong. He said: "They are scare indexes. They tend to create anxiety."

Steve Chesley, of the US space agency NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said astronomers felt misrepresented in reports about QQ47.

He said: "That was certainly much ado about nothing. It was like a virus solely (sic!) within
the realm of the press."

However, Dr John Davies, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh (RoE), said UK scientists had been happy (sic!) with British media reports of QQ47.

Dr Davies, a member of the UK's Near Earth Object information centre expert panel, said: "There is a delicate balance to be struck, because if we stop posting sightings (sic!) we would be accused of a cover-up." ...

Copyright 2003, The Scotsman

=======
(3) TONING DOWN THE SCALE

The Scotsman [editorial], 18 Sept. 2003
http://www.news.scotsman.com/leaders.cfm?id=1033422003

EARTHQUAKES are measured by the Richter scale, and in like manner the potential destruction caused to the Earth by being hit by an asteroid is measured using the Torino scale. The latter was invented by Professor Richard Binzel and accepted by the scientific community in 1999 at a conference in Turin (hence the name). The dinosaurs were wiped out by a level-ten asteroid, which signifies a certain hit by a lump of rock big enough to cause global catastrophe. Zero on the scale means there is absolutely no chance tomorrow will be cancelled. However, members of the asteroid-watching community have never been happy with the scale: they think it is too subjective, over-simplistic and a gift to sensational journalism. Any biggish, new-found object in space that is approaching Earth tends to be worth checking out - that rates a one on the Torino scale. But level one is greater than the level zero "all clear" - cue instant media reports of Armageddon. So scientists are toning down the scale in order to reduce the potential for cheap headlines. We predict the media will go on reporting imminent asteroid Armageddon, scale or no scale. It's too much good fun, and nobody really believes it anyway. Besides, Bruce Willis will save us when a level ten does eventually turn up. 

Copyright 2003, The Scotsman

===========
(4) DOOMSDAY UPDATE

Alan Boyle' Cosmic Log, 17 Sept. 2003
http://www.msnbc.com/news/750150.asp?0si=-

Doomsday update: No catastrophic earthquake was reported in Japan today or on Tuesday,
giving the lie to a Japanese astronomer's prediction. Meanwhile, two objects on the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory's list of potentially hazardous asteroids "merit careful
monitoring" but are no big deal, despite what some British newspapers have said.

==========
(5) HOW IMPACT SCARES IMPACT ON THE REST OF THE WORLD

The Independent (Bangladesh), 17 Sept. 2003
http://independent-bangladesh.com/news/sep/17/17092003ft.htm#A1

ALL ABOUT ASTEROIDS

By F.R. Sarker

Between Jupiter and Mars, there is vast span of space where, according to astronomers some planet must have existed but instead millions of rocky chunks sizes ranging from a few inches to a few hundred miles are found, circling around the sun. Not only that, most of these objects like those of planets, rotate on its axis between 5 and 24 hours. These objects are called Asteroids.

Astronomers believe that in the distant past, there was a solid planet orbiting through this space but some celestial accident caused it to break into pieces, which are now moving like ill-fated vagabonds. Ceres, the largest Asteroid is 623 miles across. Most of the asteroids are irregular and elongated in shapes and extremely black in colour with pock marks on its surface. Although these asteroids are moving around the sun through their respective orbits but there are some exceptional moments when they sidetrack their orbit and slam into the Earth. Scientists have calculated that during the history of our earth, millions of these asteroids have landed its surface.

According to astrobiologists our life did emanate by the impacts of comets meteorites and asteroids which for million of years struck the earth bringing the amino acid, the building block of life from space which after a chain of synthesis, over billions of years, helped flourish life over this planet. Prior to the evolution of life and living organisms on earth, impacts of the asteroids was a boon as it was an essential metamorphosis but when life evolved full scale such impacts turned to be a bane as it threatened its existence.

From time immemorial, thousands or millions of impacts by asteroids over the earth have taken place but mostly are unaccounted for due to changes over the anatomy of surface of earth by floods, dust storms, erosion, earthquakes, cyclones and lots of other natural calamities. However, astronomers have identified about 139 impact craters around the earth which, they believe were caused by the strike of asteroids. Among them the most spectacular is the bowl shaped Crater in Arizona, about 1 kilometer wide and 660 feet deep thought to be formed about 50,000 years ago. So far, the biggest impact crater created by asteroid lies beneath the marshy land of Chixulub, Mexico which is about 106 miles wide. Astrobiologist speculate that about 65 millions year ago, an asteroid 6 miles across slammed into the earth at a speed of 32,000 miles per hour over the Chixulub area which caused a devastating impact. For many months dust particles bounced over the earth's atmospheric belt, covered the sunlight creating an extremely frigid environment detrimental to the survival of the bigger species including Dinosaurs. Thus asteroids are blamed for extinction of Dinosaurs and some other species which once ruled the animal kingdom.

On June 30, 1908 around late morning, people near Siberia, Russia, found a brilliant streak of light emanating from the sky suddenly dashed into the jungle of Tunguska. Within a few seconds a loud sound was heard following by a heavy jolt on the surface and people sitting on the chair as far as 70 miles away lifted off and fell down on the ground. Trans-Siberian trains running a few miles away derailed and the Richter scale in the observatories as far as Germany and the UK shot up their magnitude scales erratically. Later when a group of Russian scientists went to visit the impact area they found no trace of impact but all trees charred, uprooted and upside down stacked systematically within a few miles around the impact area.

Scientists after thorough investigation reported that the intensity of the impact was about 12 million tons of TNT and 800 hundred times more powerful than the Nuclear bomb pounded by the U.S. forces over Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Soon after Tunguska incident, astronomers around the started to feel that they might be the prey of the asteroid impact at any time but they were undone as no preventive measures could be made to save the earth and its people from its attacks.

On January 17, 1991, astronomers in bigger observatories around the world noticed that an asteroid about 300 feet in diameter designated as 1991BA dashed towards earth but flew by at a distance of 106,000 miles from the earth about half the distance from earth to the moon. In 1995, Toutatis, a small asteroid came near to earth and some astronomers speculated that it might hit the earth but later it went away without causing any damage.

On August 24, 2003, astronomers in Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research Programme (LINEAR) noticed that one asteroid around 1.2 kilometer wide, designated as 2003 QQ47 displayed a peculiar orbital parameter which after initial calculation they found it hurtling about 75,000 miles per hour and might strike the surface of the earth on August 24, 2014 with a destructive power of 360,000 TNT that is 8 million times greater than what was in Hiroshima by Atom bomb impact in 1945. This news was soon went to the British press and within hours entire world was jolted with the fear of this impending devastation. However, a revised version of the statement was later issued by the LINEAR which stated that the chances of impact is zero as such there is nothing to be worried of the celestial catastrophe in 2014. However, the wound caused by this frightening news would need long time to heal but people around the world are skeptical about the Revised Version of non-proliferation by 2003 QQ47 and fear would continue until that date is over. In 1998, western press made headlines with similar news that asteroid 1997 XFII would hit the earth in 2028.

Whether astronomers assure or reassure that asteroids would not strike the earth in 2014 or in 2028 still the gamut is not out of danger. Evidences are there that over 1 kilometer wide asteroid hits the earth once in every half a million years and smaller sizes in 300 years , so the danger is still there to encounter the devastation caused by killer asteroids at any time.
Of course, NASA has undertaken a project to keep the lists of the asteroids which are likely to be hitting the earth and already about 800 asteroids have been identified so far. Still there are some more which might come as a surprise, thus it has been crystal clear that the earth is quite vulnerable to be mauled by asteroids and the catastrophe might be regional as well as in global in parameter. NASA along with other organisations around the world are seriously trying to find out a solution to this volatile problem. One idea they have developed which is that as soon as any killer asteroid is detected heading towards earth, instantly a rocket would be sent to land on the surface of that asteroid. After landing on its surface, the wings will be unfurled and nuclear bombs to be blasted. As nuclear bombs has chain reaction and it creates jolts and jerks over a long time, which would help the direction of the asteroid, changed. Earth is only around 8000 miles in diameter. Any asteroid at a distance of 5 million miles, if a fraction of degree of angle is deviated, it would be enough to save the earth from its attack. But that plan is still in the realm of imagination and the practical application needs more time to be explored.

The writer is General Secretary of the Bangladesh Astronomical Society

Copyright 2003, The Independent

===========
(6) SCIENTISTS TRACK SPACE JUNK TO AVERT PRETTY-BIG-BANGS

The Christian Science Monitor , 18 September 2003
http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0918/p16s01-stss.html

By Peter N. Spotts | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

For the better part of a decade, astronomers concerned about Earth getting smacked by an asteroid have searched the night skies to find potential civilization-busters. Their quarry: near-Earth objects at least 1 kilometer across.

The possibility of such an impact has spawned Hollywood movies and real-world estimates of 1 billion fatalities and global environmental catastrophe. But researchers have long warned that smaller objects can also blindside us and wreak havoc. Some military analysts even warn that such a collision could be mistaken for a nuclear attack and trigger a response.

Now, researchers are laying plans to begin tracking the movements of such smaller objects, perhaps as early as 2008. Their efforts raise intriguing questions about how scientists report risks to the public.

Last week, NASA released a report from a 12-member scientific panel outlining the technological options for the search, aimed at detecting 90 percent of potentially hazardous objects (PHOs) between 140 meters and 1 kilometer across. Researchers suggest the search could be completed in seven to 20 years, and could be implemented using today's telescopes, cameras, and automation technologies.

Since researchers hope to wrap up current search efforts - aimed at 1 kilometer and larger hazards - by 2008, "now is the right time to begin looking at the next steps," says Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

While movies such as "Armageddon" and "Deep Impact" have spun cinematic yarns out of some of the biggest collisions one might imagine, researchers point to the smaller - and more numerous - objects that can pose significant hazards. For example, some 50,000 years ago, an iron meteor estimated at 60 meters in diameter smashed into Arizona, gouging out a crater 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) across and 200 meters deep.

In 1908, a 50-meter object exploded in the skies over Siberia, flattening trees for 25 kilometers in every direction. By comparison, the Mt. Saint Helens eruption in 1980 flattened trees up to 30 kilometers away. Though Lilliputian by cosmic standards, such objects can carry the punch of 10- to 15-megaton hydrogen bombs, equal to some of the largest nuclear tests and thousands of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan.

The new search would aim at far more destructive objects in the 140 meters to 1 kilometer range. While there are only an estimated 1,100 near-Earth asteroids larger than a kilometer across, these smaller objects could number more than 20,000. More objects raise the prospect of more alerts - and heightens the challenge of communicating risk to the public.

Late last month, for example, astronomers discovered a space rock they dubbed 2003 QQ47. Initial calculations suggested it had a small but potentially worrisome probability of striking Earth in 2014. After additional observations over the next 24 hours, astronomers revised the estimate, eliminating the object as an immediate threat. But the initial announcement triggered Armageddon-like headlines, touching off a heated debate among key members of the asteroid-hunting community about the hazard scale they devised to communicate such risks.

Such alerts, followed by stand-downs, can create the public impression of astronomers "crying wolf," acknowledges Dr. Binzel, who devised and is revising one of the scales used. Yet the alternative - spotting a problem, then sitting on the information until additional observations come in - leaves the community vulnerable to accusations of hiding information.

"It's a known problem," he sighs, adding that it's better to be open about the data and the process used to collect and analyze it than to appear guilty of a cover-up.

Asteroid and comet hazards are estimated based on the likelihood that an object presents a danger sometime during the next 100 years. Thus, if the new survey detects these smaller potential hazards well in advance of a likely collision, "there's an excellent chance" they could be deflected, says Donald Yeomans, an astronomer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and vice-chairman of the panel that produced the report. The team estimates the cost of the new search effort between $236 million and $397 million.

Copyright © 2003 The Christian Science Monitor.

=============
(7) SCIENTISTS AGAINST TRUTH

The Financial Times, 16 Sept. 2003
http://news.ft.com/home/uk

By Iain Murray

There is a crisis emerging in the scientific community. The ideals of science are
being sacrificed to the god of political expediency. Environmental scientists are
becoming so obsessed with the righteousness of their cause that they are damning
those who wish to use science as an objective tool in public policy decisions. 

The latest example comes in a Science article that advocates nothing less than
promoting alarmism of environmental hazards, on the basis that the end justifies
the means. The article (mis)uses economic analysis to argue that the benefits of
environmental alarmism outweigh the costs. Yet, as well as endorsing the political
reasoning of Niccolo Machiavelli, this paper offends against the ethics of science
itself.

The argument goes like this. Our society balances risks and benefits. In the area
of the environment, these decisions are informed by environmental science. Many
possible disasters have a very low risk of occurrence, which means that many warnings
from scientists will turn out to be unfounded. When this happens, sceptics like Bjorn
Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, will argue that we should ignore
similar warnings in the future. The authors contend that this would be a mistake. 
The potential benefits of averting disaster are so great that scientists should continue
to issue what they know are likely to be false alarms.

We have heard this argument before. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University, who
provided "helpful comments" on a draft of the paper, told Discover magazine in 1989
that "to capture the public imagination, we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make
simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have. Each of
us has to decide the right balance between being effective, and being honest". This latest
study is essentially that statement dressed up in fancy economic terms. Despite
its academic pretensions, it is still unprincipled nonsense. It is nonsense because
it exaggerates the benefits and underestimates the risks of alarmism.

Scientists who argue for alarmism, on the whole, are not very bad men, but the course of
action they propose is very bad indeed -- for science, for scientists, and for society
as a whole.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute

==============
(8) SCIENCE MAGAZINE ADVOCATES HYPE AND ALARMISM

SciDev, 18 Sept. 2003
http://www.scidev.net/Opinions/index.cfm?fuseaction=readOpinions&itemid=191&language=1

WHY ENVIRONMENTAL WARNINGS ARE WELCOME
 
Stephen W. Pacala, E. Bulte, J.A. List and S.A. Levin
29 August 2003
Source: Science

Environmental scientists are our early warning system of impending, possibly lethal,
ecodisasters. Yet the number of false alarms has triggered scepticism in some quarters.
Is it justified?

In this article, Stephen W. Pacala and others in the United States and Netherlands argue
that far from being alarmist, environmental scientists are too conservative in issuing
their warnings. The marginal benefits increase as responses to the alarms increase, and
the benefits to human health dwarf the costs of cleaning up the mess.

The authors predict that unevenly distributed benefits and costs of cleaning up will
mean a steady supply of special interests - and sceptics. But given that millions more lives
can be saved by environmental warnings, science needs to stay alert to potential catastrophes.

Reference: Science, 301, 1187 (2003)

============
(9) FALSE ALARM OVER ENVIRONMENTAL FALSE ALARMS

Science, 29 August 2003; 301: 1187-1188
http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/301/5637/1187?ijkey=mxdvtUbVxcTIw&keytype=ref&siteid=sci

S. W. Pacala,* E. Bulte, J. A. List, S. A. Levin*

We live in an uncertain world, in which action and prudence must be continually juggled. Caution can be costly, but indifference to serious risks can be disastrous. In all aspects of life, we weigh risks and benefits, invoking measures to insure against events that threaten what is most important to us, while gambling with those that can be tolerated. In matters of our environment, science has the responsibility to inform these decisions, and society must find ways to identify the appropriate level of circumspection. By any calculation, we must protect ourselves against a wide variety of events that individually have low probabilities of occurrence, and still feel good when they have not occurred. We must rely on environmental science to alert us to an even wider set of possible disasters, many of very low probability, so that we as citizens can decide which cause us most worry, and which mandate action.

The unavoidable result of this prescription is that many warnings of environmental scientists will prove to have been unfounded, and others will have led to actions that prevented or mitigated the predicted dire consequences. Thus many predictions of possible environmental degradation will not come to pass, in some cases simply because those predictions were made and heeded. There will then always be critics who will trumpet the failures as evidence that we should never have paid attention to those who urged caution, and that we should hence similarly dismiss future warnings. It is by now a familiar tune. The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg (1)--officially (sic) discredited by the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (www.forsk.dk/eng/index.htm)--is the most recent of a long list of such efforts.

Nonetheless, environmental scientists need to confront an important issue, highlighted by these skeptics, that accompanies the dual role of the environmental sciences in society. Funding, research priorities, and publication standards reflect both the need to advance our fundamental understanding of the Earth's ecosystems and a responsibility to sound the alarm when a possible environmental hazard is detected. Evidentiary standards in the basic sciences are based solely on what most effectively enhances learning, whereas evidentiary standards of an environmental alarm system must balance the benefits of early detection with the costs of alarms based on an early state of knowledge (2).

What is the optimal level of sensitivity for society's environmental alarm? How many signals should the environmental community send to policy-makers, realizing that some (or many?) of them will turn out to be wrong? Is it true that environmental scientists are responsible for a litany of false predictions, as claimed by Lomborg and others, or is the balance between false alarms and correct ones about right, or even too conservative?.....

FULL PAPAER at http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/301/5637/1187?ijkey=mxdvtUbVxcTIw&keytype=ref&siteid=sci

Volume 301, Number 5637, Issue of 29 Aug 2003, pp. 1187-1188.
Copyright © 2003 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights reserved.

===========
(10) ARE WE SAFE FROM GAMMA-RAY BURSTS?

ESA, 17 September 2003
http://www.esa.int/esaCP/SEMVPXZO4HD_Expanding_0.html

For a few seconds every day, Earth is bombarded by gamma rays created by cataclysmic explosions in distant galaxies. Such explosions, similar to supernovae, are known as 'gamma-ray bursts' or GRBs.
 
Astronomers using ESA's X-ray observatory, XMM-Newton, are trying to understand the cause of these extraordinary explosions from the X-rays given out for a day or two after the initial burst. 
 
Danger to life?
 
However, the violence of the process begs the question, what happens to the space surrounding a GRB? A few years ago, some astronomers thought that a GRB might wipe out all life in its host galaxy.
That now seems to be a pessimistic view because the latest evidence shows that GRBs focus their energy along two narrow beams, like a lighthouse might do on Earth, rather than exploding in all directions like a bomb.
 
 
That does not mean that GRBs are not dangerous. Some theories suggest that anything caught in the beam, out to a distance of around 200 light years, will be vaporised.
 
Have there been GRBs in our own galaxy?
 
Although none of the recently detected GRBs seem powerful enough, events in the distant past are another question. "There are a lot of supernova remnants in our galaxy, so I suspect that most probably there have been several GRBs as well," says ESA astronomer Norbert Schartel.
 
While astronomers have yet to detect a really close GRB, they may already have picked up the most distant ones. ESA's gamma-ray observatory, Integral, continues to collect invaluable data about GRBs on a daily basis, but last year XMM-Newton recorded the fading afterglow of X-rays that accompanied one GRB.

When Schartel and collaborators analysed the results, they found that the X-rays contained the 'fingerprints' of gas that was glowing like the X-ray equivalent of a 'neon' strip light.
 
Link between GRBs and exploding stars
 
This was the first piece of hard evidence that GRBs were linked to exploding stars, similar to supernovae. Now, XMM-Newton has captured another X-ray afterglow that shows similar features, strengthening the link.

Using these data and the discovery of visible explosions of some GRBs by NASA/ESA's Hubble Space Telescope, astronomers have pieced together a picture of what happens.
 
 
It seems that the explosion of the star is just the first stage. The GRB itself is generated sometime later but whether that is hours, days or even weeks afterwards, no one yet knows. The GRB occurs when the centre of the exploding star turns into a 'black hole' and the X-rays are released as the GRB shock wave collides with the gas thrown off in the star's original explosion.
 
Are we at risk from GRBs?
 
Another question still remains: could we be vaporised by a nearby GRB? The answer is no, even though there are GRBs detected almost everyday, scattered randomly throughout the Universe, it is highly unlikely. There are no stars within 200 light years of our Solar System that are of the type destined to explode as a GRB, so we do not expect to witness such an event at close range!

However, we do know that ESA's scientific study of these fascinating - and frightening - cosmic events will continue for many years to come.

==========
(11) AND FINALLY: A GENERAL SOLUTION TO ALL OUR PROBLEMS

jwill@AstraGate.net

Hi Benny.

Finally:  A solution to the deluge of deadly asteriods
besieging us now and for the rest of the immediate future.

We just get one of those giant, planet-swallowing stars and
install it in, say, the orbit of Mars!

If any of those asteroids trys anything funny, the star will
swallow it up.

In fact, the star will swallow up everything.

We could even call it, "The War on Terraism"!
--
                          John
                      jwill@AstraGate.net
                      John Michael Williams

-----------
CCNet is a scholarly electronic network. To subscribe/unsubscribe,
please contact the moderator Benny Peiser <b.j.peiser@livjm.ac.uk>.
Information circulated on this network is for scholarly and educational
use only. The attached information may not be copied or reproduced for
any other purposes without prior permission of the copyright holders.
DISCLAIMER: The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed in the
articles and texts and in other CCNet contributions do not necessarily
reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the moderator of this
network.



CCCMENU CCC for 2003

The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of

The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.