PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS TO THE IUPAP GENERAL ASSEMBLY
PROFESSOR BURTON RICHTER
October 9, 2002
Since the Atlanta General Assembly there has been considerable activity within IUPAP that goes beyond the normal work of the Commissions. Reporting the most important of these activities to you results in a crowded agenda for this meeting. I will comment on a few items of particular interest, and then go on to discuss three items of particular importance – Physics and Sustainable Development, Ethics, and the State of Physics.
We have a revised set of the Statutes and By Laws ready for action. These have been circulated in draft form and comments received have been incorporated into modified text.
The Working Group on Women in Physics, which was created as a result of a resolution at the Atlanta General Assembly, has held a major conference attended by delegations from 65 nations. The detailed resolutions from this conference have been on the IUPAP Website for some time and the full proceedings are there now. This conference was of broad interest, and the Working Group and the Secretariat were able to raise, relatively easily, the more than one-half million dollars required. The Council has prepared a summary resolution that will be presented and debated later.
The Working Group on Communications has been active and they have arranged a meeting with libraries and the for-profit and not-for-profit publishers on archiving in the digital age – how to keep our increasingly digital publications available as storage media and operating systems evolve. You will also hear more about this later.
As physics develops, new areas of science become important and other areas shift their focus. IUPAP itself evolves slowly; new Commissions come into being, and some areas like optics and acoustics come to feel that they need their own international organizations, but remain affiliated. Reorganizing IUPAP is a very complex task and I doubt that we are ready for it yet, though it needs to be thought about. Short of reorganization another mechanism has been used to address issues that concern more than one Commission. Two working groups have been created that are sponsored by multiple commissions. PanNAGIC is sponsored be C-4 (Cosmic Rays), C-11 (Particles and Fields), C-12 (Nuclear Physics, and C-19 (Astrophysics). The Working Group on Facilities for Condensed Matter Physics is sponsored by C-6 (Biological Physics), C-8 (semiconductors), C-9 (Magnetism), and C-10 (Structure and Dynamics). You will hear reports from both. Inter-Commission working groups are something I believe will continue to be useful in the future.
We do not have time in the agenda for a report from C-11 (Particles and Fields), but one of their activities is unusual and deserves mention. ICFA, a committee of C-11 first set up in 1978, has been working with the Global Science Forum of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the world high-energy physics community on mechanisms to make the next large accelerator a truly worldwide effort. This has attracted considerable interest on the part of some governments, not only with respect to high-energy physics, but also as a venue for discussion of a potential model for other large international programs. You can find the latest report by going to the OECD Website (www.oecd.org) and then going on to the Science and Innovation theme. The Global Science Forum discussions are planned to continue. Also under ICFA auspices, an international group is evaluating the state of competing technologies for the machine, and another group is examining detector issues. ICFA and C-11 have certainly been effective in one area of the IUPAP mission, facilitating international collaboration.
II. Sustainable Development
A major theme for this General Assembly is the potential role of physics and IUPAP in what has come to be called Sustainable Development. We will hear reports from our C-13 (Development) and C-14 (Education). In addition, we will have a panel discussion on the role of the physical sciences in development, with panelists from the International Committee for Science (ICSU), the OECD’s Global Science Forum, and the Third World Academy of Sciences/ICTP.
There are two further items on the agenda relating to the same theme. ICSU has had its General Assembly only a week before ours. At that meeting, sustainable development was a major theme. Bernard Frois, Chair of C-12 (Nuclear Physics), took part in a forum on energy and discussed as an individual, not as a representative of IUPAP, the possible role of nuclear power in developing the carbon-free sustainable energy required for the future. Our President Designate, Yves Petroff, was the official representative of IUPAP at this meeting and both Frois and Petroff will give brief reports.
Sustainable Development and IUPAP’s possible role is a major item of discussion for this General Assembly because it is becoming every more important for the future of humanity, and the physicists, as represented by IUPAP, appear to have played a relatively passive role. Some of us have been involved in various ways, but IUPAP has not made any significant efforts in this direction.
Physics lies behind much of today’s high-tech industry, lies behind much of what is in development for tomorrow’s technology in all areas (including bio-medical), and will be essential for the long-term advances required to fulfill the aspirations of the global society. Few outside our community remember that:
o The World Wide Web comes from the physics laboratories,
o Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Positron Tomography come from the physics laboratories,
o The Global Positioning System (including its essential general relativity correction) comes from the physics laboratories,
o The structure of biologically important molecules that allows targeted drug resign comes from the physics laboratories.
A somewhat larger group knows that:
o If fusion energy ever comes into broad use as a carbon-free source it will have come from the physics laboratories.
o If nuclear waste transmutation is a success, that success will come from the physics laboratories.
o If quantum computing or molecular memories become realities it will be because of the physics laboratories.
However, the essential role that the physical sciences must play does not receive much attention. The focus of such meetings as the recent World Forum on Sustainable Development has been almost exclusively on the environmental issues, with insufficient attention paid to science and engineering developments necessary to accomplish these laudable goals in an effective manner. Everyone is looking for a “quick fix” to the world’s problems.
As far as physics is concerned, a long time typically passes between the developments in our scientific laboratories and the deployment of a technology in society. Times have changed radically since the days of Roentgen, when the first medical x-ray appeared within weeks of the discovery of x-rays. As the typical 20- or 30-year period passes, new developments leave the physics laboratory and become increasingly the province of the engineers and the industrial R&D world. This is the main reason that we appear to be relatively passive in the Sustainable Development arena though we continue to develop the science base for the things that will be necessary decades from now.
However, that doesn’t mean that the physics community has to stand aside from the more active part of the Sustainable Development movement. We could think separately of the two words, Sustainable and Development: Sustainability implies systems that can be widely deployed in a world of ten billion people without degrading the environment. Development implies facilitating the movement of the developing nations of the world up the economic ladder toward a better standard of living. Sometimes the two move together; sometimes they can be advanced separately.
IUPAP Commissions now aid the advance of physics on the international stage. Perhaps we might contribute even more were we to systematically endeavor to advance physics and physicists in the developing world. If a developing nation is to benefit from the science and technology available in the more developed world, it must have a proper cadre of educated scientists and engineers. These are the people that can take what’s out there in modern technology and systems, and properly adapt appropriate things to the needs of their own society.
Here, the physics community can have a larger role than it has had so far. Developing the scientific personnel required requires more than just educating graduate students and post-docs. If the developing nations are to build their own scientific strength, it is perhaps more important to develop genuine collaborations in areas of importance between scientists in the developing and developed world. This requires more than subsidizing journal subscriptions. It requires joint projects and requires scientists from the industrialized world to spend some time in the territory of their partners from the developing nations. IUPAP as an organization cannot do this; only the working scientists can do it. But, IUPAP can perhaps be more active as a kind of marriage broker. I believe that IUPAP should move in this direction. Doing so will take some serious thought and considerable work. Perhaps the delegates to this General Assembly might wish to come back to this issue.
Several times in the last few years, IUPAP has been asked to participate in the development of a code of ethics for science. This request is usually framed in terms of a commitment not to take part in certain areas of research – developing weapons of mass destruction, taking part in projects that will damage the environment, working on projects that will slow the development of poor nations, etc. These are what I call external ethical issues, i.e., matters concerned with the use to which science research may be put. The Council has so far decided that the issues posed were too vague for discussion by IUPAP as an organization.
There is a second dimension in ethics in science that I call internal ethics. It relates to how science is conducted. It is concerned with such things as plagiarism; falsification of data; exploitation of graduate students, post docs or junior colleagues; theft of intellectual property; etc. Like most physicists, I have thought that such things were problems in other areas of science. Those others needed codes of ethics while we were in good shape.
This view of our science as a kind of Eden before the intervention of the serpent has been shaken by two events that have come to light in the last few months that have certain elements in common. The first of these concerns the discovery of Element 118. Its discovery was reported in 1999 by a team of scientists from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the United States. The claim of discovery was withdrawn in 2001 when no one, including the original group, could reproduce the results. A few months ago, an internal investigation ordered by the Director of the laboratory, announced that the problem was not statistics or apparatus failure, but deliberate falsification of data by one member of the 15-person team that authored the original paper.
The second incident has certain similarities to the first. It occurred at Bell Laboratories, an institution at least as respected as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It concerned a series of papers published from 1998 to 2001 whose results no one else could reproduce. The papers spanned a broad range of important topics ranging from superconducting buckyballs to molecular transistors. An investigating committee appointed by the Director of the laboratory issued its report two weeks ago and found that 17 papers were based on data that had been manipulated or fabricated. Each paper had several coauthors and a total of 20 coauthors were involved in the 17 papers.
In physics, as in all science, we expect that the data behind publications are honestly come by. Experiments may be complicated, mistakes may be made, apparatus may malfunction, but those writing the papers are giving an honest account of what they found in the work that they carried out. All of us in science believe that the system is self-correcting. If some discovery is to be accepted, it must be reproducible. If mistakes have been made or if data has been manipulated or fabricated it will eventually be found out, as was the case in these two incidences. Scientific fraud was discovered, as it had to be, but the cost was a large amount of wasted effort by many people struggling to reproduce results that were not real.
While the system did indeed correct itself, these episodes call into question our complacent belief that dishonesty only occurs in other areas of science. This was naïve. These episodes should cause us to think about the role of cosigners of scientific papers. These two incidents had a total of 34 such cosigners, none of whom recognized that what they had signed on to was a fake.
This question, the responsibility of coauthors, is not resolved in any area of science. Simply asking that all authors have full understanding of all phases of an experiment is not possible in these days of increasing complexity in science. Complicated questions call for complicated experiments and sometimes these experiments require highly specialized expertise to make samples, build specialized instruments, etc. For example, some of the Bell Laboratory experiments required making molecular crystals that where at the very leading edge of what could be done. The person who made these was a coauthor and I think that proper. But that person did not know enough about the experiment to question the results. Whether others should have, I do not know.
This is not a simple issue and although I have seen several attempts to come up with a code of conduct, I have found none of them really satisfactory. This is something that IUPAP should consider addressing. A special Inter-Commission working group might be established to look at codes of conduct that have been developed and see whether there is anything out there that might be adapted by IUPAP in the name of physics. It may very well be that no one can come up with a satisfactory answer to this problem and we just have to take our chances that now and again falsified data will be presented to the scientific community and it will take much time and effort to sort it out and leave much disillusionment. However, creating a code is, I think, well worth a try.
IV. The State of Physics
Between General Assemblies, the Council and Commission Chairs have met in Geneva, Beijing and Mexico City. We heard the same message in each place – funding for long-term research is either flat or declining, undergraduate enrollment in physics is declining, and graduate students are moving toward other areas. Perhaps the perception of our situation in physics is best described in the words of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who said in 1999, “The 20th century is the century of physics, but the 21st century will be the century of biology.” The flow of government funding in the U.S. and elsewhere certainly makes this look like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What has happened is a change in the geopolitical scene and the fading of memories. In the second half of the 20th century, physics was the premier science. It had arguably been responsible for winning the Second World War with radar, nuclear weapons, operations research, etc.; it had been the basis of a romantic space program; and it was recognizably behind the high-tech and computer revolutions.
When the Cold War ended, that all changed. Environmental concerns rose to public prominence and biology underwent its own scientific revolution. What we see now all over the world is a shift in public focus to biotech magic as a potential cure for all disease, and more and more emphasis on creation of environmentally benign technologies. Not much of this can be accomplished without the physicists and our friends the chemists. Dr. Harold Varmus, Nobel Laureate and former Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said very clearly that biomedical research could not progress far without support from the physical sciences. For example, the structural biologists use the physicist’s x-ray diffraction systems and synchrotron light sources to determine molecular structure; the chemists at the drug companies synthesize molecules to block or neutralize pathogens; the medical doctors treat the patients. This is the story of, for example, the HIV protease inhibitors that have dramatically slowed the advance of AIDS and it will be the story of other things that are in development now.
The economists know that in the industrialized nations half of all economic growth comes from new technology and that the new technology rests on a foundation of long-term research in the physical sciences. A U.S. National Science Foundation study showed that 73% of the “prior art” cited in industrial patents is from government-funded long-term research. In spite of all the evidence, funding for the physical sciences, mathematics, and computing has fallen in the decade of the 1990’s, and has not increased significantly in the last few years. In difficult economic times, one of the easy ways for governments to save money is to concentrate on the short term and cut back on items that will have a benefit only in the long term.
Physics needs allies to make its case for better treatment. There are potential allies among the biologists such as Varmus, and among the chemists. There is a potentially even stronger group of allies in industry.
In the U.S., the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is a 23-member group that advises the President on science-related issues. Industrial members dominate the current PCAST. It has just released a report recommending a sharp increase in funding for the physical sciences. I quote from part of the letter of transmittal:
“Inadequate federal funding for physical sciences and engineering hurts all scientific disciplines: … while it makes sense that biological and life sciences support has increased given fundamental advances in this field, and the heightened interest in health issues, long-term breakthroughs in biological and life sciences will rely on strengthening the physical sciences and engineering as well. Further research in these areas will be important for new developments needed in defense of our nation, and in the economic sectors such as semiconductors, advanced materials, and energy efficiency.”
“Declining federal support for science and engineering students jeopardizes economic growth: federal support for certain scholarships and fellowship programs as well as other opportunities to support U.S. graduate students in science and engineering has declined significantly. Representatives from IBM stated, ‘97% of the PhD’s who compose our nanotechnology research staff have degrees in the physical sciences…. The training of these people is largely sponsored by the federal government. …There is a dramatic shortage of people with the needed skills.'”
IUPAP could not have written it more forcefully.
Improving the state of the physical sciences must occupy more attention of the scientific community. We must emphasize what we will contribute more than what we have contributed. We have to excite the interest of students by talking of the romance and adventures of our science, not only in astrophysics, cosmology and string theory, but in quantum computing, molecular machines, harnessing the power of the sun, and so forth.
Included in the meeting book each of you received are papers by Peter Kalmus (C-11) and by Brian Petley (C-2). Kalmus’ paper is on the value of basic research while Petley’s is on the problems of communicating that value. I suggest each of you read these in preparation for discussion of the European Physical Society proposal on making the year 2005 the Year of Physics. If that comes to pass, it will be hard work to bring it off and IUPAP and all its members will have to play a major role.