CCNet TERRA 19/2003 - 30 April 2003

     "The biosphere is the most complicated of all the things we
     humans have to deal with. The science of planetary ecology is
     still young and undeveloped. It is not surprising that honest
     and well-informed experts can disagree about facts. But beyond
     the disagreements about facts, there is another deeper disagreement
     about values. The disagreement about values may be described in an
     oversimplified way as a disagreement between naturalists and
     humanists. Naturalists believe that nature knows best. For them
     the highest value is respect for the natural order of things.
     Any gross human disruption of the natural environment is evil.
     Excessive burning of fossil fuels, and the consequent increase
     of atmospheric carbon dioxide, are unqualified evils. Humanists
     believe that humans are an essential part of nature. Through human
     minds the biosphere has acquired the capacity to steer its own
     evolution, and we are now in charge. Humans have the right to
     reorganize nature so that humans and biosphere can survive and
     prosper together."
          --Freeman J. Dyson, The New York Review of Books, 15 May 2003

    The Washington Post, 28 April 2003

    CO2 Science Magazine, 30 April 2003

    CO2 Science Magazine, 30 April 203

    The Guardian, 28 April 2003

    The New York Review of Books, 15 May 2003

    Max Wallis <>

    Don Stockbauer <>

    Pavel <>

    Clark Whelton <>

     The Times, 29 April 2003


>From The Washington Post, 28 April 2003

By Louis Jacobson

Now that the war in Iraq has come to an abrupt end, a team of scientists
will soon be heading to southern Iraq to determine whether a desert
twice the size of Rhode Island can be turned back into the primeval
marshland it once was -- before Saddam Hussein drained it.

The marshlands of Mesopotamia, at the confluence of the Tigris and
Euphrates rivers, have long been revered both for their unusual wetland
ecology and for the 5,000-year-old culture of the Madan, or "Marsh

The marshlands may have been the inspiration for the biblical Garden of
Eden, and the Madan are thought to descend from the Sumerians, who
established humankind's first civilization.

As recently as the 1990s, the Madan were still using marsh reeds to
construct delicately arched dwellings on artificial islands and
waterways. They lived on fish and water buffalo that lived in the
marshes and exported the surplus to other parts of Iraq.

The marshes began to decline in the 1950s as dam-building in Syria and
Turkey attenuated the river flows, but the process accelerated
dramatically in the 1990s after the Persian Gulf War, when Hussein built
giant canals and drains nearby. Most believe Hussein drained the marshes
to punish the Shiite Muslims who lived there for opposing his minority
Sunni Muslim government.

Human Rights Watch, a private monitoring group, estimates that the Marsh
Arab population collapsed from more than 250,000 to perhaps 40,000 as
they were driven elsewhere in Iraq, escaped to Iran or, in some cases,
were killed by Hussein's regime.

During that time, about 95 percent of the marshland itself became a
crusty wasteland.

"You've seen those dust storms as the troops moved north through
southern Iraq?" said Suzie Alwash, a geologist who helped organize Eden
Again, the group that hopes to lead the marsh-restoration effort. "That
used to be the marshland. As U.S. forces crossed the bridge at
Nasiriyah, they should have been surrounded by 10-foot-high reeds."

Whether the project becomes a reality depends on how much funding and
other assistance is mustered by the United States, other countries and
the United Nations. But in a report to be released tomorrow, an advisory
panel of academic and government experts -- convened by Eden Again and
funded by a $200,000 grant from the State Department -- is expected to
conclude that some restoration is feasible, if the political will can be

During its discussions, the committee identified several technical
problems to be avoided. Panel member Thomas L. Crisman, director of the
University of Florida's Howard T. Odum Center for Wetlands, notes that
"wetlands are not like coffee, where you can just add water. You have to
add water in the right quantity, the right quality and the right

Because Hussein made data such as river flow rates a state secret, many
questions will remain unanswered until scientists reach southern Iraq --
in June, if the current schedule holds. The samples they take will help
determine which parts of the marshes are likeliest to recover, so that
rehabilitation efforts can be triaged.

For instance, Alwash said, some areas now have salt crusts two feet
thick, due to rapid evaporation of brackish groundwater. If new flows of
freshwater are not pumped through these areas at high enough rates, they
will become lifeless salt ponds rather than new marshlands. In addition,
some of the marsh areas were burned over, which may have left these
soils too alkaline or acidic to be reclaimed.

Another concern is contamination -- from industry, sewage, agriculture,
military detritus and even deliberate poisonings by Hussein's

Before particular areas are re-flooded, they must be tested for
contaminants. If toxins are discovered, those areas can be remedied much
more easily when still dry.

The sediment beds hold the key to the marshes' recovery. They likely
contain hardy seeds and nutrients that will become building blocks of
new marshes. This legacy can be supplemented, if needed, by replanting
reeds that have hung on in relatively untouched areas near the Iraq-Iran

All told, Crisman said, recreating Iraq's marshes will be an even bigger
challenge than restoring Florida's Everglades -- a multi-year federal
project that aims to remove 500 miles of diversionary canals and levees.
The key difference, Crisman said, is that the Everglades already has
both a robust inflow of water and an agreed-upon plan to fix the mess.
For now, Iraq has neither.

This problem underscores how the marsh restoration project melds
scientific challenges with political ones. Securing an adequate water
supply for the project will depend on establishing consensus not only
among competing interests in Iraq -- which includes such parties as
nearby farmers and oil executives -- but also with officials in Syria
and Turkey, whose dams still limit river flows into southern Iraq.

"The main constraining factor in this effort is the availability of
water," said Hassan Partow, a research officer with the U.N. Environment
Program, a Geneva-based arm of the United Nations that has urged
restoration of the marshes since 2000. "The country and the region is in
the grips of a water crisis, so it is a political question as well as a
technical one that will determine the scale of the restoration." The
U.N. agency, he said, plans to convene interested parties in Iraq to
discuss the issue by the end of May.

If such sticky issues can be solved -- and if contamination problems do
not prove insurmountable -- then Crisman believes Iraq's marshes can be
on the mend within two years. After five or six years, the reborn
marshes could "approximate the look and function of a natural wetland."

Eden Again isn't even venturing a guess of the price tag until
scientists on the ground assess the potential scope of the project.
Alwash said Iraq's low labor costs should keep costs much lower than
equivalent projects in the developed world, and some aspects can
probably be accomplished without building a lot of new infrastructure.

The even bigger challenge, most project advisers agree, will be
rehabilitating the Marsh Arab culture. Alwash says she expects many
refugees and even some westernized Iraqi exiles to return to the
marshes, but she adds that the know-how to build reed houses or catch
seafood in the marshes can evaporate in less than a generation.

"Never before have I been in a situation where the task involves
restoring a culture at the same time as an ecosystem," Crisman said.
"The scale of this is potentially mind-boggling."

2003 The Washington Post Company


>From CO2 Science Magazine, 30 April 2003

In an important and insightful paper published earlier this year in
Science, Chavez et al. (2003) reviewed the physical and biological
evidence for climatic fluctuations "with periods of about 50 years that
are particularly prominent in the Pacific Ocean," reporting that
"instrumental data provide evidence for two full cycles: cool phases
from about 1900 to 1925 and 1950 to 1975 and warm phases from about 1925
to 1950 and 1975 to the mid-1990s."

Based upon this cyclical temperature history, Chavez et al. suggest that
not only is a climate regime shift to cooler conditions likely sometime
soon, it may already be in progress. In reference to the 1976-77 regime
shift in the Pacific, for example, they note that "it took well over a
decade to determine that a regime shift had occurred in the mid-1970s"
and, hence, they suggest that "a regime or climate shift may even be
best determined by monitoring marine organisms rather than climate."

So what's their evidence for thinking we may already be in the early
stages of a major cool-down? Among other things, Chavez et al. cite
"dramatic increases in baitfish (including northern anchovy) and salmon
abundance off Oregon and Washington," as well as "increases in
zooplankton abundance and changes in community structure from California
to Oregon and British Columbia, with dramatic increases in northern or
cooler species."

Physical data to complement these biological observations were presented
by Freeland et al. (2002), who describe a recent "invasion of subarctic
water" in the northern California Current. Subsurface waters in an
approximate 100-meter-thick layer located between 30 and 150 meters
depth off central Oregon were, in the words of the authors,
"unexpectedly cool in July 2002." Specifically, mid-depth temperatures
over the outer continental shelf and upper slope were more than 0.5C
colder than the historical summer average for the period 1961-2000. At
the most offshore station, in fact, the authors report that "the upper
halocline [was] >1C colder than normal and about 0.5C colder than any
prior observation [our italics]."

Much the same thing was noted along the line that runs from the mouth of
Juan de Fuca Strait to Station Papa at 50N, 145W in the Gulf of
Alaska. There, as they describe it, "conditions in June 2002 [were] well
outside the bounds of all previous experience [our italics again],"
while in the summer of 2001 conditions were "already at the lower bound
of previous experience." Based on these several observations, Freeland
et al. concluded that "the waters off Vancouver Island and Oregon in
July 2002 were displaced about 500 km south of their normal summer

Recent observations on the other side of North America point to a
similar invasion of abnormally cold water. In a news item in the 24
April 2003 issue of Nature, Hoag (2003) reports that "more than 700
tonnes of Atlantic cod have frozen to death in chilly waters off eastern
Newfoundland." How chilly you ask? Hoag says that in early April "the
temperature of the water column in Smith Sound fell to -1.7C" and that
"historical temperature profiles from the region indicate that such
temperatures are very unusual for the sound." Indeed, to find a
comparable "fish freeze," Hoag had to hearken all the way back to 1882,
when millions of warm-water tilefish died off the northeastern coast of
the United States.

These remarkable marine water cooling events on both sides of North
America draw our attention to what happened to the continent's great
inland fresh waters in March of 2003. As reported in our Editorial of 16
April 2003, three of the five Great Lakes -- Superior, Huron and Erie --
all froze over completely. The last time this 100% triple-freeze
occurred was, well, never ... at least over the period for which
reliable data are available, i.e., 1963 to the present.

Yes, something dramatic is definitely in the works, as we opined at the
conclusion of our review of the Freeland et al. paper, where we
suggested it could well be a return to cooler conditions in the Pacific.
Now we are wondering if it might not be a return to cooler conditions
over an even wider area.

Sherwood, Keith and Craig Idso  

Chavez, F.P., Ryan, J., Lluch-Cota, S.E. and Niquen C., M. 2003. From
anchovies to sardines and back: multidecadal change in the Pacific
Ocean.  Science 299: 217-221.

Freeland, H.J., Gatien, G., Huyer, A. and Smith, R.L. 2002. Cold
halocline in the northern California Current: An invasion of subarctic
water. Geophysical Research Letters 30: 10.1029/2002GL016663.

Hoag, H. 2003. Atlantic cod meet icy death.  Nature 422: 792.

Copyright 2003. Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global


>From CO2 Science Magazine, 30 April 203

Willard, D.A., Cronin, T.M. and Verardo, S. 2003. Late-Holocene climate
and ecosystem history from Chesapeake Bay sediment cores, USA. The
Holocene 13: 201-214.

What was done
The authors "examine[d] the late Holocene (2300 yr BP to present) record
of Chesapeake Bay and the adjacent terrestrial ecosystem in its
watershed through the study of fossil dinoflagellate cysts and pollen
from sediment cores."

What was learned
The authors report that "several dry periods ranging from decades to
centuries in duration are evident in Chesapeake Bay records." The first
of these periods of lower-than-average precipitation, which spanned the
period 200 BC-AD 300, occurred during the latter part of the Roman Warm
Period, as delineated by McDermott et al. (2001) on the basis of a
high-resolution speleothem 18O record from southwest Ireland. The next
such period (~AD 800-1200), in the words of the authors, "corresponds to
the 'Medieval Warm Period', which has been documented as drier than
average by tree-ring (Stahle and Cleaveland, 1994) and pollen (Willard
et al., 2001) records from the southeastern USA." Other periods
consisting of several decadal-scale dry intervals span the years AD
1320-1400 and AD 1525-1650.

The authors say that "mid-Atlantic dry periods generally correspond to
central and southwestern USA 'megadroughts', described by Woodhouse and
Overpeck (1998) as major droughts of decadal or more duration that
probably exceeded twentieth-century droughts in severity." They further
indicate that "droughts in the late sixteenth century that lasted
several decades, and those in the 'Medieval Warm Period' and between ~AD
50 and AD 350 spanning a century or more have been indicated by Great
Plains tree-ring (Stahle et al., 1985; Stahle and Cleaveland, 1994),
lacustrine diatom and ostracode (Fritz et al., 2000; Laird et al.,
1996a, 1996b) and detrital clastic records (Dean, 1997)."

On another note, the authors find that "European colonization had severe
impacts on the watershed and estuary." Specifically, they note that
"after European colonization in the early seventeenth century, forest
clearance for agriculture, timber and urbanization altered estuarine
water quality, with dinoflagellate assemblages indicating reduced DO
[dissolved oxygen] and increased turbidity." In addition, they report
that "following peak limber harvesting between 1880 and 1910,
sedimentation rates increased two- to four-fold (Brush, 1984; Colman et
al., 2002; Cronin et al., 1999)" and that "several dinocyst taxa nearly
disappeared." Another such degradation of the coastal environment
occurred after 1950, when "dinocyst assemblage diversity decreased,
reflecting water-quality changes associated with increased urbanization,
greater hypoxia (Karlsen et al., 2000) and increased agricultural
nutrient input (Jaworski et al., 1997)."

What it means
This study does three important things. First, it demonstrates the
reality of the millennial-scale hydrologic cycle that accompanies the
millennial-scale temperature cycle that is responsible for producing
alternating warm and cold intervals such as the Roman Warm Period, Dark
Ages Cold Period, Medieval Warm Period, Little Ice Age and Modern Warm
Period. Second, it demonstrates that the global warming of the 20th
century has not produced unusually strong wet and dry periods,
contradicting climate-alarmist claims that warming will exacerbate
extreme climate anomalies. Third, it demonstrates that coastal waters of
the United States began to experience significant quality degradation
from the very first appearance of European settlers, providing addition
evidence for the hypothesis we describe in our Editorials of 12 March
and 26 March 2003, i.e., that the historical and ongoing worldwide
increase in sediment-induced stress, which includes the debilitating
effects of various nutrients and toxins of anthropogenic origin that are
intimately associated with and carried by sediments, is what is
predisposing today's corals to bleach more readily than they did in the
past in response to periodic increases in water temperature.

Brush, G.S.  1984. Patterns of recent sediment accumulation in
Chesapeake Bay (VA, MD, U.S.A.) tributaries.  Chemical Geology 44:

Colman, S.M., Baucom, P.C., Bratton, J.F., Cronin, T.M., McGeehin, J.P.,
Willard, D.A., Zimmerman, A.R. and Vogt, P.R. 2002. Radiocarbon dating,
chronologic framework, and changes in accumulation rates of Holocene
estuarine sediments from Chesapeake Bay.  Quaternary Research 57: 58-70.

Cronin, T., Colman, S., Willard, D., Kerhin, R., Holmes, C., Karlsen, A.
Ishman, S. and Bratton, J.  1999.  Interdisciplinary environmental
project probes Chesapeake Bay down to the core.  EOS, Transactions of
the American Geophysical Union 80: 237, 240-241.

Dean, W.E.  1997. Rates, timing, and cyclicity of Holocene eolian
activity in north-central United States: evidence from varved lake
sediments. Geology 25: 331-334.

Fritz, S.C., Ito, E., Yu, Z., Laird, K.R. and Engstrom, D.R.  2000.
Hydrologic variation in the northern Great Plains during the last two
millennia. Quaternary Research 53: 175-184.

Jaworski, N.A., Howarth, R.W. and Hetling, L.J.  1997.  Atmospheric
deposition of nitrogen oxides onto the landscape contributes to coastal
eutrophicaton in the northeast United States.  Environmental Science and
Technology 31: 1995-2004.

Karlsen, A.W., Cronin, T.M., Ishman, S.E., Willard, D.A., Kerhin, R.,
Holmes, C.W. and Marot, M.  2000.  Historical trends in Chesapeake Bay
dissolved oxygen based on benthic foraminifera from sediment cores.
Estuaries 23: 488-508.

Laird, K.R., Fritz, S.C., Grimm, E.C. and Mueller, P.G.  1996a.
Century-scale paleoclimatic reconstruction from Moon Lake, a
closed-basin lake in the northern Great Plains.  Limnology and
Oceanography 41: 890-902.

Laird, K.R., Fritz, S.C., Maasch, K.A. and Cumming, B.F.  1996b.
Greater drought intensity and frequency before AD 1200 in the Northern
Great Plains, USA.  Nature 384: 552-554.

McDermott, F., Mattey, D.P. and Hawkesworth, C.  2001.  Centennial-scale
Holocene climate variability revealed by a high-resolution speleothem
18O record from SW Ireland.  Science 294: 1328-1331.

Stahle, D.W. and Cleaveland, M.K.  1994.  Tree-ring reconstructed
rainfall over the southeastern U.S.A. during the Medieval Warm Period
and Little Ice Age.  Climatic Change 26: 199-212.

Stahle, D.W., Cleaveland, M.K. and Hehr, J.G.  1985.  A 450-year drought
reconstruction for Arkansas, United States.  Nature 316: 530-532.

Willard, D.A., Weimer, L.M. and Holmes, C.W.  2001.  The Florida
Everglades ecosystem, climatic and anthropogenic impacts over the last
two millennia. In: Wardlaw, B.R. (Ed.). Paleoecology of South Florida.
Bulletins of American Paleontology 361: 41-55.

Woodhouse, C.A. and Overpeck, J.T.  1998.  2000 years of drought
variability in the Central United States.  Bulletin of the American
Meteorological Society 79: 2693-2714.

Copyright 2003.  Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global


>From The Guardian, 28 April 2003,3604,944780,00.html

Tim Radford, science editor

You are more likely to die from influenza, malaria or even by falling
down the stairs at home. But that hasn't stopped the fear of Sars
escalating out of all proportion to the risks.

The new virus has killed around 260 people since last November. "In that
period of time, tens of thousands could be expected to have died from
flu and pneumonia," said Dr Peter Marsh, a social psychologist and
director of the social issues research centre at Oxford.

"We are used to health scares, but this has taken on a whole new scale,"
he said. The calculus of risk and fear is a puzzle for public health
authorities. Malaria, which kills a child every 30 seconds in Africa, is
a real threat to half the world. Tuberculosis is on the increase almost
every where; poliomyelitis cases have suddenly made a steep rise in
India, even though the virus is almost extinct.

In the last 20 years more than a score of newly identified infections -
from deadly Ebola fever to Lyme disease caught by ticks carried by deer
- have caused flurries of public alarm.

Humans tend to worry more about the unfamiliar and the improbable. "It's
foreign, it's eastern," said Dr Marsh. "The fact is that 260 people have
died. But for every Chinese person who has died, 10 million have not. In
an ordinary rational world, that sounds like quite good odds, but not in
this context. In this country, every year, 1,500 people are killed
falling down the stairs. The implication would be that people should
only be allowed to build bungalows."

The virus has been described as a "time bomb". There has been talk of it

"Once you have that kind of imagery," said Dr Marsh, "then rational
consideration, rational decision-making really goes out of the window."

Mary Burgess, a consultant clinical psychologist at University College
London hospital, saw a parallel with the early days of HIV. "This [Sars]
is a disease that is caught very specifically; you have to have specific
contact with people. But with phobias, people start to avoid going on
certain transport, or start avoiding certain groups of people.

"They are trying to contain their anxiety, and it can become phobic."

Anxiety tends to disappear with time. "You can inoculate yourself
against fear, if you sit down and work out what the risk is," Dr Burgess

Copyright 2003, The Guardian


>From The New York Review of Books, 15 May 2003

What a World!
By Freeman J. Dyson
The Earth's Biosphere: Evolution, Dynamics, and Change
by Vaclav Smil
MIT Press, 346 pp., $32.95

It is refreshing to read a book full of facts about our planet and the
life that has transformed it, written by an author who does not allow
facts to be obscured or overshadowed by politics. Vaclav Smil is well
aware of the political disputes that are now raging about the effects of
human activities on climate and biodiversity, but he does not give them
more attention than they deserve. He emphasizes the enormous gaps in our
knowledge, the sparseness of our observations, and the superficiality of
our theories. He calls attention to the many aspects of planetary
evolution which are poorly understood, and which must be better
understood before we can reach an accurate diagnosis of the present
condition of our planet. When we are trying to take care of a planet,
just as when we are taking care of a human patient, diseases must be
diagnosed before they can be cured.

The book has two themes, a major and a minor one. The major theme is the
description of the biosphere. The biosphere is the interacting web of
plants and rocks, fungi and soils, animals and oceans, microbes and air,
that constitute the habitat of life on our planet. To understand the
biosphere, it is essential to see it from both sides, from below as a
multitude of details and from above as a single integrated system. This
book gives a comprehensive account of biological details and a summary
of the global cycles of matter and energy that tie the system together....

The biosphere is the most complicated of all the things we humans have
to deal with. The science of planetary ecology is still young and
undeveloped. It is not surprising that honest and well-informed experts
can disagree about facts. But beyond the disagreements about facts,
there is another deeper disagreement about values. The disagreement
about values may be described in an oversimplified way as a disagreement
between naturalists and humanists. Naturalists believe that nature knows
best. For them the highest value is respect for the natural order of
things. Any gross human disruption of the natural environment is evil.
Excessive burning of fossil fuels, and the consequent increase of
atmospheric carbon dioxide, are unqualified evils.

Humanists believe that humans are an essential part of nature. Through
human minds the biosphere has acquired the capacity to steer its own
evolution, and we are now in charge. Humans have the right to reorganize
nature so that humans and biosphere can survive and prosper together.
For humanists, the highest value is intelligent coexistence between
humans and nature. The greatest evils are war and poverty,
underdevelopment and unemployment, disease and hunger, the miseries that
deprive people of opportunities and limit their freedoms.....




>From Max Wallis <>

Dear Benny,

I consider the forecasts of human-caused disasters by Astronomer
Royal Rees and his critics lie outside the interests of the CCNet.
Martin Rees does not cover NEO impacts, just dismisses this hazard. 
For what reason did you include the stuff on CCNet, not relegate it

Max Wallis
Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology tel. 029 2087 6436      
2 North Road fax 029 2087 6424      
Cardiff University CF10 2DY              

MODERATOR'S NOTE: Sorry Max, wrong again. In his new book (Our Final
Century. A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental
Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century - On Earth and
Beyond" - no joke, that really is the full title), Martin Rees writes
that "we are at greater risk from a massive asteroid than from plan
crashes" (p. 89) and then covers the impact threat on the following
eight pages. BP


>From Don Stockbauer <>

Dear Dr. Peiser,

It will take a much more efficient killer than SARS to undo the
population  bloom we currently have of 6 billion people, achieved on the
back of cheap, abundant fossil fuels.  As one country after another is
invaded and sapped for its oil, and no comprehensive sustainable fuel
plans are put into effect we face the Easter Island scenario of no fuel
and no place to go, and billions of people will die.  No need for
that "very unlikely" Earth impactor to do the job.  Of course, Humanity
could become a little proactive for once, and just might achieve the
Global Superintelligence it seems to be headed for, but gosh, at this
point one is not even sure which way to bet. Perhaps a starting point
would be for us to quit teaching our children that the accumulation of
wealth is the reason they were put here on Earth.


Don Stockbauer


>From Pavel <>

Dear Benny,

What does a political correspondant, chief or otherwise, know about
epidemiology? The same goes for a sociologist. I think you are out of
your depth here.

Given the facts that: No one is sure of the infectious organism or
organisms; the rate of lethality is greater than that of the 1918
epidemic; those who die are the young and healthy as well as the old and
frail; there is no reliable diagnostic test available at this point; the
virus may be mutating rapidly - you would have done better to refrain
from e-publishing Plague or Panic. Panglosses exaggerate in their own
way just as much as Cassandras, and your labeling of every crisis as a
'panic' seems to have become a reflex.




>From Clark Whelton <>

Dear Benny,
In yesterday's CCNET EXTRA, Molly Billings correctly reported that the
killer flu of 1918-19 was preceded by an outbreak of influenza in the
early months of 1918. Billings comments that "it was unfortunate
that no steps were taken to prepare for the usual recrudescence of the
virulent influenza strain in the winter."
The reason no steps were taken is because this earlier epidemic, though
highly contagious, had a very low death rate.  Patients ran high fevers
and were usually incapacitated, but the disease was rarely fatal. And
there were noticeably fewer cases in cities, which seemed to indicate
that urban populations were more likely to have acquired immunity to the
virus through earlier infections.  

But the relatively mild disease that struck in early 1918 did not
confer immunity to the deadly strain of influenza that appeared in
Europe in September of that year. Researchers still wonder where that
lethal flu came from. Did the virus of spring suddenly mutate into an
autumn killer that could literally strike people down as they walked in
the street? 
Thus far SARS has not shown itself to be as dangerous as earlier
epidemics. The "Hong Kong" flu of 1957, for example, killed 21,000
Americans and 7,000 Britons. Nevertheless, the attention being paid
to SARS is a prudent investment. Remembering the twin epidemics of
1918, we should be certain that our spring SARS epidemic is not the
precursor of something worse.
Clark Whelton
New York


>From The Times, 29 April 2003,,2-662867,00.html

By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent
THE Prince of Wales was ridiculed by Nobel prize-winning scientists
yesterday for raising fears that miniature robots could turn the world
into "grey goo".

Leading experts, including two of Britain's Nobel laureates, accused the
Prince of ignorance and scaremongering after he expressed his concerns
about nanotechnology.

The emerging science, which involves building tiny machines from atoms
and molecules, holds great promise for medicine and electronics, but
some environmentalists have suggested it could lead to the creation of
uncontrollable, self-replicating "nanobots".

The concept, which is dismissed by scientists, features in Prey, a novel
by Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park, in which robots copy
themselves, converting the planet into "grey goo".

Experts, however, criticised the Prince for giving such fears credence.

Sir Harry Kroto, Professor of Chemistry at Sussex University, who won
the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996, said: "Someone's had this
ridiculous idea about nanoscale robots that can replicate themselves,
and it's so far-fetched as to be utterly preposterous."

"It shows a complete disconnection from reality. He should take a degree
in chemistry, or at least talk to someone who understands it, rather
than reading silly books."

Sir Aaron Klug, of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, who
won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1992 and is a former President of
the Royal Society, said: "He's been reading too much science-fiction.
"I'm surprised that the Prince's advisers cannot distinguish between
science-fiction fantasy and what's actually going on in the scientific
Copyright 2003, The Times 

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