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Sunday, September 19, 2004

On being a scientist and missile defense... 

I am a scientist. So I can say with some (not a lot but some) authority when I say that being a good scientist or engineer really hinges on an attitude. You want to get 'up under the hood' of what ever problem it is that you study with the goal of being able to predict the future. Put another way, if you study bridges you want to be able to understand the materials out of which you build and the stresses bridges experience to be able to predict that, subject to everything you can think of, the bridge won't fall down. If you study the weather you want to be able to understand atmospheric chemistry/physics well enough to predict what it will do next.

There were in the past, and there are today, plenty of really bright, really insightful engineers who try to build better weapons and better protective measures against weapons. And, as fas as missle defense goes, they all say now we can't do it: that we don't know enough about missle propulsion ang guidance to be able to build rockets which will hit incoming nuclear missiles with any degree of certainty.

So why, you might ask yourself, is Bush insisting on going ahead with the deployment of anti-missile missiles? Certainly one possibility is strategic, some protection is better than no protection. But eqaully certainly missile protection seems little like protecting against sexually transmitted diseases: it may well be that implementing not effective defensive measures just serves to increase tension, making crises more, rather than less, likely. Fred Kaplan in Slate has some more guesses as to why the Bush administration has wandered down this particular path, and none of them make me happy.

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