Posts Tagged ‘Science’

Rounds Budget Ignores $29M Gap in Homestake Funding

Posted: Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 9:30 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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This week, reporter Bob Mercer declared that Governor Mike Rounds’s effort to realize Bill Janklow’s vision of converting the Homestake mine into a world-class research facility would be recognized as the greatest achievement of the Rounds administration. In a November 12 blog post, blogger Pat Powers pointed to the Sanford Underground Laboratory in Lead as “Mike Rounds’ one crowning achievement.”

The biggest jewel in Rounds’s legacy crown may have just fallen out. Last week the National Science Board decided to ax a $29-million grant that the National Science Foundation it oversees had authorized for the Sanford Lab last year. The National Science Board had lots of good things to say about the lab when they visited in September, But now board member Mark Abbott says the Department of Energy, other agencies, and perhaps international sources should fund the project instead of NSF.

The Governor has spent “countless hours on the phone” with Washington trying to fix this funding flop. Losing those funds would be bad for the lab, even in the short-term. Governor Rounds says at the very least, the scientists at the lab need steady funding for job security. Ron Wheeler, director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority that runs the lab, told legislators last month “We’re not looking for the (South Dakota) taxpayers to cover any more expenses for the authority.”

Comparison: Governor Rounds has asked for a $39 million reduction in state aid to K-12 education.

The Governor already had to cajole the Legislature to approve $5.4 million in additional funding last winter to keep the lab afloat until the NSF funding was anticipated to arrive in May 2011. The disappearance of that NSF funding could create an ugly political situation in a legislature already being asked to cut K-12 education 5%.

Significant as this decision is, it is thus surprising that Governor Rounds made no mention of it during is budget address on Tuesday. His budget proposal includes a $10.6M reduction in the Science and Tech Authority in anticipation of the NSF grant:

The total recommended FY2012 budget for the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority is $8,960,000 in other fund expenditure authority and 5.0 FTE. A decrease of $10,639,023 in other fund expenditure authority and 65.0 FTE is being recommended because the National Science Foundation (NSF) is expected to take over the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) operations in the spring of 2011 [State of South Dakota Governor's Budget: Fiscal Year 2012, p. 47].

The National Science Board met December 1–2. Governor Rounds presented his budget December 7. It seems odd that the Governor would not address a significant budget setback for a project so important to South Dakota’s educational and economic development, not to mention the Governor’s “legacy.”

I share the Governor’s desire to see this project go forward. I sincerely hope that this governor’s greatest legacy may be a facility for the eggheads and intellectuals who too often get short-shrift in South Dakota culture.

But if the Legislature and South Dakota taxpayers aren’t going to be asked to cover the gap again, who’s left? We could hit T. Denny Sanford up again… but I have a feeling we’re going to enjoy the splendid irony of Republicans John Thune, Kristi Noem, Mike Rounds, and Dennis Daugaard working hard to win more money from Washington, D.C.

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possibly related:

While stopping all the tax hikes would be a good first step, this alone won’t eliminate the job-killing uncertainty hanging over our employers and entrepreneurs.

That’s why we need to focus on cutting spending and reducing the size of government. The American people want us to stop spending dollars we don’t have.

To do that, we need to start taking a long, hard look at the size and scope of government and find new ways to resist Washington’s urge to grow and to grow. Let’s do a better job of following the money and evaluating the effectiveness of government agencies [Kristi Noem, GOP radio address, 2010.12.11].

South Dakota geographically challenging?

Posted: Friday, December 10, 2010 at 7:36 am
By: Tim Gebhart
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It’s worthwhile taking a look at Wired.com’s piece and online picture gallery on the conversion of the Homestake Gold Mine to the Sanford Underground Laboratory, a physics lab that, among other things, will help look for so-called dark matter. Although the writer may grasp the science and uniqueness of the site, it may have left her geographically challenged. (The lab now also has financial challenges.)

According to the second paragraph of the story, the mine is “nestled in the town that inspired the HBO drama Deadwood.” Perhaps that is a bit of literary license (in a nonfiction piece) but as the writer also took some of the pictures with the article, she should know — as does anyone vaguely familiar with the area or the mine — it is located in Lead, not Deadwood. Although Lead and Deadwood adjoin each other, they are separate towns.

I also might not use the term “nestled” to describe the mine. As one of the pictures she took shows, much of the above ground portion of the mind is clearly visible on top of one of what passes for mountains here. (As an aside, my wife is from Lead and her father worked for Homestake until his retirement many years ago. The structure shown in that picture, known as the Yates Shaft, could be seen from their living and dining room windows.) And as the picture accompanying this post shows, nestled doesn’t do justice to the removal of millions and millions of tons of another mountain between the Yates Shaft and downtown Lead known as the Open Cut. The site of the original Homestake lode discovered in 1876, the Open Cut was abandoned from 1945 to 1983 when increasing gold prices led to mining it again and the relocation of the state highway adjoining it.

So I’ll give Wired and the reporter an “A” for paying attention to an undoubtedly unique science lab. But they may need to improve their sign and map reading skills. Of course, with the lab now being financially challenged, that may

Wikileaks, Persian Psychosis, and American Mullahs

Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 at 8:00 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Bob Ellis will surely consider this post treason as well.

Among the documents in the latest Wikileaks release is this August 1979 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran to the State Department. Deputy Ambassador Victor Tomseth, who was among the American hostages taken three months later, wrote home with some less than flattering observations on the Persian psyche. Tomseth remarked on the incompatibility of Ayatollah-style fundamentalism and reason:

Coupled with these psychological limitations is a general incomprehension of casuality [sic]. Islam, with its emphasis on the omnipotence of God, appears to account at least in major part for this phenomenon. Somewhat surprisingly, even those Iranians educated in the Western style and perhaps with long experience outside Iran itself frequently have difficulty grasping the inter-relationship of events. Witness A Yazdi resisting the idea that Iranian behavior has consequences on the perception of Iran in the U.S. or that this perception is somehow related to American policies regarding Iran. This same quality also helps explain Persian aversion to accepting responsibility for one’s own actions. The deus ex machina is always at work [Victor Tomseth, Deputy Ambassador to Iran, cable to U.S. State Department, 1979.08.13, as published by Wikileaks].

Hmm… fanatic faith clouding grasp of causality and consequences… why does this sound familiar?

The earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. … I do believe God’s word is infallible, unchanging, perfect [Rep. John Shimkus, quoted in David Gibson, "Bible Protects Against Global Warming? Energy Chair Hopeful Tells Us So," Politics Daily, 2010.11.27].

That’s Republican Congressman John Shimkus from Illinois, whose Lutheran (?!?) faith apparently tells him human actions don’t have earthly consequences. We can emit all the greenhouse gases we want without destroying the world. By the same logic, we could stop using crop rotation and no-till farming, or unleash biological weapons, or just throw a global thermonuclear war and not see crops fail or the world end.

Congressman Shimkus also wants to be chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Expect policy based on rejection of the conservation of matter and energy.

Folks who fret that President Obama is related to Muslims are missing the point. Considering what Ambassador Tomseth said about our Iranian friends, it’s the fundagelical Republicans who act more like the mullahs.

Bonus Causality Quiz: To restore your ability to recognize cause and effect, connect these dots.

…Shimkus and the Bible-believing skeptics of climate change have powerful allies in the emergent Tea Party movement, which in turn has extensive support for the oil and coal industry [Gibson, 2010].

Glowbull Warming and Scientific Decadence

Posted: Monday, October 11, 2010 at 10:46 pm
By: RadioActive Chief
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From his own scientific background and long-standing examination of the pseudo-science of glowbull warming, the Chief has avoided taking membership in the Orthodox Church of Gore-istic Climatics. This is yet another illustration of a decay of scientific quality under the impact of repeated dosages of politically-linked money. It’s also another example of a significant story absent from the US media (and the London Telegraph comes through again).

US physics professor: ‘Global warming is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life’

Harold Lewis is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Here is his letter of resignation to Curtis G. Callan Jr, Princeton University, President of the American Physical Society.

Anthony Watts describes it thus:
This is an important moment in science history. I would describe it as a letter on the scale of Martin Luther, nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door. It is worthy of repeating this letter in entirety on every blog that discusses science.

H/W is the start of the letter. Dr. Lewis becomes painfully explicit in explaining his point:

Dear Curt:
When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago). Indeed, the choice of physics as a profession was then a guarantor of a life of poverty and abstinence—it was World War II that changed all that. The prospect of worldly gain drove few physicists. As recently as thirty-five years ago, when I chaired the first APS study of a contentious social/scientific issue, The Reactor Safety Study, though there were zealots aplenty on the outside there was no hint of inordinate pressure on us as physicists. We were therefore able to produce what I believe was and is an honest appraisal of the situation at that time. We were further enabled by the presence of an oversight committee consisting of Pief Panofsky, Vicki Weisskopf, and Hans Bethe, all towering physicists beyond reproach. I was proud of what we did in a charged atmosphere. In the end the oversight committee, in its report to the APS President, noted the complete independence in which we did the job, and predicted that the report would be attacked from both sides. What greater tribute could there be?

How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’être of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs. For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.

It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

Lewis very specifically lists his problems with the current iteration of the APS, and why it is no longer a worthy representative of science, before going into his concluding statement (go to the linked article for all the Gore-y details).

APS management has gamed the problem from the beginning, to suppress serious conversation about the merits of the climate change claims. Do you wonder that I have lost confidence in the organization?

I do feel the need to add one note, and this is conjecture, since it is always risky to discuss other people’s motives. This scheming at APS HQ is so bizarre that there cannot be a simple explanation for it. Some have held that the physicists of today are not as smart as they used to be, but I don’t think that is an issue. I think it is the money, exactly what Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago. There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club. Your own Physics Department (of which you are chairman) would lose millions a year if the global warming bubble burst. When Penn State absolved Mike Mann of wrongdoing, and the University of East Anglia did the same for Phil Jones, they cannot have been unaware of the financial penalty for doing otherwise. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing. Since I am no philosopher, I’m not going to explore at just which point enlightened self-interest crosses the line into corruption, but a careful reading of the ClimateGate releases makes it clear that this is not an academic question.

I want no part of it, so please accept my resignation. APS no longer represents me, but I hope we are still friends.
Hal

Just in case some envirowackos want to claim that Dr. Lewis is somehow not qualified to offer this slap-down to the APS establishment, his C.V. gives the lie to that concept:

Harold Lewis is Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, former Chairman; Former member Defense Science Board, chmn of Technology panel; Chairman DSB study on Nuclear Winter; Former member Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards; Former member, President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee; Chairman APS study on Nuclear Reactor Safety
Chairman Risk Assessment Review Group; Co-founder and former Chairman of JASON; Former member USAF Scientific Advisory Board; Served in US Navy in WW II; books: Technological Risk (about, surprise, technological risk) and Why Flip a Coin (about decision making)

With over a quarter-century of teaching HS sciences, including physics, the APS’ actions smack of the attitude that gave an Italian scientist a very difficult political problem when he went against the orthodoxy of his day. THAT scientist was Galileo Galilei.

Any scientist that is unwilling to allow actively encourage scientific debate is unworthy of the name, and unworthy of the responsibility that he has presumed to take on to expand human knowledge about the universe in which we live.

Catangui Research Shows Bt Corn Promotes New Pests

Posted: Friday, September 10, 2010 at 7:01 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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South Dakota State University’s firing of entomologist Mike Catangui has struck me as odd from the beginning. The Extension Service advocates a regional standard for spraying soybeans for aphids. Dr. Catangui declines to advocate that standard, pointing to his research that suggests South Dakota farmers should follow a different standard. SDSU and the Board of Regents decline to continue Dr. Catangui’s employment.

Monsanto executive board member and SDSU president David Chicoine has provided no explanation for Catangui’s firing or for the university’s apparent violation of due process that could get the university in hot water again with the American Association of University Professors.

A professor is fired for expressing views based on his peer-reviewed, published research. It jsut doesn’t add up. That’s why I’ve kept wondering if this case is revealing the fruits of Monsanto’s corporate control over our land-grant university. Is there some way in which Catangui’s research could be damaging to Monsanto?

Stop right there. I rail against other conspiracy theorists for seeing plots and cabals (and liberal media monsters) where there are none. But we all see what we want. I may be looking for a grand design where there is none. Cantangui’s dismissal could well be just what the university said it was: “performance deficiencies” and insubordination. For all we know, Catangui may have mooned the boss.

So let me be clear: I have no documents to prove that Monsanto ordered Catangui’s dismissal. I only have some casual Googling and reading well out of my field that establish that Catangui’s research includes some findings relevant to a Monsanto product. I have pieces, but no finished puzzle… and not even evidence that there is a puzzle to finish.

But there are pieces. It’s a lot of science, so I’ll boil it down and then provide you with the bibliography.

Dr. Catangui has done research on the spread of western bean cutworm. This pest used to be no big deal. But since the introduction and widespread planting of Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt corn, western bean cutworm has been cropping up in higher numbers and in new places. Bt corn also appears to be an inviting home for corn leaf aphids. The western bean cutworms and corn leaf aphids appear to be benefiting from pest replacement: the toxins in Bt corn wipe out targeted competitor species, allowing previously minor pests to pig out and flourish. Monsanto and other corporations then trap farmers on a treadmill of new pesticides and seeds engineered to tackle the new pests… and all the while we dine on a revolving smorgasbord of tasty toxins.

Now Catangui isn’t the only guy saying these things, so one could argue that Monsanto wouldn’t benefit by targeting one professor in South Dakota. But Monsanto does have a history of going after small operators, and corporations do profit by maximizing every marginal percentage. And When Monsanto wants 100% control and zero competition, even one less set of critical scientific eyes on their products may be worth the effort. And hey, you don’t buy control of a major land-grant university for nothing.
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THIS is Change that we can REALLY use!

Posted: Monday, September 6, 2010 at 4:48 pm
By: RadioActive Chief
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As usual…another case of the London Telegraph going where no US mainstream media has dared to venture.

Obama could kill fossil fuels overnight with a nuclear dash for thorium

If Barack Obama were to marshal America’s vast scientific and strategic resources behind a new Manhattan Project, he might reasonably hope to reinvent the global energy landscape and sketch an end to our dependence on fossil fuels within three to five years.

What’s not to like about this one? Well, it IS kind of disconcerting to be in a position to [potentially] supporting an Obama initiative…but then again, it hasn’t happened yet, and since it depends on the other (technological) n-word (nuclear), the Chief is willing to be that B.O. will be no more likely to adopt this than he would be to embrace the original n-word.

There is no certain bet in nuclear physics but work by Nobel laureate Carlo Rubbia at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) on the use of thorium as a cheap, clean and safe alternative to uranium in reactors may be the magic bullet we have all been hoping for, though we have barely begun to crack the potential of solar power.

Dr Rubbia says a tonne of the silvery metal – named after the Norse god of thunder, who also gave us Thor’s day or Thursday – produces as much energy as 200 tonnes of uranium, or 3,500,000 tonnes of coal. A mere fistful would light London for a week.

Thorium eats its own hazardous waste. It can even scavenge the plutonium left by uranium reactors, acting as an eco-cleaner. “It’s the Big One,” said Kirk Sorensen, a former NASA rocket engineer and now chief nuclear technologist at Teledyne Brown Engineering.

“Once you start looking more closely, it blows your mind away. You can run civilisation on thorium for hundreds of thousands of years, and it’s essentially free. You don’t have to deal with uranium cartels,” he said.

Ooops. What would happen to the “uranium cartels”, to say nothing of the vast, wealthy, and dare one say influential oil iindustry? Anyone else think there may just be a BIT of opposition to this from those locations? (I’m just saying…you know?) As an object lesson in support of this observation:

You might have thought that thorium reactors were the answer to every dream but when CERN went to the European Commission for development funds in 1999-2000, they were rebuffed.

Brussels turned to its technical experts, who happened to be French because the French dominate the EU’s nuclear industry. “They didn’t want competition because they had made a huge investment in the old technology,” he said.

C’est la vie.

After explaining some of the technical aspects of thorium energy, and the prospects of at least one privately financed effort underway (in Norway), the piece from the Telegraph concludes:

Nuclear power could become routine and unthreatening. But first there is the barrier of establishment prejudice.

When Hungarian scientists led by Leo Szilard tried to alert Washington in late 1939 that the Nazis were working on an atomic bomb, they were brushed off with disbelief. Albert Einstein interceded through the Belgian queen mother, eventually getting a personal envoy into the Oval Office.

Roosevelt initially fobbed him off. He listened more closely at a second meeting over breakfast the next day, then made up his mind within minutes. “This needs action,” he told his military aide. It was the birth of the Manhattan Project. As a result, the US had an atomic weapon early enough to deter Stalin from going too far in Europe.

The global energy crunch needs equal “action”. If it works, Manhattan II could restore American optimism and strategic leadership at a stroke: if not, it is a boost for US science and surely a more fruitful way to pull the US out of perma-slump than scattershot stimulus.[Emphasis added]

Even better, team up with China and do it together, for all our sakes.

The Chief concurs.

Caterpillar crawls into the Hills

Posted: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 1:51 pm
By: David Newquist
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Bob Mercer was about the first news person in South Dakota to note that Caterpillar, Inc., will have an engineering and design center up and running in Rapid City by October.  This is probably some of the most important news for the state since the National Science Foundation selected the Homestake Goldmine for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory.

The story is still breaking on the South Dakota media, although I received notice of the press release from Caterpillar late yesterday from a journalism organization I belong to that sends out daily summaries of breaking stories.

None of the stories I read in either the national or state media went beyond the press release, although the Rapid City Journal did, apparently, interview the president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology who made some comments promoting his institution, claiming that an alumnus who works for Caterpillar was involved in the decision to create the Black Hills Engineering Design Center.  The press release makes note of Rapid City’s diversity of resources as a reason for situation the Center there, and the educators suggest that the attraction is that the company can tap directly into SDSM&T  graduates to fill the staff for the facility.  The problem with that explanation is that the research and development organizations, both corporate and government-sponsored, rely on talent from many institutions and geographical backgrounds for the critical development of products and services.  Caterpillar has two other engineering design centers.  One is in India, reflecting Caterpillar’s place in the global market.  The other is in Champaign, Ill., the site of the huge University of Illinois campus, and about 90 miles form Caterpillar’s corporate headquarters in Peoria.

If Caterpillar hopes to attract major talent for its research and development projects, it may have its eyes on the people that will be coming in to work with the DUSEL facility, now called the Sanford Underground Laboratory.  The Black Hills have long been noted as being a nice landscape and geographical environment in which to work, but the limited culture and intellectual climate has been discouraging.  The prospect of the DUSEL and the people it will attract has changed that.

Within recent weeks, Caterpillar has also expanded its interests in mining with a new venture centered on that activity in North Carolina, and with the expansion of its underground imaging technologies, with the acquisition of a company in that field.

Those rapidly developing fields of science and engineering may well make the Black Hills their center.  It’s like rocket science.  Only more difficult.

Russia, Pikas, Montana, & Everyone Else Hotter

Posted: Sunday, August 1, 2010 at 9:00 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Climate change? Yup (hat tip to an eager reader for much of this collection):

  1. Russia is experiencing its hottest summer on record. Wildfires this summer have scorched nearly 2.5 million acres—that’s equivalent to a fire wiping out all of the Black Hills, then having a prairie fire burn up all of Union, Lincoln, Minnehaha, and Moody counties. The Russian heat wave has also wiped out 24 million acres of Russian grain. (Compare: USDA says South Dakota’s total crop acreage this year is 16.5 million acres.)
  2. Of course, one hot summer in one country (even the largest country in the world) does not a trend make. Data from 300 scientists in 48 countries on ten different metrics saying it’s gotten warmer each decade since the then-record heat of the 1980s does. Read the new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I’m sure Don Kopp will be visiting your school to make sure your teachers cover this information.
  3. We can just turn up the air conditioner: the American pika has to climb to cooler, higher ground. But mountains only go so high. As temps climb, the pika may become the second species added to the endangered list due to global warming.
  4. The Ice Age is ending: There were 150 glaciers in 1850 in the Montana area that is now Glacier National Park. The park is now down to 25 glaciers. But hey, at least the melting glaciers will help archaeologists find stuff.

BP, TransCanada Buy Same “Scientists”

Posted: Saturday, July 24, 2010 at 8:19 am
By: Cory Allen Heidelberger
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Classic Big Oil playbook: BP is trying to stifle science. As it rounds up experts to help build its defense against over 300 lawsuits stemming from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, BP is trying to get academics under contract not just to testify on their behalf, but to prevent them from offering any testimony for plaintiffs against BP. Those contracts include confidentiality clauses that would restrict scientists on BP’s payroll from publishing any research results on the oil spill for three years.

Hmmm… why kill all the lawyers when you can buy all the scientists?

Anyone care to speculate how many of the 3% of active climate scientists who still deny anthropogenic climate change have been similarly bought by Big Oil? Or how many of these educated folks who helped prepare the inadequate draft environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline may have contracts to ensure they never say a discouraging word about the designs of Big Oil?

Worth noting: Entrix, the consulting firm TransCanada paid to write the DEIS and lowball the risk of pipeline rupture, is also BP’s go-to team for environmental consulting. Also, one of the Entrix folks in charge of oil spill risk assessment in the DEIS has as her highest degree an MBA from questionable for-profit online University of Phoenix.

Women in Science

Posted: Monday, June 21, 2010 at 12:40 am
By: Ken Blanchard
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Renaissance Women ScienceWomen are under-represented in the “math-oriented” sciences.  That means such fields as physics, chemistry, engineering, and, I suppose, math.  The U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation to fix this.  John Tierney explains at the New York Times:

This proposed law, if passed by the Senate, would require the White House science adviser to oversee regular “workshops to enhance gender equity.”

That ought a do it.  As I am an academic, I can scarcely question the awesome power of workshops.  I’ve been funded to attend a few of them.  I can guarantee you that all of them make the world a better place.  But I have a few questions.

First: why is it bad that there are more physicists with a stunted y chromosome than physicists with a couple of x chromosomes?  Women are over-represented in biology and psychology.  Is that a bad thing?  I can’t see why it would be.  Of course, it doesn’t exactly enhance “gender equity,” unless you mean by that anything that benefits women at the expense of men.

Second: why are women under-represented in the hard sciences?  In a follow-up article, Tierney considers some of the usual suspects.  All the evidence suggests that women do not face significant gender bias when pursuing a career in physics or engineering.  There has been evidence in the past of an aptitude gap between men and women.  One study Tierney considers found

consistent evidence for biological differences in math aptitude, particularly in males’ advantage in spatial ability and in their disproportionate presence at the extreme ends of the distribution curve on math tests.

But female students seem to be catching up and passing their male counterparts in math and science classes.

The real problem seems to lie in two things.  One is that women have babies, and when they do they are more likely to sacrifice career for family than fathers are.  That is a social fact, and it isn’t clear what Congress can do about it.  Academia already does more than other industries to favor working parents.

Another problem is a difference in female and male interests.

The gap in science seems due mainly to another difference between the sexes: men are more interested in working with things, while women are more interested in working with people. There’s ample evidence — most recently in an analysis of surveys of more than 500,000 people — that boys and men, on average, are more interested in inanimate objects and “inorganic” subjects like math and physics and engineering, while girls and women are more drawn to life sciences, social sciences and other “organic” careers that involve people and seem to have direct social usefulness.

Perhaps, as Tierney considers, this might be due to nurture rather than nature.  On the other hand, it might not.  Lawrence Summers lost his job as President of Harvard because he dared to suggest that biology might be part of the reason for female preferences in science careers.

I will dare to say what he said.  It might well be the case that men and women are, on average, biologically oriented to different things.  It might be the case that this orientation has consequences for the distribution of sexes in the math-oriented sciences and in the non-math-oriented sciences.  We should do everything we can to encourage budding scientists of both sexes to bud, but maybe then we have to let the flowers grow as they will.  Whatever is wrong here, it is probably not something that Congress can fix.