The story of how a lunatic fringe science project became favored by Rumsfeld's Pentagon.
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About the Author
Sharon Weinberger writes regularly for the Washington Post magazine and Slate. She is the editor in chief of Defense Technology International, a new magazine that covers a full range of defense technologies. Previously she was a foreign service officer in the State Dept., a defense reporter for Aviation Week Group's Aerospace Daily & Defense Report, and a defense research analyst for Systems Planning Corporation. She blogs at www.imaginaryweapons.com
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Weinberger traces the politics of an unorthodox bit of physics which proponents claim could lead to a new superweapon, and detractors say violates the laws of physics.With a background in nuclear and physical chemistry as well as physics, I fall firmly in the later camp. As laid out in the book, the people who make funding decisions in the Pentagon do not share that education, and rely on Jack D. Ripper types whose paranoia lead them to chase fringe science like ESP, teleportation, and cold fusion.The book does an excellent job of tracing the political machinations behind the controversial program. The only reason I rated it down was that it was obvious that she had not gotten a physicist to look over her manuscript, and many of her explanations of the physics were just wrong enough to be grating. The average reader will undoubtedly cruise through these passages (which are few) without notice.
I used to work in one of the New Mexico labs mentioned in her book and am familiar with many of the cast of characters in her book- especially Forrest Agee who liked to be called 'Jack', Tony Tether and 'Uncle' Rummy. Sharon Weinberger did a supererb job of characterizing the individuals in the book. Joe Janni from the AFRL in New Mexico was our 'best man' and became head of AFOSR and personally selected Agee to head up the Physics and Electronics basic research for the Air Force. OOOH - there are so many more exciting stories to tell... Sharon Weinberger does a super job explaining how Tether likes to remind everyone 'there is no sin in failing at DARPA'. However, in my opinion, it is a sin for DARPA to fail the US taxpayer. 'High Risk' is important to invest in - DARPA used to have top notch scientists that had a good nose for ferreting out the good stuff to invest in. Nonsense under the guise of 'High Risk' is silly and has no chance of going anywhere - much worse than even winning the lottery. Sharon Weinberger does a great service educating the reader about the importance of funding good science and how our country depends on it. DARPA also points out in their program strategy that good research ideas have to have top notch people and lab facilities to do the research. Sharon does a great job of describing the 'barn' where the research took place. The web sites help too - they show pictures of Collins¿ lab. Perhaps in the second edition of the book Sharon Weinberger can include pictures. So where did the money go? Sharon Weinberger does a good job of discussing the 'renting' the Hafnium sample. Perhaps this is one area Sharon Weinberger could have done a bit better. I'm sure Tony Tether and the AFRL would just love to have another interview with Sharon on that matter. I'm sure the readers and taxpayers would love to hear more about that too. SDI is often called a 'brilliant bluff' - but at least it had science theory behind it and now some of the ideas are actually able to be implemented. This 'imaginary weapon' is not pure science - it is just pure nonsense - no science behind it - and it couldn't even be used to bluff. Sharon also does a nice job of explaining what others throughout the world thought of the research in addition to the JASONs. Only our high level government officials like Agee, Tether and Rumsfeld couldn't seem to tell the difference between real science and 'fringe' science - even when they paid the JASONs to look into it and they shot down the idea. This is one of the things the JASONs apparently claim they are good for - according to Ann Finkbeiner's book - which is also a quite a good read. It is so sad that even a lay person like Sharon Weinberger can get to the bottom of this issue, after two years of looking into it, where the high level Government Scientists could not (would not). Although she did not go into the technical details - Sharon Weinberger left a trail of publications easy for me to obtain and read for myself. I thought this was reasonable level of detail for her book. The book did a nice job explaining the jelly donut - a great explanation for both the physicist and the layperson to enjoy.