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Science Journalism Ethics: It takes a scientist

Andrew Maynard over at his 20/20 blog has been giving some pretty good lessons on science journalism lately. See here and here.

In the latter, Maynard relates how sometimes giving an expert perspective for an article can go bad and what comes out in printed form is just plain misleading. Maynard bravely takes responsibility for things going wrong in the piece he references.

But I think he is being too hard on himself, and at the same time a bit off the mark in his first piece, â''Blogging the demise of science journalismâ''. In this piece, in which he references Geoff Brumfielâ''s article in Nature, he seems to be arguing that we need journalists as opposed to scientists writing science news because they can provide a broader context.

I think it can be fairly argued that someone who had a passing familiarity with the subject they were writing onâ''say a scientistâ''would not have twisted the quote he references so that it contained a heap of misleading statements. Personally I would prefer to apply my own broader context just as long as I knew the information in the article was accurate.

In any case, Maynard offers a unique perspective on the subject being a scientist, a blogger and someone who regularly works with journalists. With all those balls in the air he hardly needs more to handle, but I think he should be teaching some classes at some of the science journalism schools that seem to have popped up everywhere over the last 20 years.

New York Renames Skyscraper 1 World Trade Center

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has decided to rename the future skyscraper being built on the site of the September 11 terrorist attack on New York City as 1 World Trade Center.

According to a report in the New York Daily News, the name Freedom Tower is out for the 1776-foot tall building that is expected to be completed in early 2011. The name 1 World Trade Center would more fully match the goal of the project, according to the Port Authority.

"As we market the building, we will insure that it is presented in the best possible way, and 1 World Trade Center is the address that we're using," said Port Authority (PA) Chairman Anthony Coscia. "It's the one that is easiest for people to identify with. And frankly, we've gotten a very interested and warm reception to it."

The new name should also send a strong message to those who are still alive who had any part in the despicable acts that leveled the original World Trade Center complex. And it could send an equally important message to Americans and their allies that the United States does not fear any possible attempts at retribution from its enemies.

New York City planners point out that, officially, the actual parcel of land the growing skyscraper sits on is 1 World Trade Center, according to its own maps, which record the property as a crime scene.

"This is a piece of real estate," said PA Executive Director Chris Ward. "It has an address. Legally, it is 1 World Trade Center."

That should go a long way to rebuilding the resolve of the American public.

The terrorists didn't hate us just for our freedom, they hated us for our trade with the world.

U.S. Government Rolls Out Plan to Invest in Energy Efficiency

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced a strategy to invest US $3.2 billion in energy efficiency and conservation projects.

Vice President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Steven Chu presided over a press conference in which they said the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program will provide funding for initiatives that focus on improving energy efficiency and reducing fossil fuel emissions at the local level. The plan will be financed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Obama administration's new economic stimulus package.

The DOE said the grants will support energy audits and energy efficiency retrofits in residential and commercial buildings, the development and implementation of advanced building codes and inspections, and the creation of financial incentive programs for energy efficiency improvements.

The initiative will also direct funds to transportation programs that conserve energy, projects to reduce and capture methane and other greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, renewable energy installations on government buildings, energy efficient traffic signals and street lights, deployment of district heating and cooling systems, and other similar schemes.

"These investments will save taxpayer dollars and create jobs in communities around the country," said Biden. "Local leaders will have the flexibility in how they put these resources to work; but we will hold them accountable for making the investments quickly and wisely to spur the local economy and cut energy use."

To make sure the funding is used responsibly, the DOE intends to require grant recipients to report on the number of jobs maintained, energy saved, renewable energy capacity installed, greenhouse gas emissions reduced, and finances leveraged.

"The funding will be used for the cheapest, cleanest, and most reliable energy technologies we have â''- energy efficiency and conservation â''- which can be deployed immediately," said Chu. "The grants also empower local communities to make strategic investments to meet the nation's long-term clean energy and climate goals."

Nanotechnology in the UK

Once I gathered myself up off the floor from my fit of hysterical laughter, I thought I should comment on the source of my laughing, a press release for a new report on the status of nanotechnology in the UK.

The bit that had me doing belly laughs was the juxtaposition of the phrases â''in-depth analysisâ'' on the status of nanotechnology in the UK and â''99 pagesâ''. Okay, I suppose if you wrote a pretty dense piece just on the research and commercialized products, 99 pages would go a long way. But one look at the table of contents finally sent my giggling into uncontrollable laughter:

1 INTRODUCTION

1.1 NANOTECHNOLOGY IN EUROPE

1.2 NANOTECHNOLOGY IN ASIA-PACIFIC

1.3 NANOTECHNOLOGY IN NORTH AMERICA

1.4 NANOTECHNOLOGY IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH AMERICA

1.5 NANOTECHNOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

I suppose sooner or later they will actually get around to giving an in-depth analysis of nanotech in the UK, but that may not be before page 79, leaving a scant 20 pages to sort it all out. I donâ''t know maybe itâ''s me, but I thought it was funny.

I also donâ''t know who wrote this report, but I have a theory that it may come from some UK-based outfit due to its insistence on the following argument: the â''UK has the world's first nanotechnology initiativeâ''. This thought reminds me of whenever I complain about the London Underground being cramped, without air conditioning and generally an unpleasant experience, I always hear back â''Yes, but it was the first in the world.â''

I would prefer the last in the world just as long as the mere thought of it doesnâ''t send shivers up my spine.

Different Messenger, Same Message for Nanotechnology Safety

It was reported today that the National Research Council has released a new book, Review of Federal Strategy for Nanotechnology-Related Environmental, Health, and Safety Research.

Apparently the NRC has discovered â''serious weaknesses in the government's plan for research on the potential health and environmental risks posed by nanomaterialsâ''. I guess Iâ''ll have to spend $32.75 to find out what those weaknesses might be. But one can safely assume that one of them may be that working out the toxicity of a particle based solely on its size is tough to do.

These reports come out every now and then (maybe more like a steady stream) from ever more substantial organizations behind each of them. But they all seem to arrive at the same conclusions that become with each repetition slightly more empty.

As TNTLog pointed out earlier this year, after reading a similar report from the Geneva-based International Risk Governance Council, "The report says the same as all the other â''riskâ'' reports since the first royal society one. Seems like there is nothing else to say!â''

I guess we know at this point not enough is known, we need to know more, more research needs to be done, more funding is needed to conduct the research. So could we now move on to the next part already?

Model Robot Takes to the Catwalk in Japan

The fashion world has a new face to envy. At five-foot-two, she may not measure up to her competition on the runway, but then she works for free and never complains about her diet, because she doesn't have one. She's a robot.

Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) demonstrated the new humanoid recently at a show during Tokyo's Fashion Week. The HRP-4C robot strutted her stuff alongside the world's most famous models, wearing a skintight silver and black outfit designed by her creators (which she actually wears all the time) that carries a price tag of US $2 million, according to a report from Reuters.

Her human counterparts have nothing to fear, though, from the upstart in their midst, as HRP-4C just doesn't have the elegant moves that they have down pat just yet. In fact, she's downright clumsy by comparison (see video).

"Our robot can't move elegantly like the real models that are here today," Shuji Kajita, director of humanoid robot engineering at AIST, told Reuters. "It'll take another 20 to 30 years of research to make that happen."

Even so, she's got a nice smile and an outgoing personality, enough so to charm an audience of cynical fashionistas. And that's real progress.

Regulations? We don't need no stinkin' regulations

Australia seems to be a real hot bed for nanotechnology in food debates.

They are up in arms about the potential for nanotechnology in food and food packaging even though one of the lead NGOs, Choice, has no idea whether there is any nanotechnology in either their food or their food packaging.

â''Choice says it does not know for sure if they are present in Australia but given the global prevalence believes they could already be on sale here in confectionery packaging, bottle coatings and PET drink bottles.â''

This is where I would like to see these debates start:

You understand that there are elements in the plastic of your food packaging right now that on their own would cause you to become ill if you ingested them in large quantities, right?

So, we want to talk about the risk of the final plastic products used in packaging, not in the individual ingredients that make up that plastic, okay?

Finally, since we are talking almost exclusively about nanoclays that serve as fillers for polymers when it comes to food packaging, we can be spared discussions about any other nanomaterial, correct?

What am I thinking? Thereâ''s going to be endless references to carbon nanotubes and fish and losing our privacy and a monolithic industry out to poison us for a profit.

You can imagine why the local industry representative, The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), in the Australian Food News article referenced above welcomes this debate.

Spacewalking Astronauts Unable to Install Cargo Platform

On their third and final spacewalk of the STS-119 mission to the International Space Station (ISS), astronauts from the space shuttle Discovery had to give up on trying to install a cargo container and have moved on to other business.

NASA announced earlier today that astronauts Joseph Acaba and Richard Arnold have "secured" the Unpressurized Cargo Carrier Attachment System in place but were unable to fix a balky pin that had been inserted upside-down by the crew of the last shuttle mission to the ISS.

So the pair of spacewalkers settled for tethering the platform to the space station to keep it from moving around. The space agency then ordered them to install a new coupler on the Crew Equipment Translation Aid cart and to lubricate the snares on one end of the space station's robotic arm.

Properly affixing the cargo carrier will have to wait for a future mission, as the STS-119 crew must now prepare to return home to make way for the arrival in the days ahead of a Russian-American crew of two, dubbed Expedition 19, aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.

Discovery is scheduled to undock from the ISS Wednesday, bringing back astronaut Sandra Magnus. Japan's Koichi Wakata, who flew aboard Discovery will be joined later this week by Russian Gennady Padalka and American Michael Barratt from the Soyuz, which should lift off Thursday.

Colbert wins ISS contest but don't expect a Colbert Mars rover

Remember last month's contest to name the International Space Station's Node 3? Well, NASA has just been punked! Stephen Colbert takes the crown -- and by a long shot.

The Associated Press reports that Colbert took in 230,539 votes, beating NASA's most popular choice, "Serenity," which took a mere 40,000.

Now, NASA wants you to name the next Mars rover, but this time no write-ins are allowed.

Can you blame them?

Last month, NASA asked the public to vote to name the Node 3, the latest addition to the International Space Station. The site gave four choices that included the celestial-sounding names of "Earthrise" and "Legacy." And then there was the write-in vote.

Early on, the leading candidate was Xenu--an intergalactic dictator, according to Scientology. Not to be outdone by a mere supreme being, the guys at Comedy Central's Colbert Report rallied the show's followers to write-in "Colbert."

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Space Module: Colbert - Name NASA's Node 3 After Stephen
comedycentral.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

Out was Xenu, and in was Colbert.

But William Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for space operations, refused to commit to naming the Node 3 after Colbert (skip to 6:05 below for the relevant exchange).

A NASA representative told the AP that the space agency reserves the right to name Node 3, but will give "the most consideration" to the public's votes.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Space Module: Colbert - William Gerstenmaier
comedycentral.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMark Sanford

It seems NASA liked the response it got for the naming experiment. Now, the space agency is upping the ante by asking us to name none other than the next Mars rover.

Unfortunately for Stephen Colbert only NASA's pre-approved names are in the running for possible names for the next Mars rover.

The choices come from primary and secondary school children and include "Journey," "Wonder" and "Amelia."

The comedian's critics might be a bit disappointed as well. I'm sure many of them would not mind sending Colbert to Mars. [I know, cheap joke.]

Taiwan Surprise

On March 2, Intel and TSMC announced that they will â''split the Atom:â'' Intel will port its ultra-low power Atom microprocessor cores to TSMC, essentially licensing the IP to customers who will have their Atom-based designs manufactured by TSMC. This was a big deal mainly because Intel usually doesnâ''t share its painstakingly designed toys: Atom, its line of tiny x86-based microprocessors, was designed to be used in low-power applications and for that reason was never intended for power users. So it ended up in a lot of netbooks.

Now, Intel is offering TSMC the Atom for its embedded systems customers. The collaboration will let TSMC offer its customers systems on a chip built around the very low power Atom design, for use in devices like cellphones, set-top boxes and cameras. Intelâ''s giving TSMC everything they need, including process, IPs, libraries, and design flows.

Well, almost everything. Intel held onto its high-k metal gate process. Thatâ''s a bit like licensing the Big Mac without the special sauce.

But I was confused.

Wasnâ''t Atom expressly designed for the 45-nm process technology?

And didnâ''t Intel just about kill itself trying to squeeze its transistors down to the 45 nm node?

The answer to both of my rhetorical questions, by the way, is yes. Recall that the diet plan that got Intelâ''s transistors squeezing into their 45-nm skinny jeans was the high-k metal gate process, based on a ground-breaking hafnium oxide (HfO2) gate dielectric.

The result was, and continues to be, impressive. In November 2008, an EETimes article painstakingly poked around the innards of Intel and AMD 45-nm processors and found that â''Intel's 45-nm high-K metal gate transistors have the best peak drive currents on the market with 1.36µA/µm for NFETs and just over a milliamp for PFETs.â''

So Intel is NOT giving TSMC HKMG? Isnâ''t that just a recipe for failure?

By the time I reached Intelâ''s spokesperson Chuck Mulloy, he had probably answered this question just one time too many. â''You are correct,â'' he e-mailed me, and I could read a heavy sigh between the lines. â''We are not sharing process technology with TSMC, or anyone else for that matter.â''

That raises a couple of questions, then:

1. How will the original 45nm HKMG Intel Atom compare to the 45nm non-HKMG Walmart TSMC brand? Letâ''s confine it to speed and power dissipation. Show all work.

2. Is there any logic circuit in the Atom that would not work without the 45nm HKMG process? For example, the Penryn's new FP division system is probably the only thing in it that would not work at an earlier node. Is there a similar situation in the Atom?

3. What will be the process technology of the Atom-based product? Since Intel has been shipping 45 nm products for a while, it is a matter of speculation if that will be the process technology node of the Atom-based product.

Despite knowing there was no way in h- e- double-hockey sticks I was going to get the answers from them, I went ahead anyway and asked TSMC spokesperson Michael Kramer*, and Intelâ''s Chuck Mulloy.

Mulloy: â''I can't contrast the power or performance because Atom is currently only built on our 45 nm process with high-K metal gate so there's nothing to compare it to.â''

To the question of what technology node TSMC would debut their off-brand Atoms at, Kramer* replied, â''We can not comment on the details of the technology node that Atom cores will be ported to, but you can assume that it is an advanced process node.â''

So Atoms, which are designed for 45-nm node process technology, are being ported to TSMC, which gets at best 10 percent of its business from customers that require the most up-to-date manufacturing technology (the rest is split pretty evenly between one-generation-behind and really older nodes like 90 and 130). And thatâ''s during a good year, which this is not (ASMLâ''s Bill Arnold told me that the $248 billion a year industry is down this year to an expected $200 billion).

But then, the big reveal!

â''I would also like to point out,â'' Kramer* continued, â''that TSMC has its own high-k/metal gate technology at the 40/45nm node.â'' [italics mine]

Did you know that? I didnâ''t.

About a billion papers for IEDM, ISSCC, SPIE, and the rest of the alphabet soup, have TSMC introducing HKMG at the 32 nm node (and in TSMCese, that means the 30 nm and/or 28 nm node. Letâ''s just pretend itâ''s 32. Now my head hurts.) â''TSMC and everyone else won't have high-k dielectrics and metal gates until 32nm,â'' Real World Technologies guru David Kanter confirmed later. â''For TSMC and IBM, that would be late 2009 or early 2010.â'' Kanter is an expert, and he kind of knows everything. Some kind of savant, maybe. So I almost trust his word over that of TSMC.

As you might imagine, I emailed Michael Kramer* immediately with a message that can be summed up as â''Say what now?â''

I havenâ''t heard a peep from the man since. I imagine him in the witness protection program, which would be rough on a Kramer* in Taiwanâ''heâ''ll have to wear a ski mask in perpetuity and have his vocal chords surgically altered.

As for the specifics of a 45-nm Atom microprocessor without Intelâ''s fabled high-k metal gate, Kanter says it is likely that without high-k metal gates, the transistors in TSMC-produced Atoms will run perhaps 20-30 percent more power consumption. â''But in some applications, you donâ''t care about that,â'' he says.

But then I went poking around on the interwebs some more and found this!

In December 2008, a paper published at EDSSC (motto: â''the other IEDMâ'') was called â''National Project on 45 to 32 nm Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistors for Next Century IC Fabricationsâ''â''by a university consortium in Taiwan! Which is working with TSMC!

When pressed, one of the authors, K.S. Chang-Liao, responded with great brevity: â''I will simply state the fact that this is a Project sponsored by MOEA, and work was done independently by professors in National Tsinghua University and NCTU and good discussion was underway with TSMC for adopting in using our IP.â''

The person who finally cleared all this up was Dr. Rajarao Jammy, a veteran IBM semiconductor insider who is now vice president of emerging technology at SEMATECH.

He basically told me to stop focusing psychotically on a single aspect of a complicated device. "In some senses, yes, there would be higher leakage,â'' he said. â''But it's not just about transistor leakage. There would be a whole range of other leakages and power related issues.â''

If you take the transistor itself, the leakage comes from many places. One might be junction-related leakage, threshold leakage, power dissipation from the metal lines themselves. All of this is power dissipation. Leakage is one issue, power is another.

The overall power management of the device comes from several factors. Gate leakage is only one of those. Controlling gate leakage, of course, helps keep overall leakage down--and Atom is one of those chips thatâ''s really aimed at really low standby power operation. However, when it comes to what kind of leakage a device maker, or rather an end-user might tolerate--it would all depend on the application.

â''The design cores could essentially be the same,â'' Jammy explained. â''How the system inside the chip operates might be the same, but they donâ''t necessarily need to be a mirror image of each other.â''

Chuck Mulloy has made it clear that the Intel-TSMC MOU isnâ''t clear yet on how their arrangement will function. It's possible that there are certain cores in the Atom processors that are going to be imported into another design TSMC might have. Different companies could be making their chips with Atom cores.

But, unlike most knockoffs, the chips will not be identical in every way.

Well, but regardless of whether my questions barked up the wrong tree, I still think it's interesting that TSMC has 45-nm HKMG but isnâ''t talking about it.

I wish you the best of luck, Michael Kramer!*

--

UPDATE 3/23/2009

After I posted this entry, TSMC released Michael Kramer from his carbonite prison just long enough for him to pen the following note.

Dear Ms. Adee,

My apologies for my late reply and I hope it's still useful to you.

Double-checking on the status of our 40/45nm HKMG took a little longer than

I expected.

While we have not put 40/45nm HKMG on our roadmap or made any official

announcements, we certainly have the capability to offer this if customers

have the need for it.

Having said that, unfortunately at this point we really can not confirm to

you whether the ported Atom SOC cores will use HKMG or not, or even if it

will be at the 40/45nm node. We welcome you to provide Spectrum readers

with your analysis and insight into the details of this agreement, but

again I apologize that TSMC can only say that the Atom SOC cores will be

ported to an advanced technology node.

Thanks again,

Michael Kramer

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