In the first half, investigative reporter Peter Lance discussed his forthcoming book Deal With the Devil, which details how mafia capo Gregory Scarpa Sr., known as "The Killing Machine," served as an FBI informant. Because of his secret relationship with the Feds, he only ever served thirty days in jail despite his long record of racketeering and murder-- in fact, he is thought to be the most prolific killer in the history of organized crime. Lance characterized Scarpa Sr. as a kind of "one man counter-intelligence program" who maintained his relationship with the FBI for 32 years.
Interestingly, Scarpa's son, Gregory Scarpa Jr., was in the jail cell next to al Qaeda terrorist Ramzi Yousef in Lower Manhattan in 1996-7, and like his father, ended up working as an informant. According to Lance's research, some of Scarpa Jr.'s intelligence led the FBI to the discovery of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed who was hiding out in Qatar working on the 9-11 plot, but he escaped, and subsequently the FBI tried to discredit the treasure trove of intel Scarpa Jr. gave them. Having spent more than a decade auditing how the FBI deals with counter-terrorism and organized crime, Lance has concluded that the Bureau is resistant to change and still infected with a kind of pathology that dates back to the days of J. Edgar Hoover.
In the latter half, astrophysicist Mario Livio talked about how making scientific blunders is often a necessary part of the scientific process. Five of the greatest scientists in history have made large mistakes, he said. For instance, Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection was missing an understanding of how genetics worked, and Lord Kelvin (a prominent physicist) miscalculated the age of the Earth, estimating that it was 100 million years old. Further, Linus Pauling, the greatest chemist of his day, made an incorrect model of DNA, Fred Hoyle (the astrophysicist who coined the term 'Big Bang') believed that the universe remained the same, and Albert Einstein incorrectly removed the idea of 'repulsion' as a force in the universe. Einstein's blunder actually served as a prediction, and shows how such mistakes can prove useful, Livio pointed out.
Blunders in business have occasionally proved to be fortuitous as well, he remarked, citing how Post-it notes were invented by a company that was actually trying to make a stronger adhesive. Livio also spoke about various space and cosmology topics. In terms of astronomy, the James Webb telescope, scheduled to be launched in 2018, is eagerly awaited. It will not only show us the first galaxies in the universe, but it's hoped it will identify which exoplanets contain liquid water, he said. For more, check out Livio's weekly blog on The Huffington Post.
Bumper music from Tuesday May 21, 2013