“The biofuel future” (SN: 8/1/09, p. 24) proved very enjoyable reading. However, the future and direction of biofuels will be determined by politicians, not scientists. Scientists seem to use crazy things like facts, research and logic to determine the most efficient way to convert plants to fuel. I find it incredible that we are now converting food-grade corn into fuel, when so many children in the world are starving. Seems like it would be better to swap corn for crude oil and feed people.
Richard Garon, Gonzales, La.
I very much enjoyed this article. I... (p. 34)
‘Black hole’ origins
“Black hole theory and discovery” (Back Story, SN: 7/4/09, p. 6) credits John Archibald Wheeler for inventing the term black hole in 1967. This is a very widespread choice, but it cannot be right. In January 1964, your ancestral publication, Science News Letter, carried a short article titled “‘Black holes’ in space,” which reported on a session at the AAAS meeting in Cleveland. Hong-Yee Chiu, who organized and chaired that session, remembers hearing the phrase from the late Robert Dicke in about 1960–61.
Virginia Trimble, Irvine, Calif.
... (p. 30)
Philosophers strike back
As someone who has taught philosophy of science and history of science for 30 years, I must take exception with Tom Siegfried’s editorial, “Philosophers don’t know what scientists can’t do” (SN: 7/18/09, p. 2). Of course, they don’t! But neither do scientists! Immanuel Kant and Auguste Comte were just as wrong about many things as their scientific contemporaries were. Categorical claims about the nature of the world and the nature of knowledge are risky and, as we know, often mistaken, but this is not the province of philosophers only.
David ... (p. 28)
After achieving two degrees in psychology, I concluded that the field is largely bereft of genuine insight and simple common sense, and that it masquerades as a science, with notable exceptions here and there. Articles such as “Tracing the inner world of suspicion,” (SN: 6/20/09, p. 11) confirm and underline psychology’s essential mindlessness. For one thing, the investigators cited in the article contrived a spurious category: that there is a personality given to forming conspiracy theories, and they can be identified by certain traits (none of whic... (p. 31)
Making tall or short of it
In your article “The genetic dimension of height and health” (SN: 5/9/09, p. 22), some medical consequences of being either taller or shorter than the median height of the study group are explained. To help us all extrapolate these findings to our own lives, don’t you think it would have been helpful to state what the average heights for men and women are for the general population?
Candy Shedden, Boca Raton, Fla.
Including information about average height was considered, but after trying and failing to find a straightforward way to do it, we d... (p. 30)
Lead or poverty’s later toll
Most toxic materials have the most deleterious effects at the earliest exposure ages, so I was puzzled by the study outcome in “School-age lead exposures may do more harm than earlier exposures” (SN: 6/6/09, p. 13). Did the study control for social and financial background? It would make sense for effects of background to be greater at age 6 than age 1.
Tom DuBois, strong>Glens Falls, N.Y.
Richard Hornung of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center says the study looked at socioeconomic status indirectly through maternal IQ and a standard meas... (p. 31)
On honeybees and jury duty
Reading “Swarm Savvy” (SN: 5/9/09, p. 16), I was struck by how closely the honeybee decision-making process resembled the internal dynamics of a jury I once was on. The “obvious” jury decision, in my not-very-humble opinion, was guilty to a lesser charge of non-aggravated battery, but I was surprised by how many moms and nurses wanted to acquit the defendant immediately — and how offended they were by my obstinate refusal to back down. The final result, when it came, was indeed guilty to the lesser charge, but by then I had been worn down and wa... (p. 31)
Astronomical art faux pas
Assuming they are in the Northern Hemisphere, those two young folk on the cover of the May 23 Science News look remarkably chipper while keeping astronomers’ hours. I make the time to be about 3 a.m. as a waning decrescent moon rises.
Dainis Bisenieks, Philadelphia, Pa.
The cover of your Special Astronomy Issue is a wonderful example of why we need more and better astronomy and science education. For instance, when seen after sunset the crescent moon looks like ) but before sunrise the crescent phase looks like ( .
Your cover illustration... (p. 30)
Tobacco for adults, cocoa for kids
I was interested in the report of cacao-beverage use by people of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico as early as A.D. 1000 (“Hot chocolate, with foam please,” SN: 2/28/09, p. 14). In the late ’50s, I and others at the Philip Morris Research Center looked at pipe samples from the Four Corners area (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah) dating from about A.D. 900. The pipes were submitted by archaeologists from the University of Arizona who wanted to know if tobacco had been used.
Initially, microscopy showed plant structures similar to tobacco and also ... (p. 30)
Hormones, milk and fat
I find it difficult to understand why the hormone content of skim milk is greater than that of 2% low-fat milk, which in turn is greater than whole milk (“Scientists find a soup of suspects while probing milk’s link to cancer,” SN: 3/28/09, p. 5). To the extent that 2% and skim milk are produced from whole milk, removing some or essentially all the fat, I would have expected the relation to be reversed. Is there an explanation for why the hormone content of milk increases as fat is removed?
Jerry Kerrisk,Santa Fe, N.M.
The researchers were just as... (p. 31)