Reader letters : February 14, 2009

Goodbye structures
Though it is extremely regrettable and unfortunate that plastic museum artifacts are degrading (“Long live plastics,” SN: 11/8/08, p. 34), the ultimate demise of these pop polymers will not have dire consequences. The same statement can’t be made for all of the plastics that have gained common usage in the construction industry since the 1970s.

Plastics abound in modern construction. Many plastic items are sequestered in hidden places. PVC drain and vent pipes, Styrofoam and other types of plastic insulation, vinyl window frames, insulation on wiring, lighting panels and lamp globes — the list is extensive. When these plastics begin to degrade, what will be the effect on our quality of life and our economy? I’m rather gratified that I live in a ’60s house with copper plumbing and fiberglass insulation. My window frames are wood and metal. One concession to plastification is the venting system for a high-efficiency furnace. At least the pipe is visible so degradation is available to inspection. I have to wonder, though, about the piping in all those more modern buildings.
Dixie Luoma, New Brighton, Minn.

Don’t lose the notebook
Regarding “Many drug trials never published” (SN: 12/20/08, p. 14), the scientific method includes the tradition of carefully recording observations in ink in a bound lab notebook so they can’t be altered and must be considered in entirety.  It is sad that some “experts” follow the common misunderstanding of the method by repeating experiments and presenting only what they want.
Don Burnap, Rapid City, S.D.

Cannibalism’s many benefits
In the article “Cannibals have better babies” (SN: 11/22/08, p. 14), Susan
Milius discusses one reason for cannibalism: high-quality prey. Once spiders have mated, the priority of the female would naturally shift to the survival, and health, of herself and her young. These spiders live in an arid environment with a limited food supply. The males are almost as large as the females and would presumably eat as much. By consuming these late-arriving males, females would not only obtain a “nutritional boost” but would also eliminate a large competitor for the available food supply. The female would also have the added benefit of reducing the chances of successful mating for other females in the area. Fewer competing young would increase the odds of her young prospering.  
William C. Landis, Lancaster, Pa.

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