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 was doubting my own decision. It was not an easy afternoon, and the end came only when everyone had allowed [like the honeybees in the article] “their enthusiasm to decay.” The end came abruptly, in fact, and correctly in my opinion.

I wonder if the jury system has not been deliberately designed to facilitate this behavior. But if so, by whom? Are 12 jurors an optimum number because 12 is so easily divided by four or three or two? I wonder if the law distinguishes gradations in offenses, not because criminals are sometimes “less guilty” or “more guilty,” but because juries cannot reach a decision if their only options are guilty or not guilty. Has common law reached preeminence precisely because it is an optimum, highly evolved decision-making process?
David C. Oshel, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Monkey business

The June 6 Science Past ( SN: 6/6/09, p. 4 ) says that on May 28, 1959, two monkeys were shot into space and successfully retrieved for the first time. Wrong! You are off by 10 years. Immediately after the war, Wernher von Braun brought several V-2 rockets to a proving ground in White Sands, N.M. My good friend, flight surgeon Dr. David G. Simons, designed a seat in the nose cone of a V-2 rocket to fit a monkey attached to instruments that measured blood pressure, pulse and respirations. In 1949, he shot a monkey into space and recovered the animal in good health. That same year, Dr. Simons spent 12 hours at the edge of space in a balloon. He proved that cosmic radiation was not [acutely] hazardous. Paul H. Ripple, Lancaster, Pa.

While we can’t verify Ripple’s assertion that the monkey sent to space in 1949 was retrieved unharmed, his letter certainly counts as a first: A request for a correction in an article that originally ran 50 years ago.  — Editors