Edgy approach

I feel that there is a major factor that nobody takes into account when modern people set out to replicate possible ancient voyages (“Erectus Ahoy,” SN: 10/18/03, p. 248: Erectus Ahoy). It is that they’re attempting to get from point A to point B, which they know exists, but ancient seafarers weren’t. Setting off from Timor on a 600-mile voyage without knowing whether there is any land out there seems like a terrific leap of faith. Even sailors in the Middle Ages were scared that they were going to sail off the edge of the world. Surely, Homo erectus would be.

Phil Buglass
Waynesboro, Pa.

Researcher Robert G. Bednarik says that from Bali to Timor, Stone Age seafarers could see across each sea barrier to the next island’s shore by climbing volcanic outcrops. He suggests that these experienced mariners also recognized indirect evidence of Australia, such as bushfire smoke carried on prevailing winds and the movement of birds and sea creatures.–B. Bower

Damned if it doesn’t

The proposed Policy Market Analysis (PAM) project might be useful if it sparks interest in market limitations (“Best Guess: Economists explore betting markets as prediction tools,” SN: 10/18/03, p. 251: Best Guess). The stock market may have quickly determined who was to blame for the Challenger disaster, but it didn’t predict the disaster. An unexamined problem with the PAM plan is the presence of a superpower that can game the system. Example: Will the Egyptian government be taken over by fundamentalists? If the market says yes, the United States may send troops. Traders know this, so predicted probability decreases, U.S. decision makers relax, resulting in a fundamentalist takeover. The market can make an effective prediction only if the superpower doesn’t act on the information.

Lyle Lofgren
Minneapolis, Minn


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