Irrational with money
Bruce Bower’s excellent article on “Simple heresy” (SN: 6/4/11, p. 26) showcases the blindness of mainstream economics. Namely, economics is often more like the weather than a game of dice: chaotic — with catastrophes, cycles and all manner of weird behavior. Yet economists continue to use statistical models that work “until they don’t.” So it is not surprising that investment strategies that use simple heuristics may do better than the pseudo­science of economists. Meanwhile, real science is not stymied by chaos, as climate science is now demonstrating.
Dick Burkhart, Seattle, Wash.

I have thought for years that economists and their ilk must live in some parallel universe where all decisions made by consumers are rational and well-thought-out, with reams of diligent research to back every choice. In my experience most people make decisions based on three simple rules. First, my coworker/neighbor/best friend has it and they love it. Second, it’s what I’ve always used and I see no reason to change. Third, it was on sale.
Michael Ellison, Clayton, N.C.

Social influence, minus the ads
Regarding Rachel Ehrenberg’s “A few master switches can rule a network” (SN: 6/4/11, p. 5): Cute article, but everyone seems to have missed the big point on online social networks. Most material posted on these sites is not read by anyone but the poster.

Go ahead, shove an ad onto Facebook at the 20 percent most effective nodes and it will be ignored by 99 percent of the recipients.
Flo Muller-Reed, via e-mail

Thanks from a new reader
I am new to Science News magazine. I discovered your publication by accident. It has been an enjoyable experience to read its contents at each arrival. I sincerely have found a far better understanding of “Science” and “science” [see “Textbook science defers to supremacy of Science,” SN: 6/4/11, p. 2]. Please continue your good work helping the layperson to understand his world.
Newton Quinn, via e-mail

The rough representation of the intersection of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden rifts in the map on Page 23 of “Death of a continent, birth of an ocean” (SN: 7/2/11, p. 22) is not as precise as current scientific maps of the rift. A wealth of literature suggests that the rifts avoid the strait between Arabia and Africa and instead meet in the Afar region.