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Predators inspire poetry and fear
Regarding “Lopped off” (SN: 11/5/11, p. 26): One of the Tao Te Ching’s chapters (excerpt below) is very prescient on the unintended consequences of human behavior. It was written around 500 B.C., long before our innovative abilities threatened the entire planet. It is ironic that science both leads to innovations that cause the destruction, and now allows us to realize the full range of consequences.

Woe to him who willfully innovates
While ignorant of the constant,
But should one act from knowledge of the constant
One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Impartiality to kingliness,
Kingliness to heaven,
Heaven to the way,
The way to perpetuity,
And to the end of one’s days one will meet with no danger.
Carl Abbott, Santa Cruz, Calif.

Your article failed to quote or cite any of the fine poetry about vultures. The works of Atwood, Belloc, Kennedy and others touch on the scientific points you were making.

Vultures eat dead, bloated cows
So they won’t go to waste.
Thus making up in usefulness
What they lack in taste.
Dave Jordan, Brevard, N.C.

The author quotes Peter Kareiva of the Nature Conservancy: “If you could restore the balance of ecosystems — look at how many deer there are in the Northeast, and what a big problem they create for homeowners and everybody — would it be so bad if cougars came back?”

As a lifelong resident of the Northeast familiar with the deer issue — let me just say a resounding YES! It would be bad if we got major predators like cougars or wolves here. Children would not be safe playing in their own backyard. Small household pets are at risk now because coyotes have moved into the Northeast. And the issue with deer eating cottonwood trees that is a problem out west does not exist here in the Northeast. All we need to do is harvest more of the deer every year. We are the top predators here.
Kenneth V. Hoffman, Peace Dale, R.I.

How heads get holes
In the article “Incas not always hostile” (SN: 11/19/11, p. 16), it would be interesting to know how many of the skulls examined were trephinated. Since trephination was practiced for a number of reasons (including allowing egress of bad spirits in cases of illness and head injury), it is conceivable that the trephination was made directly over a depressed skull fracture. Since the trephinated bone would have been removed, evidence of the injury would have been lacking. It is conceivable that the 7.8 percent cited as the rate of war injuries is artificially low and that the Incas may have been more bellicose than this article would have one believe.
Stephanie Rifkinson, New York City

In the researchers’ analysis, skull surgery, or trephination, occurred on seven of 23 Inca individuals who suffered major cranial trauma, most likely due to warfare, and on 21 of 77 individuals who had minor, healed cranial injuries. Surgical openings were located adjacent to head wounds, sometimes partly overlapping with them, and were probably made after war wounds had been inflicted, the scientists say. — Bruce Bower


Charged up by lightning
If the lower part of a cloud is negative and the upper part positive, why does the “Lightning in 3-D” graphic in the story “Like a bolt from above” (SN: 11/5/11, p. 16) show the positive charge below the negative charge?
Bobby Baum, Bethesda, Md.

There is a great deal of variety in how a cloud can become electrified, and the graphic shows an instance in which electrical breakdown traveled from a region of negative charge toward and through a lower region of positive charge. We chose it because it represented real data for a flash that the New Mexico Tech scientists found intriguing. — Alexandra Witze


Thanks for science memories
I now am 85 years old and have — it seems like forever — been receiving Science News Letter and Science News since the 1940s. While I was an undergraduate zoology major at Houghton College in New York, each week I would post on the department bulletin board pertinent articles I had clipped from your magazine.  Now I want to thank you for the high-quality articles you have continued to print for more than six decades.
Wayne Frair, New York City

Iceman’s demise
The article “For his last meal, Iceman ate goat” (SN: 9/24/11, p. 8) makes the assertion that he was murdered. Science should not be about guessing. But, if I were to guess as to the way the Iceman came to his end, I would say he fell into a crevasse and impaled himself on his own arrow. As a hunter, he may have carried a single arrow in one hand and his bow in the other. Falling into a crevasse, he would have put his hand down to break his fall, putting the arrow below him. If he tried to pull the arrow out of his back, the arrowhead would have separated from the arrow and caused even more bleeding. Sometimes the truth is less dramatic than our imagination.
Will Willette, Lisbon Falls, Maine

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