Letters from the April 10, 2004, issue of Science News

Inaction verbs?

Regarding “The Brain’s Word Act: Reading verbs revs up motor cortex areas” (SN: 2/7/04, p. 83: The Brain’s Word Act: Reading verbs revs up motor cortex areas), did the researchers image the brains of disabled people who know the meaning of a verb but can’t perform the action, or of people without any disabilities who know the meaning of a verb such as “scull” but have never performed the action? It seems that without the above-mentioned types of tests, the researchers’ conclusion is a little shaky.

Michael Ellison
Clayton, N.C.

The researchers acknowledge that such studies should be conducted.—B. Bower

Friend in need

You don’t need all the elaborate experiments described in “Unsure Minds: People may not be the only ones who know when they don’t know” (SN: 2/7/04, p. 90: Unsure Minds). If you have worked at all with retrievers, you know the answer. A dog that is mystified as to the location of a downed bird looks to his pet human for help. The cocked head and furrowed brow say, “I don’t know, boss. Can you give me a hint?” clearer than any spoken words. The uncertainty is palpable.

Anthony Arnold
Novato, Calif.

Infecting the language

“Virus might explain respiratory ailments (SN: 2/14/04, p. 109: Virus might explain respiratory ailments) refers to a virus as a “microbe.” I think of a virus more as a seed or spore. What definition is Science News using for the word?

Neil Murphy
Walnut Creek, Calif.

Medical dictionaries differ in defining viruses as microbes. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary Eleventh Edition (2003, Merriam-Webster) says that viruses are “regarded either as extremely simple microorganisms or as extremely complex molecules . . .” Nevertheless, we’ll try to abstain from using “microbe” as a synonym for “virus.”—N. Seppa

Expect copycats

“Tailoring Therapies: Cloned human embryo provides stem cells” (SN: 2/14/04, p. 99: Tailoring Therapies: Cloned human embryo provides stem cells) details an advance in human-cloning efforts. The researchers charging into this field think that we should pass laws to keep others from abusing their research. Ha! Do they really think they can keep this genie in a bottle? If this keeps up, it won’t be long before people are cloning themselves and maybe genetically engineering their dream children.

David L. Bump
Flushing, Mich.

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