Letters from the December 4, 2004, issue of Science News

Shouting about decaf?

As a decaf drinker, I found myself shouting, “What about caffeine”?” as I read “Coffee’s curious heart effects” (SN: 10/2/04, p. 222: Coffee’s curious heart effects). How can any report not, at least, mention its involvement or lack thereof?

Greg Tullo
Raleigh, N.C

Researcher Pertti Happonen suspects that caffeine was responsible for the effects seen in his study, but since Finns don’t drink much decaf, he couldn’t sort out the effect of the less stimulating brew.—J. Raloff

Pretty packaging

I was pleased to read that one of the most mathematically pretty sphere-stacking arrangements (the lovely 24-cell) occurs in four dimensions (“Oddballs,” SN: 10/2/04, p. 219: Oddballs). The nice thing about four dimensions is that, by letting time be one dimension and using a good three-dimensional computer-graphics package, the arrangement can be viewed on a computer.

Dan Ryan
Philadelphia, Pa

Tipping points

In “Original Microbrews” (SN: 10/2/04, p. 216: Original Microbrews), several statements regarding my archaeological-chemical research are inaccurate. Very good evidence for barley beer has been obtained, as my laboratory published in 1992 (SN: 11/5/92, p. 360). In short, calcium oxalate—known to brewers as beerstone because it easily precipitates during the course of making barley beer—was identified as constituting a distinctive residue inside a jug from Godin Tepe in Iran, dated to 3500 B.C. to 3100 B.C. With regard to wine, your article implies that tannins in ancient samples were preserved and identified. This is yet to be accomplished. Rather, our focus has been on biomarkers for grapes and wine (tartaric acid) and tree-resin additives to the beverage. Finally, whether the Schinus molle berries found in a trash pit close to the Peruvian “brewery” uniquely yield large amounts of oxalic acid and were used in brewing a beverage remains to be proved.

Patrick McGovern

University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, Pa.

Surely, you mean ale. Beer, in this country at least, is a hopped drink. Evidence of ale brewing is what Robin Birley found at Vindolanda. Beer didn’t appear in England until the late Middle Ages.

Ron Wilcox
Bath, England

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