Letters from the February 24, 2007, issue of Science News
No piece of cake
The new mathematical method for equitable cake sharing (“A Fair Slice: New method makes for equitable eating,” SN: 12/16/06, p. 390) actually leads to a version of Zeno’s paradox. The problem is that the cake remnant left after the referee gives the two eaters their respective, equally valued pieces is no more likely than is the cake as a whole to be homogeneously desirable, thus creating the same problem in equitably dividing it as was faced in dividing the whole cake—and so on for all the successive remnants. The problem of infinite regress can be solved, however, by a simple revision to the procedure: After the initial, equitable cut, the referee eats the remaining portion.
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The paucity of comments received by Nature in its Web experiment confirms the obvious: Few scientists can afford the time for peer reviews (“Peer Review under the Microscope,” SN: 12/16/06, p. 392). Journal editors get paid for their work, so why not compensate outside reviewers? Furthermore, as professional rivalry is a genuine concern, why not eliminate the potential for bias by shielding the names of the authors until publication? Taking these two measures could expand the pool of peer reviewers, catch more faulty research and—just as important—improve the odds of publication for controversial-yet-valid research.
Beverly Hills, Calif.
I enjoyed learning about the journal Nature‘s experiment. Some federal agencies are implementing new procedures for peer reviewing scientific information used in making policy or disseminated to the public. Those “OMB Bulletin” procedures require a high degree of transparency similar to that used in Nature‘s experiment. While costly and controversial, the procedures have the potential to improve the quality of scientific information on which our government bases its most important decisions.
Natalie A. Roberts
Is the causal relationship between mood and immune system response so obvious (“Sniffle-Busting Personalities: Positive mood guards against getting colds,” SN: 12/16/06, p. 387)? Could not a healthier immune system cause a more positive outlook, rather than the other way around?