Letters from the June 26, 2004, issue of Science News

Theory and practice

Like physicists, mathematicians have always been divided into theorists and experimentalists (“Math Lab: Computer experiments are transforming mathematics,” SN: 4/24/04, p. 266: Math Lab). And, as with the physicists, the two groups of mathematicians have not gotten along very well. Still, in physics, there has always been an understanding that both groups are necessary, whereas during the past century or so, it has been possible to pretend that theorists are the only “real” mathematicians. I think this is a shame, and I hope both groups will try harder to get along.

Brian K. Schmidt
Carlisle, Mass.

I strongly agree that new computer-based mathematical tools are having a revolutionary impact. The article brought to mind the sensation caused in 1989 when the program Mathematica was first demonstrated on the University of Rochester campus to a standing room–only crowd of graduate students and professors.

Alan Oberst
Rochester, N.Y.

Old school

The Essential Oils Desk Reference lists cinnamon as one of the oils to use for diabetes (“Coffee, Spices, Wine: New dietary ammo against diabetes?” SN: 5/1/04, p. 282: Coffee, Spices, Wine). Coincidence? I think not. Ancient natural remedies are very effective if you use high-grade therapeutic oils. More testing should be done with natural “medicines,” even though this wouldn’t be profitable for the drug industry.

Tom E. Klassen
Noblesville, Ind.

Chemist Richard Anderson says that his research shows that all of cinnamon’s antidiabetic effect is in its water-soluble fraction, not the oil. In fact, some cinnamon oil–entrained compounds could prove toxic in high concentrations, he says.—J. Raloff

Too far out

It’s pitiful to see supposedly objective scientists fantasizing that there’s a “fact that life could be widespread” because they’ve found organic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in space (“Space Invaders: The stuff of life has far-flung origins,” SN: 5/1/04, p. 280: Space Invaders). Even if researchers found all the amino acids floating in space, it would be like finding a pile of bricks and other building materials and imagining they could form themselves into the Pentagon. This kind of thinking is not worthy of scientific endeavor.

David L. Bump
Flushing, Mich.

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