Letters from the May 5, 2007, issue of Science News

Mere kats?

“Science behind the Soap Opera” (SN: 3/3/07, p. 138) shows that meerkats bear an uncanny resemblance to human beings. We, too, have an innate sense of responsibility for our group and individually commit acts of unspeakable violence.

John Hagerhorst
Frederick, Md.

Just a dram

“Natural-Born Addicts: Brain differences may herald drug addiction” (SN: 3/3/07, p. 133) describes an elegant study. I found the 7 percent addiction-susceptible figure interestingly similar to the 10 percent of people who drink alcohol who become addicted. I wonder if similar percentages of other species are impulsive and vulnerable.

Ellen Waggener
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Back to the future

“Fixes for Fatty Liver” (SN: 3/3/07, p. 136) mentioned choline as a possible treatment. This is not a new idea, as I found while searching the Science News Web site: In the June 22, 1935, issue, choline is reported as “a new aid in controlling diabetes.” Dr. C.H. Best, codiscoverer of insulin, reported the new finding.

Daniel Vance
Cleveland, Tenn.

The worst part

Among estrogenic pollutants (“Traces of Trouble,” SN: 3/10/07, p. 152), by far the worst offender is 17-alpha ethinyl estradiol, the most common estrogen in oral contraceptives used by tens of millions of women. This synthetic steroid is of necessity non-biodegradable, at least by human liver. Otherwise, it would not work as a pill.

Joel Brind
City University of New York
New York, N.Y.

But are they sopranos?

A better title for “Mafia Cowbirds: Do they muscle birds that don’t play ball?” (SN: 3/10/07, p. 147) might be “Mendelian Cowbirds.” By reducing the number of successful hatches and subsequent offspring of any parent birds that kick the interlopers’ eggs out of their nests, the cowbirds are (unintentionally) reducing the expression of that behavior in the next generation of potential foster families.

W. Gregory Stewart
Los Angeles, Calif.

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