Letters from the October 6, 2007, issue of Science News

Cat scam?

Oscar the cat possibly does identify dying patients (“Grim Reap Purr: Nursing home feline senses the end,” SN: 7/28/07, p. 53), but the story you printed presents anecdotal rather than scientific evidence and does not belong in a science magazine.

Julie Enevoldsen
Seattle, Wash.

Correlation is not causation. Could it not be that, somehow, Oscar the cat is killing these patients?

Jan Steinman
Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Bees’ killer

In “Not-So-Elementary Bee Mystery” (SN: 7/28/07, p. 56), the researchers postulate six reasons for the collapse of the bee colonies. The reason, in my opinion, is evident when considering the extensive use of insecticides throughout the world.

Wally McMillan
Palo Alto, Calif.

Walk this way

A simpler explanation for orangutans walking upright like humans (“Red-Ape Stroll,” SN: 8/4/07, p. 72) is that this feature evolved in a common ancestor that did not include African apes. In other words, orangutans, not chimpanzees, are our closest living relatives. This would make sense of all the similarities in sexuality, reproduction, physiology, anatomy, and behavior that are unique to humans and orangutans.

John R. Grehan
Buffalo, N.Y.

Numbers game

It’s certainly true that “[T]he most important factor that correlates with success in college is what is done in high school math” (“More math helps young scientists,” SN: 8/4/07, p. 78). But is the headline true? How about, “More years of team basketball makes kids grow taller”? That’s a strong correlation, too.

John M. Flanigan
Kaneohe, Hawaii

While some self-selection certainly happens—the kids who take more math tend to be those who are more proficient at it—long-term trends show that as higher percentages of kids have taken more math, those same kids have been more likely to graduate from college.—D. Castelvecchi

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