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A selection of comments from our readers.

By | June 23, 2011

Climate Change and Health

While all of the problems associated with global warming can initially be countered to some extent in some, most, or all places given enough capital outlay for technology, etc., the basic problem this article[1. Samuel S. Myers and Aaron Bernstein, “The Coming Health Crisis,” The Scientist, 25:32-37, January 2011.] points out is that, at some point in time, if global temperatures continue to rise, there will eventually not be enough resources everywhere to handle things.

For example, the increasing incidence of malaria will eventually outcompete all of the public health management that society will be able to throw at it. Also, because humans, as well as all land animals, have limited behavioral and homeostatic mechanisms to handle higher and higher temperatures, there just won’t be enough resources to air condition every place, day and night, to preserve everyone’s lives.

Personally, I would rather pay for the large investment in technology to reduce the threat than to shovel our entire collective monetary futures into a futile battle.

Paul Stein
Oxnard, CA
pstein@cph3.com

Garage Innovation

It seems the deckis stacked fairly heavilyagainst the biotech equivalentof Hewlett Packard emergingfrom an innovator’s garage.

When Rob Carlson mentions in his Critic at Large article[2. Rob Carlson, “Garage Innovation,” The Scientist, 25:24, January 2011.]: “the line dividing do-it-yourself biology from a start-up company operating in a garage,” it sure hit home. I’m a degreed biologist who has discovered that it’s almost impossible to pursue my own research projects without a commercial shipping address. It’s pretty ridiculous that a physical address carries more weight than the expertise of the person purchasing the products. It seems the deck is stacked fairly heavily against the biotech equivalent of Hewlett Packard emerging from an innovator’s garage. Public safety is certainly a valid concern, but it’s disturbing how government is limiting access to technology and its tools in ever-increasing ways.

Chad Kimrey
Austin, TX
chadkimrey@gmail.com

Certification to do synthetic biology would probably result in a bunch of people running backdoor labs, paying slightly above minimum wage to uncertified technicians. The money to be made won’t go to most garage DNA bands except the lucky few; it will go to equipment and materials suppliers, as well as to the guards at the certification doors. The military might not like competition in its creation of designer pathogens but this is Pandora’s gift to all of us. Look to advancement in the forensics to catch such fellows.

Richard Patrock
Brackenridge Field LaboratoryAustin, TX
rpatrock@gmail.com

Synthetic Alcohol

I think David Nutt’s intentions[3. David Nutt, “Synthetic Spirits,” The Scientist, 25:23, January 2011.] about introducing synthetic alcohol substitutes are good, but I don’t think he’s thought through all aspects of his suggestion. I fear that the cure may be worse than the disease. If his proposal were adopted, we would have many cases of “wide-awake drunks.” Back when I was preparing to take the EMT exam we were warned never to feed coffee to a drunk because, “it doesn’t sober them up; it just creates a wide-awake drunk, and nothing is worse than a wide-awake drunk.”

I can imagine huge carnage on the highways if we create a large population of intoxicated people who think they’re coordinated and awake enough to drive while under the influence. At least the medical impact of alcohol consumption is self-inflicted; what about all those innocents killed by the users of these new designer drugs?

I’m certainly not advocating the long-term abuse of alcohol, but sometimes we’re actually better off with the devil we know. In this case I think we need to be really careful that the unintended side-effects don’t make things worse, rather than better.

Andrew Ostrom
Carlisle, MA
andrew@ostrom.org

Amend Affiliation Policies

Re: Wolf Frommer’s opinion piece[4. Wolf B. Frommer, “Opinion: Training home and away,” The Scientist News, January 25, 2011.] about institutional listing policies in papers by foreign postdocs: Student is enrolled at Institution X and takes a sabbatical at Institution Y in any country (or within the same country). Student brings salary support associated with Institution X, while the host lab in Institution Y is paying the research costs and, in some cases, even supplementing the student’s salary.

Is it not obvious that any subsequent manuscripts list each author’s affiliation, and that a visiting student be listed as affiliated with both Institution X and Y? Where’s the controversy? A stipend that precludes the student from listing the host institution Y clearly would be wrong. Listing only the host institution also would be wrong, particularly if such a requirement was stated upfront prior to the acceptance of the student at Institution Y.

Science is an international endeavor. The success of science is catalyzed in no small part by the borderless exchange of ideas. In terms of the issues we have to deal with as scientists, I can’t think of anything much more trivial than full disclosure of the institutions that an author is affiliated with.

Fred Schaufele
UCSFSan Francisco, CA
freds@diabetes.ucsf.edu

Kids Do Bee Research

ARLINDO71 / ISTOCKPHOTO.com

Re: your news article about kids publishing bee research findings[5. Richard P. Grant, “Research at Recess,” The Scientist News, January 28, 2011.]: Neuroscientist Beau Lotto deserves a Nobel nomination. His collaboration with 8- to 10-year-old children to design and conduct this research leads us to knowledge not just about bees but about the “bee-havior” of children. Lotto’s passion and belief in the capacity of children to learn free of institutional manipulation and control is inspiring. Play is hardwired into the hearts and minds of the young; kids are tuned in on the play wavelength. Consider the isolation of children in our classrooms, deprived of play, bred on a strict diet of academics. Without play children cannot learn self-direction, self-navigation, self-regulation.

Jeffrey Peyton
Founder, Play Tectonics.org
Richmond, VA
papertalker@gmail.com

Beau Lotto is absolutely right in understanding how kids should learn at times. Creativity is a big part of learning and of science. Play and child belong together for finding that way toward a happier life. Learning by precept has its place, of course, but learning by conception is, by far, superior.

Well done! May we all have learned something here!

Francien Verhoeven
Stettler, Alberta-Canada
francienverhoeven@yahoo.com

We want to hear from you. Please e-mail your comments, criticisms, or differing viewpoints to mail@the-scientist.com.

Correction: In the January 2010 issue of The Scientist, Anna Kashina was incorrectly described as an Assistant Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology. She is an Associate Professor of Biochemistry.

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