“... throught-provoking images and no cover lines, appealing to our readers’ sense of curiosity ...” (Editor’s Notes, Sept–Oct/11).
I look forward to seeing this principle applied to other aspects of University life.
A library where all the dust jackets are blank except for “thought-provoking images.” By appealing to students’ sense of curiosity, we can get them to read all the books.
At uchicago.edu, only thought-provoking images without labels. By appealing to the viewers’ sense of curiosity, we get them to click all the links hoping to find what they wanted.
And when e-mails are sent, no subject line. Of course, the first thing we all do when we read our e-mails is to go first to e-mails that have no subject line.
P.S. I see you inadvertently printed topics from the Magazine on its spine. If you’re going to keep your readers guessing, you will need to blank the spine too!
Charles M. Cohon, MBA’05
Scientific method 101
Although the profile of Stanton Friedman, SB’55, SM’56, (“Science? Fiction?” Sept–Oct/11) does not substantively address the issue of the existence of UFOs, its serious treatment of Friedman cannot help but lend some unwarranted credibility to his theses. Those theses are not accepted in the scientific community because he violates several fundamental rules of critical thinking in the way he uses phenomenology to support a theory.
First, when some phenomenon cannot be explained by what we currently know, we do not thereby gain a license to make up explanations for it out of whole cloth. Speculations and imaginative hypotheses are a good place to start, but they must be rigorously investigated and established as facts before anyone can assert that some otherwise unexplained event in the sky equates to the proposition that UFOs are real.
Second, not being able to prove that something is false is not evidence that it is true. Third, given that a large number of unexplained phenomena have been observed, you cannot arbitrarily group the ones you wish into a subset; you either have to explain them all at once or one at a time. ... Grouping them is a circular exercise: the principal reason to group them in some way is to conjure up evidence for a thesis (such as UFOs exist) needed to justify the basis of grouping them. There is no reason to exclude the sock missing from your dryer as evidence of UFOs, if its absence can be explained by aliens in UFOs; most of us, however, look for more prosaic explanations, just as we should for lights in the sky.
Fourth, the attribution of things we fail to understand to the operation of an extraterrestrial intelligence lies at the root of religious thought, and amounts to a leap of faith, not a scientific description of any aspect of material reality.
Fifth and finally, scientific explanations must not merely account for what we observe, but should indicate what else we might observe that we have never looked for. If UFOs are really out there in the abundance hypothesized by Friedman, there surely should be other consequences of their presence, more common and verifiable than an occasional visual experience, which some subject cannot personally grasp. For example, they should be all over our radar screens (you can’t have it both ways, saying that unexplained radar events are caused by UFOs, but that UFOs cannot be detected by our radar).
In sum, I suggest that there are things we don’t understand in our world, but there is not yet any valid or compelling link between that realization and the suggestion that UFOs have anything to do with them.
Keith Backman, SB’69
Nice to know I’m not the only alum with an aluminum foil hat.
Sonja G. Foxe, AB’75
A refreshing and enlightening article on this dedicated man’s work; good to see it treated in a serious and thoughtful way. I have been hopeful that the publication of Leslie Kean’s book, UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go on the Record, would be a catalyst for a more scientific approach of the topic of unidentified aerial phenomena, so I was surprised and delighted to read the Friedman profile. Thank you.
Linda Paulus, AM’99
Aliens in flying saucers? If I write some books on fairies, will I get an eight-page article in the Magazine too? How about if I claim the earth is flat? (Really, walk outside, look around—looks flat! Who are you going to believe, know-it-all scientists or your own eyes?)
“Fusion! Every astronomer in the world knows that’s what powers stars, but they never give a thought to using it for a propulsion system.”—Friedman
Yes ... so on the first page, he betrays his complete lack of understanding of science and the scientific enterprise. ... We haven’t proposed it as a propulsion system because we’ve never managed to get more energy out of fusion than we put in. But this is the holy grail of energy research and is why, for example, we spent billions of dollars on the National Ignition Facility.
“There were three signs that soon these Earthling idiots would be moving out into the galaxy: V-2 rockets, atomic bombs, and radar.”—Friedman
Funny how the technology of his youth just happens to be the key to interstellar travel—except, you know, it isn’t. Galactic distances are measured in kiloparsecs (~3,000 light years). This place is friggin’ huge, and there’s no way you can travel through it in any reasonable amount of time. The maximum speed of a V-2 rocket would get it to the nearest star in a bit over a million years. Homo sapiens have existed for what, 10 percent of that?
David Syphers, AB’03
Give the guy an MBA
Although Stanton Terry Friedman was a student in the Division of Physical Sciences, I urge Chicago Booth to grant him an honorary MBA in recognition of his entrepreneurial and marketing skills, as demonstrated by his ability to earn a comfortable living promulgating nonsense for some four decades.
Peter Pesch, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60
Waiting for SETI
I found the article on Stanton Friedman most interesting. Friedman mentions Carl Sagan’s (AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60) disinclination to credit his “evidence” for UFOs. Although Sagan was, at least as an undergraduate, full of stories suggesting that alien visits had occurred several times over the centuries, I believe he wanted no hint of kookiness associated with his own work, and he was willing to wait for testable scientific evidence, e.g., via SETI, of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Roger Kelley, AB’54
San Jose, California
I enjoyed reading Jason Kelly’s “Lost and Found” (Sept–Oct/11); however, I enjoyed the accompanying photographs even more and believe Mr. Fourcher and his son, Mike, are owed a debt of gratitude. The photos have special meaning for me because I grew up in the West Side neighborhood during that period and recognized many friends, relatives, and places shown.
I was in my junior year in high school when these pictures were taken. My mother, who was in one of the photos, which showed her reaching for an unknown child, gave my sister and me to our great-grandparents years earlier when we were infants. My great-grandparents raised us, along with their ten grandchildren, because their one child passed away due to complications related to the birth of her last child. We all lived in a three-bedroom apartment on the corner of Damen and Washburne, which was within a few blocks of most of the locations shown in Fourcher’s photographs.
As the article correctly pointed out, having a camera for most of us living in that neighborhood was a luxury few could afford. Indeed, my great-grandmother and great-grandfather died in 1968 and 1972, respectively, and no one has any photographs of them. I saw photos of the first two grade schools I attended that were torn down before I finished high school; other than my mother, the friends and relatives shown in these pictures are dead. The photographs taken by Mr. Fourcher provided an opportunity to go back in time to see and remember some of the people and places I thought I would never see again. Looking at these photographs was important because the thoughts and memories I experienced—good and bad—were very therapeutic.
Melvin Houston, MBA’79
Sunlight is bad for books and worse for the human skin (“Librodome” Sept–Oct/11). And I had thought after the disaster of the Bibliothque Nationale in Paris every librarian and architect would avoid such folly.
Michael Andre, AM’69
James Vaughan, the Library’s assistant director for access and facilities, responds: The impact of sunlight on both books and people was carefully considered as the Mansueto Library was designed. The books are stored underground, away from any sunlight. To protect books and people under the dome, high-performance Low E glass was used, which filters out 99 percent of the light’s UV rays, rejects 73 percent of solar heat gain, and filters out 50 percent of the visible light. In addition, a ceramic frit pattern, applied to all the glass above 13 feet 6 inches, opacifies 57 percent of the glass area, increasing the values above.
Congratulations on the excellent profile in your Sept–Oct/11 issue of Ned Seeman, SB’66, and his pioneering of DNA nanotechnology (“Crystal Method”). One thing the author neglected to mention, though, is that despite the rather grim-faced photo of Ned, he is a really great guy.
Since nanotechnology is closely related to molecular engineering, let me add that I am very glad to see from this issue that the University is making excellent progress in developing the Institute for Molecular Engineering. But it is too bad that President Zimmer’s remarks on the institute (On the Agenda, Sept–Oct/11) refer to “the long-standing position of the University against having engineering.” This is a myth, though a widespread and remarkably persistent one. As Robert J. Storr documents in his book Harper’s University (University of Chicago Press, 1966), Harper felt strongly that the University needed an engineering school and tried unsuccessfully to obtain funding from John D. Rockefeller and through a possible merger with the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology).
In Max Mason’s brief presidency a merger with the Armour Institute was again investigated but rejected since funds would not have been adequate to create an engineering school of the same quality as the rest of the University. Ten years into Robert Maynard Hutchins’s presidency there was a chance for a substantial donation for an engineering school, and it was vigorously pursued, though the money ultimately went to Northwestern for reasons too complex to summarize here.
In brief, at least through the Hutchins administration, the University repeatedly sought funding for an engineering school. At no time in this period—and as far as I know, though I haven’t examined more recent archival records, at no time since then—did the University take a position against engineering; it was always a matter of inadequate funds.
Robert Michaelson, SB’66, AM’73
You’ve got to be f—ing kidding: a magazine from an institution of higher learning censors the word “n—r” when quoting one of this country’s icons (Course Work, “Counter Culture,” Sept–Oct/11)?
Philip Rogers, AB’86
Oak Park, Illinois
Our use of a dash to split the word “n—r” in Muhammad Ali’s famous quote, as we did with this letter, follows AP Style guidelines for “obscenities, profanities, vulgarities,” which is cross-referenced with “nationalities and races.”—Ed.
Press the flesh
I received my copy of the Sept–Oct/11 U of C Magazine and was very impressed with the new format.
I was, however, appalled when I saw the picture on page 18 of Dr. Allen Anderson, cardiologist and associate professor in the medical school, depicted examining the chest of his patient, Mr. Darryl Williams, with a stethoscope through his clothes (“Triple Transplant,” UChicago Journal, Sept–Oct/11). I am sure that my teachers at the U of C medical school would turn over in their graves if they saw this. From the first day of physical diagnosis training, medical students are taught to examine patients on bare skin and especially not to auscultate through clothing. I am sure that Dr. Anderson would draw and quarter a medical student or house officer if he observed him/her examining patients through their clothing.
This picture does not serve the Pritzker School of Medicine well, though the story is a great one.
Howard R. Engel, AB’51, SB’54, MD’55
South Bend, Indiana
Correction: pottery fragments are called sherds, not shards (“Shards Unseen,” UChicago Journal, Sept–Oct/11). Shards are are made of glass.
Jennifer Muslin, AM’02
Buffalo, New York
We used Merriam-Webster’s second definition of shard: “or sherd: fragment of pottery vessels found in sites and in refuse deposits where pottery-making peoples have lived.”—Ed.
He digs it
[“Shards Unseen”] is a really terrific piece—a U of C Peace Corps volunteer writing up brilliantly the archaeological work of a U of C grad student colored with the history of the place, the work being done, and the people both native and visitor (UChicago Journal, Sept–Oct/11). Well done, U of C Magazine. Well done.
Rochester Hills, Michigan
Differing definitions of “squeeze”
We know that median wages for individuals have declined or stagnated, so the growth seen here is from new workers entering the market (i.e., families adding another worker) or from government subsidies (“On the Up and Up,” UChicago Journal, Sept–Oct/11).
That doesn’t mean that the middle class isn’t being squeezed; it means that the response to the middle class being squeezed is adding more workers, relying on government subsidies, and dramatically expanding credit. As for the credit, as the author says, “If people are overspending their means, then eventually they’re going to underspend when they pay back debts or when they can no longer borrow.” In other words, they’re delaying another part of the squeeze for later. And those are just the obvious problems with the argument. It’s a great example of how little economists are aware of social context. It’s astounding that this counts as academic work. Also, the Magazine should label the chart as “household income.” It is misleading as it is.
David Schalliol, AM’04
We used Meyer’s labels on our graph.—Ed.
Seems squeezed to him
With no little irony, the last issue—which featured Steven Yaccino’s review of Meyer’s paper on a healthy middle class—arrived the same day as the Census Bureau released its report on poverty. Meyer, using his calculations to readjust inflation, found a rise in incomes, while the Census Bureau data reported a poverty rate of 15.1 percent—the highest since 1993—and 46.2 million Americans are now in poverty, the highest in 52 years of data. I cannot comment on Meyer’s methodology for recalculating incomes, but there are some key variables in this argument that were either briefly discussed or not discussed at all.
Using Census Bureau percentiles from 1989 to 2004, the bottom four quintiles of household incomes rose by single-digit percentages, while Federal Reserve data for the same period shows household debt rose by triple-digit percentages. Thus, stagnant incomes were augmented with precipitous increases in debt.
Meyer states that if people live beyond their means, “then eventually they’re going to underspend when they pay back debts or when they can no longer borrow.” Meyer is certainly correct, but this understates the situation’s seriousness. That debt must be repaid or defaulted on. If it is repaid (assuming no new debt, no job losses, no income declines), at present debt levels the economy will remain depressed for years. If households default, this places enormous pressure on banks’ balance sheets. With the magnitude of household debt, more banks will have to fail or be rescued. Neither scenario is welcoming.
We should be concerned over the disappearance of middle-class wealth. While Meyer points to the increase in a home’s square footage, this says nothing about the declining value of those homes, and home values create the bulk of middle-class wealth.
In this post–Boskin Commission era, inflation has likely increased more than officially reported, and the CPI assumes consumption is paid for with cash, not debt. There is no accounting for households paying interest on debt, and this creates a further tightening of budgets.
The solution is not to increase welfare, for individuals or corporations. Both have grown markedly, and the results speak for themselves. Rather, the only remaining solution is to drive healthy increases in self-employment. Even this is fraught with peril. Where will a middle class, with declining wealth, find the capital to launch businesses?
More details can be found in The Vanishing Middle.
E. L. Beck, AM’07
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Who really pays it back
Looking at Bruce Meyer’s data, I draw some different conclusions: (1) The increases he emphasizes mostly occurred between 1980 and 2000. (2) From 2000 to ’09, increases must have come from lower taxes and increased benefits, since pretax income shows little rise. This corresponds to and explains the years of large government budget deficits when Bush was president. (3) It took people in the 2000s many years to realize they should not increase their own consumption more than their income increased.
The statement “It all evens out when … they pay back debts” is misleading. They didn’t pay back the debts. We did when they defaulted! It is also worth considering what psychologists know: most people judge how “well” they are doing by comparing to others. That the upper class increased their income far more than the middle class during the years of the graph is certainly relevant. During that period, for example, the ratio of CEO pay to that of an average worker went from 35 to about 300. How can it be that “it doesn’t look like we’re going to leave [our kids] declining or worse living standards” when the income increase in the chart averages 1.4 percent per year for 30 years, but the tuition at the University of Chicago and other universities goes up far faster than that?
Douglas Duncan (former faculty)
Bruce Meyer, the McCormick Foundation professor in the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, responds: There is much more detail in the full paper that explains the full results and offers some qualifications.
One should keep in mind the distinction between secular trends and cyclical events. The last few years have been terrible for many families, as we have been in a severe cyclical downturn even though the longer term trend in income and consumption is favorable for both the middle class and the poor.
In terms of earnings (which the Magazine article does not cover), over the past 30 years there have been substantial increases in family earnings. True, some of the rise is due to more workers in the family. But this doesn’t explain the entire increase. The earnings of full-time working men, properly adjusted for inflation, has grown considerably. The earnings growth of men since the late 1990s has been very slow, but growth in the preceding few years was so steep that the changes since 1990 or 1995 are substantial. Earnings of women working full time have risen much faster than men. We are more likely to have two-earner families now, but couples spend much less time cleaning their homes and cooking than in the past, so that the leisure of families has increased.
In terms of inequality, while there have been sharp increases in the incomes for the top one percent and beyond, earnings inequality through the bulk of the distribution has increased only slightly in the last 20 years. Since 1990, the ratio of consumption at the 90th percentile to that at the 10th has risen only slightly, and consumption of the 10th percentile has risen relative to the median.
The discussion of people overspending their means is to point out the advantages of looking at consumption, i.e., spending on rent and food and the value of other goods and services consumed. Consumption is a more direct measure of well-being than income—it captures how people are living their lives. Consumption will provide some information on whether a family has their financial affairs in order, but income will not. Consumption at the median rose steadily until 2008 and has fallen since. For some groups we see a consumption drop that is greater than the income drop, reflecting declining assets, repaying debts, or reduced access to credit.
My favorite memory of a Doc projectionist’s dedication was the night Abby got her long red hair caught in the take-up reel (“Booth School,” UChicago Journal, Sept–Oct/11). To prevent either losing a hunk of hair or stopping the movie, she sat through that reel carefully following the reel round and round with her head. This would have been about 1970—those 16mm years.
Jim Jubak, AB’72
An alum goes clubbing
Doc Film was the first club I joined on campus in 1963, then Vista, Folklore Society, SNCC, SDS (if you don’t know what these are, go to a Doc Film showing of Rebel with a Cause).
Steve Goldsmith, AB’66
Round Table memories
The item about the radio program Round Table (Original Source, UChicago Journal, Sept–Oct/11) reminds me of an incident that occurred during the mid-1950s. At that time the Malayan peninsula, part of the British Empire, was being gobbled up by Communist insurgents. A Round Table session was set up to discuss the situation. The roundtablers were Hans Morgenthau, the very distinguished professor of political science and international relations, and Norton Ginsburg AB’41, AM’47, PhD’49, then a junior member of the Geography Department faculty, with George Probst, AB’39, AM’55, as moderator. Norton, who was my good friend and colleague, had as one of his specialties the geography of Southeast Asia. He went on to a chairmanship and deanship at U of C and to a distinguished career of his own.
Before going on the air, they held a discussion to determine the limits within which the group would operate. The other two turned to Ginsburg, so he could sketch out how the situation was developing. Norton said that things were going in Malaya like a slow meat grinder, but if the insurgents crossed the Isthmus of Kra, it would be a brand-new, losing, ball game. The Isthmus of Kra? Ginsburg explained that it is the narrow neck of the peninsula. After a bit of talk it was decided that the Isthmus of Kra would not be mentioned, as that involved a fair amount of technical explanation, and since this was radio, not TV, it would be difficult to bring the audience up to speed.
So the broadcast began, and at one point the discussion slowed down. Sketching the possible scenario became difficult. And then, in his inimitable, guttural German accent, Morgenthau said, “Uff course, if zey crross ze Izthmus of Krraa …” The three of them stopped in midflight, clutched their sides, and sat helpless with silent laughter. They managed to contain themselves, and the listeners must have wondered what was going on while about 30 seconds of dead air passed.
Robert J. Wolfson, SB’47, AM’50, PhD’56
Forest Hills, New York
You are probably receiving many comments like this, but I hate the new format. It looks like you were trying to economize, and you should have just admitted that cost savings was the reason for changes.
Problem number one is that the print is just too small to read comfortably. Did you test the print size with anyone over 45?
Problem number two is the pink paper in the Alumni News section. It looks cheap, and the print is also way to small. If you had just said we are using recycled paper to economize and be responsible, I would be happier.
Presenting the changes as a needed style update does not make me happy with your decisions.
Naomi Goring, AB’66
Sneads Ferry, North Carolina
The uncoated pink paper is not recycled, nor is recycled paper less expensive than unrecycled paper. Our paper is, however, certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.—Ed.
Give it an A
It’s great! Unique! Far superior!
Christopher Fama, U-High’81, MBA’91
Give it a C-minus
The editor writes, “For the University of Chicago Magazine, it was time for a makeover. When we last redesigned in 2002, styles were different, and nine years later our need for an update showed (Editor’s Notes, Sept–Oct/11).” I thought the University stands for substance rather than style. Congratulations on inventing New Coke.
Stephen Casner (parent)
Fort Lee, New Jersey
No small quibble
The font on the redesigned Magazine is too small for aging eyes.
David Sudermann, AM’67, PhD’73
Thanks to all who wrote in about the Magazine’s redesign. The complaint we received the most was that the new font is too small. The actual height of the letters has not changed, but we have reduced the leading, or the amount of space between lines of type. Art Director Guido Mendez notes that most magazines use type that is too small, but readers only notice when there has been a change. Pentagram partner Luke Hayman responds that too-small type “is the main complaint we get with every redesign, including those where we increase the size.” We appreciate the feedback and will continue to track reader responses.—Ed.
Who put the U in UChicago?
Congratulations on the new the University of Chicago Magazine. It’s not as shocking as the transition from U of C to UChicago, but impressive nonetheless. Content continues to impress too.
Maurice S. Mandel, AB’56, AB’57
Port Washington, New York
The change to UChicago has been tricky for us too, but we’ve come to see its value. The University picked up on what current students and recent graduates are saying, which reflects the University’s website, uchicago.edu. Plus UChicago better distinguishes us from the city, from UC–Berkeley, and from UIC.—Ed.
Please include pleas
You invited comments on the new look of the Magazine, so here’s mine: The new format is fine and the contents stimulating as always, but one thing is missing. In 100 pages (including the covers) one can learn how to connect via various social media and e-mail lists; enroll at the Graham School (twice); attend various events; order books; register for tours; and even invest in the endowment fund, but there is never a comment, a column, or a card inviting contributions to the University itself. What is in the Magazine would surely tempt potential donors and encourage those already giving to increase their commitments. Why is the Magazine so reluctant to do what just about every nonprofit I know of and receive publications from does, which is simply to request a contribution? As someone who has made a modest but regular annual donation just about every year since graduation many decades ago, I would like to see the University recruit others to do so as well, and where better than in the one attractive publication that reaches everyone?
Daniel Mann, AB’52
The University asks alumni and friends for contributions many times during the year, in mailings, in e-mails, in phone calls. The Magazine, like the publications produced by individual schools and divisions, is seen as a gift, not an ask. We hope readers enjoy it and that it helps to maintain an ongoing relationship with the University. Please note that there are ads soliciting gifts for specific programs. Give to the University at give.uchicago.edu.—Ed.
Another view of Soviet art
I thoroughly enjoyed “Illustrated Ideology” (July–Aug/11), which describes and depicts art in children’s books from the Soviet Union. However, I found myself to some extent in disagreement with its conclusions. The article seems to maintain that the art of Soviet-era children’s literature shifted from experimental and avant-garde in the 1930s to a realistic, government-mandated style that became standardized in the 1940s under Stalin, or, as noted on the cover, that Soviet-era children’s book illustrations shifted from fanciful to prescriptive.
But as I looked at the illustrations, and compared the illustrations from the 1930s to those from the 1940s, it seemed that such a distinction was not fully supported by the art that accompanied the article. Some of the illustrations from the 1930s seemed not only abstract but rather authoritarian and lacking in the human touch, while some from the 1940s seemed both human and humane, and illustrated children defining their own lives and confidently enjoying their culture. What’s not to like about gentle, people-friendly illustrations from Soviet children’s books of the 1940s, like the illustration of children enjoying New Year’s that appears near the middle of the article? Perhaps it’s partly a matter of selection, as I have not seen the Special Collections Research Center exhibit that is referred to in the article.
Caroline Herzenberg, SM’55, PhD’58
Breast might be best
Ruth Kott’s (AM’07) article about Joan Wolf’s (AM’92, PhD’97) book Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood brings up important questions about women as mothers in the 21st century, and I share her fundamental concern about women’s decision making (“Mother’s Milk,” Arts & Sciences, July–Aug/11). But I think she sets up a false argument.
Stating that “much of the research” on breast-feeding is flawed, Kott points to studies from the past 20 years that are not well controlled or have other methodological flaws. Yet she ignores a vast body of high-quality research which includes extensive meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials—such as a report prepared by an expert panel led by Stanley Ip for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Such research establishes overwhelming evidence for the benefits of breast-feeding and the risks of not breast-feeding.
At the same time, it’s true that breast-feeding is profoundly personal, and is one of the most intimate physical relationships women can have. So I am in complete agreement with both Kott and Wolf that the choice to breast-feed must be the mother’s.
Women should never be made to feel inadequate about their choices in how to feed their babies, manage their time, or keep their jobs. Ultimately, parents do the best that they can for their children—but from a policy perspective, parents need support for this sometimes overwhelming task. As the executive director of HealthConnect One, I have worked for more than 25 years with mothers in the most desperate economic situations, and I know well the barriers both to choosing breast-feeding and to being successful.
Two years ago, HealthConnect One gathered low-income mothers to talk about infant feeding experiences. We found that mothers were angry they had not been given information on the value of breast-feeding. They were angry they didn’t have support in the hospital or in the community to continue breast-feeding. And they were highly motivated to work for change.
I think the issue is not really about the evidence base for the importance of breast-feeding, and it’s not about legislating a preference for breast-feeding. Public health policy should make choosing to breast-feed easier. We need policies, environments and practices that support successful breast-feeding, so that every mother has the informed and supported choice to breast-feed her baby, and the help she needs to be successful—on her own terms.
Global warming questions
I have followed the global-warming/climate-change story for years, especially as it impacts our energy future, and must admit I am not yet able to fully accept the theses of studies and projections such as those that appeared in “Smoke Signals” (Investigations, July–Aug/11).
The article states that because a computerized model of the atmosphere was developed, “1974 was the last time anybody who understood the subject could say there were too many uncertainties to take climate change seriously.” When I was an experimental physicist working for the University of Chicago/Argonne National Laboratory on energy programs in the 1970s, we always considered theories and computer models to be hypothetical until verified, or proven by definitive measurements or observations.
I am not aware of any empirical evidence that can definitely prove that anthropological sources of CO2 in our atmosphere generate a significant greenhouse effect leading to climate change. The measurements I am aware of—namely meteorological weather balloons released to the atmosphere around the world every day—do not measure a significant warming effect as they pass through the CO2 collection zone (The Great Global Warming Swindle, directed by Martin Durkin, 2007). This is in direct contradiction to the computer models used for climate-change predictions. Hence my difficulty in taking climate-change models seriously. If there are sources of data that do in fact directly verify the model’s calculations, I would greatly appreciate someone pointing them out to me.
Otherwise I wonder if climate change is another example of dangerous “science groupthink” a la Lee Smolin and The Trouble with Physics.
Edward Bohn, MBA’76
Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, the Louis Block professor in geophysical sciences and in the College, responds: I would have hoped that a University graduate such as Mr. Bohn would get his information from the peer-reviewed scientific literature and not from sensationalized television pieces such as the one he refers to. In fact the scientific results that had accumulated by 1974 were not “just a model.” Rather the model was the embodiment of a vast array of laboratory and field measurements that confirmed the fundamental premises first put forth by Arrhenius regarding the connection between CO2 emissions and global climate disruption. Mr. Bohn can read about some of the basic physics in my January 2011 Physics Today article or, better, through the peer-reviewed papers collected in our book, The Warming Papers.
I will also take this opportunity to respond to Richard Janzow, MBA’63, whose letter in the Sept–Oct/11 issue claims that the smokestack picture accompanying the original article was misleading. In this, Mr. Janzow is echoing the laughable claim made in a coal-industry campaign to the effect that CO2 is not pollution (“We call it LIFE!”). Many naturally occurring substances which are in fact essential to life become pollutants when they are present in excessive quantities; this is the case for nitrates and phosphates from agricultural runoff which cause dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, and this is the case for CO2 which causes dangerous warming when too much enters the atmosphere (and dangerous acidification when this works its way into the ocean). Insofar as most smoke you see from smokestacks originates in burning of fossil fuels, it is fair to say that “where there’s smoke there’s CO2.”
Calling all politicos
I graduated U-High in ’49 and the College in ’52. One huge enriching and engrossing experience on the campus for me was Student Government and its related activities: elections, sessions, working for fair housing, combatting newspaper censorship, contending with very contentious views about national and international events. A campus-wide delegation to Springfield to testify and lobby against some threatened anti-free-speech legislation is still memorable.
I have often wondered how many of those campus “politicos” remained politically active in their adulthood. Yes, I know about Sandy Levin, AB’52. How many others?
In hopes of inspiring acts of personal responsibility as our homeland empire collapses, do check out 48south7th.org/6-NapalmLadies.html.
Joyce (Ellman) McLean, U-High’49, AB’52
Los Gatos, California
Department of corrections
In On the Agenda (Sept–Oct/11), we mistyped the name of the Consortium on School Research. In Original Source (Sept–Oct/11), we mangled Neil Verma’s title. Verma is a Harper fellow and collegiate assistant professor in the humanities. We regret the errors.
The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space, clarity, and civility. To provide a range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or fewer. Write: Editor, The University of Chicago Magazine, 401 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail: email@example.com.