Our September/October 2006 issue featured our annual presentation of the TR35, our list of 35 noteworthy innovators under the age of 35.
Matthew Herren’s vision of enabling educational opportunities for young Africans is to be applauded for focusing on the most disenfranchised people in the world (“TR35: Young Innovators with This Year’s Best Ideas,” September/October 2006).
I believe there is a blind spot in Mr. Herren’s vision, however. He argues that many paper-based educational materials are far beyond the means of many poor families, and that the solution to this problem is to switch from paper-based media to electronically based media–and yet he doesn’t say how such a switch would reduce costs. Electronic delivery mechanisms require power, via battery or dedicated electrical-transmission lines. I can state from experience that the overwhelming majority of Africans have no access to electricity and could not power their electronic learning-delivery devices even if they could afford them.
I applaud Mr. Herren’s vision, but I think he may have more obstacles in his path than he might anticipate. Nonetheless, as your magazine so eloquently points out, true innovators are not discouraged by obstacles, and I sincerely wish Mr. Herren success in his pursuit.
Bel Air, MD
TR35 member Michael Raab’s bioengineering approach toward economical ethanol production, which centers on infusing corn with enzymes that will allow more of the plant to be converted into ethanol, needs the following modifications: transfer this work to common lawn grass, and politically mandate the periodic gathering of the clippings for ethanol production. Using every homeowner as a source for agricultural production would free up our croplands for more vital uses!
Thomas S. Stein
In reading your roundup of this year’s TR35, I noticed a lot of very interesting things in the area of neurology. However, I was disturbed that so many of the experiments you described used mice. Mice experience fear and suffer pain and death in the laboratory, and yet you never question whether it is ethical to use them. I won’t claim to know the right answer, but I do know that scientists must always question the ethics of their methods. If pursuing knowledge harms others, it is not acceptable to do it just because one can. I hope in the future you at least discuss the ethics of the means your TR35 use.
Why is youthfulness so important? What is wrong with just naming the 35 best innovators and, if they are predominantly under 35, commenting on it? The three Bell Labs inventors of the transistor were all over 35. This youth worship is ridiculous. How many times has a company appointed a seemingly young, lively, innovative, energetic, free-spirited senior executive or R&D specialist and then regretted it?
Jason Pontin writes, in his September/October 2006 editor’s letter, that successful innovators “appreciate failure.” It is true that development can be unrewarding if goals are set too low, and that setting goals higher increases the chance of failure. But if supposed innovators are familiar with and appreciate failure at a young age, beware.