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Insights and opinions from our readers

Stopping the Spam

I read “Spam Wars” (TR July/August 2003) and now more firmly than ever am drawn to one conclusion. The only way to cure this cancer is to treat e-mail like snail mail: associate a fee with every message sent. I wouldn’t have a problem paying a penny, or even a nickel, for each piece of mail I send. Some unsolicited communications would still get through, but if the sender is willing to spend huge sums of money to send his messages, perhaps those messages are worth reading. Isn’t that what advertising is all about?

Richard Iredale
Lake Oswego, OR

It shouldn’t be difficult to write a program to log in to spammers’ sites and sign up for services with a bogus ID and credit card, and to repeat this action a few thousand times. If everyone who gets a piece of spam invokes such a program, the provider’s server will be effectively blocked from the Internet.

Gene Eplett
San Francisco, CA

For every technical fix there is a spammer’s workaround. One needs a social fix that makes spamming worthless. Here’s an idea: empower a federal agency with special credit card numbers with which to “buy” merchandise from spammers. Then, if banks automatically freeze withdrawals from the receiving accounts, spammers will find a financial disadvantage to using spam as free advertising. If they wanted some fraction of the money, they would have to plead their case and reveal their identities.

Carl David
Storrs, CT

The onslaught of spam suggests a tailor-made answer to our current budget deficits: impose a tax on any e-mail that is not expressly subscribed to or part of a known list of senders. Wasn’t the Internet significantly developed by the government? It’s as if we created an interstate highway system and didn’t make the heavy truckers pay fuel and other taxes for pounding our highways into washboard. I’m one of the most antigovernment people you will find, but when taxation of a nuisance can raise badly needed dollars and serve a public good, we’ve got to get serious about it.

Larry Callahan
Saint Louis, MO

Chilling Research

I am overjoyed that there are restrictive measures in place concerning matters of biotech science (“Biotech’s Big Chill,” TR July/August 2003). I am for any policy that restricts a Ted Kaczynski type from gaining access to material that could kill hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of Americans. If the biotech industry must sacrifice profit for America’s safety, then so be it: freedom has a price. When we can confidently verify that the people who are gaining knowledge on development of biotechnology are not returning to a hostile nation and using it for aggressive purposes against the United States or a friendly nation, then we can loosen the restrictions.

Eric D. Miller
Tequesta, FL

Your article “biotech’s big chill,” along with the editorial “Technological McCarthyism,” hit a lot of nails on their heads. The people who seek to restrict scientific research in order to thwart terrorists would ban the wheel to prevent car bombs. Brave scientists such as Ariella Rosengard must be allowed to conduct their research and exchange ideas freely. Science’s benefits have always surpassed the nightmare scenarios conjured up by critics. The global history of government security programs is a bit more frightening.

Warren Redlich
Albany, NY

Litigating Living Machines

Your article “Saving Lives with Living Machines” (TR July/August 2003) neglected to discuss the most important factor shaping this field: fear of litigation. Although a federal law protects raw-material suppliers from liability in medical-device litigation, it has never been tested in court, and few big companies want to be the guinea pig. Because of the potential for catastrophic legal costs and liability, most major chemical and materials companies have withdrawn from this market. Yet these are the very institutions with the intellectual resources that can best serve the field.

Donald F. Lyons
Wilmington, DE

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