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Letters from our readers
March 1, 2006

The State of the Internet
David Clark’s approach to the problems of the Internet (“The Internet Is Broken,” December 2005/January 2006), to redesign its infrastructure, bears a similarity to the medical profession’s approach in the 1960s and ’70s to the “bubble boy” syndrome (severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID). Both are attempts to sterilize the environment so that the immune-deficient subject can survive. It did not work then for those patients, and it won’t work now for the Internet’s security.

The medical profession today takes care of SCID patients by giving them new immune systems through bone marrow transplants. We should be looking to do the same for our data, so it can travel throughout the existing Internet infrastructure.
Frank J. Sauer
Arlington, VA

While I fully support the optimization of the Internet, creating a worldwide tracking infrastructure that people can’t opt out of will only ensure that governments can keep information from reaching their people, quashing dissent.

Also, adding complexity to routers and other infrastructure devices will only ensure that more vulnerabilities in the additional code will expose even more devices to malware attacks and slow down our communications.

Finally, the end point should be designed for the security it requires. The Internet shouldn’t be the primary source of user security; the host devices should.
Corinne Cook
Denver, CO

David Talbot’s Internet story is, of course, right on. But as I read it, I could not help editing it in my mind, substituting the term “Microsoft Windows” wherever “the Internet” appeared.

Unfortunately, the ubiquity of highly vulnerable Windows has left a good part of the world at a risk that’s perhaps almost as dangerous and widespread as the risk posed by a broken Internet. Many of the observations about the Internet made by Clark and Talbot would apply just as well to Windows. I hope someone will soon detail that exposure.
David Munroe
Montgomery, OH

Science in China
Horace Freeland Judson doesn’t heed his own admonition at the beginning of “The Great Chinese Experiment” (December 2005/January 2006). He acknowledges that “even sophisticated and knowledgeable Westerners bring ideological preconceptions to their view of China” and rightly points out that Westerners have often made the erroneous assumption that laissez-faire capitalism “will inevitably lead to democratic reforms.” For the last 15 years, China has had a booming ­economy but practices neither capitalism nor democracy as we understand it.

But then Mr. Judson spends much of his article explaining how the Chinese science ethos, with its attachment to what he calls a “Confucian” respect for elders and seniority, discourages the development of a questioning culture, a barrier to good science. But to the degree that Chinese scientists follow Confucian practices, these practices are not strictly about scientific method and what Chinese scientists actually do in the lab. It is clear to me – a China watcher even before my MIT days – that China is finding its own route to scientific success, just as it found its own path to economic growth.
Lisa A. Suits
Bethesda, MD

The realization that China needed to change in response to Western encroachment dates no later than 1842, when China lost humiliatingly in a war against the British Empire over the issue of British sale of opium in China. Then, as now, China was guided by a myth: that the key to a modern China is simply science and technology.

One notable attack on that myth was the cry for democracy and science made during the May 4 student uprising of 1919. Many founding fathers of the Chinese Communist Party, which later founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 (the current China as we know it), were among the leaders of that uprising. Unfortunately, since then, most Chinese politicians seem to have forgotten the foresight and the causes of their forefathers.
Wang-Ping Chen
Champaign, IL

Changes at Technology Review
From the December 2005/January 2006 issue: “Technology Review has been a print magazine with a website; from now on, we will be an electronic publisher that also prints a magazine.” That same issue’s cover reads, “The Internet Is Broken.” Such masterful use of irony deserves an award!
Art Goddard
Costa Mesa, CA

The editor responds:
Thank you, but we’re sure we don’t deserve one. We reported on shortcomings of the Internet as it is now constituted, and we described various proposals to fix them. We are confident they will succeed and that the future Technology Review will happily exist on a reconstituted Internet.

Correction: The caption on page 48 of the December 2005/January 2006 photo essay “Dirty Oil” should have read “roughly 30 cubic meters of natural gas per barrel of recovered oil,” not “roughly 300 cubic meters.”

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