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Letters and Comments

August 23, 2011
Tracking Personal Health

Emily Singer’s article “The Measured Life” (July/August 2011) not only highlights the potential for self-tracking to improve one’s personal health but expands our thinking about the possibilities for personal health data. As a medical doctor and director of the Center for Connected Health, I believe that taken in aggregate, individual patient data can lead to important observations and perhaps even significant findings on a broad range of issues—from lifestyle triggers to treatment outcomes.

With the ever-­increasing availability of consumer technologies to help us track health indicators, daily activity, and even our emotional status, the opportunities for data collection and sharing abound. We certainly have a way to go before we see this kind of self-generated data integrated into mainstream health-care practices. However, we are seeing more and more providers acknowledging the value of patient data generated outside a medical setting.
Joseph C. Kvedar

A Home for Crime

In “The Perfect Scam” (July/August 2011), David Talbot perfectly illustrates the dangers of today’s digital world. Designed to be used by a handful of people in a friendly way, the Internet has grown bigger than anything its creators envisioned, and cybercrime has found a nice place to nest. As a director at Kaspersky Lab, I think that humans remain the weakest link in the security chain despite advances in computer hardware, new operating systems, and “the cloud.” Maybe the time has finally come to design a safer Internet, where people can shop or bank online without having to worry about scams and malware.
Costin Raiu
Bucharest, Romania

FDA and Stem Cells

Stem-Cell Gamble” (July/August 2011) was well ­balanced and very informative. It will be interesting to watch the FDA’s role in either moving forward or stalling early human studies of embryonic-stem-cell research. The stakes are high, with big risks and big benefits. Yet it is important to remember that all forms of medicine have serious risks, and that drug safety has never been guaranteed by the FDA.
Julie Flygare
Arlington, Virginia

Should We Wait?

Your editorial (“The Problem with Waiting for Catastrophes,” July/August 2011) makes a very important point: it’s unfortunate that “many economists consider it respectable to wait until a catastrophe strikes.” Waiting for direct evidence that nuclear deterrence can fail is even more unacceptable than waiting for further proof of global warming (a situation where I agree that the principle applies). In fact, that is the primary reason why I lead a project to provoke a reassessment of our nuclear strategy.
Martin Hellman
Stanford, California

A great piece, but I would counter your argument that waiting for a catastrophe assumes infinite adaptability. Prevention assumes you have a near-perfect knowledge of a complex universe, but in reality there is no clear way to prevent the unknown. Waiting for a catastrophe to happen is like allowing a hidden enemy to reveal himself. You will learn more about the catastrophe and can attack efficiently and with a greater chance of success in the future. We simply don’t have the resources to prevent all catastrophes and still allow for innovation and calculated risk-taking. Life is so complex that “doing nothing” and waiting for catastrophe can be a worthwhile option.
J. Foster Davis
Little Rock, Arkansas

Other Options for Energy

In “Avoiding the ‘C’ Words” (July/August 2011), Kevin Bullis fails to recognize that top-down policies imposed on markets can yield wasteful programs, as exemplified by ethanol from corn. He shows minuscule faith in the potential for a competitive free-market system to solve our technological challenges while placing trust in draconian dictates imposed by the government. This message runs counter to overwhelming evidence that innovation is the by-product of innumerable scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs working independently and competitively, nurtured at times by infusions of funding from the government.
Albert Mehrabian
Monterey, California

Energy editor Kevin Bullis responds: The review argues that the government should set clear goals, precisely to avoid problems such as the ones we’ve seen with ethanol. But if dislodging entrenched energy sources is the goal, that will require more than government R&D funding—it will also require policies that help increase demand for new technologies.

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