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December 20, 2011

MONEY DOWN THE PIPES Our feature on the source of the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline (“Alberta’s Oil Sands Heat Up,” November/December 2011) prompted a great deal of response, including a comment from Philip F. ­Henshaw of New York, who called it “one of the better articles on the subject I’ve seen.” But he went on to say that we, like “so many paid professionals doing economic analysis of energy questions,” had failed to account for all the costs of oil-sands development. “Continuing to expand our economy on fossil fuels will waste money and time on investments that will have to be prematurely abandoned, and will allow many of the worst consequences of climate change. We’re already paying a heavy cost for founding our society on dead-end technologies, and we’re still proposing to make the problem much worse. I look at that in amazement.”

MISTAKES WERE MADE After reading Jon Cohen’s look at scientific journals’ limited retractions of research that was later debunked (“Public Mea Culpas,” November/December 2011), Peter Belmont of Brooklyn, New York, imagined a disastrous scenario in which a doctor might prescribe a treatment based on published research, unaware that the results had been (very) quietly retracted by an embarrassed journal. “All proper scientific periodicals should have a contract with those who submit their work that their papers will be subject to cross-reference for withdrawals or challenges,” Belmont suggested. “The rush to publish is important to scientific reputation, but it ought to be tempered by a researcher’s knowledge that all subsequent reaction to that publication will be immediately available to all readers.”

EULOGY FOR THE PC Many online readers of TR felt compelled to respond to Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain’s recent essay “The Personal Computer Is Dead.” Zittrain argued that the emergence of app stores means the information we’re now “allowed” to access is filtered through a few powerful arbiters in a way that is far more domineering than anything Microsoft would have dared to do in the 1990s, when it provoked an antitrust case. “I too have become alarmed over these trends,” wrote trans. “This phone/OS lock-in prevents real innovation. We have already seen two mobile platforms die because of it: Meego and webOS. If this continues, I fear we will be left with only two walled gardens to choose from.”

Balderdash, responded fixerdave: “You have to factor in the increased number of users. More users today are likely using Linux than were using Windows when Microsoft trashed Netscape. The number of people demanding freedom in their computing experience is increasing, even if those numbers are being drowned out by, well, let’s just say ‘nontechnical’ people who are perfectly comfortable in an app store.”

Abdussamad, meanwhile, felt the problem would sort itself out: “No one is stopping another company from starting its own marketplace and offering manufacturers an incentive to add their icon on the desktop. Anyone can do this, given a high enough marketing budget. And I am sure they will—there is just too much money in it!”

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE In “A New Chapter for E-Books” (November/December 2011), Erica Naone described a biology textbook that will update electronically rather than making us wait for the next published edition. Thomas Sipe of Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan, hated the idea: “Do we want a Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith that changes with the latest contributions of every new Nobel laureate in economics? I don’t fear the e-book revolution. I celebrate it. But a textbook with ‘lifetime access’ that changes like a cinematic shape-shifter evokes, ironically, some of the most pedantic and turgid qualities of ultraconservative, antiscientific medieval scholasticism.”

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