Letters from our readers.
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.
Energy and the Environment
The energy plan you lay out in your editor’s letter introducing the July/August 2006 issue’s special report (“It’s Not Too Late”) simply considers how to meet the projected increasing energy demand of an insanely materialistic society with a huge environmental footprint; it never considers the consequences. Any reduction of energy-related greenhouse gases achieved through your plan would be more than offset by other increases in greenhouse gases and other environmental impacts caused by the expanding economic activity your plan seeks to protect. You are promoting business as usual, except that carbon dioxide from energy production is to be reduced. This plan won’t get us where we want to be. We need basic structural changes in the American lifestyle and economy.
You err as well, and most dangerously, in your assumptions that the heavily materialistic and unhealthy American lifestyle is nonnegotiable and that the poor of the world just can’t wait to get their hands on McMansions, SUVs, and plasma televisions. Polls, in fact, show Americans to be willing to pay more in taxes, and more for products and services, if it will protect the environment. And the rest of the world is getting increasingly impatient and angry waiting for the people of the “rich world,” the United States in particular, to start living in a responsible and sustainable manner. Read the newspapers, especially the foreign press, for gosh sakes. Or get out of Cambridge and do some traveling.
Correction: Our story on Roger Dingledine’s Tor Project (“TR35: Young Innovators with This Year’s Best Ideas,” September/October 2006) indicated that people can use Tor to send e-mail anonymously. Tor is designed to create a nontraceable, two-way circuit for applications such as Web browsing, instant messaging, and uploading content to a blog or other website. Tor will mask the origin of e-mail sent through Web-based services, such as Gmail, but to avoid facilitating spammers, it is not set up to act as a relay for anonymous e-mail. Technology Review regrets any confusion.