Letters from our readers
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I was fascinated by Katherine Bourzac’s account of Christopher Moore’s work on neural dynamics (“Rethinking Thought,” July/August 2008). I hope that Moore and Edward Boyden are open to practical applications besides control of epileptic seizures. The relation between blood flow and concentration might also be relevant to a multitude of cognitive issues, from age-related loss of concentration to migraines.
Karl Zimmerman ‘83
BIOMASS BETTER THAN FOSSIL FUELS
”Bigfoot” (July/August 2008) quotes Timothy Gutowski, who talks about reducing carbon emissions. But not all carbon emissions are equal. Liquid fuels from biomass can be global warming neutral.
We do not have to give up our SUVs or freeze in the dark. What we must do is stop using fossil fuels and grow the hydrocarbons we need to power our economy. But ethanol is a horrible distraction. The capital requirements will bankrupt the country should the grain lobby pressure the government into mandating this fuel. For more details, see alum.mit.edu/ne/whatmatters/200111.
Frank Weigert ‘65
ACCOUNTING FOR CARBON
It was distressing to see the “carbon footprint per U.S. resident” argument make it into the magazine in “Bigfoot.” Do MIT alumni not see this glaring fallacy? The manufacturing plant of my company has a carbon footprint per employee 10 times that of our executive offices. Manufacturing fewer scanners or adding a bunch of idle manufacturing workers would lower the number. Or perhaps we should remove the vending machines, or even grab a whip and make the workers turn them on and off only as needed, and still expect them to work just as hard.
Next, MIT engineers will be demanding–without regard to output–that the ever growling engine of an automobile use less gas. After all, the pliant, lovable shock absorber doesn’t use any gas and functions just fine!
Anant K. Nigam, SM ‘67, PhD ‘71
Timothy G. Gutowski, professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, replies:
All of Dr. Nigam’s arguments to show the “fallacy” of calculating the carbon footprint per capita, or per activity, could be used to ridicule cost accounting. It is well known that costs can be manipulated in nonsensical ways to get desired results. Enron demonstrated this in a spectacular way. Yet if you want to reduce costs, you need to know where your money is spent and assign responsibility to reduce it. Carbon accounting is a first step in reducing our carbon emissions; however, because it is still a new idea, we do not yet have standardized methods fully established. This will come when carbon is taxed or traded and represents a real cost. Stay tuned.
THE FOOTPRINT DOESN’T FIT
The circle graph accompanying “Bigfoot” (July/August 2008) is drawn incorrectly: the area, not the diameter of the circle, should represent the value of the variable. Therefore the diameter of the “4 metric tons” circle should be about 0.45 that of the “20 metric tons” circle. By depicting it at about 0.21, the graph exaggerates the difference between “World Average (U.S. included)” and the U.S. total.
Mark Fineman ‘67
You’re right. We goofed in print but updated the chart online at www.technologyreview.com/article/20962/. -The Editors
WHO NEEDS JOURNALISM SCHOOL?
I very much enjoyed your article on the history of the Tech, for which I had the privilege of being editor in chief in 1983-‘84 (“The Tech, Then and Now,” July/August 2008). As a member of the Tech’s advisory board since 1992, I would add that in addition to serving the MIT community and being on the cutting edge of Web-based publication, the Tech has been a fertile breeding ground for journalists and media executives.
Among the 1,692 people in the alumni database who note a Tech affiliation are Karen Arenson ‘70, the recently retired education editor at the New York Times; O. Reid Ashe ‘70, chief operating officer of Media General (and a member of the MIT Corporation); the late Norman D. Sandler ‘75, White House correspondent for UPI; Barry S. Surman ‘84, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Congressional Quarterly; Diana O. ben-Aaron ‘85, a reporter on European industry for Bloomberg News; Thomas T. Huang ‘88, an editor at the Dallas Morning News; Karen Kaplan ‘93, a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times; Keith J. Winstein ‘03, a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal; and Marie Y. Thibault ‘08, an associate reporter at Institutional Investor.
As the Tech’s T-shirts say, it truly is the MIT School of Journalism.
Robert E. Malchman ‘85
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