Readers Respond to "America's Science Problem"

Scientific American, Inner Life of Quarks

Scientific American


If Shawn Lawrence Otto wants to stop the antiscience movement in the U.S., as he describes in “America's Science Problem,” he needs to blame the people who are actually leading the movement. Otto's article makes the ludicrous claim that Democrats ignore science as well as Republicans. Yet while Otto cites numerous examples of Republican legislatures enacting antiscience laws and major Republican leaders pushing policies attacking established scientific facts, he can only counterbalance that with the weak assertion that a few unnamed Democrats fear cell phones and vaccines. (Indeed, the only politician he refers to publically making false statements about the dangers of vaccines is Republican Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.)

Incorrect claims that both parties are antiscience make the problem worse because they make people who want science-based policies feel like they have nowhere to turn. There is no doubt as to which is the only major American party advancing an agenda that rejects science.

Michael Campbell
Eudora, Kan.

Otto's critique of postmodernism as an antiscience philosophy suffers from some of the same ignorance that he attributes to it. It is not a unified ideology that preaches that truth is relative, as he describes, but a descriptive analysis of society since the 1960s (give or take) that can help us understand the antiscience forces Otto fears.

In The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge in 1979, Jean-François Lyotard predicted that as information became more central to the economy, control and manipulation of that information would become more common. He specifically pointed to science as a force to prevent these self-reinforcing feedback loops and the control of information.

James D. Hastings
Berkeley, Calif.

I am appalled by Scientific American's editors' obvious bias toward President Barack Obama in their scoring of his and Governor Mitt Romney's answers to the questions in the “Science in an Election Year” section of the article. On the space question alone, President Obama should have been marked much lower than the score of 3 he was given, considering that his stated goals for nasa are contradicted by his slashing of funding for the program. When I went to the Web page of the candidates' full responses. Governor Romney gave much more of an answer than President Obama.

Joshua McDonald
via e-mail


“The Inner Life of Quarks,” by Don Lincoln, describes possible building blocks of quarks and leptons called preons. Lincoln summarizes Haim Harari and Michael A. Shupe's prescription for composing known particles from preons in the box “A Particle Cookbook,” which gives the preon content for a positron as three preons of a certain type (+ + +), for an electron as three of its antimatter companions (− − −) and for a photon as one of each (+ −).

There is a well-known, experimentally verified and reversible reaction in which an electron-positron pair annihilates into two photons. Yet according to the box, in terms of preons, this would mean there would be an extra photon. What gives?

Bill Karsh
via e-mail

LINCOLN REPLIES: On the face of it, the preon count doesn't seem to balance. Matter and antimatter preons, however, can annihilate each other. Thus, one of the + preons annihilates along with one of the − preons and returns to the vacuum. This leaves the correct number of preons to make the two observed photons.


In “A New Enlightenment,” George Musser interprets research on the subject of quantum mechanics and the Prisoner's Dilemma scenario (in which two caught thieves will go to jail if both snitch or will go free if both stay mum, but if only one snitches, she will receive a reward, and the other will receive a maximum sentence). Musser indicates that quantum methods may help solve the dilemma if the prisoners can take particles entangled with each other into the interrogation.

This article was originally published with the title "Letters."

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