MEET THE BEETLES

“Beetle Resurrection,” by Hannah Nordhaus, discusses the American burying beetle, which eats and breeds on the carcasses of small animals. This fascinating article reminded me of an event some years ago: I live in a wooded area with a large population of sexton, or burying, beetles. And mice. One of the latter found its way under the floorboards of my library, where it died. Oh, the stink!

I removed the cover of an unused heating element in the floor, hoping to fish about and find the corpse. No luck. I sat there, wondering what to do, when a huge black-and-orange beetle buzzed past my ear and landed next to the opening, then zipped inside and vanished. It was lunchtime, and I departed. Some time later my wife exclaimed, “You found the mouse!” I certainly did not find the mouse, but there it was, the stinky cadaver, right in the middle of the room. The beetle had evidently found it and, unable to bury it in place, had dragged it up and out of the opening, then across the floor, where it must have eventually given up. I wanted to thank the beetle, but it had departed. To this day, I don't know how it entered, or left, my house.

DON DILWORTH
East Boothbay, Me.

Nordhaus refers to researchers carrying guns for protection against rattlesnakes and feral pigs. I'm horrified. These people are such puffed-up wimps. Here in Australia, families with kids regularly camp in the bush where there are feral pigs, dingoes and several species of snakes more venomous than a rattlesnake. If one were seen carrying a sidearm, he or she would be laughed at, ostracized and probably arrested.

BOB TRLIN
via e-mail

LEGAL BATTLE

Michael Shermer's editorial in support of “Outlawing War” is well said as far as it goes, but how would he advocate enforcing such a law? Legislators usually do not want to pass laws that cannot be enforced. Should whoever passes a law against war have a compliance division that uses force against someone who breaks the law? We have laws against violent crime, but that has not done away with murder or the need for police.

Shermer discusses “outcasting” techniques such as economic sanctions. But would Hideki Tojo or Adolf Hitler have responded to widespread sanctions? As Shermer notes, the dictators in North Korea have not so far. To avoid war, it would be far more intelligent and compassionate, though difficult, to alleviate the issues that motivate governments to resort to violence—such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and so on.

WILL OGILVIE
via e-mail

SHERMER REPLIES: Of the many reasons nations go to war, poverty, unemployment and lack of education do not figure into anyone's causal formula. In fact, the opposite is true, as evidenced in the examples of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, both of which enjoyed apparently high prosperity and education. Outlawing war and outcasting violators of international law do not always work, but they have helped attenuate the frequency and deadliness of war since the end of World War II. That's something, and these approaches are almost always a better response than armed conflict, which is expensive, removes people from the labor market and racks up body counts.

As for North Korea, whereas sanctions have not worked to curtail its drive to become a viable nuclear power, it is my opinion that Kim Jong-un's motive is deterrence and that as long as he is left alone, he will not use his nukes.

COOL MACHINE

In “Quantum Computing” [“Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2017”], Dario Gil reports that quantum computers are difficult to build, noting that “a popular design requires superconducting materials that must be kept 100 times colder than outer space.”

What does that actually mean? I am not a scientist, so I find the concept of having something be a given number of times colder than something else not immediately clear.

WILLIAM CROSBY
Kingston, Ontario

THE EDITORS REPLY: The standard temperature scale used by physicists is kelvins, where zero kelvin is “absolute zero,” the lowest temperature theoretically possible, at which point atoms would cease to move. (Although scientists have created a quantum gas with a value below zero kelvin in the laboratory.) The temperature of interstellar space is typically given as that of the cosmic microwave background radiation that permeates the universe: about 2.7 kelvins. Meanwhile the processor in the D-Wave 2000Q quantum computer, for example, is kept at 0.015 kelvin. So on the kelvin scale, the processor is 180 times colder than the temperature of space.

But such comparisons break down when temperatures are converted to the scales that are more familiar in our daily life in the U.S.: in Fahrenheit, the temperatures of space and the processor would be given as −454.81 and −459.643 degrees F, respectively.

HEALTH DISPARITY

In “End the Assault on Women's Health” [Science Agenda; September 2017], the editors discuss Republicans' failed plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and argue that it would disproportionately harm women, particularly in the area of reproductive health.

We should consider the focus on curtailing reproductive health by such political forces as discrimination propaganda on a scale so massive that no one wants to see it. To test this, try substituting the word “blacks” for “women” and “whites” for “men” in reporting on the subject of this article. Cast that way, bloody battles would erupt in the streets.

It's not about reproduction; it's about one group of people controlling the lives and bodies of another. And it's up to us females to change this, not Scientific American's editorial board.

PRUDIE ORR
via e-mail

ORIGIN OF SCOPOPHOBIA

In “Your Security Cam Is Watching You” [TechnoFiles; October 2017], David Pogue writes about that uncomfortable feeling people have when they are being observed by video cameras. His wife described it as “creepy,” and he calls it “irrational” and “primal.” Is it possible this uncomfortable feeling is not so irrational, albeit primal? Could it be our modern-day manifestation of a time when getting a creepy feeling while being watched by a hidden sabertooth tiger had an evolutionary advantage?

LOU EISENBERG
Buffalo Grove, Ill.

CLARIFICATION

“Sustainable Communities,” by Daniel M. Kammen [“Top 10 Emerging Technologies of 2017”], describes the Oakland EcoBlock project as involving retrofitting homes in a neighborhood near the Golden Gate Bridge in California. The nearest bridge is the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge.