Letters from our readers.
Aug. 29 1996 3:30 AM

The Hinducentric View of the World


"Mars to Humanity: Get Over Yourself" by Nathan Myhrvold was interesting to read, but I suggest the author did not complete his homework. Aryabhatt, a Hindu astronomer and mathematician, pointed out before Copernicus did that the solar system is heliocentric, not geocentric.

-- Debjyoti Das

Earth to Myhrvold

Nathan Myhrvold needs to reread his scientific history ("Mars to Humanity: Get Over Yourself"). How can he seriously think of discussing the conflict between humanity's pretensions and scientific progress (especially in the field of biology) and not make a single mention of Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution?


Myhrvold also indulges in absurd generalizations about the scientific community. His contention that "mainstream opinion in biology--until last week--orbited around the essential mystery of life on Earth just as surely as the Ptolemaic view was lodged in the firmament" is simply not true. Has he ever heard of the Miller Experiment, which demonstrates how easily and quickly organic molecules (including amino acids) could have been synthesized in the tumultuous environment of a newly formed Earth? As for the lack of scientific speculation about forms of alien life, why is it the result of a "taboo"? Could it be that the general scientific community finds such speculation ultimately pointless in the absence of real data? Nature has done a wonderful job of confounding "speculation" on forms of life so far; Myhrvold is, in effect, taking scientists to task for not letting their imaginations run riot.

Scientific thought is hardly the rigid and dogmatic collection of prejudice that this article implies. It is certainly true that "research over the past 20 years has changed the scientific view of life." But research over the 120 years before that has changed the view of life as well (and arguably in a more radical fashion!). Research over the next 20 years undoubtedly will bring further changes to "the scientific view of life" (whatever that may mean). Myhrvold may not realize it, but he is simply restating what "mainstream opinion in biology" has believed for quite some time now.

--Tom Cleaveland

The 40 Percent Question


Jodie T. Allen's article titled "The Biggest Tax Increase in History" repeats, without challenging, Susan Molinari's claim that government takes in 40 percent of the GDP in taxes. According to Commerce Department data in the "1996 Economic Report of the President," total federal, state, and local revenues amounted to just 31.5 percent of the GDP in calendar year 1994. Who knows where the 40 percent figure came from? One common mistake is to count federal grants-in-aid as state and local taxes, but that's double counting, since they're already paid for by federal taxes. Even that mistake wouldn't get you to 40 percent.

--Jon Bakija

Color Me Gray

Harry Shearer refers to Mike Deavers as the éminencecerise of the convention "Diary." As a registered pedant, I cannot refrain from posing this political trivia question: Who was the original éminencegrise on whom Shearer's word play is based? If this is too easy, consider this bonus question: Who was the éminencerouge? Hint: Ralph Reed, mutatis mutandis, would be a natural candidate for the title of "éminence blanche."


--Glen Tomkins


Since Kemp is an old quarterback, I would liken the grip the "new" Republican thought has on reality to the football feeling here in Alabama during Alabama/Auburn game time. It's the "let's throw out the records because this is a different game" mentality ("The Supply-Side Virus Strikes Again," by Paul Krugman). While that may be fine for football, it sure is a bizarre way to run a country. The record does count when it comes to jobs, taxes, and feeding your family.

In college, the players use up their eligibility. It seems the supply-side virus allows the same players to keep playing year after year, never forcing them to graduate.


--Al Pennington

Supply Snide

I'm surprised that any time defenders of supply-side economics refer to the Reagan administration for support, commentators don't mention the exponential growth of the budget deficit during those years ("The Supply-Side Virus Strikes Again," by Paul Krugman).

How can anybody defend the supply-side theory by citing the '80s? In discussions of the supply-side experience during the Reagan era, I rarely hear anyone speak up about the deficit spending that accompanied the tax cuts.

--Kam Thakker