Letters from our readers.
March 5 1999 3:30 AM

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As a miffed scientist, I wish to register my protestations about Timothy Noah's "introduction of the Scientific Method." Your Intdis Index is an accounting system; it has nothing to do with the scientific method. The scientific method is about hypothesis testing and experimentation. Simply giving things numerical values is not science.

I can understand your wanting to shame the Wall Street Journal with some semblance of mathematical rigor, but Lord knows we poor scientists have to defend ourselves against enough nonsense posing as science ("Mister Chairman, how can that 10 year study show us anything about bears when my cousin told me he never saw a bear in his life?").

--Kate Wing



Personal Non Grata

"Today's Papers" wonders if the principal investigator for the research project on the effect of women's work on young children and the journalist who reported the story in the Washington Post, themselves, have young children and worked outside the home. But the Los Angeles Times lead story was about another research finding (air pollution in Southern California), and we did not learn whether the researchers and journalists involved live in L.A. Newspapers continually report on cancer research or heart disease without telling us if the reporters ever had those diseases, or if they or any member of their immediate family is an albino lab rat, and so on.

--John Haaga

Bethesda, Md.


Does He or Doesn't She?

If Tinky Winky (see "The Cartoon Closet") has no explicit gender, how do you know that the handbag, tutu, and so on aren't veiled signals that Tinky is female?

--Pete Wright

Akron, Ohio


Jacob Weisberg replies: I didn't say the Teletubbies have no gender, because they do. Two are ostensibly male (Tinky Winky and Dipsy), and two are ostensibly female (Laa Laa and Po). I said they have no intended sexual orientation.

Choose and Lose

I adore intellectual parlor games as much as the next girl. But Jacob Weisberg's " The Browser" seems to be offered up as genuine critical insight rather than as the "cocktail chatter" it is. Like all dichotomies, Apollonian vs. Dionysian is limited as a means of ordering the world. It's like putting a filter over a camera lens: Some colors are heightened, but others are completely obscured, and the final result may bear no resemblance to reality. Labeling Matisse a "cool, calm, Northern European" and Picasso as a "hot, temperamental Spaniard" is that kind of distortion (not to mention ethnic stereotyping of the most trivial and annoying sort). Do Picasso's "blue period" paintings really strike one as "hot" and "temperamental"?

Do the terms apply to a work's form or its content? I was especially amused by the Dickinson/Whitman dichotomy. Dickinson's poetry is simply too weird, and yes, sexual (talk about images of "ecstatic release"), to fit comfortably into a category whose hallmarks are deemed to be "measure, reason, and control." Yes, you can sing just about every one of Dickinson's poems to the tune of "I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing" (try it, it's fun), but that kind of surface-level orderliness is undermined by the speaker's disconcerting propensity to topple into the abyss, whether prompted by union with God, union with the beloved, or union with death. If a work is "about" "abandon, irrationality, and ecstatic release," but its execution displays "measure, reason, and control" --one might place any number of baroque operas in this category, for instance, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, for that matter.

Equally annoying is the assertion that we are all either Matisse or Picasso people, or Stones or Beatles people. Many of my older acquaintances have little tolerance for any of them, while I would never be able to make a "desert island" choice between them--really. Besides, "Sympathy for the Devil" only seems darker and more subterranean than "Girl."

--Kathleen R. O'Connell

New York City