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Letters

Cambridge 02138

Energy divestiture, drug discovery, worker in wood

September-October 2013

Geoengineering and Climate Change

David Keith’s work on atmospheric engineering (“Buffering the Sun,” July-August, page 36) is obviously both thoughtful and well-intentioned. However, several aspects are troubling, and though Professor Keith recognizes and responds to these concerns, they are still worth pondering. The broadest one has to do with the law of unforeseen consequences. If past human history is any indication, nature’s secrets far exceed in complexity and depth our efforts to plumb them. We don’t know what the consequences of geoengineering will be to the planet, but we can be sure that many of them will not have been anticipated.

Another concern, similarly born of caution, is more specific: if the greenhouse effect can be reduced, might that very fact allow us to relax our efforts to move toward a sustainable economy? Will we use that breathing space to soften our impact on the Earth, or to dig ourselves in deeper by maintaining our level of consumption? The model is clearly that of addiction. Any “success” in altering the climate would be comparable to finding an overlooked stash of heroin in the closet: the pressure to quit would be off. There is only one bottom line: humanity must learn to live in harmony with Nature’s limits or die.

A third concern is the barely mentioned fact that climate change is only the most pressing of many ecological crises. Forceful attempts to solve this one could well make others more acute. As so often with technology, an abundance of enthusiasm combines with a dearth of perspective. 

Finally, although one can argue that the need for decisive action trumps all, how easy it is to underestimate the messiness of human affairs. In movieland, the comet headed for Earth is blown up by a united, purposeful humanity. I doubt real life works that way, especially when economic motives are present, and the tools of deliverance are so like the ones of depredation.

I wish I had a better answer. Yet suspicion remains that technology is by its nature myopic: closer to what got us into our predicament than what will get us out.

Dan Breslaw ’59
West Corinth, Vt.

 

I read with great interest about David Keith’s work in “climate engineering,” a term covering various attempts to combat global warming. It reports Keith as being “hopeful about technical innovation ‘but deeply pessimistic about human behavior when it comes to protecting the natural world.’ ” From my perspective, that’s often precisely the problem—human behavior. If it isn’t the hubris that says “I know what I’m doing,” it’s the laziness or sloppiness that says, “That’s good enough. What could go wrong?” Then we get the predictable “Oops!”

Examples of “oops” on a large scale are numerous. Gypsy moths introduced into New England in the late 1860s to develop a silkworm industry here. No silkworm industry today, but plenty of gypsy moths. The Indian mongoose was brought to Hawaii (from Jamaica) in the 1870s to control the Norway brown rat (which jumped ship, as rats do), but the diurnal mongoose hardly ever met the nocturnal rat, so today there are plenty of both animals but fewer native Hawaiian bird species. Kudzu, brought in by horticulturalists to control erosion, has been a great success, too, hasn’t it? The Everglades are now home to breeding populations of Burmese pythons (maybe they can eat some of the imported South American nutria there), and I see from the Minnesota DNR’s website that two large species of Asian carp, imported to control plankton in southern aquaculture ponds, escaped during floods (surprise, surprise) and are now established in the Mississippi River system. 

So after threescore years of watching the human tragicomedy unfold, I quite agree with Keith. After all, what could go wrong?

Mark McTague
Cockeysville, Md.

 

In industry, particularly manufacturing, when something goes wrong, they turn to a formal process known as Corrective Action. Probably its most important component is Root Cause Analysis, because it leads to ultimate rather than proximal solutions to the problem. In the case of climate change, the root cause is population growth. If we halve auto emissions per car in the next five years, but by then there are three times as many drivers on the road, we have not gained much.

Unfortunately, I do not foresee any significant cuts ahead in population growth other than war, disease, and famine. No CEO wants fewer customers, no religious leader fewer adherents, and no politician fewer voters. Too bad.

Peter Haas, A.M. ’79
Acworth, N.H.

 

The article offers a fascinating glimpse into modern geoengineering technology. But as a physicist whose research is into complex systems, the “illusion of control” that routinely plagues efforts to direct such systems comes immediately to mind. The climate is a prototypical such system: of massive complexity, with innumerable known and unknown feedback loops and a very large number of excruciatingly sensitive control parameters. We have not come close even to consistently modeling climate, as the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report will make painfully clear (hastily awarded Nobel Prize notwithstanding).

Caution: Let’s make certain it’s geoengineering we’re having at, not egoengineering.

Jeffrey Satinover, Ed.M. ’73, M.D., Ph.D.
Department of Management, Technology & Economics, ETH, Zurich
New York City

 

Your July-August issue had a most interesting article on climate engineering, “Buffering the Sun” (page 36). It describes David Keith’s thoughts on the potential for artificially cooling our climate by placing sulfur compounds in the atmosphere, which “could cost a few billion dollars annually.”

There is, I believe, a better method of achieving cooling, which is essentially free, has no adverse effects, and does not create public concerns about putting more chemicals into the air. 

To test this method, “glitter” would be ejected from perhaps four Navy jets 12 miles high, from the same containers that now hold radar chaff. The glitter (reflective mylar sometimes seen at parties) would be as thin as possible so as to stay aloft the maximum time, which at 12 miles up should be several months. Technicians on the ground would measure changes in photons received from the sun at various places in the calculated “shadow” of the glitter. (People below would not be likely to experience an actual shadow or a change in temperature.) 

If this technique works on a small scale, its use can easily be expanded, and at much higher altitudes, so the glitter will persist at a useful height. If it does not work, absolutely nothing is lost. As I am not a scientist, I would very much like to know David Keith’s thoughts on the use of glitter to cool the earth.

Thomas N. Cochran, M.B.A. ’61
Far Hills, N.J.

 

Academically smart people can do monumentally stupid and dangerous things, as has been proved over and over again. 

First, there is a long, long list of government programs, designed to fix such-and-such a problem, that have created unintended consequences that were much worse than the original problem. In fact, this seems to be the rule rather than the exception—the subprime-mortgage-induced economic collapse being just one example.

Second, the two basic assumptions of the Global Warming Thesis (GWT), namely, that increased human-produced carbon dioxide is causing a new long-term trend of global warming and that that trend will produce disastrous results by 2100, and even much sooner, have been shown to be suspect and most likely false. Three of the top drivers of life on earth, or perhaps anywhere, have been sunlight, warmth, and carbon dioxide and yet Professor Keith is studying how to reduce sunlight, warmth, and carbon dioxide and even proposing experiments on doing such. Actually, such experiments have already been done on a massive scale and have refuted GWT. For about 30 years, ending in the 1970s, massive amounts of human-produced carbon dioxide were added to the atmosphere and yet significant cooling resulted. So much cooling occurred that the very same media and scientific organizations that currently scream about global warming were calling for climate engineering to prevent a new ice age. Further, since 1999, despite 30 billion tons of CO2 being added to the atmosphere annually, there has been no appreciable warming, as even James Hansen of NASA has publicly admitted. GWT was based on computer models, built by advocates of GWT, whose predictions have been singularly inaccurate.

Nick Percival ’64
Ridgefield, Conn.

 

Your article on geoengineering was mostly quite balanced. However, the article did not discuss why some are against any engineering of the atmosphere at all. One consideration is this: Modern technology regularly has unintended destructive consequences, usually not foreseeable. Two global examples are damage to the ozone layer and global warming. Damage to the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) was unexpected because CFCs are chemically inert close to the surface. Their inventor even drank a glassful at a press conference announcing their invention. The Montreal Protocol banning CFCs by all countries and the subsequent recovery of the ozone layer was also difficult to negotiate.

We are only entitled to a brief sigh of relief about this. Because of global warming, more powerful thunderstorms are punching through to the ozone layer and depositing ozone-destroying moisture there. Global warming itself is the unanticipated consequence of burning fossil fuels.

These side effects of technology are no accident. Because modern technology treats everything as a resource to be used in its own processes, conflicts with existing nature are inevitable and cannot be prevented. If we are engineering the whole atmosphere, any destructive unintended consequences could be disastrous beyond anything imaginable. The strategy of smaller-scale field tests described in the article sounds like a better idea, but the initial inertness of CFCs shows that such tests cannot prevent large-scale destructive consequences.

These issues are discussed at length in my Technology versus Ecology: Human Superiority and the Ongoing Conflict with Nature, forthcoming this September from IGI-Global Press.

Robert Schultz, Ph.D. ’71
Professor emeritus, Woodbury University
Burbank, Calif.

 

David Keith’s prescription for saving the planet by spraying sulfates into the atmosphere to deflect sunlight from Earth and for “capturing carbon” reminds me of Dr. Strangelove’s solution for preserving a sample of the population after the nuclear Armageddon by establishing colonies of “individuals with prodigious sexual abilities…down in the deepest mine shafts” to reconstitute the human race.

The sidebar on capturing carbon seems to equate carbon with carbon dioxide, which is hardly the case. Rather than capturing carbon dioxide and pumping it back into the earth as Keith seems to recommend, a better solution might be to break down carbon dioxide into its components; the oxygen could be beneficially released into the atmosphere and the carbon collected for various uses.

Like the energy companies and Professor Keith, President Obama has endorsed the oxymoronic notion of “clean coal,” to the dismay of environmentalists. A robust program to arrest the destruction of the world’s rainforests and reverse creeping desertification would do more to slow down climate change than dangerous geoengineering schemes, while at the same time making the world a demonstrably better place to live.

G. Mackenzie Gordon ’62
Lakeville, Conn.

 

“Buffering the Sun,” by Erin O’Donnell, is an outstanding presentation of the case for using geoengineering to inexpensively lower global temperatures. But right away we learn that scientists have discussed it for decades mostly behind closed doors, “…because they feared that speaking publicly about geoengineering would undermine efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” So this is what the open discussion of scientific matters has come to? No better illustration of the power of what I’ll call the Climate Change Coalition (“CCC”) is necessary. The defensive message continues: “…critics say that field tests should be banned because they are the first step down a slippery slope toward full-scale solar geoengineering.” And “…emphasis on cutting emissions must not change even if…geoengineering strategies are worth pursuing.” This despite “…daunting trillions in costs anticipated for future greenhouse-gas mitigation efforts.” Apparently we must reduce CO2 emissions levels to some target value regardless of the cost. Never mind that this will cut global GDP sufficiently to impoverish the majority of the world population and render it impossible to assuage hunger, sickness, lack of shelter, ignorance, etc., all of which are consistently considered by both panels of experts and surveys of public opinion to have higher priorities. After experiencing seven consecutive quarters of declining exports and imports, the European Union may finally realize that its alternative-energy policies have condemned it to a declining or flat growth rate indefinitely, but at least Euro-zoners feel proud of how “green” they are. And the objections of Alan Robock of Rutgers are either trivial (“…reduce the amount of electricity produced through solar power…”—so will darkness, fog, clouds, and dust) or ridiculous (“…alter weather patterns, which might trigger widespread droughts.”) Isn’t global warming supposed to cause widespread droughts? Surely both warming and cooling can’t have identical effects. 

We have previously witnessed the CCC influence when a study at CERN (the international particle collider) was to be published which demonstrated conclusively that cosmic rays bathing our atmosphere caused cloud formation, confirming the results of prior Danish experiments. The director of CERN expressly forbade any mention in their article of probable effects on global temperatures, claiming this would make it a political rather than a scientific matter!

The moderate reduction in global temperatures resulting from SO2 emissions (and ash, which incidentally provides beautiful sunsets) has been demonstrated repeatedly by natural volcanic eruptions, as well as by computer models. It is also clear that these effects are only temporary (about one year). So we see proven positive results with no apparent harm. As a rational scientist, I am moved to paraphrase the immortal words of Admiral David Farragut: “Damn the CCC! Full speed ahead with tests of solar geoengineering!” Such tests are urgently important, and it is critical to the future of the planet that they be implemented on a large scale promptly if successful, as they almost certainly will be.

Elliott Doane ’51
Oklahoma City

 

There are two things grossly wrong with O’Donnell’s article, “Buffering the Sun.”

1. Earth’s overarching problem is not climate change, it is overpopulation (of humans).

2. Geoengineering is not a new field devoted solely to the study of ways to offset CO2 pollution. It is a subfield of geology, reputably practiced by numerous geologists over many years and contributing to the safe realization of numerous civil-engineering projects.

Roger LeB. Hooke ’61
Research Professor
Department of Geological Sciences and Climate Change Institute
University of Maine, Orono

 

Re: “Buffering the Sun,” it is always exciting to learn of new ideas to solve problems, especially those that are of significance to our well-being. But on some reflection, I must admit that I had considerable misgivings about the geoengineering proposed in this article. I have to ask, “Why?” and then “How?”

As to the former, my question stems from the sense given in the article that the proponents of the research believe that carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principal driver of climate change (as expounded in the four reports by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), beginning in 1990, with a fifth due out in 2014), and that fossil-fuel burning by humans is largely responsible for the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere causing global temperatures to rise dangerously, accompanied by other dire consequences for our planet. These results have been obtained from Grand Circulation Model (GCM) calculations involving the mathematical treatment of the highly complex, often nonlinear processes that are believed to be responsible for our climate. 

Many have criticized these results for a number of valid reasons, absolving CO2 of its culprit status; but the proof of the pudding has failed in that the GCMs predict rising Global Average Temperature (GAT) as CO2 concentrations rise, whereas measurements show that GAT has remained statistically constant for some 16 years in the face of a nearly linear strong rise of atmospheric CO2. Two of the most ardent promoters of anthropogenic global warming and prominent contributors to the IPCC reports-—James Hansen of NASA and Phil Jones of the Hadley Climate Unit at the University of East Anglia—agree to this result, as does R. Pachauri, titular head of IPPC.

Dr. Jay Lehr (1) has put frosting on the pudding by citing such evidence as:

  1.  1. weak solar activity, as occurred during the Little Ice Age, giving rise to global cooling—we are seeing the end of Solar Cycle 24, with the weakest magnetic fields in more than 50 years, and entering Cycle 25, portending few if any sunspots;
  2.  2. the UK suffered a winter with temperatures 5 to 10 degrees C lower than normal;.
  3.  3. C. Booker of the Sunday Telegraph wrote on 5/27/13 that in 2012-2013, 3,318 places in the U.S. reached their lowest temperatures since records began; same for every province of Canada;
  4.  4. Germany reported 2013 as the coldest winter in 208 years; etc.

These data speak for themselves, strongly suggesting we are in for a round of bitter cooling. Investigators at the Russian Academy of Science predict no warming for the rest of the century and we should get used to temperatures several degrees lower than today. 

So I ask, why should we want to fiddle with the climate to make it cooler? 

As to the second question, “How?” If one does fiddle with the temperature, by CO2 sequestering, or by adding sulfate particles to the atmosphere, how can one be sure which effects, the fiddling or natural causes, are being observed ?

My bottom line is: don’t try to fool with Mother Nature. 

William E. Keller ’46, Ph.D. ’49
Santa Fe

 

Energy Divestiture

I recently attended my fiftieth Harvard College reunion. At the first meeting, I asked about the student-led movement for Harvard to divest from fossil fuels. Subsequently I appreciated that President Faust’s Commencement talk did address climate change.

Back in 1962, as an undergraduate, I joined a group, Tocsin, named after the French Revolution’s call to arms, to deal with nuclear war. We had a Harvard graduate in the White House, we had some impact, and in 1963 an atmospheric nuclear test ban treaty was signed. Today we again have a Harvard graduate in the White House, who has just stated that this time climate change is the preeminent global issue, and that we should “Invest. Divest.”

My main point: this issue is preeminently not economic or financial but moral. Moral ideas move history. On this ground Harvard is a leader of our nation’s academic institutions. Are we up to the challenge?

Now a group of our Harvard students again courageously steps forth—supported by alumni and faculty—reminding us, their elders who have grievously failed them so far, that, in the ancient Persian words, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors—we borrow it from our children.” Now these children—our children—are once again asking us not to leave them a damaged world. Can we hear the Tocsin?

History will judge us all not by whether we get every detail right, but by whether we stand with or against the flow of history. If Harvard speaks against global warming it will once again be a “shot heard ‘round the world”—this time a shot from Cambridge. Do our children’s children deserve less?

Kenneth Porter ’63
New York City

 

In the July-August issue, the article “Buffering the Sun” explores work being done to reduce global warming by “geo-engineering” the atmosphere. Given the likely but unknown dangers of such proposals, we should first be drastically reducing our energy consumption levels, and without further delay.

But we aren’t doing that, and one of the reasons we aren’t, perhaps the major reason because of their inordinate political influence, is that fossil-fuel companies want to continue business as usual. And they use their massive wealth to influence public opinion, election outcomes, and legislative action.

So, if we want to get moving on addressing climate change, already being felt painfully in extreme weather here and around the world, we must send out a strong message to these companies and our compliant government, that fossil fuels are not to be the basis of our sustainable future. The DivestHarvard movement, recently initiated by Harvard’s students and being adopted by alumni, is designed to do this. Harvard, along with other institutions, is being asked to divest its substantial endowment from fossil-fuel investments. You can sign on at http://divestharvard.com/alumni.

Harvard, which prides itself as a center of knowledge, of research, of integrity, should take the extraordinary action: divestment from probably profitable fossil-fuel investments, knowing that global warming will affect every aspect of our lives in the future. Harvard, whose scholars are probably quoted more widely in the media than any other university, could make a difference politically by coming out for climate action. It is not consistent or honest to give Harvard students a great education and not respond to this threat to their (and all of our) future.

Beedy Parker ’60
Camden, Me.


At Commencement, President Faust addressed the immense climate change that is upon us, rightly embracing the University’s commitment “to ask and address the larger questions” through teaching and research (see “They Said…,” July-August, page 44).

This sounds only realistic. But realism requires a keen appraisal of the political and social forces in play, including a recognition that the nation’s chief institutions of power, investment, and legitimacy have largely defaulted. Our political, economic, administrative, journalistic, and religious authorities have failed by purpose, misdirection, corruption, and inadvertence. They appear to succeed only when judged by conveniently narrow criteria.

Central investment decisions are made by corporate boards so committed to maximizing shareholder value as to be deceptive or indifferent to “negative externalities” that make life less sustainable. The political system is crippled by a political party that junks the overwhelming scientific consensus. Cynical denial, ruthless myopia, regulatory capture, political timidity, and stupidity prevail.

It is in this context of flat-out unrealism—or what C. Wright Mills memorably called “crackpot realism”—that the campaign to divest Harvard from fossil-fuel investment arises. Harvard is not only an illustrious center of research and education but a symbolic and moral center. Harvard’s actions—and inactions—speak volumes. Whether or not the institution chose this calling all by itself is irrelevant. Harvard’s decisions—and refusals to decide—carry substantial symbolic weight. To recognize this is realism. To refuse to recognize it is to be blinkered.

Actual realism requires recognition that the fossil-fuel industry not only endangers the earth, but fuels the destructive, fabulist cause of climate change denial. Therefore the Harvard Corporation, by investing in the industry, undercuts the University’s research and teaching commitment.

A sharp-eyed appraisal of the political and social forces in play requires Harvard to respond to the climate emergency by putting its investments where its teaching and research are.

Todd Gitlin ’63
New York City

 

President Faust believes Harvard is doing its part to fight climate change by educating future heads of the EPA. This is disingenuous at best and seriously deluded at worst. Having Harvard-educated alumni in positions of power is great, but for a real impact, Harvard needs to align itself with those arguing for divestment and an Energiewende (energy transformation) for the U.S. It is also in Harvard’s narrow financial interests to get out of the fossil-fuel business as soon as possible. Let’s keep working to achieve that goal.

Fighting fiercely and not relinquishing the ball,

Marc Strassman ’69
Valley Village, Calif.

 

Drug Discovery

Vemurafenib, a promising new drug for melanoma that was described in “Systematic Drug Discovery” (July-August, page 54), is a useful case study for efforts to improve the drug-development process. It must be noted that this drug was developed at a near-record pace. The first clinical trials were initiated in 2006 and five years later an application was submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—much faster than the seven to eight years the development process typically consumes. Similarly, the FDA quickly recognized the promise of vemurafenib and approved the drug in less than four months; the typical length of a review is 10 months. Although the emergence of resistance to this drug is disappointing, we should remember that vemurafenib represents an example of our drug-development process working well and delivering a promising new drug at a breakneck speed.

Additionally, the article laments the decline in the number of drugs approved by the FDA in recent years, asserting that the number of approvals “has declined from approximately 100 to about 30 per year in recent decades.” This is inaccurate. In 2011, the FDA approved over 100 so-called new drug applications. Of these, 28 were totally new medicines, which represent the greatest promise to patients. The number of these new medicines approved by the FDA has risen sharply in recent years, and 2011’s tally falls in the 90th percentile of drug approvals in the postwar era. At present, we are not doing badly, but there is no doubt that much more can be done to accelerate the transition of new science from bench to bedside. The new Therapeutic Science program at Harvard Medical School will certainly contribute!

Nicholas S. Downing ’07
School of Medicine, Yale University
New Haven

 

Krayer professor of systems pharmacology Peter Sorger replies: We thank Mr. Downing for emphasizing that the approval of vemurafenib should be regarded as a triumph of genomic medicine and expeditious regulatory review. The question is whether the rapid emergence of resistance to the drug (which can easily be detected in preclinical settings) might have been recognized earlier and mitigated through development of alternative agents or combination therapy. In pointing out our systematic failure to study new drugs thoroughly, understand their precise mechanisms of action, and anticipate the emergence of resistance, we are faulting neither the companies who developed drugs such as vemurafenib nor physicians who prescribe them. We are simply pointing out the opportunity for development of a new (or revitalized) branch of biomedicine with potentially significant societal impact.

Mr. Downing is also correct in pointing out that 2011 was a banner year for FDA approvals. We certainly hope this trend continues, although our multiyear average seems a safer metric.

 

Worker in Wood

Kudos for Craig Lambert’s lovely article about David Esterly, “The Art of Subtraction,” July-August, page 30). As one who practices a craft, is a devotee of Yeats, and delights in prose that is both excellent and idiosyncratic, he really speaks to my condition.

Judith S. Stix
St. Louis


I have just enjoyed Craig Lambert’s “The Art of Subtraction” (July-August, page 35), to me your most inspiring contribution of the decade. The evolution of classmate David Easterly’s craft shows forth my own path, though taken to heights of perfection I can certainly celebrate if not achieve. I am proud to share my alma mater with a kindred spirit.

David Putnam ’66
Brooklin, Me.

 

Social Impact Bonds

Ashley Pettus’s article on “Social Impact Bonds” (July-August, page 11) maintains the convenient fiction that tweaking the nonprofit system—adding one more level of bureaucracy, another way for private investors to profit from the provision of public services—is the best we can do for this country’s “toughest problems,” i.e. the underclass.

There is no way that the nonprofit sector can make up for the deep cuts to government programs under sequestration, after decades of cuts to services for the poor and middle classes. Only the federal government can summon the resources to subsidize housing, food, childcare, and education, as well as services for the elderly, sick, and disabled, at the necessary levels.

Nonprofits burn out countless good people trying to meet ever-increasing needs locally instead of organizing to demand adequate federal resources. They can offer rich donors ego-gratification and tax benefits. But they can’t solve the problems created by laissez-faire capitalism, which continues to make the rich richer at the expense of all the rest of us. To pretend otherwise is to accept the federal government’s abdication of responsibility to the American people, and to follow Grover Norquist’s [’78, M.B.A. ’81] prescription: shrink the government until it’s small enough to drown in a bathtub.

Jane Collins ’71
Medford, Mass.


Urban Joblessness

I question the basic premises of the article “The Urban Job Crisis” (May-June, page 42): that the crisis would in part be alleviated by finding “paths toward employment for low-income blacks and Latinos” and that that path is to be found in educational opportunities “that will enable them to find stable jobs in the modern labor force and work their way into the middle class.”

In my view, I question the implication that the modern workforce could exclude jobs that are now categorized as “low paying,” jobs such as those in the service industries. If it can be given that such jobs will always be with us, then our focus could and should be on how to reward those people holding those jobs sufficiently so that they can support themselves and their immediate families in livable conditions. The low pay from today’s minimum wage is totally inadequate to meet these conditions. Raising the minimum wage to an appropriate level would accomplish more than meeting basic human needs. It would result in multiplying the numbers of consumers. This, in turn, would redound to the bottom lines of producers and, as a consequence, to their stockholders.

But raising the minimum wage would not alone solve today’s job crisis. We should look to our government and our major corporations to contribute to the solution. Our government can create millions of jobs and now, belatedly, is the time to do it. No mystery as to how it can be done. The WPA and CCC did it in the 1930s and ’40s, as does the Job Corps. Furthermore there are billions, if not trillions, of revenue dollars to be obtained by enforcing the tax code as it is and, additionally by reforming the code to mandate offshore income to return back home to be taxed.

What could be done with those corporations, who are now sitting on huge surpluses waiting to renew their faith in our country before investing? My fantasy is that they could be encouraged to spend their lobbying funds on promoting the common good and that the very act of bi-partisan collaboration would stimulate renewal of faith and release of funds for investment.

In summary: resolving the urban job crisis can be accomplished if a) government raises the minimum wage to a living wage, enforces and reforms its tax code, and launches programs to create jobs while b) corporations are encouraged to invest their excess surpluses.

Robert E. Simon Jr. ’35
Reston, Va.

 

James M. Quane’s dismissive rebuttal of the point that low-skills American workers are harmed by immigration of workers with similar labor-force characteristics insults the letter-writer (Cambridge 02138, July-August, page 7). In articles spanning 2000-2006, Harvard’s own Professor George Borjas reports that immigration depresses wages and displaces Americans from jobs, costing native-born American workers hundreds of billions annually. In 2000, the wages of native-born American workers were reduced by an average 3.2 percent. The loss was most extreme, approaching 7 percent, among least-educated Americans. Quane’s further assertion of there being no evidence that Americans would do jobs often taken by immigrants is further challenged by findings of the Center for Immigration Studies, and by the common-sense observation that, in states with little immigration, all jobs still get done.

Virginia Deane Abernethy, Ph.D. ’71  
Professor emerita, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
Nashville

 

Supreme Court “Diversity”

The reportage on Commencement 2013 (“Lows and Highs,” July-August, page 40) included a curious “high-minded and serious” observation by Jeffrey Toobin ’82, J.D. ’86, during his Law School class day speech. The “distinguished Supreme Court reporter” noted that the current court “now has five Republicans and four Democrats—and that tells you most of what you need to know.”

 Really?

I believe that a more interesting and insightful observation would have been that the current court “now has six Harvard Law School matriculants, and three Yale Law School matriculants—and that tells you most of what you need to know.” (Justice Ginsburg later transferred from HLS, and graduated Columbia Law School.)

Tom Reardon ’68
Plymouth, Mass.

 

Science Learning

In “Science at Harvard: Collaborations and Transformations” (The View from Mass Hall, July-August, page 6), President Drew Faust asserts that “getting students involved in research early on is key to their engagement and sustained interest in scientific careers.” This view is influencing science education at Harvard and across the U.S. In my experience it often leads to “research opportunities” that either have little value, or are more traditional learning opportunities rebranded as “research.” If President Faust’s assertion is true this may be worth it. I am curious what the evidence for her assertion is?

Richard Taylor
Princeton, N.J.

 

Vaulting with Verve

Being a lifelong, certifiable Track and Field Nut, I read with pleasure the article (“Up, Up, and Over! May-June, page 55) about champion pole-vaulter Nico Weiler ’12 (’13). It reminded me of watching a track meet during undergrad days in the early ’60s at Briggs Cage, where indoor track meets were held at Harvard. West Point was one of the teams competing, and their stellar vaulter, Dick Plymale, was jumping. The Cage was a bare-bones structure with a thin warm-up running track as a kind of balcony. Plymale was far “above” any Ivy vaulters of the day, so he didn’t need to do his best. The landing pit in those days was made of a bag of soft neoprene extrusions, which did not provide very good cushioning. When Plymale took his turn, the bar was set much lower than his normal height. As he sailed way above the bar, he just missed smashing into the upper running track. Then his momentum carried him to the back edge of the meager pit. He hit hard and rolled onto the floor, but was not injured. That single vault was enough to win, but it could have ended his career. It was a vivid indication of the lowly prowess of Ivy vaulters of the day and was a good reason to build a better facility.

David Wilson ’65
Placitas, N.M.

 

Coach Parker

When I was teaching Harvard undergrads I had a member of the varsity crew team in my course. He asked for an extension on a paper on the grounds that he needed to practice for the Harvard-Yale Regatta. Of course I said to myself that we undergrads at U. Chicago would have never asked for an extension from a professor unless we were near death, in a hospital, and had a letter from a doctor to prove it. But this was Harvard, not Chicago. Crew was a Big Deal at Harvard. And the Harvard-Yale Regatta was the pièce de résistance. So I gave him the extension. The only extension I ever gave to a Harvard undergrad without a doctor’s letter. A tribute to Coach Parker.

RIP.

Francis A. Boyle, J.D. ’76, Ph.D. ’83
Champaign, Ill.

For coverage of Harry Parker, the legendary crew coach who died on June 25, see “Harry Parker, Legendary Crew Coach, Dies;” to read our 1996 cover article about him, visit http://harvardmagazine.com/1996/05/upstream-warrior.

 

More on Monro

Here’s another story about the late John U. Monro (Vita, May-June, page 30, and letters, July-August, page 74).

In the fall of my junior year, I was invited to compete for an executive job on the Crimson, and I was chosen to become editorial page editor. But neglect of my course work that fall caught up with me during the winter exam period. I experienced an acute emotional breakdown and was hospitalized for six weeks at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston.

My return to the college involved an interview with Dean Monro. During our lengthy conversation, perhaps recalling his own turbulent college career, he remarked, “All of us are skating on thin ice.” I’ve never forgotten that comforting comment.

I did return to Harvard, reclaimed my job on the Crimson, and graduated magna cum laude. Not a bad outcome, all things considered.

Stephen Clapp ’60
Jeffersonton, Va.

 

As the first Harvard Regional Scholar in 1952, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the College. Late summer of 1954, a renewal notice for my junior year at the same stipend was received from the financial-aid office, John Monro, director.

A good summer job and a new bride (an employable teacher) reminded me of my Depression-era father’s advice: “Never ask for more than you need.”

After advising the financial-aid office I could manage with less, a curt reply from Monro instructed me to report to his office as soon as I hit the Yard that fall. With great trepidation, fearing complete loss of stipend, I did as instructed. After I entered the director’s office and identified myself, John Monro jumped from his desk, grasped my hand with a firmness that matched his crew cut, and said he wanted to shake the hand of the first person to turn down money from Harvard. Honor my financial judgment he did, but he assured me of future aid should the need arise. It did not, but I will never forget that handshake and the value validation it implied, an integral part of Monro’s character, the “Monro Doctrine,” and his life after Harvard. 

Ralph W. Stephens ’56
Reno

 

I want to join the chorus of praise for John Monro (Vita, May-June, page 30).

Having survived the Nazis and the war in Berlin as a half-Jew (father Jewish, mother not) and being lucky enough to end up in the American sector, at the age of 21 I and my parents and brother were able to emigrate in 1946 to the U.S. Penniless and with little English, I volunteered for induction, was drafted with the last draft-call of World War II in September, and after brief basic training, sent to Japan. From there I wrote to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale because I wanted to become a physicist. Princeton and Yale ignored my letters, but I received an encouraging reply from John Monro, who was then Veterans Counselor at Harvard. After I sent him copies of letters of recommendation from some of my last high-school teachers that I had taken with me, he invited me to come, after my discharge, to Cambridge for interviews. I was discharged, with all the draftees, in June of 1947, returned to Buffalo, where my parents lived, and hitchhiked to Cambridge, where I met Mr. Monro and was interviewed by several other people. As a result I was admitted to Harvard as a junior (given credit for my graduation from a German high school) and the cost was totally covered by the GI Bill (for 20 months: 12 plus my 8 months of service). So I enthusiastically came in the fall of 1947. Next year the GI Bill stipend was augmented by my receipt of a Harvard National Scholarship. (This was something new, established, I believe in part by the efforts of John Monro.)

I graduated in 1949 and went on to get my Ph.D. in theoretical physics in 1953 under Julian Schwinger, and then on to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton for two years. I also got married to Ruth Gordon ’53 (we just celebrated our sixtieth anniversary), whom I had met in a class. Two of our three children graduated from Harvard, and so did one of our granddaughters. I obviously owe John Monro an enormous debt of gratitude for the decisive influence he had on the course of my life.

Roger G. Newton ’49
Distinguished Professor emeritus
Indiana University, Bloomington

 

I read with interest the article about John U. Monro, former dean of Harvard College.

It is regrettable that her narrative short-circuits Monro’s wartime experience thusly: “He continued…until September 1941, when he joined the navy. After the war….”

There are a number of Harvard’s veterans who haven’t read Toni-Lee Caposella’s book, but would be very much interested in more information. The author of John U. Monro: Uncommon Educator thoroughly researched and documented his military service for her book, but omitted that important part of his life in the Vita piece. 

Monro served on the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CV-6), the most-decorated warship in any navy, in any war. He kept that fighting machine afloat during her long, bloody campaigns, and that was a substantial contribution to our victory in the Pacific. His competence in damage control had much to do with holding down the number of KIA and wounded in “The Big-E” crew. In my opinion, Lieutenant Commander Monro earned a higher decoration than the Bronze Star he was awarded.

When I arrived in the Yard (Thayer Hall) in September of 1946, as a member of the tsunami of veterans flooding academia, John Monro occupied a small office in Weld Hall and had the title of assistant veterans’ counselor.

In my brief interview we focused on the G.I. Bill.  If he had given any clue that he was an ex-sailor I would have inquired about his service history.

My first ship, heavy cruiser USS Northampton (CA-26), escorted Enterprise from November 28, 1941, until December 1, 1942.  We parted company when my ship was sunk at Guadalcanal (Battle of Tassafaronga). It turns out that Monro and I had been in quite a few places at the same time during those 13 months. We could have spent several hours sharing memorable sea stories.

He certainly had plenty to talk about, but this modest hero was more interested in education than in self-publicity.

For anyone interested, see these sources:

USS Enterprise (CV-6) website: http://www.cv6.org/default.htm.

Related reading and video history:

Enterprise – Barrett Tilman (2002)
Battle 360 – History Channel (2008)
Desert Sailor – James Fitch (2010)
The Big E – Edward Stafford (2011)

James W. Fitch ’50, M.B.A. ’53 
Renton, Wash.

 

Applied-Sciences Home

President Drew Faust’s View from Mass Hall (July-August 2013, page 6) fails to convey an important fact in her upbeat spiel about science and engineering at Harvard. On February 5, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences learned from the administration that in five years the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) is to be moved in its entirety from the Oxford Street area to a site across the river in Allston. The news was a shock to the professors and many were angry. One can get an idea of their reaction from this Crimson article: http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2013/2/6/seas-move-allston-campus/#article-comments.

Engineering at Harvard has been on Oxford Street for over a century. Engineering belongs embedded in the sciences. I received my Ph.D. from what was then called the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics in 1969, and I did a sabbatical there 25 years later. As a professor of electrical engineering at U. Mass Lowell for 40 years, I know that daily chance encounters with a physicist, mathematician, or chemist are essential to my developing new ideas in research and teaching. A strong walker will be able to go from the Allston site to the home of physics and math on Oxford Street in half an hour. Worse, the Cabot Science Library will be 30 minutes away from the engineers as well. There will no more casual lunchtime browsing among the physics and math books and journals for the engineering and applied mathematics professors. One wonders if many students will concentrate in engineering when such a choice will involve deportation to another campus. 

The Crimson article makes clear that the faculty of SEAS was never consulted about this move. Some professors referred to the announcement as the “Allston bomb.” About 30 years ago the Harvard administration announced a goal to relocate the Law School to Allston. The Law Faculty rose up in protest and the plan was dumped. This time is different; construction for engineering is well underway across the river. Evidently the administration feared a revolt, and unlike the case of the Law School, decided not to show its cards ahead of time. 

 A. David Wunsch, Ph.D ’69
Belmont, Mass.

 

Detroit, Europe

After reading Peter A. Hall’s “Anatomy of the Euro Crisis” (July-August, page 24), I could not help comparing it to the financial mess Detroit is in. The city’s political and economic foundations are uncertain. The appointment of an emergency manager with unchallenged powers has eroded the sovereignty of the city government.

Billions of dollars in debt have forced the city to make reforms or go bankrupt [the correspondent wrote before Detroit’s bankruptcy filing on July 18]. The burden of past obligations has left few funds to run the daily services. The budget deficits of the last 10 years have ruined the city’s credit rating.

If the Europeans want to lean how to address their fiscal troubles, they might keep their eyes on Detroit to see if we can turn ours around.

Dean Masouredis ’74
Detroit

 

On Memory

I’m sure that there is much more to Professor Schacter’s enlarged view of memory than could be conveyed in the short notice in the July-August issue (“The Social Life of Memory,” page 10). However, that we use memory to think about the future, and that memory and imagination are closely linked, would not have been any news to St. Augustine in a.d. 400. Even making adjustments for the exceptionally wide scope of Latin ‘memoria’, Augustine’s Confessions provide ample evidence of that.

Charles Hagen ’68
San Luis Obispo, Calif.

 

Smart Brain Research

The proposal in “Mapping the Way to a Brain Survey” (July-August, page 9) certainly seems ambitious, yet roughly half the human brain does not consist of neurons. The other half is made up of various glial cells. Recently, it has been shown that each of three main types of glial cells—astrocytes, microglia, and oligodendrocytes—affects neurodevelopment and cognition in nontrivial ways via synaptic pruning. It is also interesting that each of these three types of glial cells also affects glutamate, the key excitatory neurotransmitter within mammals.

Further, it is now well established that there can be nonsynaptic diffusion of some essential neurotransmitters such as glutamate. Thus, merely focusing upon neurons risks gross oversimplification of how brains actually work.

Charles F. Stromeyer IV
Co-winner of the first Katerva Award and Sweden’s IAP Award

 

Librarians on the Front Lines

As a Harvard Divinity School alumnus, and one of many Harvard alumni/ae of both the college and professional schools in the Harvard Library, I found the short piece on senior associate provost for the Harvard Library Mary Lee Kennedy’s leave-taking insensitive and inconsiderate—both to Kennedy and the staff of the Harvard libraries (Brevia, May-June, page 54).

It is a diminution and derogation of both Kennedy’s achievement and the staff of the greatest academic library in the world, and our pride in our positions and our indispensable and sophisticated work, to refer to the technical and circulation services of the Harvard Library that she consolidated as the library’s “back-office services.”

I was not aware that the consolidated circulation desks subsisted in back offices. And I do not see how the technologically advanced and dedicated staff, that accomplishes the actually mind-blogging ongoing project of organizing the literally millions of bits of information that the library receives into organized and accessible and transparent and retrieval form for Harvard’s students and faculty and its overall educational mission, once again, as a “back-room” consignment. It is an inconsiderate, prejudicial, elitist, and almost bigoted put-down, almost as if we were the “servants’ quarters.” And as if Harvard Magazine would ever designate, say, Google, which does ultimately and in essence the same thing, as “Back-Offices.”

Harvard Magazine needs to enlighten itself, and owes us all an apology—both associate provost Kennedy and the library staff which she (and executive director Helen Shenton) have stewarded at this critical time—and in this—whether the magazine is sufficiently aware of it or not—fully information age.

James Adler, M.T.S. ’86
Harvard Library Technical Services
Cambridge

 

Children and Same-Sex Marriage

Dr. Stephen Sussman, in his letter in your last issue (Cambridge 02138, July-August, page 7), gives no credence to the view that same-sex marriage may create an undesirable context for childrearing. (“[C]omplete falsehood,” he says.).

We won’t know for sure until many years from now, when we can study a generation of children who have reached adulthood within households such as those, but a recent study (Regnerus, 2012) suggests pessimism.

Scott T. FitzGibbon, J.D. ’70
Belmont, Mass.

 

Editor’s note: Mr. FitzGibbon wrote a letter published in the May-June issue (page 8); it stated in part that concerning the welfare of children in same-sex married households, “Strong evidence indicates that they stand to be harmed,” prompting the responses published in the July-August issue. FitzGibbon, a professor at Boston College Law School, is author of The Jurisprudence of Marriage and Other Intimate Relationships. The study to which he refers here (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049089X12000610), by Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, compared 18-to-39-year-old Americans who had a parent who had a same-sex relationship with those who had heterosexual parents. Perhaps predictably, it has been invoked by opponents of same-sex marriage, and widely criticized by proponents and, on methodological and definitional grounds, by many other social scientists, some of whom cite the limitations of family definitions and the social status of gay parents from the time period for which Regnerus gathered data.


Amplifications and Corrections

Our article “Time Flying” (July-August, page 64) incorrectly identified fiftieth-reunioner John Fryer ’63, Ph.D. ’74, as a member of the class of 1964. We regret the error.

Robert C. Davenport ’44 wishes to correct the military rank mistakenly assigned him in a caption for last issue’s College Pump (“Philosophic Fun,” page 68). The retired major general in the Massachusetts Army National Guard, not in the U.S. Army, writes, “It may seem a minor matter to most people, but to soldiers it matters significantly. The qualification for promotion in the senior ranks is demanding in the federal system and tends to be more relaxed in some State Guard systems. While I will defend my qualifications mightily, only those who would have to work with me can make the final judgment.” We regret the error.

You Might Also Like:

At Harvard African Students Association’s Africa Night (from left): Tom Osborn ’20 of Kenya; Joshua Benjamin ’21, of Phoenix, Arizona (whose ancestors are Angolan but were first brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in the late seventeenth century); Tawanda Mulalu ’20 of Botswana; and Mfundo Radebe ’20 of South Africa

Photograph by Christabel Narh

Harvard through an African filter

You Might Also Like:

At Harvard African Students Association’s Africa Night (from left): Tom Osborn ’20 of Kenya; Joshua Benjamin ’21, of Phoenix, Arizona (whose ancestors are Angolan but were first brought to Charleston, South Carolina, in the late seventeenth century); Tawanda Mulalu ’20 of Botswana; and Mfundo Radebe ’20 of South Africa

Photograph by Christabel Narh

Harvard through an African filter