Regarding “Lopped off” (SN: 11/5/11,
p. 26): One of the Tao Te Ching’s chapters (excerpt below) is very prescient
on the unintended consequences of
human behavior. It was written around
500 B.C., long before our innovative
abilities threatened the entire planet.
It is ironic that science both leads to
innovations that cause the destruction,
and now allows us to realize the full
range of consequences.
Woe to him who willfully innovates
While ignorant of the constant,
One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Impartiality to kingliness,
Kingliness to heaven,
Heaven to the way,
The way to perpetuity,
And to the end of one’s days one will
meet with no danger.
Carl Abbott, Santa Cruz, Calif.
Your article failed to quote or cite any
of the fine poetry about vultures. The
works of Atwood, Belloc, Kennedy and
others touch on the scientific points
you were making.
Vultures eat dead, bloated cows
So they won’t go to waste.
Thus making up in usefulness
What they lack in taste.
Dave Jordan, Brevard, N.C.
The author quotes Peter Kareiva
of the Nature Conservancy: “If you
could restore the balance of ecosys-
tems — look at how many deer there
are in the Northeast, and what a big
problem they create for homeowners
and everybody — would it be so bad if
cougars came back?”
As a lifelong resident of the North-
east familiar with the deer issue — let
me just say a resounding YES! It would
be bad if we got major predators like
cougars or wolves here. Children would
not be safe playing in their own back-
yard. Small household pets are at risk
now because coyotes have moved into
the Northeast. And the issue with
deer eating cottonwood trees that is
a problem out west does not exist here
in the Northeast. All we need to do is
harvest more of the deer every year.
We are the top predators here.
Kenneth V. Hoffman, Peace Dale, R.I.
How heads get holes
In the article “Incas not always hostile” (SN: 11/19/11, p. 16), it would be
interesting to know how many of the
skulls examined were trephinated.
Since trephination was practiced for a
number of reasons (including allowing
egress of bad spirits in cases of illness
and head injury), it is conceivable that
the trephination was made directly
over a depressed skull fracture. Since
the trephinated bone would have been
removed, evidence of the injury would
have been lacking. It is conceivable that
the 7. 8 percent cited as the rate of war
injuries is artificially low and that the
Incas may have been more bellicose
than this article would have one believe.
Stephanie Rifkinson, New York City
In the researchers’ analysis, skull surgery, or trephination, occurred on seven
of 23 Inca individuals who suffered major
cranial trauma, most likely due to warfare, and on 21 of 77 individuals who had
minor, healed cranial injuries. Surgical
openings were located adjacent to head
wounds, sometimes partly overlapping
with them, and were probably made after
war wounds had been inflicted, the scientists say. — Bruce Bower
Charged up by lightning
If the lower part of a cloud is negative
and the upper part positive, why does
the “Lightning in 3-D” graphic in the
story “Like a bolt from above” (SN:
11/5/11, p. 16) show the positive charge
below the negative charge?
Bobby Baum, Bethesda, Md.
There is a great deal of variety in how
a cloud can become electrified, and the
graphic shows an instance in which elec-
trical breakdown traveled from a region
of negative charge toward and through a
lower region of positive charge. We chose
it because it represented real data for a
flash that the New Mexico Tech scientists
found intriguing. — Alexandra Witze
Thanks for science memories
I now am 85 years old and have — it
seems like forever — been receiving
Science News Letter and Science News since
the 1940s. While I was an undergraduate zoology major at Houghton College
in New York, each week I would post on
the department bulletin board pertinent
articles I had clipped from your magazine. Now I want to thank you for the
high-quality articles you have continued
to print for more than six decades.
Wayne Frair, New York City
The article “For his last meal, Iceman
ate goat” (SN: 9/24/11, p. 8) makes the
assertion that he was murdered. Science
should not be about guessing. But, if I
were to guess as to the way the Iceman
came to his end, I would say he fell into a
crevasse and impaled himself on his own
arrow. As a hunter, he may have carried
a single arrow in one hand and his bow
in the other. Falling into a crevasse, he
would have put his hand down to break
his fall, putting the arrow below him. If
he tried to pull the arrow out of his back,
the arrowhead would have separated
from the arrow and caused even more
bleeding. Sometimes the truth is less
dramatic than our imagination.
Will Willette, Lisbon Falls, Maine
“Sparing the rare earths” (SN: 8/27/11,
p. 18) incorrectly referred to the gauss-oersted as a “unit of magnetic field
strength.” This unit (used in the magnet industry) compares the magnetic
strengths of materials by measuring the
energy densities of their magnetic fields.
The article should have said that the
gauss-oersted is a unit used to compare
the strengths of magnets.
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