The Year in Science
In your top science story of 2006—alternative energy goes mainstream—you note that traditional investors have been betting their money on renewable energy. This is strongly evidenced by investment guru Warren Buffett’s actions. His investment firm, Berkshire Hathaway, owns MidAmerican Energy, which over the last few years has built in Iowa one of the nation’s largest wind farms, with the capacity of generating 460 megawatts’ worth of electricity (powering about 150,000 homes), and has announced plans to build more, doubling the amount of their company-owned wind generation machines in Iowa. Buffett has never been known as an investor who takes big risks; if he’s putting his money behind renewable energy, that means something.
Mark O. Lambert
Polk City, Iowa
I take issue with your story on global warming’s being your fourth-top story rather than the first. Also, by presenting alternative energy not as a response to global warming but merely as a solution to the rapid depletion of (cheap and abundant) oil, you are not pushing humanity to deal with global warming and the catastrophic situations that are going to arise from it.
New York, New York
Your #12 story of 2006—“Who Failed New Orleans?”—outlined the engineering failures clearly, but I feel the full story was not told. My past and present sixth-graders have been investigating the relationship between the diminishing Louisiana coastal wetlands and increased storm surges. The change is quite dramatic and is primarily caused by our national demand on the Mississippi River and the navigational channels required. These channels have diverted the soil needed to naturally replenish the wetlands as they subside, a process that built the Louisiana floodplain and wetlands. Scientists are coming up with creative solutions, but little attention is being paid to nature’s engineering solution for storm surges: rebuilding the wetlands. Certainly this is only part of the solution, but it is an important one that must be recognized by all. My students were listening to wetlands scientists predict the severity of the next hurricane’s impact a full year before Katrina hit.
Science department chair
Wyoming Seminary Lower School
Forty Fort, Pennsylvania
Apoorva Mandavilli reports that despite projections that the vaccine could reduce cervical cancer cases in the United States by 70 percent, “some conservative groups have opposed the vaccine, saying it might promote sexual activity.” Given all the chemical changes and social pressures experienced by teenage girls, I seriously doubt whether their decision to have sex will depend on a cervical cancer vaccine. Similarly rigid sentiments are echoed by ministers throughout Africa, who, despite HIV/AIDS, refuse to advocate the use of condoms for fear it will promote extramarital sex. I can respect an institution’s decision to oppose sexual promiscuity, but at what point must that institution realize that a life is more important than a belief?
Bruno Maddox’s interesting article on how little of Afghanistan’s mountainous territory has been accurately mapped was seriously marred by the jarring and gratuitous insults directed at President George W. Bush. The need for governmental support of science will require bipartisan consensus. Such inflammatory characterizations have the opposite effect.
Gordon J. Louttit
Manhattan Beach, California
The Iraq war has united a fractious Arab world around Bin Laden and made his capture much less likely. In addition we have an inept intelligence agency that has no idea where Osama bin Laden is or whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Into this mix comes Maddox, who acts as an apologist for Bush by saying that Afghanistan is hard to map. If you insist on publishing pro-Bush propaganda, you can cancel my subscription.
I am confused by the January Blinded by Science. I don’t understand what 19th-century British surveying techniques have to do with finding Osama bin Laden in today’s world. We have had satellite-image mapping for well more than 20 years and just about every square yard of Earth’s surface is available to anyone with Internet access via Google Earth.