Home Science Readers Reply to the October 2020 Subject

Readers Reply to the October 2020 Subject



I don’t suppose Scientific American ought to have endorsed Joe Biden for U.S. president in “From Worry to Hope” [Science Agenda]. I do strongly dislike Donald Trump as a president and perceive and share the editors’ frustration with a frontrunner whose focus shouldn’t be on being scientifically appropriate however on being politically viable. The U.S. will probably be a greater place with out his reelection. But 175 years of political neutrality ought to have been extra jealously protected. Dropping it additional divides the nation. Trump’s supporters will conclude that Scientific American is unfairly partisan. If there aren’t any establishments the place these supporters and detractors can work together with out reminders of their variations, each side will self-segregate. And unnecessarily ostracizing Trump’s supporters amplifies the cohesiveness of his base.


Way back to I can bear in mind, my father was an avid reader of your journal, though he allowed his subscription to lapse just a few years in the past. Dad has all the time been conservative. I by no means have been. Now we have enjoyable arising with arguments to persuade one another.

It’s confounding how so many in any other case clever folks stubbornly proceed to help our so-called president, irrespective of how a lot science he dismisses. I believe Dad started consuming conservative media. Alarmingly, he trusts absolutely anything it tells him.

If you issued your first endorsement ever for a politician, I forwarded the announcement to my father. He quickly known as and sounded a bit shaken. Due to your daring option to help Biden, Trump acquired one fewer vote in Arizona. Thanks, thanks, thanks. The world appears just a little brighter now.


South Pasadena, Calif.

In a single fell swoop, you trashed an admirable custom of political neutrality and have become a propaganda agent of the progressive motion. The willingness of the editors to interrupt that 175-year coverage signifies they don’t seem to be simply biased however obsessive about progressive political opinions.

RICHARD GRUMM Arcadia, Calif.

I’m grateful that you just stepped away out of your norm of not endorsing a political determine since you realized that it was important for us to know the importance of this yr’s election. As a doctor with each an M.D. and a Ph.D. in biophysics, I might hope {that a} majority of these in science and drugs already got here to the identical conclusions, however this was a beautiful abstract of the details. Generally it’s important to take a distinct path in order that what is clear to some might change into apparent to most.

ROBERT HOOTKINS Georgetown, Tex.

THE EDITORS REPLY: We acquired a whole lot of letters expressing sturdy approval or dismay in response to our resolution to endorse Joe Biden. It was not made frivolously. This was a unprecedented election, with a transparent selection between a candidate who helps science and proof and one who has persistently rejected it to advertise harmful insurance policies that damage folks. We hope we is not going to discover it essential to endorse a politician once more. However we do intend to be much more engaged in essentially the most pressing social problems with the day.


In “Interstellar Interlopers,” David Jewitt and Amaya Moro-Martín write that the form of 1I/’Oumuamua, the primary interstellar object ever noticed, was inferred from its gentle curve, or the plot of how the daylight it mirrored to Earth modified. However may that gentle curve have as a substitute been produced by a extra rounded object with a nonuniform albedo? Are there identified or hypothesized mechanisms that would go away an asteroid considerably extra reflective on one aspect than the opposite?


Studying the article, I used to be reminded of creator Larry Niven’s 1966 science-fiction story “Neutron Star.” Have astronomers thought of tidal forces as a attainable clarification for ‘Oumuamua’s elongated form? May it first have change into plastic from the warmth from a detailed encounter with a gravitationally dense object after which handed close to sufficient to a physique equivalent to a neutron star for the tidal results of the sturdy gravitational area to stretch it out?

DAN GRAIFER Fairfax, Va.

THE AUTHORS REPLY: Schulman’s suggestion is feasible, however primarily based on observations of hundreds of photo voltaic system asteroids, we predict it is unlikely. Whereas small albedo variations do exist on asteroids, they’re sometimes variations of some %, not 1,000 %. Solely Saturn’s moon Iapetus has very totally different albedos from one aspect to the opposite, and that may be a particular case doubtless brought on by air pollution from one other moon hitting a single aspect of the physique. In interstellar area, all sides of ‘Oumuamua can be bathed uniformly in starlight and cosmic rays, and it’s onerous to see why any asymmetry would exist.

Curiously, an thought like Graifer’s was instructed by researchers Yun Zhang and Douglas N. C. Lin within the September 2020 difficulty of Nature Astronomy. They posited {that a} planet passing near a dense star might be shredded and stretched into items, considered one of which turned ‘Oumuamua. This situation would require a detailed method to the star however not so shut as to vaporize all of the water ice, which might be wanted to provide the nongravitational acceleration detected in ‘Oumuamua. As with all such speculative fashions, the query is “How can or not it’s examined?


I couldn’t agree extra with Naomi Oreskes’s conclusions in “Sexism and Racism Persist in Science” [Observatory]. I’m a retired part-time professor who taught chemical engineering, supplies science and engineering science for 13 years. A lot of my finest college students in these tough and demanding courses had been ladies and folks of coloration. I’ve little doubt that we aren’t using such people of expertise within the sciences and engineering. I strongly consider that these fields ought to be freed from sexism and racism and that our nation will probably be higher served if we spend extra effort and time in encouraging scientific expertise freed from such discrimination.

A. G. TOBIN through e-mail


“Siri Is a Biased Listener,” by Claudia Lopez-Lloreda [Forum], notes that speech-recognition software program extra often misunderstands individuals who shouldn’t have a “normal” accent. Packages equivalent to Siri share the issue with many people who’ve high-frequency listening to loss. As a result of spoken consonants are largely high-frequency sounds within the vary the place we’ve diminished listening to, we rely extra on vowels to know a speaker. However variations in accents happen primarily in vowel sounds, which makes unfamiliar ones far more tough for us to know.

Listening to aids can compensate for this difficulty by enhancing the high-frequency sounds we hear. I’m wondering if they may additionally broaden the vowel frequencies. An analogous enhancement of Siri’s listening equipment may assist ameliorate its listening bias.

EDGAR W. MILLS Chateaugay, N.Y.


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