Letters

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THINK TANK

Columbia Magazine Fall 2012Congratulations on David J. Craig’s excellent story, “The Brain Trust,” in the Fall 2012 issue. Put into that context, I was awed by the boldness of President Lee Bollinger’s vision: buying up seventeen acres of prime real estate next door to the Columbia campus; razing the apartments, warehouses, and auto-repair shops; erecting an elegant nine-story, 450,000-squarefoot office building with sixty laboratories devoted to neuroscience; and filling those laboratories with the best minds in America.

I’m even more awed by how brilliantly President Bollinger implemented that vision in just a short decade on the job. The first half is accomplished, and the second half seems to be proceeding right on schedule.

In the decades to come, Bollinger’s legacy will be to have established Columbia University as one of the world’s leaders in neuroscience.

Eric Newhouse ’72JRN
Charleston, WV


“The Brain Trust” reminded me how scientific marketing has evolved from thought leadership based on ingenuity, hard work, and unassailable integrity to a world of hyperbole and showmanship equal to any P. T. Barnum enterprise.

This article, however, transcended even this new standard. What caught my eye in particular was the narrative of Charles Zuker. Now, there is no question in my mind that Zuker is an outstanding human being and an illuminating teacher who is a beacon for Columbia’s efforts to unravel the nexus of human intelligence. But do we really need to know about his spectacular oceanfront home in Del Mar? And do we really need to know that it was featured on the cover of a marketing brochure? What all this adds up to is boiler-room marketing of what should be an impeccable research effort; we are talking about the greatest initiative in history to unravel the complexities of the human psyche, after all — and we all know how pure the human soul is.

Attila Mady ’92PS
Santa Rosa, CA


As a retired scholar of neuroscience and behavior, I was delighted to read David J. Craig’s “The Brain Trust” in your Fall 2012 issue and to learn about Columbia University’s Mind, Brain, and Behavior Initiative (MBBI).

MBBI reminded me of the NRP (Neurosciences Research Program) at MIT, created in 1962 by MIT professor Francis O. Schmitt. In 1963, Schmitt hired me, then a founding editor of International Science & Technology in New York, as the NRP’s director of communications, primarily to help him edit the proceedings of a month-long intensive study program planned for 1966.

Schmitt hoped that the book’s broad scope, from mind and brain down to cell and molecule, along with its rare interdisciplinary nature, would significantly advance the understanding of the human brain by helping to synthesize the finding of leading investigators in the various disciplines, who did not communicate much at that time. To help him prepare the intensive study program, he recruited a dozen experts from around the world as nonresident NRP associates, who met at MIT several times a year and who, in the intervals between those meetings, chaired two-day workshops held at the NRP with a dozen or so vanguard specialists on hot topics of research.

To the three codirectors of the MBBI, I suggest, as I did to Schmitt, that they not only sponsor such occasional workshops, but also publish summaries of them, written by the workshop chairmen, in order to make available the state of the art to others. Schmitt agreed, and I then became the founding editor of the Neurosciences Research Program Bulletin (the first publication to use “neurosciences” in its title). The four to six issues per year were, for two decades, very popular around the neuroscience world. During those years, three more books were also published that reported the proceedings of further NRP intensive study programs, and one of the MBBI’s current codirectors, Eric Kandel, was one of the NRP’s later associates, along with other Nobelists like Francis Crick and Gerald Edelman.

Theodore Melnechuk ’48CC
Amherst, MA


THE BROAD VIEW

Regarding your news article “Mailman School introduces new broad-based curriculum” (Fall 2012), I wish to respond that this is not new at all. Rather, it is the way it used to be when I attended the school from 1973 until 1975. I was a health-administration major and had a wonderful mentor in Lowell Bellin. I was a doer, and wanted to learn everything I could. Yes, I took vital statistics, biostatistics, epidemiology, and systems analysis; but I also had training in the history and philosophy of public health, emotions of the life cycle, public-health writing, health insurance, financial-resource management in hospitals, health-facilities planning and design, and long-term care. After a first career as a public-welfare social worker in Connecticut, I did my residency at HIP and LaGuardia Hospital, which prepared me well for a second career as an auditor, manager, and policy writer in the New York State Social Services Department, Health Department, and Office of Medicaid Inspector General. The many principles I learned helped me to work with lawyers, doctors, administrative- law judges, and health-care providers. I understood laws and regulations, and was able to formulate policy. As an auditor, I was able to deal effectively with hospitals and long-term-care institutions.

The school provided me this wonderful education, although the facilities were meager. We used the Presbyterian Hospital’s library and had our classes on 178th Street in an old building that also housed City Welfare. Most of my studying was done at home.

I imagine the curriculum is new to the incoming classes, and intimidating, as Mailman professor Melissa Begg says. But jobs require versatility. He who gets too compartmentalized is the one who will get passed over for promotions or even be let go.

Robert A. Shapiro ’75PH
Slingerlands, NY


OCCUPY ROBOTS

Surely a man of Joseph Stiglitz’s learning is aware that the reason productivity is going up during the current recession (“Of the 1%, for the 1%,” Reviews, Fall 2012) is not that the wicked employers are wringing more work out of the desperate workers. Rather, it is because of the increasing use of computerized technology in both offices and factories. The latest factories are using computers and advanced robots to do the work once done by blue-collar laborers. This is a trend that will continue and accelerate here and abroad. The factory workers of the future — the very near future — will have to have advanced skills in math and engineering and not just big muscles and strong backs, and far fewer of them will be needed. That is the real problem: to give the proper training to those entering the work force and to find new ways to employ those no longer needed in factories. What to do with all the blacksmiths and stable boys now that the automobile has replaced the horse and carriage?

Carol Crystle ’64GSAS, ’70TC
Chicago, IL


FRACK ATTACK II

It is interesting to note that the visceral attacks against Paul Hond’s article about Josh Fox (Letters, Fall 2012) are coming from entrenched and biased people in the energy field.

I suppose that the earthquakes in Ohio and Texas attributed to fracking are not an adverse environmental consequence of this procedure, nor are the contamination of water supplies and the increased asthmatic attacks of the nearby residents.

David B. Gross ’63SEAS
Morganville, NJ


Kudos to Columbia Magazine for “The Gas Menagerie,” by Paul Hond, (Summer 2012). Although burning natural gas as an energy source has distinct environmental advantages versus the use of oil and coal, fracking as an extraction technique is ugly both for its visual impact and environmental legacy. Aggressive federal, state, and local regulation of this industry is long overdue.

Of those who wrote letters complaining about the article, as presented in the subsequent issue, it appears nearly all are financially benefiting from the fracking industry. One can safely assume there are no drilling rigs operating in proximity to their residences.

On behalf of those who look beyond short-term profits, I thank Columbia Magazine, Josh Fox, and Paul Hond for their reporting efforts.

Richard Brown ’82BUS
Scottsdale, AZ


I set aside the Summer 2012 issue while I considered submitting a comment about “The Gas Menagerie,” and while I was procrastinating, the article yielded at least eleven letters to the editor. Of those, only two express concern about fracking, the natural-gas extraction process currently under review in New York State, i.e., high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing (a process developed within the past twenty-five years and which should be distinguished from older forms of geological fracturing).

I would like to add to the concern about hydrofracking by offering excerpts from two texts. One is very recent. The other is several decades old.

In its 2011 statement regarding hydrofracking and related proposed regulations, staff of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) suggested that “the watersheds associated with unfiltered water supplied to the New York City and Syracuse areas . . . should be off-limits to surface drilling for natural gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing technology.” Clearly, NYSDEC staff recognize that mishaps related to hydrofracking can be devastating. Perhaps the potential benefits of fracking do not outweigh the risks to the welfare of the citizenry in any part of New York State.

That brings me to the older statement. In his 1962 book Night Comes to the Cumberlands, Harry M. Caudill deals with the predatory practices of the Kentucky coal industry. Writing at a time when coal production had been nominally under federal and state regulation for decades, Caudill still could warn: “And we just can’t afford to sit back and watch all that [land] be destroyed so a few people can get rich now. One of these days the dear old federal government is going to have to come in and spend billions of dollars just to repair the damage that’s already been done. And guess who will have the machines and the workmen to do the job? The same coal operators who made the mess in the first place will be hired to fix it back, and the taxpayers will bear the costs.”

Just substitute “gas” for “coal” and New York’s Southern Tier for Caudill’s Cumberland Plateau.

Leo S. Levy ’64CC
Albany, NY


I am responding to Bob Getty’s letter on fracking, and specifically to his comment that “global-warming theory and all the other unprovable social/political myths” are “an Al Gore joke on our country.”

Global warming is real. A substantial human contribution is demonstrable with available data. Al Gore is largely correct on the facts. Columbia scientists are among the contributors to the research. And we regard the issue as so important that global climate change has featured regularly as a theme in Frontiers of Science, Columbia’s Core Curriculum science course that since 2004 has been a requirement for all Columbia College students. If Getty and others holding his views wish to learn more on this topic, I shall be happy to correspond.

Nicholas Christie-Blick
Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory


I enjoyed reading the Fall issue of Columbia Magazine but was greatly disappointed by several of the letters to the editor. They reflect the increasing polarization in society, with its accompanying lack of reasoned discussion of issues. The typical posture appears to be that if you don’t agree with my (often doctrinaire) position, you must be a left-wing nut or a right-wing conspirator. From either vantage point, this reeks of the McCarthy era and is hardly conducive to substantive dialogue. Neither side is immune from the virus of selective use of data, overreaching interpretation, and blanket accusations. Whatever has gone wrong with the education they presumably received at Columbia?

Eugene Davidson ’55GSAS
Boynton Beach, FL


CORRECTION

In the Fall issue, a news article entitled “Mailman School introduces new broad-based curriculum” inaccurately stated that the school’s curricular changes apply to all Mailman students: in fact, they apply only to those in the school’s master of public health program. The article also incorrectly reported that former Mailman professor Ian Lapp left the school in 2012; he actually left in 2011. Columbia regrets these errors.


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