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An Insidious Hit Piece Commissioned by the Misanthropy World?

We Get Letters: Somehow, we doubt it.

Is this ("The Doubt Makers," June/July) a commissioned hit piece? If it is supposed to be investigative journalism, it leaves much to be desired. For example, you paint S. Fred Singer as some kind of tobacco stooge while neglecting to mention he is on the board of the American Council on Science and Health, a group that would qualify as anti-tobacco zealots. Didn't that fit your narrative? Same section: You forgot to mention that last September [Mario] Molina et al.'s ozone work was all but declared nonsense in new studies in Nature (search for "Chemists poke holes in ozone theory"). Was that too supportive of Singer's position on ozone chemistry? I didn't waste much time on the rest of the article, merely skimming through it, but from the activist slant I'm guessing it is for and on behalf of Fenton Communications, opinion makers for the misanthropy world, right? Very disappointing.

Barry Hearn
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

This article is insidious. It makes some assumptions that are simply untrue, namely that scientists and reporters can establish objective truth, that this established truth is not subject to personal perspective or flawed data/data interpretation, that only one side of any argument has an agenda and that consensus among experts means the truth has been found. The problem is that all of these assumptions are untrue.

The truth as we know it, as we search it out, is simply our best understanding and interpretation of the finite data we gather in a particular limited context. This truth is neither absolute nor pure, whether in relation to climate change, theories of evolution, gravity, black holes or any other scientific subject; the truth as we know it is just our best guess. In science, change is the only constant that can be held absolutely true.

The second we come to consensus that any scientific subject is settled is the second we lose all hope of finding truth. Agendas are universal. Whether conscious or unconscious, every person, every group of people, every organization, every government, every business, every media outlet, every entertainment venue and every expert has an agenda. The agenda of this author seems clear in the message of the article: Only the bad guys have an agenda; you can trust the media; scientists all agree, and you should too - if you don't, you're a bad guy!

Lastly, consensus among experts means the truth has been found ... bologna! Truth is not a democracy! Truth is not limited by our understanding or perception of it or by the agreement of the few or the many that we have found and established it. We cannot define the truth; we can only search for and identify the pieces we find and try to fit them into the great puzzle that in the end is put together according to our view of the world. Any true scientist will admit that science isn't interested in the truth; science is only interested in finding the answers that prove a hypothesis, reinforce a theory or explain a law so the grant money won't dry up ... back to the agenda. Maybe it's time we get back to equal time and let people find their own answers; after all, not just reporters and scientists are sifting to find them.

Mark Galbraith
Maryville, Mo.

Colombia, Home to Efficient Happiness

I enjoyed reading your recent article on happiness ("Should the Government Make Us Happy?" June/July). However, as one of the authors of NEF's Happy Planet Index, I just wanted to pick you up on one point, namely the suggestion that we have undermined the movement by putting Colombia in second place. This might be true if our index measured happiness — but, as we emphasize repeatedly in the report, it does not. Rather, the HPI measures well-being efficiency: that is, the relative "price paid" for experienced well-being by countries as a function of their resource consumption. Roughly speaking, the index is calculated by dividing experienced well-being (operationalized, partly, by a subjective happiness measure) by per-capita ecological footprint within a country. The resulting figure is much more akin to a measure of miles per gallon or "bang for buck." There's no question that the places in the world with the highest experienced well-being — the "happiest countries," if you like - are the Western nations. Our contention is just that, given the huge disparity in resource use, well-being in the West should really be a lot higher than elsewhere, whereas in fact it is only just above that of quite a few "medium development" countries whose per-capita resource consumption is a fraction of, say, U.S. or U.K. levels.

The key message of the HPI is about drastically diminishing returns and their associated environmental cost. For interest, NEF's Happy Planet Index won the 2007 Award for the Betterment of the Human Condition from the International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies.

Sam Thompson
The New Economics Foundation

Very interesting. I have watched this develop in Europe but didn't think it had gained any traction at all in the U.S. It's not much, but even baby steps are progress.

Stuart Morris
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Teachers Rule! In a Better Future.

Overall, your magazine is quite impressive. However, I was disappointed to note that Delaine Eastin's article ("Political Report Card," June/July) omitted any indication that one of the biggest problems with American secondary schools is the low quality of so many teachers. For the importance of this, see, for instance, the Oct. 18, 2007, Economist article, "How to Be Top; What Works in Education: The Lessons According to McKinsey."

In addition, in a magazine that is obviously opposed to junk science, I was surprised to see the review of Bryant Welch's book, State of Confusion: Political Manipulation and the Assault on the American Mind. Psychology is not my field, but my understanding is that there is essentially no scientific evidence supporting most to all of psychoanalysis. I do know that for at least the last 20 years, if not much longer, it has been much more likely that psychoanalysis would be taught in a university's English department than its psychology department, which should tell anyone a great deal (not the least of which is that psychoanalyzing novelists and poets allows literary critics to write endless pages on authors without having to do the kind of research that a historian, a dramaturg or even a fine journalist would do).

The phenomena that Welch is getting at are more scientifically, if not more fully, explained by social scientific mass communication theories, such as cultivation, framing, agenda setting and gatekeeping, and mainstream psychology theories, such as socialization and social learning (and probably others of which I am not aware).
I look forward to receiving and reading future issues of your magazine.

Dane S. Clausen
Journalism and mass communications professor
Point Park University
Pittsburgh, Pa.

I am writing in response to Delaine Eastin's article. Eastin does a very good job of outlining the problem of U.S. noncompetitiveness in education and its implications for the nation's future. In particular, outcomes-based, rather than process-based, education is sorely needed. Yes, we need standards, and they must be based on real-world competencies. I agree that multiple-choice tests, while easy to machine grade, tend to be low in validity.

But her prescription for fixing the problem is somewhat elitist and quite wrong.

Essentially, what is wrong with her prescription takes the form of "Our educational system is not working, so we require more of the same." While there is a sound basis for adding widespread preschool, that alone is not the answer.

I propose using a market-based system to reform the schools (commonly known as a voucher-type system) with the following features: First, public funding would come to schools only through per-capita student vouchers. This would turn parents and students into consumers with real power to demand outcome. But won't parents make bad choices? Of course they will, just as parents, principals and teachers make bad choices now in following a series of educational fads.

The per-capita amounts paid in the vouchers should be at least as much as is currently paid [by the state to public schools]. Students with bona fide learning disabilities and those from deficient home and family backgrounds should receive an extra per-capita amount and realistically different outcome expectations.

The second element is a major reform based on Tom Peters' concept of "inverting the pyramid." As those on the front lines of education, teachers should be given control of the schools. Perhaps with an administrative stipend, teachers would be required to form a council governing their school, including administering the budget, hiring and evaluating (and, if necessary, firing) a principal, hiring and evaluating new teachers and hiring and evaluating support staff.

This change would place those with the most direct day-to-day knowledge of what worked best for their students in control of the educational process, functioning much as a board of directors for their school, with the knowledge that they must do the best they can or risk their school failing. Principals and all other educational and staff members would thus be put in the new role of being evaluated on how well they support teachers in their educational outcomes mission.

Allen R. Stata
Clovis, N.M.

Delaine eastin's "Political Report Card" makes no mention of the teachers' union stranglehold on education. The union's anti-competitive situation has made national public education a monopoly that would not be tolerated in industry. Its mantra of promoting everything for the benefit of children hides its agenda for providing benefits and working conditions for its members. Members of the teachers' union work to control boards of education elections to perpetuate their monopoly.

This union's control begins with schools of education that thrive on mediocrity. Potential teachers who are more proficient in their majors are forbidden entrance into teaching by superficial requirements controlled by these schools.

In addition, school systems are padded with such administrators as "Curriculum Coordinators," Assistant This and That, etc.
Eastin's "rational argument" is an inspiring plea for educational improvement, but she needs to look at more critical issues than preschooling.

Albert J. Kubany
Flint, Mich.

Cartoon by Joe Farris:


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