I have been reading Scientific American since I was in high school. I am now 90 years old and a longtime subscriber. The February 2022 issue is one of the richest ever. I just handed it to my daughter, the mother of a 13-year-old, to read the articles on teaching kids to spot disinformation in media [“Schooled in Lies,” by Melinda Wenner Moyer] and on how people often (wrongly) jump to conclusions [“Leaps of Confusion,” by Carmen Sanchez and David Dunning]. I enjoyed the articles about new research on the skills and dangers of Neandertals . And I ordered two books you reviewed in Recommended.
MARION BUHAGIAR White River Junction, Vt.
SOURCES OF CONFUSION
“Schooled in Lies,” Melinda Wenner Moyer’s article about teaching schoolkids to distinguish among different kinds of information to protect them from disinformation, covers a topic that is dear to my heart, although one for which I have little hope. Students did a project about the safety of artificial sweetener, aspartame, in my high school chemistry class. Two things struck me. The first was that it is impossible to assess the validity of primary information on many subjects. Although I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry, I can do it better than others, there are many topics I am not qualified to analyze. The second is that we must choose a source whose analyses we accept. Therefore, I added a section to the assignment asking students why they chose to trust one source over another.
I noticed that my strongest students preferred to accept institutional sources such as the American Cancer Society and the Food and Drug Administration. However, many of my weaker students preferred to accept personal stories and sources. Although I wish I could have systematically collected more data, these observations led me think that those who are successful within a system tends to trust it. Those who don’t prosper so well tend not to trust the system as much, preferring to accept their own experiences and those of others.
The article quotes Seth Ashley, a journalist and media studies researcher. He says “that the world’s messy, and that that’s okay.” But that is what makes it so difficult to choose which perspective to trust. There will always be reasons to question one source. Perhaps the best thing we can do is help students see the mess and realize that they could be wrong.
RUSSELL KOHNKEN Skokie, Ill.
Regarding Naomi Oreskes’s assertion that nuclear energy cannot help our climate crisis in “Breaking the Techno-Promise” [Observatory], I agree that nuclear plants have not lived up to their promise so far. They are too costly and take too long to put together. They also result in high electricity prices. I find it surprising that people are so pessimistic, considering the urgency to do something. New nuclear technologies are emerging, including smaller modular plants that take less time to build. Renewables are important, but they will not be sufficient to replace fossil fuels. Nuclear fusion is far too expensive and far away. We need to have the political will to place a price on carbon, and build smaller, safer reactors. It is not possible to give up.
STEVE MUELLER Colorado Springs, Colo.
Although it is a long-term goal, nuclear energy development should be a top priority. As a retired engineer, you understand the immense effort required to build efficient and economical nuclear electricity stations. Technology improvements, development engineering and construction time must be planned for and underway now.
In the short-term, we need to use the sustainable technology of photovoltaic and wind farms and eliminate subsidies for fossil fuels. Let’s also add a federal gasoline tax and reduce our dependence on transportation via Eisenhower era highways.
DON FINAN, SR. Palos Park, Ill.
Reading Adam Becker’s riveting article on “The Origins of Space and Time” reminded me of when I was a high school student in Los Angeles in 1965 and read about two students at the University of California, Los Angeles, who were challenged by their science professor to devise a theory on time and space, complete with an example.
The two students carried folding chairs to a street near downtown Westwood, Calif. and sat for an hour in a vacant space after depositing the required coins into a parking meter. They subsequently wrote a report to their professor on what they had done, concluding, “In order to occupy space, you must first have time.”
DOUG WEISKOPF Burbank, Calif.
THE FIX IS IN
I was glad to read “Freedom to Tinker” [Forum], Kyle Wiens’s informative opinion piece on how Congress should uphold the right to repair electronic devices. Readers interested in getting involved with hands-on right to repair might be interested in checking out their local Fixit Clinic (https://fixitclinic.blogspot.com) or Repair Cafe (https://repaircafe.org). Many of these organizations have dedicated volunteers who help others fix their stuff. These clinics have been held virtually over the past few years, with participants from all over the world engaging in informative and fun repair activities. While we do our best to help each other repair electronics and appliances, we are concerned that some manufacturers may make it more difficult or even illegal.
Boulder U-Fix-It Clinic, Boulder, Colo.
TRUTH IN LABELING
“Inside America’s Militias,” by Amy Cooter [January 2022], is chilling. These groups must be stopped being called “militias” by academics and media. It gives them legitimacy they don’t have and reinforces their irrational belief they are the modern-day equivalent to the militias that won the Revolutionary War. The more appropriate label for these groups would be “heavily-armed political vigilantes.” Labels are important.
TERRENCE DUNN Vancouver, Wash.
In “Smartphone Patrol,” by Annie Sneed [Advances; December 2021], much is made about the importance of the Amazon rain forest, which serves as a diminishing but necessary carbon sink and a provider of life-giving oxygen. However, less attention is paid to another forest region on the planet: the boreal forests at northern latitudes that stretch across many regions of North America, Russia, and Scandinavia.
These boreal forests are just as important in terms of contributing oxygen to the atmosphere and sequestering carbon dioxide. These areas are often overlooked in discussions about global warming. Therefore, it should be a priority to monitor activities such as logging and clearing land for agriculture, road construction, and mining.
BARRY MALETZKY Portland, Ore.