November 5, 2003: Letters
Letter Box Online
PAW welcomes letters. We may edit them for length,
accuracy, clarity, and civility.
William T. Galey 38 proposes in his letter (September 10) a new professorship devoted to the study of intelligent design and what Lehigh Universitys Michael Behe calls the irreducibly complex engines within cells. Galey even expresses the hope that Behe could be appointed to such a chair.
As a biochemist with a professional interest in evolution, I sincerely hope that President Tilghman and Princeton will not follow Galeys suggestion. Behes work has been highly touted by creation scientists, but it has been thoroughly discredited (though the layman might not be aware of this).
Behe claims that some molecular systems in living cells could not have evolved from simpler systems because they are irreducibly complex take any part of the system away and it wont work. As an example, Behe cites blood coagulation. However, others have shown that this and other systems Behe cites are in fact not irreducibly complex. In the words of biologist Kenneth R. Miller, blood coagulation did not evolve all at once . . . it evolved from genes and proteins that originally served different purposes. The powerful opportunistic pressures of natural selection progressively recruited one gene duplication after another, gradually fashioning a system in which high efficiencies of controlled blood clotting made the modern vertebrate circulatory system possible.
These statements are backed up by extensive molecular analysis of clotting genes and proteins and by study of the simpler systems, with fewer parts, that exist in lower organisms. On the other hand, as Robin Holliday has suggested, truly irreducibly complex systems, such as the wheel, can be imagined, but they are not found in living organisms. In short, intelligent design is just an attempt by creation scientists to get their foot in the door of biology, even though scientifically they dont have a leg to stand on. It has no place in the science departments of a great university.
Jim Paulson 72 *77
Kristina Chew 90, in her piece on raising her son Charlie and dealing with the devastating diagnosis of autism (Perspective, September 10), was able to give a voice to, and put a face on, a disorder that is often misunderstood. Autism can affect anyone; it knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries, and there is no cure. It affects an entire family, not just an individual, for a lifetime.
I should know. Growing up with a sibling with a developmental disability influenced me profoundly. Everything from my thesis topic (a survey of mentally deficient characters in literature) to my choice of profession (director of development for the New Jersey Center for Outreach and Services for the Autism Community, or Cosac) has been inspired by my brother.
At Cosac, an organization that provides information, advocacy, and support for parents like Kristina, I am reminded every day of how autism forces families to reevaluate their expectations. Authors like William Faulkner and John Steinbeck were able to show in The Sound and the Fury and Of Mice and Men, respectively, that what some saw as deficits was actually poetic. So does Chew. As she so powerfully conveys, children like Charlie offer a new perspective and generate a profound appreciation of even the smallest of accomplishments.
Ellen Schisler 90
I was intrigued by the article about Professor Warren S. Warren and Professor Paul Muldoons experiment (Feature, September 10). Being a champion of the spoken word, I wonder what difference there might be in the brains psychological response to hearing the Muldoon poem read aloud and hearing the registrars instructions, vis-à-vis reading them. Perhaps Professor Warren could produce some M.R.I. brain scans to reflect this variation on his experiment.
Robert G. McHugh 50
Two days after watching Lehigh dismantle the Princeton football team I, a season ticket holder, received coupons for free popcorn. I smiled to myself. The athletic department cannot give us a football team, so it gives us popcorn.
Many years ago, when I owned most of the movie theaters in Atlantic City, we sometimes gave away free popcorn. We didnt fool many people. The popcorn was free because the movie of the moment was a dud.
If on November 15 the Tigers produce an improbable win over Yale, I gladly will pay for my popcorn.
George Hamid 40
As a parent of young schoolchildren, I have seen how standardized assessment tests have become the latest fad among state and federal legislators wishing to appear concerned about education. Here in Washington State we have the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, administered in fourth, seventh, and 10th grades. What began as a way to evaluate schools has become a way to evaluate students as well. Currently, students can opt out of taking the test, but in 2008, passing the 10th-grade W.A.S.L. will be a requirement for graduation.
The kind of teaching to the test that the W.A.S.L. and others encourage is not the kind of preparation that students need if they are going to excel at Princeton. Having the courage to opt out of a test may well be a demonstration of the independence and maturity that Princeton is looking for.
I propose that Princeton adopt the policy that any student who fulfills all the admission requirements for Princeton, and is prevented from receiving a high school diploma because of a refusal to take a standardized test (explained in an essay), nonetheless be allowed to matriculate at Princeton.
Such a policy would strike a blow against mindless testing and allow Princeton to demonstrate its commitment to true quality in education.
Adam Barr 88
Due to an editing error in the October 8 issue, PAW noted that the Frank Parker mentioned in a letter from Brad Bradford 44 was a member of the Class of 1936. While there is a Frank Parker in that class, he is not the Mr. Parker described by Mr. Bradford. Also in that issue, we omitted a photo credit for our cover. The credit is: Robert George photo by Ricardo Barros; Preamble photo by Joseph Sohm, Visions of America/Corbis. PAW regrets the errors.