Letters to the editor

Reactions to Diallo verdict Plus: Hard work pays off for post-docs; does AARP stand for Association for the Advancement of Rich People?

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C O R R E C T I O N

In “Born to rape?” by Margaret Wertheim, there was a minor statistical error in the figures about rape rates in the United States. While the 1992 study cited does not, in fact, suggest that the overall percentage of rape in America is as high as 20 percent, another study, not cited by the authors of “A Natural History of Rape,” and a number of researchers interviewed for the article indicate that the rate of rape in the United States may be that high. The article has been corrected.


Brutal verdict

BY BRUCE SHAPIRO
(02/26/00)

Those cops weren’t murderers, but I sure as hell don’t want them on my street in New York City. They panicked, and cops shouldn’t panic.

– Dorothy Stade

I think that we are giving the cops too much slack even in your excellent article. I think that it went down like this:

Cop: “Put your hands up! Do you have any ID?

Victim: “Yes.” (reaches down to his wallet to produce his ID.)

Cops: (bang bang bang bang for 41 shots)

– Michael Kerry Jordan

I am at a complete loss as to the rationale of the jurors in the Diallo case. I truly believe that a righteous verdict would have been a conviction for manslaughter at a minimum. But at least one thing is clear: I have a better feeling for how white people must have felt when O.J. Simpson was acquitted.

– Kevin Hale

Contrary to what Sharpton says, it is not “any” man who has a right to feel he is being protected by police rather than shot at. It is the man who does not appear to threaten. Those who appear to pose a deadly threat invite the consequences. This said, it is another question whether Diallo posed such a threat. A jury of 12, including four blacks, apparently thought he did. I myself do not know the answer, but then, I didn’t hear or see the live evidence.

– David Cortes

The beating goes on
BY JILL NELSON
(02/26/00)



Data gathered by the FBI reveals that blacks commit most of the violent crimes.If everyday I stepped out my front door, and a green dog with blue spots bit me, after a while, I become suspicious of green dogs with blue spots! So it goes with racial-profiling. It exists because there is a just reason for it.

– Bruce Roberts

Anyone who has any street smarts at all knows that when the police are pointing guns at you and tell you to put your hands in plain sight you do not reach into a pocket. I do not condone the killing of Diallo at all — it was clearly a tragedy — but was it a criminal act? The jury did not think the prosecution made a good enough case for conviction. A jury made up of 12 people with Jill Nelson’s mindset would not have had to leave the courtroom for deliberations.

– John Curran

Let get this right. Four trained police officers could not recognize a wallet for what it was, a wallet. At close range they fired 41 times at a man missing him 22 times, they missed 55 percent of their shots. Who trained them? Where did the rest of the rounds go? Through the walls, into the street or did they just fall down? If anyone else did this they would be jailed for wanton endangerment of society.

– Mark Harvey

The answer to this problem is to add as many black police as possible to the NYPD and then place them all in black neighborhoods where they can then enforce the law, but the black officers don’t want to go to the bad neighborhoods any more than the white officers do.

– J. Watson


Slaves to science

BY WILLIAM SPEED WEED
(02/28/00)

William Speed Weed’s piece on science post-docs hits a number of true notes, but the picture he portrays is not the whole picture.

First, Weed’s piece would have us think that post-docs work hard so professors don’t have to. This is absolute nonsense. Science faculty who maintain funded research programs work as hard or harder than post-docs. As an assistant professor, I work harder than I did when I was a post-doc, way back in the mid-90s, and harder than the two post-docs that I have employed since achieving my supposed exalted professor status. Faculty not only have to produce research, they have to teach, prepare lectures, grade, meet with undergraduate students about their classwork and graduate students about their classwork or research, write proposals, review proposals, review papers, manage the finances of the research program, attend faculty meetings and committee meetings, and so on. It is true that I spend less
time in the lab than I did when I was a post-doc and less time than my current post-doc; I wish I had the time to be in the lab more, but other duties call.

Second, Weed would have us think that the “narrow” research we do is of little interest to anyone and that post-docs only do it because they hope that it’ll eventually get them a job and because they’ve been conned into thinking that doing science is prestigious. He is partly right — many post-docs are in exactly that situation, but he is also partly wrong. Believe it or not, some post-docs do it because they love what they are doing. Sure they want a job, but they also get a huge thrill out of understanding what is going on in that Petri dish or that far-away galaxy. These are the people who should be on the academic track. Anybody who doesn’t love it is surely
underpaid and underappreciated.

In closing, let me note that it’s 3 a.m. Sunday evening. I am in my office, writing a research paper and writing a problem set to distribute to one of my classes (and OK, blowing off a little steam by surfing the net-I’m human too). I have to be back here at 9 a.m. to attend class. And my post-doc, who’s a very bright fellow and who generally works hard indeed, hasn’t been here since 5 p.m. on Friday.

– Marc Hirschmann

Assistant Professor of Geology

University of Minnesota

While your article raises some interesting points, it’s important not to generalize too broadly from the bad experiences of a handful of people, or from a large group of people in the same field. The situation is not so dire in all of the sciences — I draw a quite reasonable salary as a post-doc in physics, and some colleagues at national labs would end up taking a pay cut in moving to a tenure-track faculty position.

Moreover, no one should go into the system with any illusions, at this point. Even as an undergrad, I was well aware that research science was not the path to fabulous riches, and the tight academic job market is exhaustively documented within the field. I went into the field, despite the long hours and low wages, because this is what I want to do. Yes, there are days when it’s drudgery — for every mad scientist cackling maniacally over his recently animated creation, there are three more waiting for UPS to deliver crucial body parts from Kuala Lumpur while Igor plays Nethack on the Frankenstein Castle workstation. But on the good days, it still amazes me that I can get paid to do what I do.

Finally, while it’s always tempting to admire the green grass on the other side of the fence, one shouldn’t overstate the advantages of other fields. Do some lawyers draw six-figure starting salaries? Sure. There are also recent law school grads stuck fetching coffee for federal judges, or working as public defenders, or chasing ambulances in the seedier parts of town. And the ones making the big bucks are not going home at quarter to 5 every afternoon.

– Chad Orzel

William Speed Weed’s article on post-doc hell seems pretty bang-on from where I sit. As a biology M.Sc. student at a major Canadian university I see many post-docs trudging in to the lab on evenings and weekends, sometimes with children and spouses in tow. The standard post-doc salary in Canada is $29,000, and that’s Canadian dollars! As a result of this eye-opening exposure to the lifestyle, I some time ago decided to forego a Ph.D. and seek work with my Master’s. I can skip the four to five years of extra student debt and 80-hour weeks and use my skills in a government or commercial lab, where I’d be paid about $35,000 starting out. That’s a lot better than living and working like a student until you’re 35 years old, in a world where secure academic positions are few and disappearing fast.

– Allison Mackay


Leave me alone, AARP

BY CHRISTOPHER SCANLAN
(02/25/00)

I am 16 years old and have been a member of AARP for five months. They sent me a letter exactly like the one Scanlan received and it was confirmed a few weeks later.
It is not such a bad thing to be a part of the organization, especially with the free membership, discounts, and the complimentary subscription to Modern Maturity. So maybe Scanlan should reconsider. I mean, it’s not like they actually know what your age is. I, for one, intend on being an active member until I myself turn 65 in 2048.

– G. Baum

Since when is 50 retirement age or even an early retirement age? As far as this “ancient one” is concerned, the AARP is nothing more than a useless political lobby for the wealthy. Retirement should be at least 62 in this age of lifespans of 75-plus. Making the wealthy pay for part of their own healthcare is heretical to the AARP. The wealthy do not pay Medicare taxes on their total income as do the great unwashed masses, but they expect the government to pick up their costs just as if they were living in poverty.
I am a boomer and obviously, I have no love for the AARP. When they demonstrate some real social conscience, I may be favorably disposed towards them, but for now they appear to be in it only for the money.

– C. E. Martin


The swimsuit issue is here!

BY LEE QUARNSTROM
(02/25/00)

Quarnstrom’s piece reminded me of Isaac Asimov’s book, “The Sensuous Dirty Old Man,” in which he said, “Sex is dirty, if you do it right.” The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue has always seemed a little out of whack to me.

– Ron Stevens

Watch out Americans! You might see a naked person. Keep the lights off in the bathroom so you don’t scare yourself.

– G. Yeager

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