Letters to the editor

Does the debunker need debunking? Plus: Up with the Sponge! "Mission to Mars" doesn't get off the ground.

Published March 20, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

The Scrooge of science


Robert Park is not a "Scrooge of Science" but a Scourge of Pseudoscience, one of only a few people in North America with the knowledge, intelligence and courage to speak out about scientific irrationality and to encourage people to think critically -- about everything. The human mind distorts and confabulates to a remarkable degree. None of us is immune from wishful thinking and reality distortion. Unless we are on our guard constantly, we can be taken in quite easily. Therefore Park is so right to encourage us to regard strange and unlikely claims with great skepticism. Far from a Scrooge, he is inheriting the mantle of other great realists such as Houdini and Sagan.

The physician quoted in the review has his own distortions yet to be dealt with, and there are few people in position to do more harm than physicians who are not anchored in reality -- only politicians can do more harm. And now it looks like more is coming from, of all places, the White House, with a new commission on "alternative medicine" whose makeup has already been decided. Politics and scientific reality distortion in a deadly combination. Way to go, Dr. Park.

-- Wallace Sampson, M.D.
editor, The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine

I was much heartened by the response of Nicholas Nossaman to skeptical carping of physicist Robert Park. As Nossaman said "I don't care if Bob Park is convinced or not. All I care about is that people get better."

How true. I myself do not care if Park rejects alien abductions and creationism. All I care about is that the aliens told me that they love me and that God created the world last Tuesday.

-- Alan Donald

What amazes me about people like Park is their apparent lack of any shred of historical perspective. What was accepted scientific fact in the past is commonly now known to be utterly false. And yet, inherent in Park's smug insistence in the correctness of today's know scientific facts is the underlying assumption that we have reached some sort of final epoch in the sciences that future generations will not rewrite. Even more amazing, to my mind, is when scientists childishly equate a lack of proof with a demonstration of falsehood. Talk about pseudoscience!

-- Matthew Anderson

What may have escaped your, and certainly Park's, attention is that the simple fact that he was shocked to have "seen" a UFO while driving near Roswell, N.M., is proof that he had also described himself when he said, "They judge science by how well it agrees with the way they want the world to be." If he was sincerely looking for the truth, as every scientist should, he may have been mildly surprised, at the most. But, by his own account, he revealed his bias, which no competent researcher should have.

-- Patrick Dalton



I was (and still am) a big Sponge fan. It had all the benefits Shreve discussed, but it is hardly "three-quarters-of-an-inch in diameter." The Sponge is at least an inch-and-a-half wide -- making it a great shock absorber that would stay in place, for women like me with, ahem, not a lot of room in there. Out of nostalgia, I saved two Sponges, though I am in a relationship with a very Spongeworthy man. I, too, had heard that the Sponge was coming back, but I'm not holding my breath. This country hasn't exactly rushed to meet women's reproductive needs. RU-486 isn't what I'd call a birth-control option, since it can only be used once a woman is already pregnant. The best thing that could happen would be for the Sponge to return, supplemented with both spermicide and microbiocides that would kill off sexually transmitted diseases and yeast infections. Now that would be a miracle!

-- Bonnie Blackburn

I'm one of those former Today Sponge users who, like "Seinfeld's" Elaine, found her sexual lifestyle definitely hampered by the product's removal -- from the shelves, that is. Diaphragms gave me chronic bladder infections, I smoke so the Pill wasn't a good option and condoms irritate me, in more ways than one. In short, during the non-Sponge years, I turned into a near-celibate.

But the Sponge has returned! Barbara Bell in Canada sent me 48 of those handy Protectaids. A bit late, however. The absence of a handy-dandy birth control method encouraged me to become so selective in partners that only a monogamous husband would do. Now that I'm married (and monogamous), and in possession of my beloved Sponges, too, I had it all. Yet a visit to the gyno this past week informed me that I'm now entering menopause, and need not be concerned with getting pregnant. Anyone out there wanna buy 48 Canadian Protectaid Sponges, cheap?

-- Carol Kirschenbaum

Skull wars


Osborne's article sheds light on the worrisome topic of the erosion of relations between archeologists and native groups in North America, but also highlights an alarming trend within the academic discipline itself. As a physical anthropologist responsible for the excavation and analysis of human remains from sites within the United States and Canada, I cannot help but react with concern when referred to by Thomas, a fellow anthropologist, as pillaging "anthros" and simply as a "grave digging archaeologist." Never mind the uneasy discord between archaeologists and native groups that seems to be getting worse with every new housing development that requires us to do our jobs, how about the cold shoulder of our so-called academic partners in the field of anthropology? More and more the divide between socio-cultural anthropology and bioarchaeology is broadening, resulting in showdowns of the "good anthropologist" vs. the "bad anthropologist." This is a scary turn of events in modern day anthropology, one that requires rectification and a realization that one cannot exist without the other.

-- Kate Latham
Ottawa, Canada

There is one thing that is generally ignored in the whole Kenniwick man affair. If, in fact, the people that Kenniwick man represents were a separate people from those we think of as Native Americans, and a statistical analysis of all the pre-Clovis skulls in North America supports this position, then what happened to these people? They seem to have more in common with the Ainu of Japan than Northern Siberians or Native Americans. The one possibility that is ignored is the idea that there was another genocide on American soil, about 9,000 years ago, when the ancestors of the Native Americans made their way over the Bering Strait and encountered people already here. It is obvious that the Native American communities would not want to be accused of what they accuse of others. So the movement to suppress the scientific truth about Kenniwick man may be more political than spiritual or cultural. Ulterior motives, perhaps?

-- Peter Horton

Addicted to violence



Yet another article blaming Hollywood for all our problems -- what utter nonsense. Bloodlust is not unique to Americans or to the 20th/21st centuries, it is an unfortunate aspect of human nature that has been with us throughout history. It wasn't that long ago that Americans would entertain themselves with public lynchings. Ancient Rome had the brutal gladiator contests in the Coliseum. And all this occurred before anyone had ever heard of Hollywood. At least the violence on TV and the movies is fake.

I enjoy playing Quake and watching Bruce Willis shoot 50 people per minute on the big screen, but I've never physically hurt anyone in my life, and I never intend to. For most people, such entertainment is a harmless way to let off steam. It's not Hollywood's fault if some people are too stupid or mentally deranged to differentiate between reality and fantasy.

-- Matt Bertrand

I enjoyed reading Stanley Crouch's article. As long as our government solves its problems with state-sanctioned murder in the form of the death penalty, people will believe that violence toward another human being can be viewed as acceptable and rage toward others can be rationalized to commit violence against those who have transgressed against them.

-- Jason Randell

"Disney, we have a problem"


Before I read your story on the film, "Mission to Mars," I had read and seen some of the reviews cited in the story. I think that all of the reviewers have missed the real point, which is that Disney is now so self-absorbed that it believes that it can tell us what to like. This film proves that not only does no one in charge at Disney understand science fiction, but also that they believe that plot and character development only get in the way. The film was made for infants, and the actors should be sent to bed without supper or access to an escape module.

-- Jack Lifton

I would like to say that in all my life I have yet to agree with movie reviewers. I feel they don't know what the hell they are talking about. Who do you people think you are? All I have heard is what a bomb "Mission to Mars" is. Well screw you. I thought it was a good movie -- one of the better ones that I have seen in awhile, and you know what? I liked "Waterworld," too.

-- Darren Rufer

A nerd's rhapsody


The problem with Ray Sawhill's defense of "Mission to Mars" is that he's wasting his goodwill on a laughably bad movie.

"Mission to Mars" has major problems. Take internal consistency: I could buy into the rescue mission being nailed by micrometeorites, I could buy into them desperately trying to get to the REMO vehicle. But when Tim Robbins overshoots the mark and these intrepid explorers don't think to take a couple of backpack jets out to him, or use the REMO get to him, I began to slide down in my seat. By the time we got to the cuddly-golden-noble Martian thingy, I was really squirming. When it looked soulfully at the camera and the blue tear appeared rolling down its cheek, I was in full kitsch-reaction. Last, I've just got to mention the appallingly bad makeup. You don't usually notice the makeup, you shouldn't. Yet, every time Gary Sinise had a close-up I couldn't help thinking: "Gee, that's just not his shade of lipstick and he's wearing way too much eyeliner."

-- Craig Della Penna

By Salon Staff

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