…use of “major”
was coined by William Rainey Harper…
I found it ironic that Mark Holmes in his letter
(June/04) criticizing President Randel’s assertion that truth
can only be reached through reason (“From
the President,” April/04) provides evidence for that assertion.
On the one hand Holmes demands that scientists who warn of global
warming, whom he disparages as a “vocal majority,” must
provide irrefutable experimental proof of their hypothesis even
though the nature of the problem makes it impossible to conduct
a controlled experiment. On the other hand he accepts, presumably
on faith, “transcendent truth” as the basis for human
behavior. He then goes on to praise a U.S. administration that manifestly
believes in transcendent truth, as revealed to the president in
his private conversations with the Almighty, for correctly ignoring
carbon dioxide as a source of warming so as to focus attention on
pollution of our lands, rivers and oceans.
Which pollutants has this administration worked to control? Certainly
not lead, mercury, arsenic, carbon monoxide, ozone, sulfur dioxide,
or any other I can recall. It has helped to protect mining practices
that ravage the environment and hog farming that spreads disease,
stench, and damage to fish and streams. In each case the rules have
been relaxed to favor the polluters, who are also campaign contributors,
at the expense of the public good. Transcendent truth has also taught
us that stem-cell research is immoral and that the theory of evolution
must compete with “creation science.” And finally, it
has discarded accepted moral principles to condone torture and launched
a war justified by lies.
Fred Winsberg, PhB’49, MD’55
In the June/04 issue, Mark Holmes writes:
“No parts of that hypothesis (global warming) have been or
can be subjected to tests of scientific truth; none is a refutable
proposition.” A few hours on the Internet, beginning with
a Yahoo search for “Global Warming,” will speak to his
factual misstatement. More important are an improper view of science
and flawed decision making.
Proofs are delivered by mathematicians. Scientists propose theories
that are valued to the extent that they describe past, present,
and future behaviors of objects and systems in the real world. Whitehead
defined science as: “a self-correcting approximation to the
truth.” A subject closed to scientific probing and disagreement
is dogma, not science.
Science is never unanimous (relativity is probed constantly), yet
decisions must be made. If our ship is taking in water from a low
hull leak, and only one-third of our scientists think it is in danger
of sinking and favor fothering a sale under the hull, the two-thirds
must consider the difficulty of reviewing this decision from under
100 fathoms of water. The 100 fathoms is the razor that separates
decision making from scientific consensus.
Richard A. Karlin, AB’55, SB’57
Bogota, New Jersey
The University of Chicago Magazine
welcomes letters. Letters for publication must be signed and may
be edited for space and clarity.
Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine,
5801 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. Or e-mail: uchicago-magazine@