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Don't poke fun at cold fusion
Unfortunate word choice
Why not "Dover Birch"?
Gamow, that joker
Not a noble goal

Don't poke fun at cold fusion

In the article "Chasing the Great Beyond" [February] you include this: "As [Adam] Riess and [Brian] Schmidt e-mailed back and forth to each other in early 1998, they were hardly confident in their findings. They signed their e-missives 'Pons' and 'Fleischmann' — tongue-in-cheek references to Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, the two University of Utah electrochemists who made a big splash with the 'discovery' of cold fusion in 1989, an idea soon refuted by others. 'We didn't want dark energy to be the next cold fusion,' says Riess."

This is completely incorrect.

The cold fusion effect was replicated at high signal-to-noise ratios by researchers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, Amoco, SRI, Texas A&M University, Los Alamos, Mitsubishi Research Center, BARC Bombay, Tsinghua University, and more than 200 other world-class laboratories. Hundreds of positive, peer-reviewed papers on cold fusion were published in mainstream journals, such as the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, Fusion Science and Technology, Naturwissenschaften, and the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics (Japan's most prestigious physics journal).

You, Riess, and Schmidt should check original-source scientific papers before poking fun at research that has been published by thousands of professional scientists worldwide. You owe these researchers an apology.
Jed Rothwell
Atlanta, Georgia

Editor's note: Jed Rothwell is correct that peer-reviewed journals have published numerous papers on cold fusion experiments since Pons and Fleischmann announced their findings in 1989. But scientists remain divided, sometimes bitterly so, over the validity of cold fusion research. In their joking e-mail signatures, Riess and Schmidt were alluding to their anxiety that publication of their work might be greeted by the same rush of media attention, followed by a backlash from other scientists dismissing their claims.

Unfortunate word choice

In looking through the February issue, I came across the inside-front-cover ad for the Hopkins vs. Maryland lacrosse game. I get the clever take on the Cliffs Notes version of To Kill a Mockingbird (Terrapin). But the use of the word "kill" in a sporting context is an unfortunate choice — insensitive at best and offensive at worst. (Substitute "Blue Jay" for "Mockingbird" to feel the full effect.) Surely poor sportsmanship needs no boost from a magazine affiliated with (older? wiser?) university alumni.
Lamere Hennessee
Ellicott City, Maryland

Why not "Dover Birch"?

As a sometime poetaster, I found the brief account of Hollis Robbins' [A&S '83] poetry course [Wholly Hopkins, "Syllabus," February] both interesting and thought provoking. Her idea of having students write sonnets, Spenserian stanzas, villanelles, and other forms of poetry not only demands a closer reading of poems than might otherwise be required, but it also is an excellent means of gaining insight into the craft of poetry as well as an appreciation of the effort that goes into the writing of a poem. I was struck, too, by the inclusion of Anthony Hecht's "The Dover Bitch" in the reading list. I immediately recalled the delight I experienced upon both my first reading and subsequent readings of this witty foil to Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach." Indeed, it was only after several readings that it occurred to me that given a Beach and a Bitch, why not a Birch also? For my own amusement and, I suppose, as a test of the idea, I wrote [the poem, which] has lain gathering dust in my filing cabinet these many years.
John Hendrickson, A&S '53
Spring City, Utah

Gamow, that joker

The November [2007] issue has an obit of Ralph Alpher, pioneer of the Big Bang theory [Wholly Hopkins, "'Big Bang' Pioneer Dies"], but fails to mention one of his claims to fame: the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper, a fun bit of trivia that deserves mention. Just something they taught us at Sewanee about 40 years ago. (I was house staff at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1979 to 1983, and later faculty.)
Joseph R. Cockrell
Charleston, South Carolina

Editor's note: The Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper, written by Alpher and his adviser, George Gamow, when Alpher was a doctoral student, was a serious paper. But Gamow, known for his whimsical sense of humor, decided to add his friend, renowned physicist Hans A. Bethe, to the list of authors, as a play on the first three letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha, beta, gamma. Bethe did not object, though Alpher was less than amused. The paper has entered the lore of physics as "the alphabet paper."

Not a noble goal

No doubt gender equity is an important issue. No doubt there are cultural obstacles and forms of unequal treatment that need to change. In my opinion, the goal of equal opportunity is a laudable one. It is also a difficult goal to reach and very difficult to measure.

Unfortunately, "Necessary Steps" [November] suggests that JHU is fixated on equal outcomes. While much easier to measure, I do not consider it a noble goal. It is a goal to appease the politically correct and for those who are too lazy to address equal opportunity. I expect this from politicians and activists. I expected better from an institution with such great intellectual strengths.
Stuart Foltz, Engr '86
Champaign, Illinois

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