Johns Hopkins Magazine -- June 1997
Johns Hopkins Magazine

JUNE 1997


O U R    R E A D E R S    W R I T E


When in Signapore, do as the Singaporeans do
There are no old, dumb peregrines
"Young" discipline not really so young
Agnew took a strong stand
Quiz questions based on faulty principles
Exploring a different bond
Credit where credit is due
A disturbing abuse

When in Singapore, do as the Singaporeans do
This is in response to the article about Stephen D. Wrage [
"A state-of-the-art dictatorship"] that appeared in the February issue.

I, too, spent a year in Singapore, from May 1992 through April 1993. Many of the things that [Wrage] said were true, but he didn't go far enough. Consequently, everything came out in a negative light. I suspect that this could be attributed to the fact that he looked at everything from an American's point of view. Although I am an American, I lived the culture and have many Singaporeans whom I consider close friends.

A dish of water under a plant on the balcony can be a real health problem. While I was there there was an outbreak of dengue fever, a horrible disease spread by mosquitoes. Under the Singaporean weather conditions they breed very fast in a dish of standing water.

The reason the [government] holds 90 percent of all the mortgages is that it subsidizes the purchase of homes/apartments for its citizens. Many of the Singaporeans could not afford the high cost of housing otherwise. In addition, you don't see trashed high-rises because the tenants are the owners. We could learn a lesson from this in our public housing.

Yes, the country does control the media. This is an irritant to those of us who enjoy this freedom. To the Singaporean it is no big deal. They get their news from many directions and are pretty much in the know about what is going on around them.

The many laws, which may seem frivolous to those of us "enjoying" the freedoms we do, help to keep the city/state clean, functioning, and prosperous. There is almost no crime and nearly everyone is working. Retirement is required at 55 and the Central Provident Fund is there to assist in health care and retirement.

It really is no different than Social Security, which also functions at the whim of the government. I don't believe the Singapore government will take away those funds any more than I believe the U.S. Government will take away ours.

Lee Kuan Yew was an authoritarian leader but, in my opinion, that was required at the time in order to ensure Singapore independence. That stronghold has been loosening up in recent years. It will continue to loosen as fast as the population will accept the responsibility of self-government.

All too often, we as Americans are quick to criticize another government or culture because it is not like ours. I say that you have to put yourself in the place of the locals before you can judge. All the Singaporeans I met are happy, prosperous, and feel good about their country. My wife and I were very comfortable while we were there and would return in a heartbeat.

Herb Silon, BES '56
Wilmington, DE

There are no old, dumb peregrines
Peregrines "dumb"?! I hope this observation was part of the "quip" attributed to Bill Seegar in
"Raptor Romance" [February]--or perchance an inaccurate quotation?

As an observer of peregrine behavior since 1954, and as a falconer, raptor bander, and captive raptor breeder, my perception of the intelligence of peregrine falcons is somewhat different.

If the definition of animal intelligence is the ability of the species to select behavioral solutions to the problems it encounters to survive, the peregrine surely doesn't deserve an evaluation of "stupid." Particularly the falconer is in a unique position to gauge the quality of thought

processes that have to take place when the peregrine is placing itself to capture its prey. "Top Gun" reactions are a requirement in the wild peregrine's aerial maneuvers in securing his dinner. To paraphrase a human "Top Gun," Chuck Yeager: "there are old peregrines and there are dumb peregrines but there aren't any old, dumb peregrines." Dumb, young peregrines don't survive the three- to four-year period required for them to reach the age of reproduction. Thus their "dumb" genes don't enter the peregrine gene pool.

In my opinion, all major carnivorous animals and raptors live on the edge of survival. Survival depends on mental and physical fitness. The "Gomer Pyles" are quickly selected out. Didn't a guy by the name of Darwin have a theory like this?

Congratulations on the most informative article on modern telemetry and its use in giving us knowledge of the migration behavior of peregrines.

Norval Fairman
Diablo, CA

"Young" discipline not really so young
It was with considerable amusement that I read the article
"Test Your Siting Savvy," (April 1997), describing the work of Professor Charles ReVelle, "a pioneer in the young--and rapidly growing-- discipline [location science] that uses science to sort out the best place to site [facilities]." Not to detract from Professor ReVelle's work, but I feel compelled to point out that such work has been going on at Johns Hopkins for decades, in a field called Geography. As proud possessor of a master's in geography from JHU ('65), I recall many a long night spent with fellow students working out the mathematical solutions to exactly the sort of siting questions described in your article.

Although The Isaiah Bowman Department of Geography (TIBDOG to its inhabitants) may have long since disappeared in academic restructuring, the discipline of Geography is alive and well at Hopkins.

Elliot McIntire (MA '65), PhD
Professor of Geography
California State University-Northridge
Our sidebar to the siting quiz noted that Charles ReVelle is on the faculty of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering. While geographers have indeed been wrestling with location problems for many years, what's new is the interest the field is today drawing from researchers in a variety of disciplines: from economics to civil engineering.

Agnew took a strong stand
Regarding H.R. Cluster's letter to the editor in April's issue: I believe that William Safire was Agnew's speechwriter at the time he spoke of "the nattering nabobs of negativism." Perhaps Safire was the source of that expression and for "the fashionable masochistic entrepreneurs of doom" as well.

Whether or not Safire was the original source, Agnew was still responsible for all that he uttered. I didn't share his viewpoint, but I respected his strong stand. His was almost a lone voice echoing what many patriotic Americans were feeling at that time. It happens that I graduated from high school in February 1937 along with Spiro. He was quiet, well-mannered and had a good sense of humor, but was otherwise unremarkable when I knew him. Mr. Cluster does not recall ever seeing Spiro; that is because Spiro attended night school. However, I cannot understand how he was identified as belonging to the Class of '40, when mine was the Class of '41. What do the Registrar's records show?

Ralph A. Carey, BE '41
Our records indicate that Spiro Agnew attended Hopkins part time from 1937-39, but never earned his degree.

Quiz question based on faulty principles
There are few things more interesting than counterintuitive answers to mathematical problems. But there is also nothing more frustrating than a bad answer. Charles ReVelle's fascinating piece on location science is a case in point [
"Test Your Siting Savvy," April]. To achieve a clever, counterintuitive answer, he bends his definitions to create a solution that does not even satisfy his own wording of the question.

Question #2 asks where a school should be placed "so that the sum of student as small as possible." One of the possible answers was "b) at a centrally located spot on one of the roadways connecting the towns." This answer is then rejected using convoluted logic that "proves" that the minimum sum point must lie at one of the nodes.

This would perhaps be true if 1) every node were a town, and 2) every crossroad were a node. But that is not how the real world (even the real world of mathematics) operates! For example, assume there are three towns (A,B,C) with 10 students each, lying on a plane in a triangle as follows:

It is easy to see that total transportation for any school located in A, B, or C would equal 340 miles, and a school located on any existing road would be worse. But wait! We can build three new roads as follows:

Call the intersection of those roads D. There is no town there. There are no children there. It fulfills the properties "centrally located spot on one of the roadways connecting the towns." Yet a school built there has a total transportation mileage of only 300--a clearly better solution. A vague warning about "don't let the lines cross" doesn't eliminate this solution, because while a new NODE may have been created, a new TOWN wasn't; only a new LOCATION that satisfies all conditions.

My point is not that the problem is flawed (although it clearly is); rather, it is that ReVelle has postulated a false general principle, and he has the prestige to make it stick, perhaps for another 70 years. The notion that "ALWAYS there will be an answer within at least one of the towns" could lead planners to reject clearly superior sites because they would not even look beyond the three towns. Worse, ordinary lay persons would be subject to ridicule (and don't believe for a minute that this doesn't happen in the real world) by the site planners if they dared suggest a site outside of the three towns, because "Charles ReVelle has proved that no other sites can give us lower transportation numbers--do you [want] to debate with him?"

If my argument is flawed, please feel free to correct me, but if I am correct, please have Dr. ReVelle respond. Our local School Board (of which I am a member) has enough problems without having to deal with faulty principles of location economics in our building programs.

Stan Katz '66
West Windsor, NJ

Professor ReVelle responds:
I always enjoy questions from my classes because they offer an opportunity to clarify and expand the material I present. The question from Mr. Katz is no exception.

The problem, once again, is to find that point on a network that minimizes student travel, where students reside in towns, and a road network, such as the one I drew, connects the towns. I assumed that anyone trying the problem would, as I did in the drawing, consider every crossroad location as a town.

Here is what I said about creating a sample problem: "Don't let the lines cross or you will have created a new node with which to contend." I then instructed the reader to "Try another point on the network that is not a node" to see if student travel could possibly be decreased from its least value at any of the nodes. Then I said that I would be surprised if someone could find a point that gave a lower value of total travel than that of a node. Clearly I had made a transition to the idea that the solution would occur at one of the nodes and that a node was the equivalent of a town. Where lines cross, I said there would be a new node and I warned against creating such a problem. Again, this new node could be thought of as a town with population zero.

Mr. Katz put in new lines and let them cross, thereby creating the warned against new node. I suppose I should have realized that someone would do this despite my cautionary statement. He finds in his problem that the the lowest travel burden does indeed occur at this new node. This result does not contradict my claim that there will be a lowest travel burden solution at a node ( I also said that the same lowest cost could occur elsewhere).

One remaining point is that you should carefully distinguish this puzzle and its results from a policy prescription. A choice of location requires more than a consideration of travel burden. The cost of developing or adapting a site is obvi-

ously a major consideration as well. So it may be that a number of sites are available as choices for a high school. A good analyst will consider all the choices and array those alternatives--with their costs and with their travel burdens-- before those who are charged with a decision.

Exploring a different bond
Kudos to Ann Finkbeiner! Her unique approach in exploring the bond between parents and children (
"The Unbreakable Bond," November) recalled a conversation overheard. Twenty-six years after the death of my mother, my daughter (17) and my niece (10) began talking about her as they set the table for Thanksgiving. They spoke of the grandmother they never knew and how she loved church and children and the sea; they spoke of her dogs and garden. "She would have really loved us," they agreed soberly.

Finkbeiner articulated the losses parents face at the death of a child--legacy, potential adult friends, grandchildren, the reflection of one's self-image. Perhaps as a next step she will explore the reverse. When children lose (or never have) the affirmation sparkling in the eyes of a parent or grandparent, they gather the pearls of that life and create the continuum that might have been.

Kathryn Amey Shelton (MAS '88)
Baltimore, MD

Credit where credit is due
I was pleased to read in
"Working smarter, not longer" (November, p. 18) that finally some progress has been made in improving the status of women at the Department of Medicine. The article states that "In 1990, under then department chair John Stobo, Medicine set out to reverse its poor track record in retaining and promoting female faculty members.... Some of the steps taken were directly aimed at women. For example, salary inequities were corrected... As a result of these and other interventions, the total number of female faculty more than doubled during the five-year period, from 30 to 65. And the number of women at the rank of associate professor jumped 550 percent, from four to 26--with no change in promotions criteria."

To set the record straight and give credit where it is due, I would like to point out that these changes were initiated in 1989 by the Provost's Committee on the Status of Women, and not by John Stobo, as the article implies; Dr. Stobo simply implemented the changes mandated by the Provost's Office. In fact, Dr. Stobo was appointed department chair in 1985, and yet changes regarding women faculty were not initiated until 1990--five years later, and one year after the First Annual Report of the Provost's Committee on the Status of Women was published in June 1989.

It was documented in the First Report (p. 40) that in the Department of Medicine the average salary of men at the assistant professor level was $17,001 higher than that of women assistant professors; in contrast, there was hardly any difference between men and women assistant professors in basic sciences.

The Provost's Committee also made several recommendations (p. 87) aimed to correct the equally unfortunate situation of women faculty with respect to professional advancement. For example, a longitudinal analysis of 10-year records (1978-87) revealed that, of the women who entered the rank of assistant professor at the School of Medicine from 1978-79 until 1985-86, only 13.9 percent were promoted, as compared to 26.2 percent of the corresponding group of men; that is, the chance of women being promoted was only about one-half that of men. Since 95 percent of the faculty who were nominated for promotion were indeed promoted, the difference between men and women occurred in the nomination process itself. Therefore, this finding raised serious questions about the procedures used in the decision-making to nominate a faculty member for promotion. Since the initial step in this procedure traditionally rested in the hands of a single person, the conclusion was inescapable that these persons were biased against nominating women for promotion. In fact, the statement in your article [about the 550 percent increase in promotion] confirms directly the conclusion of the Provost's Committee, namely that women do not need any special criteria for promotion: if they are nominated, they are indeed promoted.

I had the privilege of serving as a member of the Provost's Committee on the Status of Women, as well as two subcommittees, on salaries and professional advancement. I left Johns Hopkins in 1991 as our recommendations had just begun to be implemented. I am glad to see that our efforts did have an impact on improving the status of women, at least on salaries and professional advancement in the Department of Medicine.

Apostolos P. Georgopoulos, MD
Professor, Brain Sciences
University of Minnesota

A disturbing abuse
As a professional writer and a recipient of a Hopkins MLA degree, I find it disturbing to see abuse of the English language on the pages of Johns Hopkins Magazine.

I call your attention to the center column of page 12 of the April issue. The first complete sentence beneath the photo reads, "There are photos of Bass in scuba gear." There's no problem here. The next--whatever--reads, "Shots of him and Ann and their two sons, Alan and Gordon, on a sailing ship." First of all, this is not a sentence. It lacks both subject and verb. Second of all, it is customary with series to place the subject of the series last, as in "shots of Ann, their two sons, Alan and Gordon, and him on a sailing ship." Either you have fallen prey to the vernacular, frequently heard from the mouths of teens--notably, "Him and Tommy went to the movies"--or you are contributing to this deprecation of our language.

Despite the minor grammatical blemish, Dale Keiger's article on George Bass was most interesting.

Bud Russo (MLA '71)
Merton, WI