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For Best Brains, Try Exercise and Sleep

I enjoyed the Nov|Dec issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette—especially “Are Better Brains Better?” The article rightfully raised the ethical dilemma about drug use to enhance brain performance in a normal person. However, it did not even mention brain enhancement by aerobic exercise, mental exercises, and proper sleep! 

Recent human and animal studies using PET and fMRI techniques demonstrate brain cell growth and enhanced performance. Other performance studies with proper controls also confirm this. Physical and mental exercises and sleep do not have negative side effects and do not present ethical problems. Should not these methods be used first and be the standard by which to judge any drug?

James E. Jones W’52 M’59 New Cumberland, PA

Excellent Perspective, Minor Quibble

It seems that the longer one has been out of school, the more convinced one becomes that all students should be required to take one particular course—calculus or French symbolist poetry, for example. My own particular favorite is a course in the fundamentals of statistics and probability.

This letter was prompted by the article “Are Better Brains Better?” by Trey Popp. In the article, Martha Farah is quoted as saying that Adderall improved the performance of students who initially scored low on creativity, but actually impaired the performance of the people who had initially scored high, and that this pattern is a common one.

Those of us who conduct clinical research recognize this common phenomenon as an example of the “regression fallacy” or “regression to the mean.” These terms recognize the fact that when one takes pairs of related measurements, including pairs of random numbers, the most extreme value of one variable will, on average, be paired with less extreme values of the other variable. Francis Galton was one of the first to describe this phenomenon by pointing out that tall parents tend to have tall children, but the children tend not to be as tall as the parents, and short parents tend to have short children, but the children tend not to be as short as the parents.

The most likely explanation for the findings with Adderall cited above is that the drug has no important effect on what was being measured.

I do not want this minor quibble regarding regression to the mean to indicate that I did not like the article. I think neuroscience research is poised to make major contributions to human health and well being and “Are Better Brains Better?” gives readers an excellent perspective regarding new developments and challenges in this field.

Jerry D. Gardner M’66 Mill Valley, CA 

Martha Farah replies: “Subjects were split into high and low creativity groups on the basis of their average performance on drug and placebo together, thus precluding the ‘regression to the mean’ explanation advanced by the letter writer.” 

Sustainability Sounds Fine, But Science Uncertain

John Prendergast does a fine job being editor of the Gazette in my opinion, but his own article “Red and Blue Makes Green” [Nov|Dec] is not fine, naively assuming that the Jim Hansen theory that greater carbon dioxide in our atmosphere causes global temperatures to soar is scientifically correct.

Prendergast surely should have known about the expert views of Richard Lindzen, Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, that “there is no consensus, unanimous or otherwise, about long-term climate trends and what causes them.” Penn students should be taught to think, analyze, and use modern science, instead of just waving silly signs. Their ignorance of modern science is deplorable.

All good people, like Prendergast and myself, want “environmental sustainability,” from saving huge majestic trees in our forests, to picking up junk and putting it in collectors, and limiting poisonous emissions from fossil-fuel power plants. But carbon dioxide is not a “poisonous emission”! Humans exhale it! Should we stop breathing? 

The ignorance of science demonstrated by diagrams like the one labeled “Longterm Carbon Reductions” on page 50 would have saddened former Penn President Gaylord Harnwell, who had earlier headed the Physics Department. Of course greater efficiency is desirable, but asinine statements about “Carbon Reduction” do not help. 

Howard D. Greyber Gr’53 San Jose, CA 

Taken in by Climate Change Hoax

I’m sad to see that Penn has bought into the idea of man-made “global warming,” otherwise known as “climate change.” This is the biggest hoax in human history, and is associated with extreme liberal political viewpoints. I expected more from an institution of higher learning.

Lawrence A. Post Res’53 Clayton, CA

For a Green Menu, Go Vegan

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases are generated by livestock production, more than by all forms of transportation combined. Yet Penn’s new Climate Action Plan, detailed in John Prendergast’s “Red and Blue Makes Green,” does not mention cutting consumption of animals to help reduce the University’s carbon footprint.

Why not serve only vegan food at Penn’s dining facilities? This revolutionary step would certainly demonstrate the University’s commitment “to leading higher education’s green revolution into the future.” It would also be a boon to the health of the Penn community, given the multiple links between illness and consumption of animal products. And, a switch to vegan would reduce the suffering of countless sentient beings who will otherwise spend short, miserable lives in factory farms before ending up on Penn dinner plates.

Michael Radkowsky W’87 Washington

They don’t go as far as this writer recommends, but several measures have been initiated on campus regarding food and its environmental effects.  See “From College Hall” for more information.—Ed.

Another Way to Stabilize Emissions

Telling the world that the way to stabilize CO2 levels is by reducing emissions, as was suggested by the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment signed by Penn, does a serious disservice to the climate-change debate. Reducing emissions is, of course, one way to do it, but not the only way.

When one realizes that the operative parameter in global warming is the level of CO2 in the air, not necessarily the rate of CO2 emission, then it becomes easy to visualize a process that removes CO2 from the air and keeps out enough of it to counter emissions at any rate they may occur. One such process I have worked on for about 20 years is Anthropogenic Peat.

What ACUPCC is doing is fine, laudable, etc. But, when one sees the impact against the need, something like AP is necessary to man the dikes here, and ACUPCC needs, in my view, to bring this kind of thinking to its constituents, the students.

Harold. A. Hartung G’47 Collingswood, NJ

Training Veterans for Green Jobs

I want to thank you for your excellent article about the University’s new Climate Action Plan and the emphasis you also put on the economic wisdom that comes with sustainability planning. As a 2009 graduate of PennDesign’s outstanding master’s program in city planning I knew a number of the people who worked on the plan and have taken many of the lessons I learned at Penn as well as concepts in the Climate Action Plan with me to my role as the operations director for Veterans Green Jobs ( A relatively new organization, Veterans Green Jobs is one of the few 501c3 organizations dedicated to recruiting and training veterans to work in the green industry.  

I came to Penn following seven years of combined military and non-profit work in reconstruction, intelligence, and mine-clearance work, and only three months removed from a year long deployment as a civil affairs and reconstruction officer in the Kadamiyah neighborhood of Baghdad. My background as a vet combined with what I learned at Penn gave me a unique combination of skills to apply to the organization.

PennDesign solidified my belief that we can change the world, and it gave me the tools to start such action. However, it is only with the expanded help and support of the larger Penn community that we can mobilize the world for real and lasting change. 

Stacy A. Bare GCP’09 Boulder, CO

But Where Did Genes Come From?

Howard Goldfine concludes his recent Darwin article [“Darwinism Comes to Penn,” Nov|Dec] with the claim: “The genes provide an indelible record of the long evolution of life on earth.” But as plant geneticist John Sanford has written, “Small clusters or motifs of these four molecular letters [DNA’s code letters A, C, T, and G] make up the words of our manual, which combine to form genes (the chapters of our manual), which combine to form chromosomes (the volumes of our manual), which combine to form the whole genome (the entire library).”

Would Dr. Goldfine care to answer where this “library” came from? Mutations are pulling the human genome down (not up). In other words, we humans are going to extinction. Natural selection needs something to select from. Where did the “library” come from to start with? Mere ooze?

Paul G. Humber C’64 GEd’65 Philadelphia

The writer is the author of Evolution Exposed.

Fascinating Historical Review

“Darwinism Comes to Penn,” by Howard Goldfine, was a fascinating article. I have long been interested in the subject of the evolution of species. Particularly pleasing was Goldfine’s passing acknowledgment of the distinction between creationism and intelligent design toward the end of his piece. It has been a source of continuing frustration to me that too many critics fail to see or make the distinction. Creationism is founded on the Bible. Intelligent design is founded on biochemical, microbiological, and medical observations.

Worth remarking, too, is the fact that the theory of intelligent design easily embraces the theory of evolution. The question is not whether one is correct and the other not. Both are correct. The question turns on what drives evolution. Is it simply chance mutation supported by environmental factors? Is it simply the survival of the fittest? Or is there something more at work?

Thanks to Howard Goldfine for revisiting the subject with his historical review of Darwin’s theory and its early reception at Penn, and thanks to the Gazette for publishing it.

N. Bruce Rogers C’62 G’63 Huntingdon Valley, PA 

Let’s Keep Our Fingers Crossed

Many thanks to Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman for pointing out the neurological benefits of yawning [“Expert Opinion,” Nov|Dec]. Hopefully, additional research will be published describing similar health benefits from belching and farting that will enhance the social acceptability of those actions as well.

Michael Brown C’69 Houston

Yawn, Boy!

I read with interest the article about yawning. Another interspecies example of its suggestibility is between dogs and their people. I have noticed that when our dogs yawn, we humans frequently do: sometimes, our yawns seem to prompt the same behavior from them.

The article noted that this is contagious only among humans and three primates. It seems to happen between humans and canines in our household too many times to be coincidental, but it’s not totally predictable.

Thanks for the good magazine.

Christine Ward Garrison GrEd’81 Millville, NJ

Blame Lifestyle, Not Medicine

Kevin Hartnett is on to something in his article “Blowing Yesterday’s Cigarette Smoke Into Today’s Health Care Debate” [“Gazetteer,” Nov|Dec]. President Obama’s statement before the AMA that “citizens in some countries that spend substantially less than we do are actually living longer” leads the uninformed to hasty and incorrect conclusions.

Hartnett is on the right track when he cites the statistics of Samuel Preston highlighting the role of smoking-related deaths in the U.S. figures. But there are other important parameters that should be considered. People in other countries get more exercise, are generally less obese, and don’t have the same unhealthy diet as Americans.

It is not American medicine that is at fault for our worse outcomes, it is lifestyle choices. President Obama is being disingenuous when he frames the health care debate around this misleading statistic.

William G. Spangle D’76 Williamsport, PA

Where Does the Tie Go?

It appears that while Duke Stern saved a piece of history, his record keeping may have been a bit off [“Window,” Nov|Dec].

According to the game scores on the piece of the goal post in your picture, Penn’s Ivy League record in 1959 should have appeared as 6 [wins]-1 [loss, to Harvard]-0 [ties], not 6-0-1.

File this under: Just another typical Wharton student always wanting to have the right answer.

Jeffrey Lerner W’84 Needham, MA

Cuba Essay Critics Should Do Their Homework

In the Nov|Dec “Letters” section, eight members of the board of directors of the Cuban American National Foundation took me to task for my essay “Lessons from the General” [“Expert Opinion,” Sept|Oct]. They charged that the picture I present is “an eager attempt to compliment Cuba’s dictators, rather than a serious proposal for educational reform.” They then proceed to cite six such examples, which they claim support their assessment.

If they had bothered to read my essay with an open mind, they might have realized that it’s possible to learn lessons about education even when the lessons are derived from a Communist country. In fact, Martin Carnoy, professor of education and economics at Stanford University, does precisely that in Cuba’s Academic Advantage: Why Students In Cuba Do Better In School (Stanford University Press, 2007). Supported by funding from the Ford Foundation, Carnoy, with Amber K. Gove and Jeffery H. Marshall, focused on three countries—Cuba, Chile, and Brazil—because of their quite different economic and social conditions and different systemwide management approaches to educational delivery. They interviewed officials in ministries of education; interviewed teachers, principals, students and parents; and filmed classroom math lessons.

The findings of Carnoy et al. reflect many of the points I made in my essay. Moreover, the recency and scope of the book, combined with the objectivity of the authors, call into question the validity of the remarks made by the eight CANF members. I suggest they do their homework by reading material that does not merely reinforce their pre-existing opinions.

Walt Gardner C’57 Los Angeles 

A Good Read

As a medical student at Penn in the Fifties, my only real awareness of the University as a whole was noting the buildings devoted to other-than-medicine on my daily walk down Spruce Street and Hamilton Walk to classes each day. I did manage to snare a wife from the College for Women (Constance Norris CW’53), but, alas, otherwise I had little appreciation for all that was going on around me in the wider world of the University as a whole.

Now many years later, thanks to your publication, I have become a devotee not only of The Pennsylvania Gazette, but of the University as well. The Sept|Oct issue is open before me as I write. The needs of the Third World (“Chasing Aztlán”); the challenges of creating (“Towards an Old Architecture”); ecology (“Tree Hugging”); and applied science (“Truth in Advertising”), are just a few of the jewels in this issue. “Hymn to the Parks” is, among other things, a tribute to the dedication and creativity of Dayton Duncan. He is but one of many enthusiastic and thoughtful alumni, whose comments in the “Letters” section are as provocative as the rest of the Gazette.

You are also to be commended for including “Prostate Therapy Problems at the Philadelphia VA.” With so much to choose from that might be construed as self-laudatory, it is refreshingly honest to include material that acknowledges that from time to time mistakes are made.

It occurs to me that Sally Friedman’s article, “My Alumni Magazine, Myself,” has expressed much of this more colorfully than I. However, I want you to know that when the Gazette arrives at our door, it rests on my bedside table with much anticipation of a good read.

Ben D. Wilmot M’56 Falls Church, VA

Magazine Brings Back Happy Memories

I am a Wharton alum’s mum, and I just wanted to write and tell you that I thoroughly enjoy reading the Gazette, even though my association with the University ended some years ago and I live thousands of miles away! I explored the campus every time I visited my son and became very familiar with the area. Your magazine brings back happy memories, many thanks!

Munia Awan PAR’06 Dubai, UAE

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