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The Sciences


Humans seem to distinguish between having sex and creating a pair-bond, although for each we use the word mate


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The Beauty Part The computer-created beauty ["Isn't She Lovely," February] is clearly a prime candidate to be a supermodel or a trophy wife, but I wonder how she'd rank as a candidate for wife or mother. Although our language suggests a relationship between having sex and creating a pair-bond--for each we use the word "mate"--humans seem to make a distinction between the two. Marilyn Monroe never had any children.

David Bamberger Cleveland, Ohio

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so allow a beholder to say that the "hyperfemale" on page 43 of the February issue looks exactly like a Hollywood hooker. I would turn my head, but only to scorn. Now, for a face that turns me on, there's the third from the left on page 46. A tiger!

Brendan Liddell Peoria, Illinois .

Naming Names In "name that star!" [February], Alan Burdick writes, "Everything on Venus, except for one rather phallic feature, is named for a goddess or a famous woman." Back in 1994, I spoke with someone at the mit Center for Space Research regarding Venus's highest peak, which is in the Maxwell Montes region. As an afterthought, I asked if the region was named for [1940s movie star] Marilyn Maxwell. Named after Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, the region is one of three features on Venus named before the International Astronomical Union decided what types of names should be used. What are the other exceptions?

Webb Masten Shelby, North Carolina

Burdick implies that we're filling up the heavens with piffle: "I was disconsolate. The days of the gods are over. . . . In the void between Jupiter and Mars, asteroids called Hubertreeves and Cindijon now take flight." I hope it alleviates Burdick's melancholy to know that Hubert Reeves is a longtime scientist-philosopher and teacher, and a writer of much elegance on the nature of space/time, relativity, and many other scientific subjects--what used to be called natural philosophy. Unfortunately for his greater fame, Hubert Reeves is Canadian and not widely recognized in America. I'm sure that knowing there is a minor planet called Hubertreeves lurching around the solar system tickles him greatly.

Michael Price Vancouver, British Columbia

Let Me Count the Days

In "fixing the calendar" [sky lights, February], Bob Berman makes a few interesting points while omitting some important facts. Although the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582, it was not universally embraced at that time. The new calendar was adopted in Catholic countries but largely ignored by Protestant rulers. It wasn't used in Germany and the Netherlands until about 1700, Britain and its colonies in 1752, Russia in 1918, and China in 1949. In Britain, the "leap forward" happened in September 1752, when the third through the thirteenth were omitted from the calendar. The article states that 1700, 1800, and 1900 didn't have this additional day. In reality, that depends on what part of the world you were in at the time. Britain did have a February 29 in 1700, but not in 1800 or 1900.

Tim Coleman Waterloo, Ontario

Bob Berman errs when he writes that year numbers that are multiples of 4,000 are not leap years. No such rule exists in the Gregorian calendar. The original proposal for calendar reform was worked out by Aloysius Giglio and given to Pope Gregory with the well-known four-year, 100-year, and 400-year rules. But neither the original nor any subsequently updated calendrical rules have ever included a 4,000-year rule. (Of course, a future revision of the calendar might adopt just such a rule.)

David R. Tribble Plano, Texas

Clean, Classic Comedy

"Wonder wear" [future tech, January], about upcoming stainfree clothing, prompts the question: Why didn't someone think of this sooner? Get thee to a video store and check out The Man in the White Suit. This 1951 British comedy classic answers that question. The hapless hero (Alec Guinness), who invents just such a fabric, ends up naked in the street after being threatened by his clothing-manufacturer employer, vilified by the unions, hated by the dry cleaners, and dumped by his girlfriend. Ah, the unintended consequences of scientific achievement.

Bill Murray Chicago, Illinois

Vitamins and Vegetarians

Leslie Bernstein's vital Signs [February] about B12 deficiency raises a major issue we vegetarians face when it comes to getting proper nutrients. There are, however, nonanimal sources of B12. A visit to a natural-foods store would uncover dozens of brands of B12 supplements, many of which are yeast derived and easy for the body to assimilate.

Howard Katz Batavia, Illinois

The February vital signs gave the impression that all vegetarians are threatened by B12 deficiency. There are three classes of vegetarian: ovo-lacto (who eat eggs and milk products), lacto, and vegan. Of the three, only the vegan diet, which excludes eggs and milk products, is of concern, because egg yolks and milk are both sources of B12. In addition, vegans are a minority; the majority of the world's vegetarians are of the ovo-lacto or lacto variety. Finally, only a small quantity of B12 is required for healthy living. It can be stored in the liver and kidneys for years, and the absorbed vitamin is secreted in bile and then subsequently partially reabsorbed. Consequently, B12 deficiency is very rare, even among vegetarians.

Craig Larman Frisco, Texas


No animal can see a mouse on the side of a hill five miles away, as stated in our December 1999 Table of Contents. According to Bill Burnham of the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho, the peregrine falcon has the best documented animal vision--eight times better than a human's. Though Genentech was the first to synthesize genetically engineered human insulin ["The Century in Science," January], the technology was licensed to Eli Lilly and Company, which first developed and marketed the product.

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