Tracking Us Down

Sometimes I wonder which side you people are on. The CIA tracks us on airplanes, buses, trains, etc.only cars free us from Big Brother's loving care, and now ("Rush Hour Remedy," Jan.) you propose magnetic loops in the highways or identification cards at toll booths!

Dale R. Reed
Seattle, WA

The editors reply: See page 27 of the January issue, third column, about two-thirds of the way down: "A supplementary sticker system could handle out-of-area motorists, infrequent drivers, and those who, for reasons of privacy, preferred not to have their trips recorded on a computer."

Creation Comedy

I have read Mr. Steiner's offering ("The Facts Be Damned!" Dec.).…Besides being a certified accountant and professional magician, Robert Steiner is a writer of comedies. A few more diatribes, and REASON will have become a comic magazine.

John Malinowski
Duxbury, MA

Dishonesty Exposed

Mr. Steiner has done a great service for education by exposing the creationists the way he did ("The Facts Be Damned!" Dec.). True, others had noted that they were nothing but Christian fundamentalists in disguise and that their materials are nothing but thinly disguised apologetics for biblical inerrancy and/or polemics directed against science at all levels.

To my knowledge, however, no one before has grouped into one convenient package so much direct evidence of deliberate deceit and charlatanry. Though knowledgeable opponents have known about this all along, none had emphasized it in print. The few who were willing to do so were suppressed by timid editors. Steiner's collection of deceitful tactics together with the strong statements about technical incompetence confers a unique importance upon REASON's expose.…

John W. Patterson
Iowa State University
Ames, IA

Evolution Magic?

I was not surprised to discover that your December cover story on the creation/evolution debate was written by a magician who supports himself as a part-time accountant. Robert Steiner's sleight-of-hand with the facts was only outdone by the way he juggled quotations.…

What was surprising was that REASON would print such poorly researched material. If the writer had done his homework at a professional level, he would have discovered a well-publicized conference held by evolutionists to adapt their theories to modern criticism. It is freely admitted in the field that the fossil and rock records do not support evolution on firm footing. Creationists have seized upon this as evidence of creation. Evolutionary papers are now being written to describe "interrupted evolution." The writer presumed upon this point far beyond what the scientific community itself does.

What concerns me isn't the intellectual bigotry of a writer looking to be published. It's that a magazine entitled REASON would object to a free-market exchange of ideas in the classroom, as called for in Arkansas. The "vanguard against evolution" offers their arguments coupled with data for debate. If the theory of evolution is in fact the embodiment of truth, it risks nothing in scientific exchange in the classroom. But I shudder to think that we've reached such hostility to theism in this country that it can no longer participate in discussions as a viable worldview. Does REASON support only a free exchange in the economic market system?

Michael Patrick
Virginia Beach, VA

Mr. Steiner replies: After sorting out Mr. Patrick's personal attacks, there is little left to his letter. I challenge his source for the assertion, "It is freely admitted in the field that the fossil and rock records do not support evolution on a firm footing." In what field? Freely admitted by whom? Many scientists are quite clear in their belief in the support for evolution. Later in his letter Mr. Patrick presumes to speak for "the scientific community," again in error.

When the Arkansas legislature mustered a majority vote to require that public school teachers, under penalty of law, teach creationism in science classrooms, that is not a free-market exchange of ideas. Perhaps the discussion of a religious worldview could take place in a philosophy class. The question is whether the State should, under penalty of law, require the teaching of religion in science classes. My answer is no.

Science and Politics

I thought Robert Steiner's creation/evolution article was in most respects excellent. I do, however, have two criticisms.

The first criticism is minor and concerns Mr. Steiner's answer to the creationist claim that the odds against "forming even the simplest protein molecule at random" are so fantastic as to be a virtual impossibility. His answer is that many things happen against which the odds are even more fantastic. This is not a very convincing refutation, but there is a compelling reason for rejecting this creationist claim.

Isaac Asimov observes that the "fantastic odds" ploy is based on "the assumption that atoms combine in absolute random fashion, and they don't. They combine randomly only within the constraints of the laws of physics and chemistry" (The Planet That Wasn't). Experimenters have demonstrated that a sterile mixture of chemicals thought to have existed on primordial Earth and subjected to an electric spark readily forms amino acids which, upon heating, combine to form proteins. Asimov concludes: "Given Earthlike conditions it is difficult to see how life can avoid coming to pass."

My second criticism is more serious. Although I am in full accord with Mr. Steiner that creationism is demonstrably unscientific and false, that is not the point when talking about government schools supported by confiscating the earnings of taxpayers. As REASON's readers are well aware, the point is that the very existence of public schools is inconsistent with a philosophy based on liberty.

One wonders how REASON's fine new subtitle of "Free Minds and Free Markets" is consistent with an article which implies: (1) it is all right to have public schools; (2) the teaching of creationism in science classes should be banned in these schools; and (3) creationists must be forced to support such a system.

Howard L. Glick
Madison, WI

The editor replies: The propriety of forcing the entire population (via taxes) to pay for public schools has been dealt with in other REASON articles over the years. Mr. Steiner's article was addressed to "free minds" and dealt with the factual question of whether there is any rational basis for considering "creationism" as a proper subject to be taught in science classes. The answer, clearly, is no. That a rational treatment of science may offend some believers whose taxes must pay for public schools is yet another argument against public schools, as Murray Rothbard pointed out in his Viewpoint column last September.

Offensive vs. Defensive

Robert Poole's December editorial, "Thinking about Strategic Defense," was the most shocking piece of extremist right-wing claptrap I've yet seen in REASON.…Poole argues that "the longterm objective of US policy should be to shift from city-busting ICBMs and SLBMs to a force structure composed of (1) offensive weapons of pinpoint accuracy able to take out military targets with minimal collateral damage and (2) truly defensive weaponry and civil defense capabilities." In short: We must aim for a first-strike nuclear capability. All this in the name of "a morally sound defense"!

The purpose of our not having his points 1 and 2 is that both are of strategic value only for the offensive sidethe "first-striker"in a nuclear war. They are useless once the enemy has unleashed his missiles. Point 1 is useless because our weapons would then be firing on empty silos; point 2 is useless because if the other side has fired first, then there wouldn't be nearly enough time for our population to make it to the local rural bomb-shelters, much less for city-dwellers to evacuate from the packed metropolises. The only value that Poole's two recommendations would have would be if we strike first. He has given the standard definition of "nuclear first-strike capability." His point 1 is the concept of the surgical first strike. His point 2 is offensively useful in case we miss knocking out some of the Soviet missiles.

Poole starts with the assumption that America is "the good guy," and that the USSR is the demonic evil force in the world; so it's okay if this country becomes militarily omnipotent, since we'll use that strength benignly. He's been watching too many pop-sci-fi flicks and reading too many comic books. He should learn that power corrupts the US just as much as any nation. When it comes to international affairs, there are no white knights, just a bunch of frightened and vicious wolves.…

Eric Zuesse
New York, NY

Mr. Poole replies: Mr. Zuesse's letter is refuted both by his own words and by the editorial itself. How can "truly defensive weaponry and civil defense capabilities" be "of strategic value only for the offensive side"? How can anyone who read the editorial repeat the specious empty-silo argument, ignoring the Soviet capability to reload their ICBM silos? And there is far more to civil defense than massive evacuation; a realistic civil-defense program could be of immeasurable value in a whole range of possible nuclear war scenarios short of an all-out city-busting exchange (and would be of some value even in that case). And yes, I do start from the premise that America is, relative to the Soviet Union, the good guynot perfect, not trustable with absolute power; just morally on the side of freedom as opposed to slavery, that's all.

A Gram of Gold Will Do You

For those of you intrigued by the use of gold as a medium of exchange as discussed in "Going for Solid Gold" (Sept.) the following may be of special interest. The use of the gram of gold as a unit of account was presented in Capital Preservation with Gold Accounting, by Anthony L. Hargis, printed in 1975. It appears that Hargis and his operation are already offering "choice in currency." There are currently about 500 individuals from across the country, including my business (Morningrise Printing), who use the gram of gold in their transactions with Hargis's company as well as amongst themselves using his company as a clearinghouse.

Jane D. McLaughlin
Costa Mesa, CA

No Defense for Tax-funded Military

I agree with the final point of your January editorial ("A Draft Is No Solution"): "That a free people are willing to defend themselves conveys more of what this country is all about than a draft ever could." I must object, however, to the methods by which you propose to bolster the US military. Utilization of tax revenues is implicit in your restructured military incentives. Tax revenues are not voluntary contributions to defense. Translated with this fact made explicit, your sentence becomes: "Involuntary military payments convey more of what this country is all about than involuntary military service ever could." Since both of these methods of strengthening the military involve coercion rather than freedom of choice, neither of them conveys a sense of what I hope we are both working to make this country all about.

Fiammetta Zahnd
Minnetonka, MN

Mr. Poole replies: While the propriety of coercive taxation to fund defense activities was not addressed in the editorial, it would certainly be desirable to end coercion in this area as well. Unfortunately, we have yet to encounter a fully worked-out proposal for voluntary financing of national defense. It's an area worthy of considerable further study by those committed to liberty.

Health Deficiency?

I commend you on the creationism article (Dec.). In the same vein however, I suggest that similar logic be applied to the Health & Welfare column by Pearson and Shaw. These authors consistently rely upon "self-experimentation," anecdotal experiences, and an apparently inadequate capacity to objectively and comprehensively interpret scientific literature on nutrition and aging.

For example, they are doing a great disservice to readers of REASON when they state: "Researchers estimate that a daily intake of 250 micrograms of selenium would decrease the incidence of cancer and heart disease by 70 percent" (Nov.). The importance of dietary selenium cannot be disputed; however, anyone who is familiar with the literature on selenium knows that no deficiency diseases have (yet) been attributed to a selenium deficiency in spite of numerous experimental and epidemiological studies.

Similar criticisms can be made concernning many nutritional "magic" claims made by Pearson and Shaw in previous columns. These science writers are involved in wishful thinking and sensationalism rather than rational scientific information.…

Edward V. Avakian, Ph.D.
Lecturer in Nutrition and Metabolism
University of California, S.B.

Mr. Pearson and Ms. Shaw reply: We are careful in our columns to specify self-experimentation as such. Reviewing our columns, we do not find any examples of our use of anecdotal evidence other than our own experiences. Anecdotal evidence, although it cannot prove anything by itself (because it is not statistically representative and because of possible placebo effects), can sometimes provide valuable leads which can then be investigated in the primary scientific literature. The basis for our scientific judgments, including our choices of substances with which to self-experiment, are, first, papers published in primary scientific literature. The list of references we provide for each column are only a few of those on which that column was based. In addition, we have each had hundreds of clinical laboratory tests run during the past 12 years when we have been experimenting with substances with possible or demonstrated (in animals) life-extending properties. These tests indicate that we have not done ourselves harm, and some results (for example, our low cholesterol levels, although we eat a high-fat diet) indicate benefits. The results of our self-experimentation, including our clinical laboratory test results, are discussed in detail in our upcoming book, Life Extension: A Practical, Scientific Approach (Warner Books; expected publication date, May 1982).

Many selenium-deficiency diseases are known in animals, such as turkeys, chickens, hogs, sheep, and laboratory rodents. Selenium is required for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase (although this is not necessarily selenium's only function), an important antioxidant enzyme (destroying toxic peroxides, especially those of unsaturated fats). Humans have the same enzyme. Keshan disease, a cardiomyopathy (pathology of the heart), occurs in humans in areas with low selenium values in foods. In one area of China (Mianning county) which had a high incidence of Keshan disease, children are being treated with sodium selenite to prevent the development of the disease, with excellent results (Chen et al., "Relation of Selenium Deficiency to the Occurrence of Keshan Disease," in Spallholz et al., eds., Selenium in Biology and Medicine, Avi Publishing, 1981). Keshan disease in humans exhibits a pathology very similar to that of mulberry heart disease in selenium-deficient swine.

Selenium is a potent immune-system stimulant which has also been shown in a number of studies to inhibit the initiation and/or development of cancer. In the August 15, 1980, Science, for example, researchers Greeder and Milner reported: "A wide range of doses of selenium dioxide, sodium selenite, and sodium selenate completely inhibited visible [Ehrlich] ascites tumor growth in mice in vivo." In addition, selenium has shown a strong inhibitory effect on L-1210 leukemic cells, Novikoff hepatoma, R3230 AC rat mammary tumor, two canine mammary tumor lines, and solid tumors from SV40-3T3 cell innoculations (Milner, chap. 13 in Selenium in Biology and Medicine). There is a highly inbred strain of C3H mice in which 85 percent of females spontaneously develop mammary tumors. Only 10 percent of females supplied drinking water containing 2 ppm of selenium (as sodium selenite) developed these tumors (Schrauzer and Ishmael, Ann. Clin. Lab. Sci. 4:441, 1974).

We are surprised that someone who is a lecturer in nutrition and metabolism is not familiar with these studies. Many more papers on selenium can be obtained by having an inexpensive MEDLARS search (see our December column) done at a medical school or university library offering the service. Our nutritional views are not "magic," as is claimed, but are based on a detailed study of biochemical mechanisms of nutrients. Why doesn't Dr. Avakian give examples of what he considers errors rather than just calling us purveyors of magic?

Further information on selenium can be obtained from Selenium in Biology and Medicine, already mentioned, and Klayman and Gunther, eds., Organic Selenium Compounds: Their Chemistry and Biology Wiley-Interscience, 1973; see especially the works of Ray Shamberge, G. Schrauzer, Julian Spallholz, and Johan Bjorksten for the relation of and beneficial effects of selenium in heart disease and cancer.