In Response to: Inventing the future

It is understandable that an inventor would be averse to seeing creativity stymied by nontechnical considerations such as regulations. So I don’t find it surprising to read that Nathan Myhrvold *83 (feature, Jan. 28) has “a strong libertarian streak.”

What is a surprise is the incoherent rant, in the midst of an otherwise fascinating interview, about “well-meaning people” who have bad ideas. Somehow Rachel Carson was responsible for “killing people,” but electronics inventions and Microsoft programs that guide weapons of war are not? This looks an awful lot like a double standard about the significance of indirect causes.

One of the reasons that DDT is not a viable solution is that rapidly breeding mosquitoes developed resistance to it. Another is that it is an endocrine disruptor that accumulates in fat. It takes only a few minutes of using a search engine to find the NIH bulletin of April 1993 that reported 10 of 41 lactating mothers in Papua New Guinea “had DDT levels higher than the allowable limit of 1.25/mg/kg fat for cow’s milk (1.43-300 mg/kg).” A study in Kenya in 1986 showed mean levels of 4.8 mg/kg in mother’s milk.

Being a polymath becomes problematic when one has difficulty recognizing one’s limits. Not so many years ago, Nobel laureate William Shockley got into trouble for thinking that his expertise in electronics qualified him to make pronouncements about the biology of racial differences. I’d hate to see Dr. Myhrvold fall into the same trap in regard to environmentalism.

Martin Schell ’74
Klaten, Central Java