Letters to the Editor

Heated words on climate change

The naïve article on Professor Mann’s research and its repercussions should not have been published in the Yale Alumni Magazine (“The Most Hated Climate Scientist in the World Fights Back,” March/April). Though the unfair persecution of Mann is presented, the equally unfair treatment of those who espouse positions that differ from Mann’s is passed by. Since your magazine is hardly the place for a scientific debate, it should eschew presenting just one facet of the whole set of views of the contentious and emotionally charged issue of global warming.

Robert K. Adair
Sterling Professor of Physics, Emeritus
Hamden, CT

My sincere thanks to Neela Banerjee for writing, and to the Yale Alumni Magazine for publishing, the profile of Michael Mann. I appreciated the scientifically accurate summary of climate research and the courageous response of Mann to the scurrilous attacks against him by climate-change deniers. In general, the media has done a terrible disservice to our democracy by giving a very large megaphone to the well-financed but scientifically corrupt climate-change deniers and failing to document and confront their deceptive and deceitful tactics. Legitimate public policy debate, attempting to balance short-term and long-term benefits and risks, needs to be based on the best current scientific understanding.

Christopher P. Khoury ’71
Escondido, CA

In your attempt to rehabilitate Michael Mann you have become Exhibit A in climate change as a religion. Dr. Mann has disgraced the scientific method and peer review disciplines and your magazine has compromised its journalistic standards. Please refrain from such crusading in the future. You insult our intelligence.

Scott W. Herstin ’69
Naples, FL

It’s fortunate that there was no Internet when Paul Revere was considering the likelihood of a British assault on the ingrates of Lexington, Concord, and environs. Had he posted online the notion that British troops were massing in Boston and were almost certainly poised to march out into the countryside to attack rebellious Colonials, a virtual army of vituperative Loyalists would surely have overwhelmed the comment section and reduced his arguments to—in their minds—intellectual rubble. He might have been sufficiently distressed to give up on the whole idea of a Ride.

Neela Banerjee’s moving article on Michael Mann documents the astonishingly over-the-top animus felt toward Mann by climate-change denialists. The online comments on the article, which at this writing are dominated by excoriations of Mann, Banerjee, and the magazine, only underscore the point.

For 25 years I have interpreted basic aspects of climate science for the public, first as the national speaker for Greenpeace—guest-lecturing at hundreds of colleges, universities, and other institutions—and later while serving regionally for other organizations involved in crafting energy-related legislation and in promoting renewable energy. The more time passes, the more I appreciate the willingness of scientists like Michael Mann to risk the disapprobation of the ill-willed and semi-informed in the cause of defending real science—and of attempting to save the ecosystems of this planet for our grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Christopher Childs ’71
St. Paul, MN

The article on Michael Mann and his work gave an interesting personal profile but missed the mark on the science. The issue highlighted by Dr. Mann and his work and the furor that follows is intellectual integrity. Most science that becomes highly politicized suffers in this regard, on all sides—proponents, opponents, and government.

Climate science is especially corrupted by groupthink and perhaps even deliberate deception. Yale should be out front in demanding the highest intellectual integrity. Preservation of credibility for science and scientists demands it.

Henry R. Savage ’66DEng
Horseshoe Bay, TX

It takes one. One individual with the courage and fortitude to stand up to bullies and speak the truth about climate change. Dr. Mann is that individual. I recall ice skating on Thanksgiving Day in Connecticut and seeing more blue-horizon days than white-horizon days. All has changed.

Dr. Mann is a hero who is trying to make life livable for future mankind. The right man at the right time. Thank God.

Katharine P. Riley ’82PA
Orange, NH

Tar sands and Mann

I commend you for running the letters that criticized the magazine for accepting an advertisement placed by a tar-sands extraction company (Letters, March/April). The letter writers apparently have strong opinions on the subject but would deny others with different views the right to speak for themselves. So I also commend the magazine for running the ad.

But I believe it was a serious mistake for your cover story to detail the fortunes of Dr. Mann of Pennsylvania State University on the subject of climate change. The mere fact that Mann holds a PhD from Yale is insufficient grounds for featuring him in a Yale magazine. The article would have been appropriate, perhaps, for a Penn State alumni magazine, but not Yale’s. Further, I believe it is a mistake for your magazine to take sides in what seems to me an essentially partisan political issue. Some of the bias could have been eliminated or toned down by more astute editing—for example, to delete or modify undocumented claims that opposition to Dr. Mann’s views is funded by energy companies. Indeed, where is the opposing viewpoint?

Michael W. R. Davis ’53
Royal Oak, MI

In the March/April issue, you published two letters decrying the Statoil advertisement that had appeared in the previous issue. If the “appalled” letter writers lead a pre–Stone Age existence, I applaud them for their convictions and principles. However, since their letters were almost certainly composed and sent by computer or postal service, I accuse them of either hypocrisy or ignorance of the fact that civilization was and continues to be made possible by the burning of carbon-based fuels. Yale is to be congratulated for reducing its carbon footprint and supporting energy research. The magazine need not apologize for accepting an ad from a company whose product is derived from such research.

Kenneth Luke ’62E
Fullerton, CA

Divest from fossil fuels?

For years I served as an international corporate business lawyer. Out of law school I went to work in the international legal department of Mobil Oil. Later, I was on the legal staff of Harris Corporation, then a Fortune 300 electronics company.

I am writing now to urge the university to adopt a policy against investing its endowment in the fossil fuel industry, or in industries that make products which use fossil fuels. Extraction and consumption of fossil fuels pollute the environment, deteriorate health, and exacerbate climate change. Investment in the companies that extract, refine, market, or burn fossil fuels, or make products that burn them—like cars—is an incentive for those companies to operate in ways that are harmful to the entire world.

As you are no doubt aware, there is a growing movement for universities to divest themselves of such investments (Campus Clips, March/April). This movement can both harm these fossil fuel profiteer’s bottom lines and delegitimize them in the court of public opinion, aiding local communities’ efforts to reclaim their land, health, and economies. Many leaders in the environmental community have joined students on more than 200 campuses across the country in calling for divestment. Yale can be a leader in this movement.

Stonewall Jackson Bird ’67
Bellingham, WA

Back in the tribe

What a wonderful odyssey (“A Rebel Comes Home,” March/April)! It is often difficult to explain to an outsider (even a spouse) why Yalies are so fond of the place. Peter Richmond writes of the attraction, the necessity of belonging to a tribe. I think many of us came early to conclude that Yale was our favored tribe, one blessed with much learning and a great deal of gothic. We happily belonged when we were in New Haven and still trek back for periodic rituals like The Game (and my upcoming 50th reunion). Peter may have come late to his tribal home, but return he did. Welcome.

Michael Skol ’63
New York, NY

Peter Richmond counseled his intermediate school students to “steer clear of Harvard. And never even consider that place down in Jersey.” Really? Maybe it was meant to be a dumb joke, like the ones my Harvard alum friends are always exchanging with me, but that wasn’t the tone of Mr. Richmond’s article. And he tells the story of the “smart, hard-working, delightful” woman who had been accepted by Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth and to whom he said “You’re not going back out of that door until I’ve convinced you to go to Yale,” based on no other criterion, apparently, except that Harvard and Dartmouth didn’t deserve to have her as a student. Really?

Anyone who’s ever talked to me about it knows that I love Yale and treasure my years there. I also treasure my five years of working at Harvard and I treasure being a day-trip distance from Princeton. They are all magnificent tools for a student prepared to make use of them. I am a college professor, to whom potential college students come for advice, and the only reasons I would steer a student to one of them rather than another would be based on the particular student’s characteristics.

I know that some people may think the function of an alumni magazine is to puff its own institution at the expense of others, but I would hope we could rise above that.

Gary Ralph ’77
Milford, DE

Terms of service

You summarized interesting findings from a research study assessing the accuracy of memories in 800 active-duty navy or marine corps personnel enrolled in the US Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape School (“Ah Yes, I Remember It Well,” March/April). In trying to find a generic word to describe the research subjects, you used the term “soldiers” throughout the article. However, the term “soldier” actually refers to enlisted personnel in the army. The correct terms for enlisted navy and marine corps personnel are “sailor” and “marine,” respectively. A better generic term to describe both sailors and marines would be servicemen (and women) or military personnel.

Sharon Cooper ’80
Middletown, CT

No rhino horns, please

Unfortunately, my breath was taken away by the photo of rhinoceros-horn cups in your magazine (Last Look, March/April). I do not see art; I do not see a generous gift to the university. I see the true genocide that is taking place in present time against this planet’s most beautiful and majestic creatures. The poaching crisis around the world and specifically targeting rhinos and elephants is decimating these species. The ignorance and greed that led to the destruction of the two rhinos that were originally attached to the featured cups is still very much alive today.

Far from outwardly condemning the slaughter that took place, however long ago, the piece seems to celebrate the “art”—something I find highly distasteful. Perhaps the university should enact a stronger policy about what it accepts and take a firmer stand on understanding the murderous routes a gift has taken to find its home at Yale—in this case, a route that is leading to extinction of our planet’s most magnificent creatures unless we find a way to stop it now.

Ashley P. McAvey ’96, ’00MEM
Shelburne, VT

Derek Briggs, director of the Peabody Museum, replies: “Like Ms. McAvey, the curators and staff of the museum deplore the slaughter of endangered animals for any reason, and our collections policy reflects this position. The intricately carved Chinese rhino horn cups illustrated in Last Look are centuries old and were donated to the museum over 80 years ago.”

Taft as teacher

Regarding “Big Man on Campus” (March/April), your article about William Howard Taft’s time as a Yale professor: my father was a member of the Class of 1915 and served in the Yale Unit, Mobile Hospital Unit #39, in World War I. As a boy, I was led to Woolsey Hall to read the names of his classmates. I also was taken to the Yale Bowl to watch Yale’s two Heisman Trophy winners and many others wearing blue shirts and white helmets. I learned and sang Yale songs, especially those written by his fellow student Cole Porter ’13, but the highest point of all was his discussion of the first course taught at Yale by ex-President William Howard Taft.

The course was in constitutional law, and was conducted in 1913. As my father related, many of the less distinguished scholars thought this to be a “pipe” course. (I believe this may be a reference to the “pipes” they were supposed to be smoking, and the “glees” they were supposed to be singing, as mentioned in famous song.) The class was “sold out” and had to be accommodated in a larger lecture hall. Daily quizzes, on questions written laboriously on the blackboard by Taft, were quickly looked up by all the students before the large man could turn and settle in his large chair. As a result, grades were astronomical when the day of final examination arrived. When all were comfortably settled, Taft announced that since all already knew more about constitutional law than he had ever known, he had decided to throw out their quiz scores and give them a 1,000-question objective test, which he then did.

Harry W. Kinsley Jr. ’52
Limerick, ME

Cole mining

Those of us so fortunate to have experienced a performance of Kiss Me, Kate at the University Theatre in January (“A Cole Porter Centennial? Let’s Do It!” January/February) will not soon forget the outstanding re-creation of Porter’s masterpiece, performed by a symphonic-sized, all-Yale orchestra, sung by an expert cast of Yale alumni (most notable: leads Ethan Freeman ’81 and Sari Gruber ’93)—with original Porter material restored through the painstaking work of David Abell ’81—under the direction of Marc Vietor ’83. Bravissimi!

Yale’s commitment to Porter’s music is nothing new, of course. I remember being enthralled by a cabaret-style revue in 1969 called Cole Porter at Yale, especially a soulful, show-stopping rendition of “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” by Cayce Blanchard ’73, which haunts me to this day.

Nathan Wise ’72
Old Saybrook, CT


In a list of Yale alumni serving in the US Congress (“Bipartisan Bulldogs,” January/February) we left out Senator Bill Nelson ’65 (D–FL), who was elected to a third term in November. We regret the error.

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