Professor suggests better ways to engage in debate

To the Editor:

(Re: “Yalies can engage in war debate in better ways,” column, 1/30):

We have certain ways of protesting in a democracy: The most important is our vote. It is quite obvious, in the current situation, that our vote has done very little to change the direction of the executive branch of government. When the vote fails, and enough citizens believe there is still something wrong with the way our government is acting, then there are mass, peaceful protests, such as the one this past weekend in Washington, D.C., that I was writing about in my initial letter to the News (“Reinstatement of draft would help galvanize protests against Iraq war,” 1/29). For Alexandra Schwartz to say in her column that such protests are “irrelevant” is just not so, and the history of the Vietnam protests certainly indicates that those million-person protests on the mall in Washington, D.C., were exceedingly effective in changing the actions of our government. If we do not, as citizens, protest when we believe there is something wrong, and our votes do not appear to be have an effect, what would you have us do?

The Vietnam protests were activated by young people of draft age, and many college students were directly involved in their organization. Those marches were peaceful, for the most part, and were part of the democratic process of changing the views of our legislative and executive branches of government. But the marchers were often surrounded on all sides by National Guard troops, protecting the various government buildings with tanks and guns. And it was, in part, the pictures of young college students marching, while the tanks were stationed in front of the Supreme Court and Capitol buildings, that helped to change both public opinion and the opinion of our government to get out of Vietnam once and for all. Unfortunately, it was after more than 60,000 young men and women were killed.

It is possible that the current anti-Iraq-war protests will reach the same level as they did during the Vietnam war, but I doubt it. As I initially indicated, and still believe, the Vietnam war protests were fueled by the draft hanging over the heads of college students and the middle class was involved to a large extent.

Schwartz may not like the idea of reinstituting the draft as a way of organizing the country against this war, and I can understand that. Many of my anti-Iraq-war colleagues are also against the draft, as many have children of draft age, so this is only natural. But this war is being fought, largely, by the young “underclass,” generally the poor and minorities who have either joined the regular Army as a career, or who were in the then-peacetime National Guard to supplement their incomes. Many have been killed, and many are on their second and third tours of duty in Iraq. Quite simply, this is not fair. There are no more soldiers to send over, so we either get out quickly, or we start drafting people into the armed forces to help shoulder the burden. And if our president and Congress do not heed our votes, then mass protests in Washington are an important course of action for anyone who believes in the folly of this war.

Joel Rosenbaum

Jan. 31

The writer is a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology.

Critics of charter schools should look at successes

To the Editor:

(Re: “Report on public schools challenged,” 1/25) Forty states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws allowing for the creation of public charter schools, and each state’s legislation was borne out of various ideas and compromises. The idea that unites the creation of all charter schools, however, is giving children of need better options for a public education.

ConnCAN’s report demonstrates that nearly 80 percent of the public charter schools in Connecticut outperform their local traditional public school analogues, with respect to student achievement. Students in charter schools in Connecticut also advance academically at a faster rate. This achievement data is tremendous, given that charters in the state are open admission and enroll a significantly higher percentage of low-income and minority students than the state average.

While the CEA gripes — without any data, mind you — children of need are having success in charter schools. Unfortunately, the growth of charter schools is capped in Connecticut, and the traditional system has been slow to replicate what works in these innovative schools. Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark is skeptical that a school system can operate with just charters, but notice that the limitations of which she speaks — length of the school day and staff dedication — have nothing to do with the limitless potential of our children, but rather with the adults we charge to educate them.

Justin C. Cohen ’04

Jan. 26

The writer is director of industry support and development for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

More undergraduates respond to Wells column

To the Editor:

The piece by Jonathan Wells printed on Jan. 29 is so filled with inaccuracies and enormous logical fallacies that there is not nearly enough space to address them all. Most egregious among them is the statement “experiments have consistently failed to support the hypothesis that variations can produce new species, organs and body plans.” In addition, he refers to “growing inconsistencies” in support for evolution in embryology, molecular biology and the fossil record. One might expect a person with two doctorates to know when to cite references, especially when making such strong statements.

Darwin’s theory (not hypothesis) of evolution is one of the most celebrated achievements of science. It has enormous explanatory power and is nearly universally accepted by biologists. Like so many creationists, Wells tries to manufacture a controversy among scientists where there is none. I refer readers not familiar with this tactic to a Web site published by the National Academy of Sciences,, as well as the Web site of the organization brought up by Wells, which has some excellent information. Both of these thoroughly debunk the claim that evolution is scientifically in trouble.

Wells also brings out as evidence that 85 percent of Americans support the idea that God created humans, or at least guided their evolution. The obvious problem with this is that poll results are irrelevant when it comes to the physical and biological sciences. Evolution is based upon observation and fact, not American opinion. There is no reason for Christian theology to enter into the equation, and the suggestion that Darwinism “doesn’t fit the scientific evidence” and “contradicts a central tenet of Christianity” is simply bad science.

Ian Rose ’09

Jan. 29

To the Editor:

Jonathan Wells’ crude caricature of scientists prevents a serious debate. How can scientists — or any serious thinkers — be expected to engage in a dialogue when Wells describes their efforts to work with willing clergymen as “[e]nlisting Christian clergy to defend ‘science’ or ‘evolution’ is a tactic used to perpetuate that support,” as if Darwinists are some sort of paramilitary group infiltrating the Church? Wells even goes as far as to describe the National Center for Science Education as a “militantly pro-Darwin organization” that uses “bait-and-switch” stratagems. This sort of left-wing conspiracy theory — watch out, those Darwinists are out to get us! — cannot be taken seriously, especially when Wells actually elaborates on the logistics of this strategy. Interestingly enough, this so-called “bait-and-switch” tactic is “sugarcoating evolution as change over time.” Yet Wells himself earlier argued that evolution “means simply change over time.” So what, exactly, are they sugarcoating?

Second, Wells’s denigration of the very people he ostensibly means to cheer is both contradictory and more insulting than any of the scientists’ quotations he mentions. Wells claims that evolution “means simply change over time, something no sane person doubts” and “that the present is different from the past” is an “obvious fact,” yet sees no inconsistency with the following sentence: “Polls have consistently shown that about 40 percent of Americans believe God created the human beings in their present form a few thousand years ago.” Wells can’t have it both ways: Is it “obvious” that the world has changed over time, or is 40 percent of America insane? So when Wells concludes that “[t]he vast majority of Americans reject Darwinism for good reasons,” apparently, he’s pleading the insanity defense.

Finally, I resent Wells’ authoritative interpretation of the true meaning of Christianity. His doctorate in religious studies is not the equivalent of a religious ordination, and how he can claim to interpret to what extent Darwinism “contradicts a central tenet of Christianity” is beyond me. Christianity includes a diverse range of dominations, all of whom may choose to grapple with Darwinism in different manners, as the very celebration of Evolution Sunday suggests. For Christians as well as other persons of faith, explaining both religious and scientific explanations of creation can be a deeply troubling journey, and I fail to see the relevance of his personal understanding.

Austen Kassinger ’10

Jan. 29