Reasoning errors undermined science-humanities argument

To the Editor:

In his piece on Tuesday’s opinion page (“Science isn’t enough to explain humanity”), Peter Johnston made a number of serious errors of reasoning.

First, his claim that the laws of physics do not allow for chance is obviously belied by the modern field of quantum mechanics.

Second, his claim that physicalism denies free will stems from a confusion of correlation with causation. Physical laws have only ever claimed to be descriptive, never proscriptive; and in this sense his argument is quite misleading.

Third and finally, the mere fact that the humanities appeal to us intuitively has little to say regarding their validity. To assume that the nature of things corresponds with our desire to have a universe which is both caring and sensical is to engage in an act of metaphysical backsliding.

Will Wilson ’09

April 17

The writer is in Jonathan Edwards College.

Pride flag incident deserved more coverage than elections

To the Editor:

If the Gay Pride/Gluttony flag had been changed from “Jewish Pride” to “Jewish Greed” or from “Black Pride” to “Black Envy,” would it have been deemed newsworthy enough to make it above the fold? After running weeks of editorials and op-eds discussing the student body’s complete lack of interest in both the Ward 22 and the YCC elections, and despite the renewed attention on hate speech that the Don Imus incident has brought about, the News still seemed to think we would care more about these races. Based on the number of discussions I’ve heard about the yearlong string of highly public homophobic acts — many — versus the number about both elections combined — zero — you judged incorrectly. Although the repeated nature of these overt attacks might lessen the shock value, the incident is no less important.

Austen Kassinger ’10

April 17

The writer is in Davenport College.

More admits won’t necessarily mean lower-quality students

To the Editor:

I find certain statements made in Sam Heller’s April 13 article regarding the construction of new residential colleges (“It’s time to speak up against new colleges”) to be misguided. He states that any additional students accepted as a result of this expansion “are not … going to be the most exceptional, impressive members of the applicant pool. Rather, these will be the most marginal applicants, the most almost-acceptable of a substandard group.” I have seen many instances in which this has not been the case. Some time ago, a friend of mine applied to a highly selective institution and was placed on a waiting list. He was later granted admission. After four years, he graduated salutatorian.

The Intel Science Talent Search is the oldest and most prestigious high-school science competition in the United States. Each year, only 300 students are named as semifinalists — a far more selective group than the admitted class at most colleges. Two semifinalists from my high school applied to Yale under the Early Action program. One was rejected, while the other was deferred and then rejected.

At several science fairs last year, I met a student who had completed a truly stupendous research project in mathematics. His work was at a level far beyond even the most advanced high-school courses. His project was no doubt a reason why the judge of one competition remarked that several people in the room already knew a great deal of what one would learn in an undergraduate mathematics program. I later learned that he had applied to Princeton under their Early Decision program and been deferred.

It is clear that students such those that I described above are by no means “marginal,” “almost-acceptable” or “substandard.” To say that they are is inaccurate and insulting.

David Golub ’10

April 17

The writer is in Ezra Stiles College.

Hillary supporter’s column misrepresented the facts

To the Editor:

In his op-ed supporting Hillary Clinton (“Think you know Hillary? Think again,” 4/16), Ben Zweifach made misleading statements about the records of both Clinton and Barack Obama on the Iraq war.

Among the “basic popular notions” Zweifach set out to dispel is that “after voting for the war in Iraq, Clinton refused to apologize for it.” But in fact this popular notion is correct: Hillary has never apologized for her vote, and has publicly refused to do so on numerous occasions.

Zweifach also writes that “Obama did not vote for the use of force, but to be fair, in a time of intense national patriotism and solidarity, also did not have a vote to cast.” But in fact, a speech in Chicago on Oct. 2, 2002 — a week before Hillary cast her vote to authorize the war — Obama spoke out strongly against the war, calling it “a dumb war” and “a rash war.” He noted the danger of “a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” And he lamented that “an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida.” Of course, Zweifach is correct about the political atmosphere at the time — Obama’s position was very unpopular, and politically very dangerous, back then. And since he didn’t have to vote on the resolution, he was not forced to take any position on it publicly. Yet Obama did so anyway, and many of the criticisms and predictions he made in that speech have turned out to be remarkably prescient.

Barack Obama is the only major presidential candidate who opposed the Iraq war from the beginning. For all her experience, Hillary showed poor judgment in the lead-up to the Iraq war, and her record since then has been mixed. There can be little doubt that either candidate would represent a positive change from the status quo. But Hillary’s shifting justifications for her vote to authorize the Iraq war are reminiscent of the difficulty John Kerry had explaining the same vote in 2004. Rather than backing another candidate who had the poor judgment to vote in favor of the war, in 2008 Democrats should vote for the only candidate whose position on Iraq has been clear, consistent, and correct from the beginning: Barack Obama.

Brendan Gants ’08

April 16

The writer is in Morse College and a former president of the College Democrats.

Scene cover didn’t present Peking program accurately

To the Editor:

For the record, our semester in Beijing as members of the new PKU-Yale Joint Undergraduate Program was one of the best, the most enlightening, and the most memorable experiences we have had during our time at Yale. Are you surprised? You might be, after reading the litany of half-truths that cropped up in Friday’s article on the subject (“Yalies in China,” scene) and gave readers a myopic view of what is fundamentally an excellent program and conceptually the best of its kind.

To suggest that the Yalies at Beida are shielding themselves from their Chinese surroundings is to grossly misinterpret the data. The most useful point of comparison would be Stanford’s study abroad program, also on the Beida campus. The Stanford students live in their own special section within the foreign student enclave. They live in two-bedroom suites, each suite with its own bathroom, cable television and sitting room. They have daily maid service. Needless to say, their interactions with their Chinese peers are limited.

Our program, meanwhile, put us cheek to cheek with our Chinese counterparts, allowing us to develop true friendships and a sustained cultural dialogue. Certainly, many of us spent time at expat hot spots like Lush and Propaganda but not nearly as much as suggested by the article. Many of us also spent weekends traveling on our own, sometimes to other cities, other times to rural villages to distribute English-language books through the charity organization founded by Yale alumna Dr. Gwen Zahner. We cannot vouch for this semester’s students, but any accusations of insularity should be weighed against individuals, not the program.

Perhaps the most counterintuitive aspect of the program, though, is that to make the most of your experience you have to put academics on the back burner. Study abroad should not be about quantifiable knowledge; it’s about the multiplicity of experiences. The program gave us ample opportunities to do this; it was up to us to take full advantage.

Michael Schmale ’08

Alexa Verme ’08

Sophie von Haselberg ’08

April 15

The writers were inaugural members of the PKU-Yale Joint Undergraduate Program in fall 2006.

Low took the wrong approach with Lincoln-Bush comparison

To the Editor:

It was with great relish that I read the first half of Roger Low’s article “A look at history can help anti-war effort” (4/12). Low points out the striking similarities between the administrations of Abraham Lincoln and George W. Bush. Both men started unpopular wars and were heavily criticized for the civilian deaths, massive wastes of resources and curtailed civil liberties their actions created.

Naively, I assumed that Low would go on criticize the Abraham Lincoln myth and point out the lessons learned in America’s earlier experiences with senseless, unjust war and centralized, unaccountable power. Instead, Low proceeded to make an argument that can be summarized thus: Under Lincoln and Bush the same things happened. Lincoln and the Civil War were just and effective. Therefore Democrats and anti-war supporters should reconsider their evaluation of the efficacy and necessity of the current conflict in Iraq.

In fact, Low should have drawn the exact opposite conclusion from his information. The myth of Abraham Lincoln as the kind and noble savior of his country and liberator of the human spirit is a reprehensible lie that serves to obscure the historical record and provide a cloak of respectability to latter-day power worshipers and tyrants. Like the current mess in Iraq, Lincoln’s war was carried out for ignoble motives and under false pretenses, destroyed the economy and society of an entire region, and eviscerated American liberty. Unfortunately, America failed to learn from the past and is committing the same mistakes over again.

Benjamin Darrington ’08

April 12

The writer is in Pierson College.