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February 2011
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Letters to the editor, February 2011

This a traditional letter column. You are encouraged to write a letter of comment on anything that you find worthy of comment. It will (may) be published in this column along with my reply. As editor I reserve the right to delete material; however I will not alter the undeleted material. E-mail to me that solely references the contents of this site will be assumed to be publishable mail. All other e-mail is assumed to be private. And, of course, anything marked not for publication is not for publication. Oh yes, letters of appreciation for the scholarly resources provided by this site will be handled very discreetly. This page contains the correspondence for February 2011.

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From: Kelly van Vliet
Date: 25 January, 2011
Subj: praise about the 'Forgotten Dreams' interlude / couplet

Hello Mr. Harter,

About your untitled interlude/couplet about the 'Fields of Hell' / 'Forgotten Dreams' : I love it. I truly and deeply love it. Poems are not usually things to strike me deeply, but this one did and does. I love it. Thank you very much for sharing.

Kind Regards,

Kelly
The Netherlands

Thank you very much for writing. I imagine that there are few words more precious to a poet or an author than those of a reader loving their work. The poem is one of my favorites; I love it myself.
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From: Ben D. Kennedy
Date: 20 January 2011
Subj: Link Exchange with MaidOfHeaven.com

Hello Richard

I stumbled across your site and thought you had a lot of interesting and valuable resources. I can add a link at http://www.maidofheaven.com/links2.asp#artliterature if you would like to exchange links.

MaidOfHeaven.com is a website dedicated to telling the true story of Saint Joan of Arc and is the largest and most heavily trafficked Joan of Arc website in the world with a Google PR rank of 5.

Just let me know,

Ben D. Kennedy

As you have probably guessed I don't have a links page as such. However I do have an external links section on my literature page. If having a link there works for you, I'm game. I will say your site is an interesting one.
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From: Ryan Griffin
Date: 10 January, 2011
Subj: Piltdown man

I have recently discovered, and very much enjoyed, your writings on Piltdown Man.  I was linked to your website and your contributions to the TalkOrigins archive by a young-earth creationist.  This person and I have been carrying on an email discussion after meeting via the website reddit.com. He is sure that science is just a huge hoax and that Piltdown Man is a perfect example of this. He is also adamant that science is incapable of correcting itself because of internal corruption. I wanted to point out to you that he is using a particular portion of your documentation on Piltdown Man to support his claims. While your intentions are clear to me, I can see how one portion of your writing can be misinterpreted.  In the section titled This is a good example of Science correcting itself"" and follow up at the end of the section with a few examples of pitfalls to be wary of when practicing science.  The last sentence seems to suggest that scientists generally tend to accept things uncritically.  I know that this occurs in some situations, but hardly seems like the norm.  I can say, anecdotally, that the conferences and seminars I attend are full of outspoken criticism and sometimes uncomfortable confrontations.  I don't think this is what you meant to imply, but it can easily be interpreted that way.

This is a good example of Science correcting itself

It has been argued that this is a good example of science correcting its errors. This argument is a bit roseate. As the Daily Sketch wrote:

Anthropologists refer to the hoax as 'another instance of desire for fame leading a scholar into dishonesty' and boast that the unmasking of the deception is 'a tribute to the persistence and skill of modern research'. Persistence and skill indeed! When they have taken over forty years to discover the difference between an ancient fossil and a modern chimpanzee! A chimpanzee could have done it quicker.
Far from being a triumph of Science the hoax points to common and dangerous faults. The hoax succeeded in large part because of the slipshod nature of the testing applied to it; careful examination using the methods available at the time would have immediately revealed the hoax. This failure to adquately examine the fossils went unmarked and unnoticed at the time - in large part because the hoax admirably satisfied the theoretical expectations of the time. The hoax illuminates two pitfalls to be wary of in the scientific process. The first is the danger of inadequately examining and challenging results that confirm the currently accepted scientific interpretation. The second is that a result, once established, tends to be uncritically accepted and relied upon without further reconsideration.
While Piltdown Man is perhaps a poor example of science correcting itself in a timely manner, it is remains a perfectly fine example of scientific correction.  It isn't as though the hoax was exposed by religious doctrine, philosophy or some other discipline.  I don't want to come off too critically because I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this interesting bit of history via your website and your contributions to TalkOrigins. 

In addition to the above concern, I also have a question.  I noticed that you suggested the matter could have been cleared up quickly if the fossils had been tested for organic material.

Charmed Life

The hoax had a charmed life. Features that might have exposed the hoax didn't get caught because of small errors in procedure. For example, the hoax would have been exposed immediately had a test of the jaw for organic matter been made. Tests were made on the cranial fragments, but these were sufficiently well mineralized to pass.

I assumed one reason for the delay in exposing the hoax was that the methods for flourine absorption testing had not been developed until a few decades later, but was unaware of any other methods of testing/dating available at the time of the discovery. When exactly was fluorine absorption testing developed and put to use? I am not entirely familiar with the methods of testing available at the time of the discovery and was curious what you were implying by the testing for organic matter.  I do not doubt you, but was interested to know more details about the specific type of test you were suggesting.  Thanks for your time Ryan Griffin
Thank you very much for writing. You make a good point about the sentence

"The second is that a result, once established, tends to be uncritically accepted and relied upon without further reconsideration."

However this is a real problem. As you suggest, often there is extensive peer review and critical analysis when a result is first presented. As a preliminary remark, all too often review and criticism is minimal. This very much depends on the field of work and on the venue. There has been much concern about an apparent increase in actual scholastic fraud. Medical studies seem to be particularly problematic.

However that wasn't what I was alluding to. What tends to happen is that once a result has passed the initial flurry of criticism and review, is published, and has been part of corpus of scientific work for a while, it receives almost no further review and criticism unless, and this is important, it is inconsistent with later work. Most scientists are concerned with the work that they are doing now, rather than the work that someone did a while ago. Prior work is mostly useful for citation unless it is a basis for current work. People writing survey articles are an exception because they look at a suite of prior results in a field.

There is another problem area, which is the tendency to reprint material without proper proofreading and checking. This takes many forms. People include references in their citations without actually checking them. Don't tell me it's not done; we all know that it is an all too common practice. They reprint quoted material without checking whether their copy matches the original. Isaac Asimov once wrote a science article about errors in tables of physical constants in textbooks and manuals. Apparently typos are made every so often, and once made are uncritically copied in other books.

A third issue is science is always improving the quality and precision of measurement and data recording. As a result there is more room in older work for errors due to faulty technique.

The Piltdown hoax is a good illustration of these problems. Perhaps more should be made in the article about how modern methods have closed off many of the holes that allowed this kind of hoax to slip through.

As for testing for organic material, there are simple chemical tests for organic material. The point is that fossilized remains are mineralized. There are some exceptions to this (more than we once thought) but not for the kind of remains of "Piltdown man".

Again, I want to thank you for writing. You have raised some important issues and I shall think about them.

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From: Lois Harter
Date: 3 February 2011
Subj: Feb. Photo

Isn't that great??? You don't even have to change your Jan. photo on the web site for February!

I quite agree, though I am changing the photo anyway. You have my greatest sympathy. You probably don't even have any snow and have a lot of that nasty sunshine.

In these parts McDonalds has a deal where you can get your second big mac special at yesterday's temperature - zero and below it is free. I don't imagine you have anything like that out there but if you do I reckon that you can't afford that second one.

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From: Selina Lovett
Date: 23 January 2011
Subj: Hi, Master of the Universe!

Hello, Richard,

Sorry it took me so long to reply to your Holiday message.. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! So you are getting Married!!! That is fantastic news. I am so happy for you. You and Deborah make a great couple. When is the wedding?? Where is the wedding? Will you be coming to Boskone? If you are, I may just try and drop by for a bit.

Dennis and I may be out your way for a visit sometime this summer... Are you going to be around? It will be great to see you either way!

Congrats again, and Love to Deborah.
Selina

We won't be out for Boskone. The coming months are going to be rather busy. We are doing some more remodeling of my house and we need to do major yard work.

The wedding will be Saturday, August 27, which may work out rather nicely if you are coming out this way during the summer. It would be wonderful if you and Dennis could make it for the wedding. If you can't it would still be wonderful if you could visit any time during the summer. (I don't much recommend visiting during the winter.)

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From: deviana yuwana
Date: 24 January, 2011
Subj: deviana yuwana from manila

Hi Love,

I am a beautiful young and charming girl looking for real love and protection.  I have gone through your profile and am very happy to contact you for us to know ourselves.

You know that distance, age and indeed color cannot stop true love. So darling, I would appreciate if you send  Email to my private Email box: (DELETED) So that i can send my pictures and more information about my self to you.

I wait for your positive reply.
Yours in love
deviana

Dear deviant, er deviana

What you say is so true. Alas our great love is not fated to be, mostly because my IQ is over 42. Still, I really am curious. What do yuwana do?

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From: Bank of America
Date: 31 January 2011
Subj: Thanks for speaking with our representative on 1/19/2011, we'd like to know about your experience!

Dear Bank of America Customer,

Thank you for your recent conversation with our Home Retention Division Representative. We appreciate the opportunity to have been of service to you regarding the status of your existing loan. Customer satisfaction is our number one priority and your feedback will help us understand what we do well and what we can do to improve. We appreciate and value your responses. The survey will take approximately 2 to 3 minutes to complete and you can access the on-line survey by clicking on the link below (Usted puede proseguir a la encuesta en línea haciendo clic en el enlace siguiente).

The amusing thing about this is that it is just the latest email in an ongoing saga of mortgage companies not knowing what they are doing and not interested in getting it right. Once upon a time there was a man named Richard Harter in South Carolina. Richard bought a house. His mortgage company was Countrywide. Apparently some clever chap at Countrywide looked up Richard Harter on the internet, found that there was a Richard Harter with an email address, and concluded that they had their man. It never occurred to them that there might be more than one Richard Harter in the world.

From then on I would get emails telling my doppelganger about the status of his account. He seemed to staying on top of things because most of the messages were thanking him for his latest payment. From time to time I tried to contact Countrywide to tell them that they had the wrong Richard Harter but to no avail. They weren't accepting email unless you gave them an account number. Catch 22; I didn't have an account with them.

They didn't stop there. Apparently they sold their mailing list because I get emails from the Chamber of Commerce, car salesman, and the local Republican party. You don't even want to know all of the random email that I got that was meant for my doppelganger. I don't even want to know it.

Eventually Countrywide paid the price for their lending policies and were acquired by Bank of America. I had hopes that Bofa would get things squared away. You can see how that worked out. This time, however, they wanted me to answer a survey - a survey with a comment section. I filled in all the ratings with random ratings and then explained that they had the wrong email address in the comment section. I have every hope that this will finally get this mixup straightened out.

How likely do you think that will be?

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This page was last updated February 5, 2011.

Richard Harter's World
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