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Monthly Archives: June 2012

Thesis Time #4- Journey to the Center

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 Hello, lovely readers. I’ll be posting pieces I wrote for my senior thesis for the next couple of weeks. If you’d like a PDF of the whole mess, shoot me an email. 

I did this profile as part of my application process for a fellowship to attend the 2012 AAAS meeting in Vancouver. Once I made it to the great white north, I got to write a piece that you can read on the NASW website

In a tiny liberal-arts school tucked into the mountains of Western Massachusetts, Michael Bergman is studying something he can never see, touch, or take a sample of. Unlike some researchers, he isn’t trying to change the world. In fact, he’s trying to figure out what the world’s been doing for the past 4.54 billion years or so.

Bergman, a professor of Physics at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, studies the behavior of the earth’s core. An undertaking of such magnitude would usually only take place at a larger school, one with hoards of graduate students to hire and well-funded labs to work in. At a typical research university, professors in charge of experiments won’t even teach classes. Bergman chose a different path, and has spent nearly two decades as both a teacher and researcher at a school with fewer than four hundred students, none of them above the undergraduate level. When asked about this choice, Bergman is quick to point out that he’s not at such a disadvantage.

“For one thing, I enjoy teaching,” he said in a recent interview, “and it’s important to realize that teaching classes doesn’t preclude research.” While the pace of his research is necessarily slower than those who can run six or seven projects at a time, it seems that the balance between teaching and research is one that he finds easier to maneuver than most. Bergman regularly teaches two to three classes a semester in addition to lab sections. In recent years he has taught Physics I and II, Quantum Physics, Intro to Robotics, and several advanced classes focusing on higher physics and statistics. He has also led lab sections for a seminar course on climate change, a class often taken by students without previous background in the sciences. Despite having a course load no lighter than the average Simon’s Rock teacher, he also finds the time to continue his personal research.

Bergman currently focuses on the solidification and deformation of the earth’s inner core. Seismic waves have shown us that beneath the rocky crust and thick mantle, our planet’s outer core is liquid iron. The inner core is solid, despite temperatures that may be close to the sun’s 5505 degrees Celsius, because of its incredibly high pressure (over 3.3 million atm). The inner core has the property of seismic anisotropy, or variation of seismic wavespeed with direction. When passing through the earth, seismic waves move faster from north to south than they do from east to west. Bergman studies the cause and effects of this property, which stems from the alignment of crystals in the core. The solidification of the inner core from the outer core may be the primary energy source for the fluid motion that ultimately creates the earth’s magnetic field, which we know surprisingly little about. While Bergman can’t point to any immediate or obvious applications of his research at this point, he knows the project is important in its own right.

“I found it fascinating that we didn’t know anything about how the magnetic field of the earth is generated,” Bergman said of his first experiences with geology as an undergraduate student at Columbia University. “I thought it was something worth knowing.” After earning a Ph.D. at MIT in 1992 and serving as the NATO fellow at the University of Glasgow, Bergman began his current study of fluid dynamics and magnetohydrodynamics (the study of fluids that conduct electricity, like electrolytes or plasmas) at Harvard University for a year before taking a job at Simon’s Rock. He attributes his continued support, which includes laboratory resources from Yale and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as well as fourteen years of continuous three-year grants from the National Science Foundation, to good grant writing and determination. He’s been published over a dozen times during his employment at Simon’s Rock, including twice in Nature, once in 1997 and once in 2010.

“Luckily, this is a field where working at a slower pace is okay,” he said, shrugging off the idea that he faces a disadvantage. In addition to one postdoctoral assistant, Bergman hires several members of the Simon’s Rock student body to help him with his research each summer. Most of them are only qualified to do the simpler tasks in the lab, like measuring out samples and running repetitive tests on the mass spectrometer. These students require his constant guidance at first, but Bergman doesn’t seem to mind. “Some students are able to work with me for three or four of their years here, and with time their investment in the project grows, and they can work independently. It’s great when that happens.” When it doesn’t, Bergman just continues to do what he does best. His work might be easier at a massive research university, but Bergman wouldn’t have things change.

“Besides,” he says with a grin, “It’s just so much fun.”

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Thesis Time #3- Vestiges

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Hello, lovely readers. I’ll be posting pieces I wrote for my senior thesis for the next couple of weeks. If you’d like a PDF of the whole mess, shoot me an email. 

I’m not crazy about this one, but it was my advisor’s favorite and he’s smarter than I am anyway. In the printed formatting I used horizontal lines between sections, and here I clearly do not, but I think you’ll be able to read it. 

Pain. Dull, achey, inescapable pain. For twelve hours my world has been a fever haze broken only by coke syrup doused over ice. Cloyingly sweet and blessedly cold, a momentary relief at best.

A week ago I got a cold or flu, something unpleasant but typical, but the seventh day of toast and tea turned into a night of violent heaving. I’m twelve. I get sick often, but except for regular bouts of strep throat I’ve avoided anything serious until now. I figure I’m over-reacting.

On the right side of the abdomen, nestled near the ileocecal valve (where the large and small intestines meet), the appendix sits in vestigial limbo. Its full name includes the description vermiform, from the Latin for wormlike. It does look remarkably like a worm, trailing as it does from the wide, rounded base of the colon.

For the first time I can remember, my temperature is above 100: 102. Not dangerously high for most, but my healthy body temperature rarely crawls above 97 degrees Fahrenheit. I feel profoundly unwell, almost too sick to sit up. Worse, the pain in my stomach, a pulling I’d chalked up to muscle damage from a night of vomiting, has focused itself on one throbbing point.

A vestigial structure is one that’s been rendered useless by time and evolution. Wings on a penguin are one example. Humans have the coccyx, reminiscent of a lost tail, and wisdom teeth from the days of massive herbivorious jaws. We also grow useless muscles under our ears, once used to move them beyond a party-trick wiggle, and stunted third eyelids in the form of plica semilunaris, a fold of tissue in the inner corner of the eye.

Surely the peskiest of human vestigial organs, the appendix saw its heyday come and go some two to three million years ago. Before then, our evolutionary ancestors relied solely on foraging, eating only plants and seeds. Special bacteria were needed to digest enough cellulose (plant cell wall) material for proper caloric intake. These bacteria lived in the appendix.

With time, humanoid diets transitioned to omnivorous. Eventually people began to cook, making whatever plant material they did eat much easier to digest. Soon the appendix wasn’t necessary for survival. Without death by starvation to weed out them out, wimpy, worm-like appendices became the human norm.

My mother, a physician, diagnoses me on sight and drives me straight to my doctor. He feels my belly, probing for pain in the expected areas, but a coincidence in timing has him unconvinced: I happen to have my period. He says I must be experiencing normal cramping.

If this is normal, I mutter, take me in for a hysterectomy instead.

I’m very cynical for my age.

My mother insists that it isn’t normal, and we’re sent to another doctor for a second opinion. By now I clutch my belly, whimpering with every movement. It feels as if something is trying to kill me from the inside out.

Wormlike structures, being long and skinny and not-so-regularly shaped, have a habit of getting things wedged inside of them. Being attached to the colon, which handles fecal matter, doesn’t help much. In fact, it’s a wonder more people don’t get killed by wayward appendices. After something has been wedged inside, blocking the attachment to the rest of the digestive system for awhile, mucus will build up and swell the organ. As blood vessels become strained, necrosis begins to occur. The organ dies slowly, attracting bacteria and white blood cells in turn. The white blood cells usually can’t persist against the bacteria and their toxins, so they die and produce pus. The dead appendix, full of pus and mucus, has no way to avoid bursting.

In appendicitis, the bursting of the organ produces a sharp spike in pain levels before, surprisingly enough, a period of relief. This eye of the storm can occur for a few hours before the released bacteria make their way to the stomach lining, causing a dangerous infection called peritonitis.

Another office, another man telling me I just have bad cramps. Still, he agrees that it’s better to be safe than sorry. My surgery is confirmed and I’m brought in through the recovery room so I can be slipped in between scheduled procedures. The doctor who’ll be performing my appendectomy isn’t even on call, but that doesn’t faze me. I’m a doctor’s kid. I know the entry codes for the back door of the ER.

My sister is away at camp, and my mother calls her so she can speak to me. She’s sobbing. I shouldn’t be surprised, because this is the girl who cried when I crushed my finger in a car door in third grade. Still, her hysteria reminds me for a moment that this is my first time going under for surgery. Anything could happen. My mother asks me if I’m scared, but I tell her I just want it to stop hurting.

Everyone else in the room has already been treated. Their families are hugging them in relief and joy. We’re the only ones that have to pretend we’re not saying goodbye.

Two to four hours after an appendix bursts, the peritoneum—the membrane surrounding the abdominal cavity—turns from the slick greyish color of health to a dull surface. It weeps a fluid that grows thicker over time. As the body becomes full of more dead and infected tissue, the immune system reacts to excess.

I am amazed that being wheeled back to the operating room is exactly like it always looks in movies. One door opens onto a sterile white hallway, then another, then another. They lift me onto the table and do the final surgical prep. The last five minutes before I go under will be lost to the effects of the Propofol being injected into my arm. Doctors call it “The milk of amnesia” for good reason.

Laporoscopic surgery, considered minimally invasive, usually requires three incisions of about a centimeter in length. The abdomen is inflated with carbon dioxide, creating a dome under which the surgery can take place without touching abdominal wall.

A camera is inserted through the largest incision, projecting the surgical site onto a screen placed in the operating room. The remaining incisions are used as entry points for a multi-pronged tool. Using the image on the screen for guidance, a surgical team will sever the appendix from the large intestine and remove it. It isn’t uncommon for the appendix to burst on the operating table, but at this stage massive doses of antibiotics will prevent a spread of the infection.

I wake up to my surgeon telling me that my appendix was really infected, as if there can be degrees of such a thing. I guess he means that it was totally necrotic and close to bursting, which is a scary thought. How is it that I’ve survived the death of one of my organs? It seems so strange.

That night, my mother braids my hair and I beg for food. A nurse brings me a ham sandwich and a waste pan, telling me I shouldn’t expect to keep anything down two hours post-op.

I eat, the first step in bringing my body back to a healthy equilibrium. I fall asleep. In the morning, all will be well.

Thesis Time #2: Foragers

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Hello, lovely readers. I’ll be posting pieces I wrote for my senior thesis for the next couple of weeks. If you’d like a PDF of the whole mess, shoot me an email. 


Foragers

 

 

They walk among us unnoticed, a band of modern men and women who forage in the woods for fungi. . . for fun. A common practice in many Slavic countries, so-called “Mushroom Hunting” is seeing a rise in popularity across the United States. Dressed warmly to fight the chill of an early fall morning, mushroom hunters gather with likeminded individuals or venture out alone into wooded hills and empty fields to practice their craft. Standard procedure requires a wicker basket tucked under the arm, but the modernist can replace this with a more sophisticated receptacle if he wishes.

The value of fungi as a renewable resource is anything but news. Five thousand years ago, Otzi the Ice Man had a Fomes formentarius and Piptoporus betulinus with him when perished in the Alps. The former, aptly named tinder fungus, was used for starting fires. He carried a birch polypore for its antimicrobial properties: A wound dressed with the mushroom atop it will heal faster, with less risk of infection. Even in Otzi’s day, man knew the value of mushroom hunting.

While the increase of agriculture and urbanization caused a decline in the practice, it became a culturally significant activity in the Soviet Union when many, even city dwellers, were starving to death under Stalin’s policies. Families began to venture into the woods to forage, and they quickly found that mushrooms were the most plentiful resource to be found. At that time, mushroom hunting became competitive because of how much the foraging could help a starving family: One did well to hide their biggest harvests, and physical brawls breaking out over a good haul weren’t uncommon. Today, a knowledge and love of fungi is an integral part of the culture of the Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, and what was once a desperate attempt to survive has evolved into a national past-time.

With the U.S. economy seeing hard times and our ecological health at a questionable low, more and more American citizens are seeking out ways to make their living more sustainable. Foraging is the very epitome of sustainable eating, and it stretches the mushroom hunter’s diet while also being kind to the earth. Mushrooms, as we know them, are only the fruiting body of massive fungal networks. The mushroom hunter need never worry that they might be destroying their food source by harvesting it, because the bit they pick to consume is comparable to the very tip of a gigantic iceberg. Mycellium, the cobweb-like tissue that builds all of a mushroom’s structures, remains underground, shooting out in all directions like an intricate network of nerve pathways. The largest known mushroom, which lives in a national forest in Oregon, covers at least 2,200 acres under the surface of the Earth. Fungi, which are actually more closely related to animals than plants (their cell walls are made of chitin, the same polymer that makes up exoskeletons in insects and crustaceans), can provide sustainable food, medicine, and countless other supplies to the dedicated forager.

Most Americans are most familiar with Agaricus biporus, the species that produces both the common button mushroom (when young) and the portobello mushroom. Clever marketing presents the latter as a fancier variety, but the truth is that originally they were impossible to sell. Once a button mushroom was full grown, it’s fruiting body having bloomed into a flatter capped, brown specimen with peeling skin, no one would have them. Now they’re usually marked up in price! Of course, the mushroom hunter isn’t limited to what their grocer is pushing in the sale flyer. Morchella mushrooms, known as morels and often found in backyards that border woods, can be prepared stuffed with sausage or walnuts for fancy finger food, or dipped in buttermilk and breading and fried. Pleurotus ostrestus, aptly named the oyster mushroom, grows like velvety versions of its namesake up the bark of an autumn tree. These are best in chowders and risottos, adding texture and a sweet taste. Genus Laetiporus is called Chicken of the Woods, and that’s no mistake. The hearty orange shelf fungus becomes juicy and tender when cooked, and is especially delicious when sauteed with lemon. The chanterelle, Cantharellus cibarius, is said to look like a golden flower sprouting up in the middle of the woods. It can be prepared in a traditional Russian style, cooked in fresh bacon drippings with onion and sour cream. For most species of mushroom, the preparation is limited only to the chef’s imagination.

The table is an obvious destination for the mushroom, but one venture into the forest can yield everything from preservable snacks to art materials. The genus Ganoderma, for example, which grows like woody little shelves on the sides of trees, contains the Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum). Artist’s Conk is unique in that its underside, while still fresh, can be drawn on using a stick or blade. The images will be preserved when the mushroom dries. Also members of the same genus are G. lucidum and G. tsugae, commonly referred to as reishi mushrooms in Japan and lingzhi mushrooms in China. reishi are known for their anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. While their tough texture makes them basically inedible, they’re easily brewed into tea. In many countries where mushroom hunting is culturally significant, cancer patients will drink a daily dose of this tea to support their health while they undergo conventional treatment. For winter treats, the mushroom hunter can dry or pickle any of their edible catches: While this sometimes changes the flavor, it can often be for the better. A good mushroom guide will indicate which species can be improved by drying. Even mushrooms that are poisonous, wormy, or otherwise undesirable can be used with a little creativity. Trametes versicolor, or Turkey Tails, grow on trees all over the Northern United States. Grinding them up into a watery pulp provides a base for making paper. Such paper, or any wool or other textile, can even be dyed with easy to find mushrooms. Tapinella atrotomentos, or Velvet-Footed Pax, produces a mossy, gray-green shade. Hypholoma fasciculare, known as Sulfur Tufts, dye wool a pale yellow reminiscent of sunshine. Cortinarius semisanguineus resembles a “little brown mushroom” or LBM, so called for the difficulty in distinguishing them from all of the other LBMs, but their red gills make an incredibly vibrant dye, with shades ranging from bright orange to blood red. All of these dyeing mushrooms happen to be inedible, but just as many delicious mushrooms can also have a place in the dye pot.

The best way to start learning about fungi and how to forage for them is to find a group of enthusiasts. Americans seem to have an almost universal distrust of mushrooms that don’t come sealed in plastic, so attending a meeting of Mushroom Hunters can be a bit of a culture shock. Far from fearing wild fungi, these hunters are confident in their ability to harvest the edible and discard the poisonous. They gather in groups, sharing knowledge and experience, until each individual has an arsenal of known species that they can pick and consume safely. At some meetings, members will lay their hauls out and identify them together, allowing for some added security before anything is consumed. Mushroom Hunters form a unique community, their meetings a place where one can find a history and ecology lesson, a great hike, and a delicious meal all in one day.

 

Thesis Time #1: The Golden River (Personal Essay)

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Hello, lovely readers. I’ll be posting pieces I wrote for my senior thesis for the next couple of weeks. If you’d like a PDF of the whole mess, shoot me an email. 

The Golden River

For this valley, the river must be the center. Certainly it is the physical center; perhaps, in a sense, the spiritual center. Perhaps from that very freeing of spirit will come other freedoms and inspirations and aspirations which may be steps toward the diffusion and diversification and enriching of culture throughout this land.-W.E.B. Du Bois, 1930

Watching the waters of the Housatonic rush by after a few days of rain is an unparalleled visual experience. The rapids peak and foam climbing up the banks in a picture so perfect it’s practically a caricature of itself. Even the color of the water, opaque cafe au lait, seems like a detail added deliberately to make the river seem more wild and rugged. I imagine Nature’s paintbrush, thick with green and brown and red pigment after styling the forests and mountains, being dipped into the water and washed clean.

This stretch of river on the outskirts of Great Barrington isn’t one that invites swimming, even on more peaceful days, but a few miles further down the water turns crystal clear and the current slows to a calm, winding pace. By the Du Bois river garden, one can stop and stare into the swirling, glimmering river and remember a time when W.E.B. was around to admonish the town for polluting his golden waterway. Du Bois and his compatriots would be thrilled to see it now, free of debris and refuse. On the surface, at least, the Housatonic is as clean as it was in the days before man. To see it on a hot day is to long for the water, to submerge yourself and drink. It’s funny that my knowledge of the river’s toxicity hasn’t done anything to displace that instinct.

The Housatonic, center of the Berkshires and home to thousands upon thousands of organisms, is full of deadly chemical compounds. We put them there, or at least let them be dumped in, and the damage to generations was done before the start of the 21st century. If we do nothing, humans and river-dwellers alike could lose their lives, but to get rid of the toxins as completely as technology allows we would have to sacrifice the stability of the river. I’ve heard personal, agonizingly passionate arguments on both side of the spectrum everywhere from Town Hall meetings in Lenox to dinner tables in Lee. One thing that most citizens of the area have in common is where they lay the blame: We are a people betrayed.

It’s easy to hate General Electric for what they did. Easy, but maybe rational as well. In the early 90’s, the giant company abandoned a Pittsfield, MA, factory and left it teeming with polychlorinated biphenyls. Usually referred to as PCBs, these compounds are carcinogenic, fat soluble, and almost impossible to get rid of. Standard clean up requires dumping contaminated materials into a ditch and covering the whole thing with asphalt. If that sounds crude, it’s because it is. Throughout Pittsfield one can find stretches of land surrounded by chain-link fences, useless lots dedicated to the “safe” disposal of PCBs. Some bio-engineering companies are working on processes that would decontaminate the soil, allowing it to be returned to the river, but even today those methods are experimental at best, and expensive to even attempt. When the worst areas of contamination, those surrounding the condemned factory in Pittsfield, were cleaned in 1999, the sediment was simply disposed of. Throw a tarp over it, forbid trespassing, and you’ve taken care of the problem. Sort of.

The rest of the river is harder to deal with. PCBs cling to the dirt on the river bed and banks, getting stirred up and carried along the river in bits of sediment. They accumulate in plants and small fish that in turn pass the contamination along to those higher in the food chain. The worst accumulation occurs in fatty organisms at the top of the food chain. Ducks, for example, carry shockingly high percentages of PCBs in their breast meat. Humans aren’t much better, and PCBs can do a lot of damage.

PCBs have been linked to Attention Deficit Disorder and other mental development problems in children, all sorts of cancers in adults, and a wide range of health problems across the board. For every person who dies from overexposure to PCBs, hundreds or even thousands of individuals are experiencing a decline in quality of health and life. This slow, quiet poisoning is harder to track, but perhaps more detrimental overall.

The process of cleaning up PCBs from the river is one that will take years in even the most optimistic scenario. In Pittsfield, where the levels were highest, the river has been dredged, a process in which sediment is scooped from the banks and beds and either cleaned or replaced. As dredging destroys the natural banks, the river has been rebuilt with rocks. These also keep any remaining PCBs from seeping into groundwater. Meanwhile, the contaminated sediment was packed up and buried in lots around the city, then covered with asphalt and tucked away behind chain-link fences. The clean-up is, by its nature, destructive of the contaminated area.

From south of Pittsfield, running all the way down to the Connecticut border, the river and ponds are still contaminated. No option seems ideal. If residents want the area to be virtually free of PCBs, they must consent to the destruction of the wildlife along the banks of the Housatonic. The ecological stability could be restored in time, but it would take a century or more to regrow anything that resembled the picturesque surroundings of today’s river. For every measure taken to preserve the landscape, the effectiveness of the clean-up goes down a bit, and the cost tends to go up. Many argue that there is no ideal balance, and that Monitored Natural Recovery (called MNR) is the only viable option. With an MNR plan, the EPA and General Electric would simply measure and monitor the natural degradation of PCBs. It would take almost a hundred years, but eventually the river would clean itself. In the mean time, residents would simply have to steer clear of dangerous activities.

Others consider MNR to be General Electric’s idea of an easy way out. It’s certainly the cheapest option, and the corporation wouldn’t have to deal with placating residents once the river banks had been torn up. As surely as GE is biased against expensive solutions, the residents of the Berkshires are tainted by a desire to make GE hurt. One with a more balanced approach to the situation might conclude that the best solution is neither the most nor the least expensive, but one of the moderate plans, one that preserves as much river bank as possible while dredging the areas that truly need to be remediated.

It may well take another five years or more for a legal decision to be reached. Depending on which solution is chosen, the clean-up of the river might not be implemented for decades. While we argue, the river waits with an ancient patience. Du Bois called his river golden, the “life stream of the town,” and it is indeed the golden life stream of the Berkshires as a whole. It remains scenic and inviting, a place for residents of The Berkshires to enjoy the natural beauty of their world. We must accept, however, that preserving its golden serenity comes with a price.

Firefly: That time I was totally wrong and the internet failed to call me out on it

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During my thesis revision process, the ever-vigilant Colonel Patty Dooley, Ph.D. pointed out a glaring error in my explanation of how fuel cells work.

Looking back, I have no idea how that ended up in there. My only excuse is that I’m pretty sure I was doped up on cough syrup when I wrote that blog, and I probably meant that section to be a placeholder and then…forgot about it?

Internet. You’re supposed to jump on me when I’m wrong. You’re supposed to attack me with pitchforks and torches.

The original post has been edited to fit the final piece that was included in my thesis, so check it out .

 

Mea culpa.

I love waking up to bad science in the morning paper

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There’s a story on the front page of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer that really frosts my flakes. Titled “A huge step on genome of fetuses” in our edition, it’s actually (disconcertingly) a Times piece. Not that I think poorly of the staff writers in Philly, but I know the paper is constantly paring down and I wouldn’t be surprised if their science kept getting shoddier as a result. 

Let’s get right to the meat of the issue: “That would allow thousands of genetic diseases to be detected prenatally. But the ability to know so much about an unborn child is likely to raise serious ethical concerns as well. It could increase abortions for reasons that have little to do with medical issues and more to do with parental preference for traits in children.”

Woah. Hold up. That’s your fourth line? Really? That’s what’s important here? Pollack doesn’t even begin to describe the tech until a few paragraphs later, and it only gets a sentence before he jumps back to describing current technologies in length. But not every article is written for people who want in-depth explanations of scientific method, so let’s ignore that. 

Even so, Pollack’s decision to focus on the fact that this technology “could cause” an increase in abortions for what he thinks are the wrong reasons is an example of a journalist TOTALLY MISSING THE POINT and being a bit of an ass to boot. He mentions Tay-Sachs, but gives no voice to parents who watched their children die in infancy of the painful disease. He quotes Marcy Darnovsky, a representative from an organization that focuses on sex-selective abortion, without explaining why she’s worth quoting on the issue. Let’s just say that I’m not surprised that the Times didn’t link to her website in the online version of the article. She’s a woman with an opinion, and there’s no data to back this up.

Just so it’s clear that this isn’t (all) about my personal offense at the tone taken in this article, which I feel does a disservice to what could be an amazing breakthrough and condescends to parents in the difficult position of screening for genetic abnormalities. This article could have been written about the possible risks of the technology, and written well. When I gasped at that first line about an increase in abortions, I was expecting to turn the page and see some numbers. 

What percentage of amniotic genetic tests result in abortions? How many complications from testing end pregnancies each year? I was unable to find a link to the story, but a couple years ago a genetic clinic was penalized for offering just the kind of “trait selection” services that Pollack seems concerned about, but there was no mention of that situation (highly relevant, I think!) in the article. 

This is not meant to be a coherent letter to the editor.

That’s coming later today when I’ve had enough coffee to be something other than really, really annoyed.