Magazine | August 11, 2014, Issue

Letters

Revenge of the Nerds

I was annoyed by the cover story by Charles C. W. Cooke, “Smarter than Thou,” in the July 21 issue. Much of the article is a diatribe about Neil deGrasse Tyson. I do not know Tyson personally, but I have gained much respect for him through hearing and watching 30 lectures of his for The Great Courses.

As I read the article, I looked carefully for the political opinions of Tyson’s that had caused such vitriol. I found none. Instead, Cooke began with a joke of Tyson’s about visiting aliens’ not finding intelligent life on Earth, then read Tyson’s mind to declare that Tyson meant that he and other “nerds” were not to be included among the “unintelligent” on Earth. Having heard Tyson lecture, I know that Tyson has a good sense of humor and was simply telling a joke.

Then Cooke stated that one of “the defining characteristics of self-professed nerds” is “the belief that one can discover all the secrets of human experience through differential equations.” Cooke made it clear from this sentence alone that he does not understand science or mathematics.

James Stapleton

Emeritus Professor of Statistics and Probability

Michigan State University

East Lansing, Mich.

Charles C. W. Cooke responds: Au contraire. My “diatribe,” such that it was, focused not on Neil deGrasse Tyson per se but on the unlovely cult that surrounds him. Tyson, as I noted, “has formal scientific training.” And “actual science,” I suggested, is “slow, unsexy, and assiduously neutral.” Neither was my target. Instead, I took a shot at those who would not recognize a test tube if it hit them squarely in the face, but who have nevertheless taken to hiding behind Tyson as a means by which to sell their political ideology to the gullible. As for differential equations, am I wrong to observe that scientists and social scientists use them in their efforts to explain human behavior and experience?

Bibliophiles, Unite

David Harsanyi’s column in the June 22 issue on his bibliophilic habits was a gem. I am clipping it and placing it with my books — if I can find the space in my bookcases to squeeze it in . . .

Rabbi Emanuel Feldman

Jerusalem, Israel

A Note on Navajo

In your obituary in the July 7 issue for Chester Nez, the last of the Navajo code talkers, who recently passed, you expressed a desire to thank him in the code. In the Navajo language, “Thank you” is said “Ahéhee’.”

Daniel Brown

Glendale, Ariz.

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