Forum: May-June 2010

June 1, 2010
January 2010 Duke Magazine cover 

Bones to Pick

As the proud "mom" of an eleven-year-old Portuguese water dog, I thoroughly enjoyed your article "Why Dogs Love Us" [January-February 2010]. The side article, "Good Dog!" by Sarah Takvorian ['10], however, got my dander up.

How can you mention Balto (an Alaskan malamute) without mentioning Togo (a Siberian husky)? Both were vital to the successful outcome of the diphtheria serum run. Togo should get equal—if not top—billing.

Twelve years old at the time, Togo covered the longest distance (261 miles) and the most hazardous terrain (frozen Norton Sound, Little McKinley Mountain) and did so under the harshest conditions (gale-force winds, minus-eighty-five-degree temperatures). Leonhard Seppala, Togo's musher, credited his lead dog with keeping the team alive as he was often blinded by the elements. Balto finished the last fifty-five miles of the journey and brought the serum to Nome. Two amazing dogs, but only one of them got his day.

No need to ever ask a dog owner why it is we love them.

Maria Arruda Balboni B.S.N. '83
Carlisle, Massachusetts


I received my latest issue of Duke Magazine [January-February 2010] yesterday and, as someone whose family includes two English Springer Spaniels, read with interest the article "Why Dogs Love Us." However, one small error in the associated "Good Dog!" list jumped out at me.

Stubby is cited as having been awarded the Purple Heart for World War I service. I don't think so. There is the small matter that the Purple Heart was not re-established until 1932, after lapsing following the Revolutionary War. Soldiers wounded in World War I received a Wound Chevron to be worn on the lower-right sleeve of the uniform coat, not a Purple Heart.

Regardless of how brave or honorable Stubby's service was, he did not qualify for the Purple Heart. Although there have been a number of cases of Purple Hearts being "awarded" by pinning them on the blanket of an animal, these awards have been and remain personal acts by well-meaning people and not official awards of a military decoration.

Walter G. Green III '68
Glen Allen, Virginia

Costly Conundrum

This is a response to professor Donald Taylor at the Sanford School. Both as a retired small-town general physician and as a patient, I think I know firsthand something about our health-care system. There is a tremendous contrast between the great scientific advances in medicine and the diminishing affordability and access to this medicine. However, I don't look favorably on the liberal Democratic proposals to solve the problem.

I am not sure what the solution is, but there is a very significant factor that has not been mentioned so far as I know. It has an important relationship to the problem of skyrocketing costs of medical care. And it is a problem that had better be addressed, for it is just as important as the problem of medical-care costs. I am referring to the rapidly increasing cost of college and postgraduate education. How can a brand-new M.D. starting his practice reduce his fees when he is already in debt for close to half-a-million dollars? And he is often beginning to take on a home mortgage and support a new family.

As a college professor, like it or not, this especially involves you. Can you and your peers offer some solutions to this? As a major world-class institution, Duke would do well to take the lead in trying to solve this.

Charles Kemper M.D. '40
Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin

Extra Skepticism Perceived

My wife, Jane Moody McGinley '68, is rightfully proud of the university's strong academic standing. She lets me, just a mechanical engineer from California State Polytechnic University-Pomona, read her magazine to see what great things Duke is doing. Usually I am very impressed, but I was quite dismayed by the article in the November-December 2009 issue titled (quite correctly) "Strange Science." This story promoted the studies of J.B. Rhine without a single critical or skeptical reference, as if his work was well accepted.

Rhine's research has, in fact, been severely criticized by many scholars who found problems with his use of statistical analysis and of his testing protocol. For example, he didn't seem to understand that with a deck of twenty-five Zener cards, after a few were drawn and not replaced, the odds changed measurably. The more the deck was used, the choices of what remained became obvious. This is not good science!

There are many other examples. If a subject initially scored higher than chance (which can happen in any random situation) but then was further tested, it was found that the test results averaged back toward chance results. Rather than realize that this was statistical reality, Rhine defended his belief by claiming that the test subject got bored or gave wrong answers out of spite. In fact, there has never been any case where any subject has been shown to exhibit any such "extraordinary senses or powers" under any correctly designed and observed test.

Perhaps the author of this credulous story should have done some more research. Please don't taint the great image of Duke University by promoting any more bogus researchers.

Joel McGinley
Merritt Island, Florida


I graduated in 1960 and had visited the laboratory run by J.B. Rhine. I obtained the ESP cards, and one summer, I think perhaps 1957, I had those cards at a summer camp where I was a counselor. While it began as just an activity, two people seemed to be able to gain hits in identifying a card after another had looked at it.

I suspected they were playing a trick on me and tried to control the experiment. I became convinced that what they were doing was both shocking (consistently 75 to 80 percent correct) and real. So, I wrote Dr. Rhine and asked for suggestions, which he gave me. I kept records and then gave a full report to the staff and Dr. Rhine. Dr. Rhine wanted to visit the people, [but] I think out of concern for their careers, they chose not to participate.

When I saw Dr. Rhine several years after I graduated, he told me that it was one of the best cases of telepathy he had seen and that he was still trying to get the two individuals to participate in experiments with him.

Somewhat inspired by what I had seen and the people at Duke, during some fourteen years of teaching Sunday school, I conducted experiments and found that younger students seemed to score substantially above chance almost every year. I am convinced Dr. Rhine made substantial contributions to the field and that such psychic phenomena exist.

Thomas A. Jones '60
Canyon Country, California

March 2010 Duke Magazine cover

Lament of Legalism

I really enjoyed Bridget Booher's piece, "Playing by the Rules," in the latest edition of the magazine [March-April 2010]. While there have been countless articles that have utilized the craziest examples of some of the NCAA's more bizarre rules, I really appreciated that the story explored the issue further and included an honest discussion of Duke. It was refreshing to get even a peek at the lengths that Duke goes to in a never-ending battle to remain compliant.

The NCAA has made rule-following a near impossibility by creating far too many rules and by constantly tweaking them to the point of absurdity. It is eye opening to learn, through Booher's article, the extent of the resources that Duke has devoted to compliance. But while it is comforting to read exactly how committed Duke is to that process, it's sad to have to come to the realization that running a clean college sports program means always being prepared to be viewed as guilty until proven innocent.

Cannon C. Alsobrook '94