Jerry Adler

Stories by Jerry Adler

  • Era Of The Super Cruncher

    If the editors of a magazine—NEWSWEEK, for instance—want to know what interests their readers, their resources are limited. They can count cover sales, but that only tells them about one story a week. They can convene a focus group, but that’s a cumbersome and costly way to assess the tastes of 3 million subscribers. Online, by contrast, that information is available for the asking—not just the numbers of readers, but how long they spent with a given story and what else they read. So as journalism increasingly migrates to the Web, the job of figuring out what readers want becomes almost automatic—thereby raising the question, how much do we really need editors, anyway?Just kidding! But according to a new book by Ian Ayres, an econometrician and law professor at Yale, this is a microcosm of a powerful trend that will shape the economy for years to come: the replacement of expertise and intuition by objective, data-based decision making, made possible by a virtually inexhaustible...
  • A Need for (Higher) Speed

    From heritage tours to farm-to-table dining, today's retirees (and soon-to-be-retirees) are reinventing the autumn years.
  • Earth: What Would Happen If Humans Vanished?

    The Second Coming may be the most widely anticipated apocalypse ever, but it's far from the only version of the end times. Environmentalists have their own eschatology—a vision of a world not consumed by holy fire but returned to ecological balance by the removal of the most disruptive species in history. That, of course, would be us, the 6 billion furiously metabolizing and reproducing human beings polluting its surface. There's even a group trying to bring it about, the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, whose Web site calls on people to stop having children altogether. And now the journalist Alan Weisman has produced, if not a bible, at least a Book of Revelation, "The World Without Us," which conjures up a future something like ... well, like the area around Chernobyl, the Russian nuclear reactor that blew off a cloud of radioactive steam in 1986. In a radius of 30 kilometers, there are no human settlements—just forests that have begun reclaiming fields and towns, home to...
  • Truth and Doo-Wop

    Let us consider two great experiences of Western culture. One is viewing "Girl With a Pearl Earring," by the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer, which hangs in a museum in The Hague. The other is a performance of "Up on the Roof" by the 20th-century R&B group the Drifters. For that, you have many choices, including Bill Pinkney's Original Drifters and Charlie Thomas's Drifters, various "cover" bands (which do their own versions of classic hits), "tribute" bands (which mimic the original performances down to the white shoes) and a shadowy category of groups that perform under the original names and may benefit from the audience's assumption that at least one of the elderly gentlemen on stage once crooned the selfsame lyrics on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Fate decreed there would be only one Vermeer, but many Drifters—and Coasters and Platters and other rock groups from the era before MTV. "How many?" asks Jon Bauman rhetorically. "As many as you can pay for. On New Year's Eve...
  • Will Diet Coke Be the Same … With Vitamins?

    For most of the last century vice was defined by critic Alexander Woollcott's remark that everything he liked was "illegal, immoral or fattening." That, though, was before the invention of Diet Coke. "It's my one vice," says Amy Stensrud, a 46-year-old Seattle mother of two, who buys a 32-ounce container of Diet Coke at a 7-Eleven every morning, right after the gym. She has in effect defined vice upward as something "inconsistent with my values," which was never Woollcott's problem with bathtub gin.But now her only sin is in danger of being transformed into a virtue, as Coke rolls out a new version of Diet Coke with added vitamins and minerals. Blue-capped bottles of Diet Coke Plus will begin showing up in stores this week, empty of calories but containing 10 to 15 percent of the daily requirement of niacin, zinc, magnesium and vitamins B6 and B12. It isn't meant to replace Diet Coke, now the third best-selling soft drink in America, after Coke Classic and Pepsi; it's just a part of...
  • Docs Change the Way They Think About Death

    Consider someone who has just died of a heart attack. His organs are intact, he hasn't lost blood. All that's happened is his heart has stopped beating—the definition of "clinical death"—and his brain has shut down to conserve oxygen. But what has actually died?As recently as 1993, when Dr. Sherwin Nuland wrote the best seller "How We Die," the conventional answer was that it was his cells that had died. The patient couldn't be revived because the tissues of his brain and heart had suffered irreversible damage from lack of oxygen. This process was understood to begin after just four or five minutes. If the patient doesn't receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation within that time, and if his heart can't be restarted soon thereafter, he is unlikely to recover. That dogma went unquestioned until researchers actually looked at oxygen-starved heart cells under a microscope. What they saw amazed them, according to Dr. Lance Becker, an authority on emergency medicine at the University of...
  • The Weapon: A Day in the Life of a 9mm

    The three students from Wilberforce University, near Xenia, Ohio, had a tremendous fondness for 9-millimeter pistols. They bought them as many as 25 at a time from the accommodating owner of the Hole in the Wall Gun Shop, James Dillard. As required by Ohio law, the buyers duly attested that the guns were for their personal use, which was good enough for Dillard. In fact, according to federal prosecutors, the pistols were passed to a gunrunner who resold them to street gangs. Seventy-six 9mm semiautomatics were sold to just one gang, the Double II Bloods of East Orange, N.J. Jamel Coward, who already had a .45, bought a Leinad 9mm and went out with a friend to try it out. On people. They drove down a street in what they believed to be the territory of the rival Crips, and Coward commenced firing. He wounded three bystanders before a bullet struck 19-year-old Erron Lewin in the neck. Lewin, who belonged to no gang, died on the spot.When Cho Seung-Hui armed himself with a 9mm Glock for...
  • How Doctors Think and (Hopefully) Avoid Mistakes

    Angelos Delivorrias, director of the Benaki Museum in Athens, knew at a glance that the marble statue of a young man was a fake. True, before purchasing the piece, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles had hired legions of experts, who concurred with its dating to the sixth century B.C. But Delivorrias was responding to his instinctive feeling on first seeing the piece, a sense of "intuitive repulsion." And he was most likely right, as the journalist Malcolm Gladwell recounted in his 2005 book, "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." The Getty now lists the statue as a possible "modern forgery."Dr. Pat Croskerry knew at a glance that the patient in his emergency room wasn't having a heart attack. True, he had a sudden onset of severe chest pain, but Croskerry relied on his initial impression of a trim, athletic man in his early 40s. His test results were normal, so Croskerry diagnosed a muscle pull and sent him home. He was wrong, as the author and physician Jerome Groopman...
  • Leadership & the Environment: Green Issues

    No sooner did James McCarthy's name turn up in an associated Press story on the outlook for global warming than he started getting outraged e-mails from colleagues. All that McCarthy, a Harvard oceanographer who studies how climate change affects marine life, told the AP last week was that "the worst stuff is not going to happen ... not that I think the projections aren't that [accurate], but because we can't be that stupid." The overwhelming response, he said, was, What do you mean, we can't be that stupid? Just look around!On that very question could hinge the fate of much of life on Earth. Last week was bracketed by two events that could make 2007 a turning point in the effort to control global warming. On Monday, by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government had the power under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. This victory for environmentalists was quickly snatched away by President Bush, who announced the next day that...
  • 'Crisis'? 'Change'?—War of the Words

    What is the most pressing environmental issue we face today? "Global warming"? The "greenhouse effect"? At the Oscar ceremonies, Al Gore referred to a "climate crisis," but in his State of the Union address President Bush chose the comparatively anodyne phrase "climate change." They all refer to the same thing, but the first rule of modern political discourse is that before addressing any empirical problem each side must "frame the debate" in the most favorable way. If you doubt it, just try to get a Republican to utter the phrase "estate tax" rather than "death tax." Behind the overt campaign to head off whatever it is—environmental heating? thermal catastrophe?—is a covert struggle over what we should even call it.In recent years this has played out largely as a contest between "global warming" and "climate change." Bush's use of the latter was consistent with Republican practice, which calls for de-emphasizing the urgency of the situation, as recommended in a 2002 memo by...
  • Unlock Your Unexplored Psychic Powers

    As we travel through life we are all seekers after something larger than ourselves, a truth known to seers, healers and book publishers through the ages. For Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, a prominent clinical psychologist at Berkeley, her quest began in 1991 with the theft of a rare and valuable harp belonging to her daughter. On the advice of a friend, she sought help from a professional psychic named Harold McCoy, who, with only a street map and a photograph of the harp—he never left his home in Arkansas—told her exactly the address in Oakland where it could be found. For the rest of her life Mayer was obsessed with this feat, as who wouldn't be? So last month, 15 years after the harp was returned, I sent McCoy a picture of a lock—a cast-iron padlock my grandfather had used to lock up his pushcart at night—and a set of New York City street maps. Find the lock, I told him.Mayer's quest took her into a world where the ordinary rules of time and space don't apply—of dowsers like McCoy, who...
  • America's Greenest Buildings

    The green movement is so much more than a referendum on what kind of car we drive—or don't. In a post-McMansion age, our homes, offices and community facilities have become a reflection of our newly green values, whether that just means replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent, or redoing our entire living spaces with solar panels, compost heaps and hemp wallpaper.Each year the American Institute of Architects singles out the nation's Top Ten Green Projects, based on the incorporation of so-called sustainable design concepts. Is the project energy-efficient? Does it employ natural light and conserve water? Is the building designed to promote community interaction? In short, how does what we build have an impact on the world around us? Here, we spotlight four of 2006's winners.A headquarters building is more than a roof over the head of the CEO; it's a three-dimensional billboard advertising corporate values to the world. Which is why software companies build "campuses" to...
  • Dumped: Inside DePauw’s Sorority Meltdown

    In all honesty, Carolyn Thatcher, a senior theater major at DePauw University, doesn't see how she fell short of the standards of a Delta Zeta sorority girl. "I don't think I am unattractive," she says, although she admits she can be "introverted," is not blond and wears jeans and T shirts to class instead of designer outfits. In fact, she was chapter president, but even that didn't save her in December when the national DZ office, alarmed by a drop in pledges at the DePauw chapter, concluded that the way to prop up its failing fortunes was to purge 23 of the 35 women in the house. Thatcher was promoted to what the sorority euphemistically called "alumnae status" even though, as a size 8, she made the unofficial weight cut. "There's no one left in that house bigger than a size 10," says Joanna Kieschnick, who left of her own accord.It's not news that the social life of a heavily Greek campus—like DePauw, with 2,400 students, in a rural part of Indiana—is ruled by snobbery. Nobody...
  • How to Design a Healthier Planet

    The green movement is so much more than a referendum on what kind of car we drive—or don't. In a post-McMansion age, our homes, offices and community facilities have become a reflection of our newly green values, whether that just means replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent, or redoing our entire living spaces with solar panels, compost heaps and hemp wallpaper.Each year the American Institute of Architects singles out the nation's Top Ten Green Projects, based on the incorporation of so-called sustainable design concepts. Is the project energy-efficient? Does it employ natural light and conserve water? Is the building designed to promote community interaction? In short, how does what we build have an impact on the world around us? Here, we spotlight four of 2006's winners.A headquarters building is more than a roof over the head of the CEO; it's a three-dimensional billboard advertising corporate values to the world. Which is why software companies build "campuses" to...
  • 'The Secret': Does Self-Help Book Really Help?

    If you're a woman trying to lose weight, you had your choice of two pieces of advice last week. One, from the American Heart Association, was to eat more vegetables and exercise an hour a day. The other was from a woman named Rhonda Byrne, a former television producer who has written what could be the fastest-selling book of its kind in the history of publishing with 1.75 million copies projected to be in print by March 2, just over three months since it came out, plus 1.5 million DVDs sold. Byrne's recommendation was to avoid looking at fat people. Based on what she calls the "law of attraction"—that thoughts, good or bad, "attract" more of whatever they're about—she writes: "If you see people who are overweight, do not observe them, but immediately switch your mind to the picture of you in your perfect body and feel it." So if you're having trouble giving up ice cream, maybe you could just cut back on "The Sopranos" instead.You'd think the last thing Americans need is more excuses...
  • Buzz for a Potential New Cancer Drug

    Scientists and patients are buzzing about DCA, an existing drug newly recognized as a potentially powerful cancer treatment. But, of course, more research is needed.
  • Rehab Reality Check

    The time is coming-- perhaps even within the decade--when doctors will treat alcoholism with a pill. As they improve their understanding of the biochemistry of addiction, researchers will find new ways to interrupt the neurological sequence that begins with pulling the tab on a can of beer and ends with sobbing on the phone to someone you dated twice in 1987. It will be a paradigm shift as profound as the one wrought by Prozac in the treatment of depression, says Dr. Mark Willenbring of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: people with drinking problems will get a modicum of counseling and prescriptions from their family doctors. This will be a great boon to most people except for athletes, congressmen and movie stars, who will lose one of the defining rites of passage of modern celebrity: the all-absolving, career-rejuvenating, Barbara Walters-placating ritual of checking into rehab.It has been a fixture of our culture since as far back as 1983, when Elizabeth...
  • Time On The Mind

    How does the brain track time intervals? A new paper in the journal Neuron by Dean Buonomano of the UCLA Brain Research Institute proposed a theory that time is measured not like a clock, but by tracking changes in neurons as they propagate through the brain following some kind of signal or event, such as hearing a sound that could be either the word "the" or the start of "this." Imagine throwing a pebble into a pond, he says; you could calculate how much time has gone by at any moment by comparing how far the ripples have spread with a set of reference pictures for different intervals. The brain does something similar, he believes-- and within a 10 percent margin of error. Measuring small intervals could prove useful in other sensory modes, such as touch. This insight could someday be useful in treating conditions, such as dyslexia, that involve impairments to language.
  • Environment: Bears on Thin Ice

    An adult polar bear needs, on average, four to five pounds of seal blubber a day to survive, and it earns every ounce of it: crouching for hours in the Arctic cold alongside an opening in the ice, waiting for a seal to surface for a breath. Although bears may spend part of the year on land, sea ice is their essential habitat; biologists have warned that Ursus maritimus could be the first large mammal to fall victim to global warming, which is rapidly shrinking the polar ice cap. And so environmentalists are delighted with the announcement by the Interior Department that it is proposing the white bear for listing as "threatened," a step below the more urgent category of "endangered."They were even more pleased because the proposal represented a long-sought admission by a recalcitrant Bush administration of the extent and dangers of global warming. The Arctic appears to be "moving toward a new 'super interglacial' state that falls outside of natural [cycles] that have characterized...
  • Steven Squyres

    A professor of astronomy at Cornell, Squyres is the principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover mission, which landed two robotic explorers, Spirit and Opportunity, on the planet in January 2004. As of mid-December both were still operational. He spoke with Jerry Adler.Well, we didn't expect this year even to happen, so every year now is a good one.The design lifetime was 90 days, and we're coming up on three years. Spirit spent most of the year exploring a feature we call Home Plate, an explosive volcanic deposit with interesting geology.Because it's shaped like one. The news from Opportunity is that it arrived at Victoria Crater, which is nearly a half-mile across, and the deepest window into the subsurface of Mars we'll get.We traveled around 4.6 miles in 637 Martian days, which are a little longer than Earth days.I think we've found a safe way in. I don't know if we have a way out yet.
  • BELIEFWATCH: Cosmology

    The more the universe seems comprehensible," the physicist Steven Weinberg once wrote, "the more it seems pointless." It is said that many of his colleagues were dismayed, not by the assertion that the universe was pointless, but over the implication that it could even have a point. But then, retorts Paul Davies, the scientist and author of more than 20 books on cosmology, what's the point of science itself?Davies, who has spent his career asking variations on this question, will now be in a position to look for answers as the head of a new cosmology think tank, provisionally named Beyond, at Arizona State University. The outfit, part of an ambitious effort by ASU president Michael Crow to stake out new intellectual territory for his young institution, will ask no easy questions, only deep ones like "Why are the laws of nature mathematical?"--something that's been gnawing at scientists for about 2,500 years. Davies says he wants to look into "the origin of the universe, life,...
  • Evolution: Who Gave Us Our Smarts?

    Neanderthals, the extinct cousins of Homo sapiens who once populated much of Europe and western Asia, were in the news again last week, as the audacious project to sequence DNA from a 38,000-year-old fossil bone showed its first results. One team, headed by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, reported in the journal Nature that it had succeeded in sequencing the first million units of Neanderthal DNA, out of a total of about 3 billion. A parallel effort, led by Edward Rubin of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and published in Science, had found about 65,000 units, using a technology that targets DNA of particular interest. Eventually the project could help answer questions such as whether Neanderthals could speak, but the papers last week mostly confirmed what anthropologists already suspected: that the human and Neanderthal lines of descent began to separate about 700,000 years ago and diverged permanently about 330,000 years later. Rubin found no evidence...
  • Handbags: Pocket History

    Unlike clothes or shoes or jewelry, handbags add nothing to a woman's appeal; no man was ever won by a beautiful Gucci slung over the back of a restaurant chair. And notwithstanding the ingenuity of designers in creating fancy clasps and adjustable straps and cunning inside pockets for cell phones, the function of a handbag could be filled almost as well by a shopping bag--with the difference that shopping bags don't tend to accumulate loose aspirin tablets, crumpled tissues and leaking pens.The history of the handbag parallels that of the women's movement, says Winifred Gallagher, author of a small, engaging appreciation called "It's in the Bag." Purses were invented in the Victorian era, when women began to travel on their own, and widely adopted in the 1920s for stashing the new mass-produced cosmetics (and cigarettes). In the 1980s they took on a new function as auxiliary briefcases, and grew in importance as fashion accessories and luxury objects and status symbols; Gallagher...
  • Vanity, Thy Name Is ...

    What does an animal see in a mirror? Until 1970, the accepted answer was "another animal": a stranger to be greeted, threatened, courted--or ignored. In that year, psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. came up with the idea of giving a chimpanzee a mirror and painting a mark on his face while he slept. With one small gesture--reaching to touch the mark on his own face when he awakened--the chimp touched off a revolution not only in psychology, but philosophy as well. He saw himself.It was a minor revolution at first, because only chimps and other closely related primates passed the "mirror test." Then, in 2001, Diana Reiss of the New York Aquarium showed that bottlenose dolphins marked with dye recognized their reflections. Last week, Reiss, Joshua Plotkin and Frans de Waal of Emory University announced that Happy, a 34-year-old Asian elephant at the Bronx Zoo, had shown the same ability. (Two other elephants who live there also took the mirror test; they flunked.) "The mirror test asks...
  • Losing Our Religion

    The great Danish physicist Niels Bohr, it is said, had a good-luck horseshoe hanging in his office. "You don't believe in that nonsense, do you?" a visitor once asked, to which Bohr replied, "No, but they say it works whether you believe in it or not."If one thing emerged from the "Beyond Belief" conference at the Salk Institute in LaJolla, Calif. it's that religion doesn't work the same way. Some 30 scientists—one of the greatest collections of religious skeptics ever assembled in one place since Voltaire dined alone—examined faith from the evolutionary, neurological and philosophical points of view, and they concluded that some things only work if you do believe in them. Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist and author of the best-selling book "The God Delusion," said he couldn't have a spiritual experience even when he tried. After another panelist, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, explained that temporal-lobe seizures of...
  • Plotting Pluto's Comeback

    To Bob Millis, director of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz., Pluto is still the ninth planet, no matter what the International Astronomical Union chooses to call it. It was Lowell's founder and namesake, Percival Lowell, who predicted mathematically the existence of a "Planet X" beyond Neptune, and it was at the observatory that it was found and named (for the Roman god of the underworld) in 1930. There have been other significant discoveries at Lowell over the years, but finding Pluto remains its signature public achievement. Which is why Millis thinks it was "premature" of the IAU to vote last summer to define "planet" in a way that excluded Pluto. Now, it turns out, Pluto may be headed for a comeback.It's not just Millis who feels Pluto got a raw deal. Other astronomers think the new definition is a mistake--not just on Pluto's account, but on behalf of all the rocky, icy or gaseous objects, already known or yet to be discovered, circling the Sun or distant stars....
  • Remember Global Cooling?

    In April, 1975, in an issue mostly taken up with stories about the collapse of the American-backed government of South Vietnam, NEWSWEEK published a small back-page article about a very different kind of disaster. Citing "ominous signs that the earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically," the magazine warned of an impending "drastic decline in food production." Political disruptions stemming from food shortages could affect "just about every nation on earth." Scientists urged governments to consider emergency action to head off the terrible threat of . . . well, if you had been following the climate-change debates at the time, you'd have known that the threat was: global cooling.More than 30 years later, that little story is still being quoted regularly—as recently as last month on the floor of the Senate by Republican Sen. James Inhofe, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee and the self-proclaimed scourge of climate alarmists. The article's appeal to...
  • Environment: All God's Creatures

    We have a long way to go to make peace with this planet, and with each other," E. O. Wilson writes in his new book (his 22nd), "The Creation." He's addressing an (imaginary) Southern Baptist preacher, appealing for help in a cause close to Wilson's heart as he nears the end of his legendary career as a biologist and philosopher: saving what remains of the natural world. With nearly half the species of plants and animals on Earth in danger of extinction in the next century, he writes, "the Creation--living Nature--is in deep trouble."Wilson, one of the world's leading experts on ants and a prominent thinker on evolution, knows this as well as anyone. But he doesn't think scientists should have to go into battle alone. He wants to enlist an army of evangelicals to the cause--rejecting both the militant atheism of British biologist Richard Dawkins, and the currently fashionable attempts to bridge the differences between science and religion. "The gap between the two world views is very...
  • Boomers, Religion and the Meaning of Life

    Born in affluence, the baby boomers were driven to ask Big Questions about fulfillment and the meaning of life. How their legacy has changed us.