Stories from the world of technology about the latest man or machine that will forever alter the way we live now (such is the hyperbolic language journalists can fall back on when contemplating a newly minted Silicon Valley gazillionaire or a shiny gadget) are fairly familiar. Internet-driven fads come and go at, well, Internet speed, and businesses that seem indestructible one day can fall apart the next.
It is to Mark Zuckerberg's credit that he hates hype, and understands that building a sustainable business is the work of years, if not decades. At 23, he is the founder of Facebook.com, the social-networking site that is an online home to about 30 million Americans. If you do not know Facebook, then Steven Levy's cover story this week will take you inside a vast network of "friends"; if you do know it, and know it well, you will find out how Zuckerberg is struggling to preserve the milieu you have come to love (by expanding the site's reach) without losing the coolness at its core.
NEWSWEEK often resembles a family of smart people who sharply disagree with one another. In this issue, Robert J. Samuelson (or "Sam," as he is known to his colleagues) takes exception to last week's cover story on global warming. To him, our story was an "object lesson of how viewing the world as 'good guys vs. bad guys' can lead to a vast oversimplification of a very messy story." He adds: "Global warming has clearly occurred; the hard question is what to do about it."
That is the question, but the point of the cover story stands, for the question of what to do about global warming is made more difficult when influential voices from talk radio to Capitol Hill speak as though global warming is, in Rush Limbaugh's term, a "hoax." (Sam says he does not question the scientific consensus that warming is a serious concern.) Whether we have the will or the technology to prevent the ill effects of global warming deserves serious debate; we wrote last week that the next round will center on "what Americans are willing to pay and do to stave off the worst of global warming. So far the answer seems to be, not much." Sam argues that solutions are elusive in any case. Perhaps, but that observation is unconnected to the cover's central argument that interests skeptical about global warming have waged a long battle against the scientific consensus that the world is getting warmer because of the emission of greenhouse gases linked to human activity. Such doubts make it harder than it ought to be to create a national context in which possible solutions can be debated responsibly and soberly.
One point on a question of fact. Sam writes that we implied ExxonMobil "used a think tank to pay academics to criticize global-warming science" and says "this accusation was long ago discredited." The episode began in February, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal." On the day the report was published, The Guardian, a British newspaper, wrote that the American Enterprise Institute was an "ExxonMobil-funded think tank," which it is not. ExxonMobil was a contributor, among many others, to AEI, which sought scholars to research and write critiques of the IPCC. (And the think tank offered a $10,000 honorarium to scientists who might accept.) Did ExxonMobil commission such work? No, and we did not say it did. When The Guardian first reported the story, AEI said the payment had been misrepresented as "essentially a bribe" from Exxon, which the proposed payments certainly were not, and we did not say they were.
Debates like the one in our pages are bracing and can be useful. "Dissent," Sam writes, "is, or should be, the lifeblood of a free society." On that, at least, we wholeheartedly agree.