Gay Daly's piece on endocrine disruption rightfully draws attention to the serious lag in testing chemicals for harmful effects ("Hundreds of man-made chemicals...," Winter 2006). Several studies have shown that some rodent strains are far less sensitive to endocrine-disrupting chemicals than others. For example, in 1999 Science published a study I conducted on the effect of estrogen on male rodents, in which I found that one strain of mice tolerated more than 16 times the dose at which other strains showed inhibited sperm maturation and testes development. Further research is urgently needed to define these genetic differences in order to select the most appropriate strains. Otherwise, when the Environmental Protection Agency tests chemicals for endocrine-disrupting activity, will it be testing them on the King Kong of rodents? Is that really a good stand-in for you and me?
Thank you for Gay Daly's article on endocrine-disrupting chemicals. It took millions of years for humans to evolve, so it's hard to believe that we could suddenly adapt to thousands of man-made chemicals in less than a hundred years. In 1975, the odds of having an autistic child were one in 25,000. Now they're about one in 150. That can't be a coincidence.
Fort Wayne, Indiana
Daly notes that the next logical step in determining the effects of endocrine disruptors would be to expose human subjects -- if, of course, that were ethically permissible. So how about this for an idea: If all of these chemicals are as safe as industry labs claim they are, then we can assume that industry researchers would be willing to put their, uh, you-know-what where their mouth is and gladly offer themselves up as test(es) subjects. Right?
It doesn't help to make a tough situation sound worse than it is, as Alex Shoumatoff has done in "Forecast: Dry and Brutal" (Winter 2006). Mali has not had any catastrophic droughts since 1985; for most of the past two decades, rainfall has been average or better. To say that "in the mid-1980s rural Mali again became uninhabitable" is a gross overstatement. Only the driest areas to the north, home to a small minority of the population, became uninhabitable. Shoumatoff tells of Islamic rebels -- there are none -- and of irrigated fields of cotton, "a thirsty crop that ... is bleeding down the already drought-stressed water table," yet little of Mali's cotton is irrigated. And has most of the big game been wiped out, as he implies? Not quite: Each year a herd of about 400 elephants migrates through Dogon country. Progress will not be easy, but it is damaging and misleading to suggest that the situation is hopeless.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Mali
The author responds: I commend Mr. Pringle for his passionate positivity, but I beg to differ on the following points: Droughts have been documented in 1987, 1990, and 2004. To say that rainfall has been above average since the 1980s ignores the larger trend of diminished rainfall that has persisted now for many decades. Yes, there are still 400 elephants, but most of the wildlife is gone. A Malian diplomat in Djenne told me that both the cattle and the crops that sustained that region died in 1984, rendering that area unfit for habitation. I was told by the American embassy in the spring of 2004 not to travel unaccompanied above Douentza because of the presence of Islamic rebels, and that warning is still posted on the State Department's website. Although Mr. Pringle is right that most of Mali's cotton is not irrigated, the fields I described were part of a French multinational operation and were indeed irrigated.
Erratum: The type of glass described in "The World's Coolest Skyscraper" (Winter 2006) also blocks infrared light, the "warming rays" referred to on page 13.