Emeritus Faculty Association news February/March 2008

Next Meeting:
The next meeting will be Friday, 7th March, at 10.30 in the Javits room, 2nd floor library. The speaker will be Elof Carlson, Emeritus Prof of Ecology and Evolution, who will speak on the subject of his latest book, to appear this May: "Neither Gods Nor Beasts: How Science is Changing Who We think We Are." We are living in the third millennium CE but most of our perception of who we are is derived from views that met the needs of those living one or two millennia ago. Those views of human nature and even our physical and intellectual awareness are based on theological or philosophic concepts unrelated to the biology of our lives, the knowledge of our physical universe, or the knowledge that science can provide about our past, present, and future. Perhaps we have to change our education, our expectations of our national leaders, and our relation to science to live in this third millennium which will be science saturated.
Bio: Elof Axel Carlson is a geneticist, historian of science, and writer. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a recipient of the Harbison Award (from the Danforth Foundation) for gifted teaching, and the first recipient of the State-wide title of Distinguished Teaching Professor at Stony Brook University. He retired from teaching in 2000 and he is now a full-time writer and for the past ten years has provided five North Shore Long Island newspapers with a column on science called Life Lines. Carlson is the author of 10 books, the most recent being The Unfit: A History of a Bad Idea , Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press 2001, Mendel's Legacy: The History of Classical Genetics, ibid 2004, and Times of Triumph, Times of Doubt: Science and the Battle for Public Trust, ibid 2006, plus the forthcoming one refered to above. He is now finishing a book on Agent Orange.

Last Meeting
Dave Smith relayed the following message from Judy Wishnia who was out of town:
A number of retirees have expressed concern about recent rulings by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which allow employers to cut medical benefits when recipients reach the age to receive Medicare. The specific ruling of the EEOC is that employers "can coordinate health insurance benefits with Medicare coverage without violating the Federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act." The regulation, however, does not dispense with the necessity to honor collective bargaining rights. In other words, as long as the UUP contract maintains medical coverage for retirees, we are safe. The state and our union, UUP, have just reached a tentative four year contract agreement which will soon be in the process of ratification. The state did try to increase employee contributions to their medical insurance but the union held strong and it was beaten back. Thus, both currently active SUNY employees and retirees are safe for four more years. Note that the 200 hundred days of sick leave which guarantee our lifetime medical insurance coverage actually contributes only a fraction of the real costs.The state contributes the rest, as it does for currently active employees. At this point, our affiliate union, the 500,000 member New York State Union of Teachers (NYSUT), is actively campaigning to pass legislation to make the state contribution permanent, but until then the only guarantee we have is the union contract.
Another issue of interest is the reimbursement for our Part B contribution to Medicare. When Medicare was first introduced in the 1970s, the state agreed to reimburse state workers for that contribution (It is going up again this year) Two years ago, the state tried to stop those payments and the union fought it in court and won. You should be receiving a reimbursement check every quarter. If you are not getting that very nice check, call the New York State Department of Civil Service (800-833-4344) or go to the website (www:cs.ny.ed/ebd) In addition, the recent addition of a means test (part of the Medicare "reform" law that gave us the infamous Part D for prescriptions) added a surcharge for individuals reporting income of over $80,000 per annum. At first the state would not reimburse the surcharge but they have recently agreed to add any surcharge to the reimbursement. If you have further questions call the union benefits office in Albany: 800-887-3863 and ask for Anne Marine .

Theo Pavlidis introduced the main speaker, Daniel N. Klein, to talk on "Early temperament and risk for depressive disorders". Apparently about 17% of people are depressed, sometimes for their whole lives, and many do not realize this. Depression is often familial (you are 3 times more likely to experience depression if your mother did, and it is moderately inheritable (37%).
For the last seven years Dan has concentrated on young children aged 3 to 7, with the objective of identifying the onset of depression and its possible precursors. To do this he selected a sample of 100 middle class children from a commercial mailing list and uses a controlled laboratory setting in which the children are confronted with various objects (some mildly scary), and their responses videotaped. Unfortunately his research grant does not provide him with the option of waiting ten years or more to see how this correlates with the later onset of depression in some of the subjects. So he compares his results with known predictive precursors of pre-depressive profiles, such as (1) parental history; (2) secretion in saliva samples of cortisol (a corticosteroid produced by the adrenal gland often referred to as the stress hormone as it is involved in the response to stress); (3) assymetries in cortical activity as shown up in electoencephalagrams; (4) low "positive emotionality" as evidenced by adjective biases at age 7 (of which of several displayed adjectives do the children select as describing themselves); (5) The last comparison is with questionaires filled out by the parents when the children are 10 or 11.
In summary he is able to identify by laboratory tests starting at age three which children might have risk factors for depression.
Among questions from the audience was "with all the emphasis on identifying precursors, is anybody doing anything to find a cure?" (Norma Watkins), to which the somewhat disconcerting answer was that he was not aware of anyone "attempting positive interventions". Theo Pavlidis asked "Is it not possible that some amount of depression could sometimes be beneficial?" (refering to famous examples of leaders such as Churchill, Lincoln, and other creative individuals.)

On catastrophes and other daily tribulations (A sometimes monthly postscript of information from your webmaster)
Our former Stony Brook colleague and friend "Chick" Perrow (now Yale emeritus prof) has caused quite a stir with his latest book "The Next Catastrophe: reducing our vulnerabilities to natural, industrial, and terrorist disasters"(see six page summary at: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s8365.html ). Briefly, he documents the thesis that the increasing scale and concentration of our technological infrastructure has rendered the consequences of disruptions more severe, and that while terrorist instigation should not be minimized, such disasters are far more likely to be triggered by natural events. If this is so, it is bad news for a certain fraction of the population studied by Alison Holman and her co-authors. The subjects, although nowhere near New York or Washington, became sufficiently stressed by 9-11 and the ensuing color alerts of Homeland Security that they experienced a significant increase in diagnosed cardiovascular events for three years afterwards as compared with before (see summary at: https://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/65/1/73). The proportions are such that the induced fatalities likely exceeded that of 9-11 itself.
If the all the emphasis on psychology and psychiatry this month has left you, um, depressed, then here is a little pick-me-up, brought to our attention by our co-chairs. The latest novel by Roger Rosenblatt, (our speaker last May - see our website news archive), is a satire on the American university campus, widely rumored to be based on inspirations from Stony Brook (Beet, Harper-Collins, Jan 2008). There are no prizes for identifying guilty suspects.