Emeritus Faculty Association news March/April 2008

Next Meeting:
The next meeting will be Friday, 4th April, at 10.30 in the Javits room, 2nd floor library.
Lev Ginsburg of the department of ecology and evolution will speak on "The length and intensity of life: from bacteria to elephants.".
Abstract: Similarities in properties of organisms from bacteria to elephants are known as "scaling rules". One common way to express the main observation is that the number of heartbeats over a lifetime is approximately constant (around 1 million) for all mammals. So, a rabbit's life is more intense but shorter than an elephant's. The debate on what these rules are has continued for over 100 years. Much of the confusion is resolved in our recent paper where we view organisms as four-dimensional entities with the 3 geometric and 1 temporal dimension equal to the generation time of every organism.
Bio: Lev obtained his PhD in 1970 from the Agrophysical Institute in St. Petersburg, and came to Stony Brook in 1977. He has published widely on theoretical and applied ecology, population genetics, and risk analysis; producing eight books and more than 100 scientific papers. Lev's scholarly research in trophic interactions in food chains has sparked a controversial revision of the fundamental equations used for modelling food chain dynamics. His latest semi-popular book "Ecological Orbits" (2004) has been well received by reviewers in journals covering ecology, physics, and philosophy of science. His latest interests are in questions of scaling of biological organisms which are a part of macroecology.

Last Meeting
Our members email list
You can see this by clicking on "members contact information" on the left hand side of our main web page at www.sunysb.edu-->For faculty and staff-->emeritus faculty association. It offers a way to re-establish contact between peripatetic old colleagues and is protected against web-bots by the way the addresses are described. Some of you may not have appreciated the value of this when you first subscribed to the provost's mailing list. If your name and email is not listed but you would like it to be, simply send an email to us as per the instructions at the top of our webpage.

Neither Gods Nor Beasts
The "original Biology department" (ie: member Al Carlson) introduced our main speaker by using early Stony Brook photos of Elof Carlson teaching, in order to show why Al's own acquiantances at that time kept saying "My daughter thinks you are wonderful".
Elof himself introduced his topic as a concern that public perceptions are still dominated by ideas of God and fate basically unchanged for thousands of years. Educators, the media, and policy makers, need to be challenged to supplement the public's spiritual and asthetic basis with some understanding of themselves in the light of what science has disclosed since. This is necessary at the very least to safeguard their own personal health, not to mention the future of civilization. His talk then proceeded with what was essentially a summary of upcoming articles in the Three Village Times-Herald and the first chapter of his new book. Since members could perhaps get a better summary by reading these for themselves, (see: http://www.cshlpress.com), we will depart from our usual practice and devote our limited space instead to the discussion, which was more than usually informative this month.
After complaints from the usual malcontents about presidential candidates who don't believe in evolution and most Americans believing the earth is 6000 years old, Reggie Tewarson pointed out that the world majority was not Christian but Buddhist, Hindu, etc. Surely it was important what was their world view? Mel Simpson thought that it was important for the public to know about the methods of scientific experiment and how what is accepted eventually depends on a preponderance of evidence. Leslie Siegle asked for a scientific basis for ethics to supplement faith based versions. To which Elof asked this question: " Would you want someone to kill you for a higher cause?". You would probably respond no, and even though some zealots might claim they have to do what they have to do, most people would probably agree with you. Thus Kant proposed that if a majority of rational people agree on some such question then that should make it a universal human right. In response to a question from Andy Colver, Elof went into an interesting discussion on mind-set. It is well known that after amputation a person feels a phantom arm. The phantom arm eventually shrinks, until it feels like a wrist attached to the face, until it finally disappears altogether. This is due to the fact that neuron dentritic pathways need to be exercised, and that the section of the brain controlling the arm is adjacent to that of the face, which gradually takes over the function of the disused pathways. A question from Dan Dicker prompted Elof to launch into a discussion of the process and value of teaching non-majors. Rather than the usual view of such a course serving as a punishment, Elof regarded it as an opportunity - to reach people who might otherwise go through life ignorant on a whole whole range of important questions. At UCLA, after his request to teach such a course was finally acceded to, he asked about the registration. The answer, 2000 so far, prompted him to delve into television at an early stage of its development, which turned out to be much more work than he ever realized. Finally, in an epilog, Mel Simpson confessed that when he first learned that a new faculty under consideration did not propose research, he had initally opposed it. Bentley Glass said, "this fellow is unique!", and Mel is long since converted.

In Memorium - Peter Szusz
Member Peter Szusz died at his home in New Hampshire on Februrary 16. An informative obituary appeared in the Village Times-Herald. See: http://www.threevillages.com/picpaperframe.lasso?-token.issue=2008-03-20
Click on page 13 and then the page itself to enlarge.

On prospects for seniors
First, a clarification from Judy Wishnia of the health benefits information in the last newsletter: retirees are not part of the bargaining unit but are classified as management-confidential. So far a separate deal has had to be struck each year to give retirees the same benefits as actives. The union is continuing its endeavors to make this automatic.
While we are on this subject we must mention a study funded by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sports on obesity (and note that by 2025 half of American adults are expected to be obese). The study concluded that government prevention efforts were financially counter productive because people then survived into old age and contracted more expensive ailments. See: http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050029
So perhaps you will be reassured to learn that there is at least one group of people more confident and optimistic on the prospects for seniors. According to recent news reports, "investment consultants" have been increasing the promotion of reverse annuity mortgages (RAMs). In some cases the annuities were set to mature when their owners would be well into their second century! Of course their enthusiasm for the long life of their clients could not be expected without handsome commissions and interest costs and steep prepayment penalties. For a primer, see http://www.consumerlaw.org/issues/seniors_initiative/tips.shtml