'What's Out There' Is Not 'What's Here'
The "Q&A;" feature March 2 -- "Should government reveal its UFO data?"-- quoted four UFO believers at a recent conference debating whether the government should end its secrecy on UFOs. I find two aspects of this article troubling.
First, the article, and apparently the UFO "specialists," never questioned the premise that the government is engaged in a cover-up of UFO evidence. Nor was any evidence of a cover-up presented, which is not surprising.
For 45 years, the few government documents published by UFO enthusiasts as alleged proof of a cover-up have either concluded that there is no evidence of alien origin of any object studied, or have been shown to be outright forgeries.
The UFO-ers should try harder. If they could verify that a government plot to conceal data has somehow escaped the Great Washington Leak Machine for 45 years, it could be a more astounding find than verified alien contact!
Second, the article did not distinguish between two very different issues: the likelihood of aliens existing elsewhere versus that of their having visited Earth. The article said " 'What's out there' consumes many researchers with sound academic and professional credentials." Indeed, many researchers believe that in a galaxy with 200 billion stars and a universe with 100 billion galaxies, some rare stars are likely to have planets that support intelligent life.
Radio telescopes operated by the Planetary Society and NASA are listening for evidence of far-off civilizations. Radio waves, which travel at the speed of light, may be our only hope of making contact with other beings, so great are the distances of space.
But "what's out there" is not the same issue as "what's here." If aliens could travel from the nearest star (four light years away) at a million miles per hour, it would take them more than 2,600 years to get here. And why Earth? Weak radio broadcasts, evidence of our civilization, have been escaping into space for less than a century; this makes it improbable that other beings are aware of our existence.
Nonetheless, our media abound with "true" tales of saucer landings, lurid bedroom invasions and abductions of humans by large-eyed creatures. Authors have made fortunes claiming that aliens visited the pharaohs and the Mayan kings, and that the Air Force has recovered crashed flying saucers and their dead alien pilots. But since the UFO fad began in the late 1940s, there has been no evidence that compels researchers with "sound credentials" to conclude that alien craft have ever visited this planet.
For people who are disappointed about this reality, there are some good alternatives to UFO hysteria. Learn about our fascinating universe in school, on PBS or in real science books.
Or enjoy a good novel or fictional movie about alien contact that nobody is trying to tell you is not fiction.
Larry D. Rosen
All Gays Are Not Promiscuous
I am writing in response to Robert J. Chase's Feb. 27 letter about the question of the legal status of homosexual people.
Mr. Chase tells us that many gay men are promiscuous and inflicted with more sexually transmitted diseases (STD) than any other social group. He uses this as a basis for the argument that their lifestyle is self-destructive and therefore should not be accepted by our society.
First I would like to point out that even if many gay men are promiscuous, many are not and many gay women are not. It does not seem logical to say that all homosexuals should be penalized because some number are promiscuous. After all, many heterosexuals are promiscuous, too. Also, if I remember former Surgeon General Everett Koop correctly, gay women are the least likely to be inflicted with an STD. Unless Mr. Chase's argument is that only gay women should be able to fully exercise constitutional rights, there seems to be a logical gap here.
More important than this gap, however, is the question: Is it correct to protect and allow a person to engage in a behavior or lifestyle that can lead to self-destruction? If your answer is "no," then far more important than forbidding homosexuality, our laws should forbid eating meat. Your chances as an meat-eater of dying from stroke, heart-attack or cancer related to saturated fat are significantly higher than your chances of dying from AIDS or any other STD.
If we would allow the government to make such a personal decision as with whom a person should sleep, surely we should allow the government to decide matters such as what one should eat. Especially because so many more people die from their eating habits than from sexual habits.
And of course, eating meat is not our only self-destructive habit. Does Mr. Chase favor denying constitutional rights to people who drink alcohol, eat or drink caffeine, don't exercise enough, chew tobacco, or any of the other self-destructive choices Americans make?
The government has no place in this type of decision. All American citizens, regardless of how self-destructive their lifestyle is, are protected under the Constitution. If Mr. Chase believes homosexuality is wrong or unhealthy, then he is protected by the Constitution in his efforts to logically persuade people to abandon that lifestyle.
However, it is foolish to press for laws or practices that discriminate against "self-destructive" citizens. "Self-destructive" can be interpreted in too many ways.
I found Robert J. Chase's letter to be an appalling diatribe of ignorance and bigotry cloaked with melodrama and false concern. Sexual orientation has not gained legitimacy sooner precisely because of the myths that Mr. Chase seeks to perpetuate.
In citing for the sake of objectivity the opinions of two psychologists, he has obviously failed to remain current on studies concerning the biological determination of sexual orientation.
A study by two UCLA researchers, Dr. Laura Allen and Dr. Robert Gorski, published in the Aug. 1, 1992 edition of the medical journal The Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences, admits the possibility of biological factors in the determination of sexual orientation.
I do not present this as definitive proof, but rather as a recent development in the field of sexual research, a discipline not restricted to psychology alone.
In reality, there has not been a definitive study that has determined a common factor that could be the "cause" of
homosexuality. Until recently, biological research in this area has been all but neglected because of the negative political implications.
Mr. Chase suggests that it is complacency rather than choice that makes gay men pursue an alternative lifestyle. It is not that we cannot change, but rather that we do not want to change. He suggests that we repress our sexuality to conform.
But even the most elementary study of Freud would show him that repression of sexuality often results in psychologically damaging displacement. Using himself as a standard, Mr. Chase condemns what he cannot understand, a lifestyle he has not chosen to pursue.
The gross generalizations and blind accusations that he makes concerning sexual promiscuity and the presence of sexually transmitted diseases are opinions with ignorance as their only support. To identify all people by focusing on the practices of a minority is wrong. It would be as if I accused all heterosexuals of sharing Mr. Chase's opinions rather than attributing them to the fringe element of which he is a part.
The idea that AIDS is a gay disease is both outdated and incorrect. Unprotected sex is the cause of the spread of AIDS and other STDs, not sex between men.
The gay community has served as the vanguard for safer sex education, lobbying for and implementing awareness programs. The gay community has shown a higher sense of responsibility in their actions to curb the spread of the disease than Mr. Chase and those who share his opinions show in their effort to undermine that of which they know nothing.
Mr. Chase seeks to disallow any lifestyle that does not conform to his own. His statements are made on the basis that his judgment is better than my own, a gay man happily and healthily pursuing an alternative sexual lifestyle, to make decisions concerning my life. He equates being gay with being unhappy, a completely ungrounded assumption. His letter is a testament to the fact that education is the key to understanding and consequently social tolerance and equal protection under the law.
What Mr. Chase calls love is in reality the desire for a repressive social structuralism. I applaud President Clinton for his efforts to actualize the precepts of the Constitution and to maintain my right to pursue happiness.
Put Drug Emphasis on Marketing, Not Research
As a researcher involved in the development of new drugs, I see the sticker shock of high drug prices from a different perspective from the one Dr. Alan H. Peck expressed in his Feb. 27 letter.
I agree with his conclusion that controls are needed. The pharmaceutical industry claims that their pricing is fair because the revenues support research to develop new drugs.
This is to some extent true, and it would be a terrible mistake to subject the industry to crippling legislation that would stifle innovation.
New drug development is extremely risky, and it can cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a new drug through the regulatory hurdles that allow it to be approved for marketing.
There would simply be no new drugs if pharmaceutical #i companies weren't allowed adequate compensation.
In my view, however, the industry grossly exaggerates the proportion of their revenues that is spent on real innovation.
Pharmaceutical companies in the United States seem to have unlimited resources for promotional activities -- expensive mailings to physicians, glossy multi-page inserts and special supplements to medical journals, junkets for physicians and company marketing personnel, fancy exhibits at medical meetings and so-called educational activities, which to a large extent are marketing gimmicks.
On the other hand, research scientists at these companies have none of the big budgets, salaries and perquisites that are the prerogative of the managers and marketers. Moreover, much of the research is for expensive "me-too" drugs that provide little improvement to patients.
Marketing is valued more than innovation because fat profits depend on it. Sadly, it is a historical fact that a great many, if not the majority, of major innovations in drug therapy were made abroad, primarily in Europe.
These discoveries are then licensed to American companies who use their marketing prowess to turn them into cash cows. National health insurance plans in most European countries regulate the cost of medications so that marketing is not a high priority.
Although consumers would be better served if the drug industry spent more of their revenues on innovative research and less on promotion, I am not optimistic that this will occur without tough legislation or a change in the way we pay for our medications.
Michael A. Rogawski, M.D.
I read Dr. Alan H. Peck's Feb. 27 letter, "A Psychiatrist's Cost Nightmare." A few questions occurred to me.
Does Dr. Peck charge the patients for an office visit and the medication? Does he comply with all the laws in Maryland regarding dispensing medications -- the prescription numbers, screening what other medications the patient may be taking, counseling on possible side effects, proper labeling -- and dispense these items at cost?
What is the comparable generic for Prozac? And as for the nasal spray, why didn't he purchase the generic for it, as well as the generic drug for Tylenol? He doesn't state whether he purchased a generic drug or not.
L Does Dr. Peck charge a lower price than other psychiatrists?
Dr. Peck fails to take into consideration the cost of liability insurance for the drug companies, the testing by the FDA, the testing of drugs that fail -- unfortunately this cost is passed onto the consumer, as the cost of medical school and liability and malpractice insurance is passed on to the consumer. Just as concert tickets are expensive because of the performers, or movie tickets are expensive because of the cost of making movies.
I would suggest Dr. Peck and everybody else ask the doctor for a generic, or why the specific pill was prescribed. What are the values of this particular drug over existing drugs?
It's relatively easy to attack big drug companies. After all, they seem faceless. But there are people making a living, supporting families, real people working there, not just some nameless money grabbers.
The vast majority do not get to vote on their raises or benefits, as Congress does, so how can Congress "put more control" on the drug companies?
Perhaps some more consideration and research are in order for the drug companies' point of view.
To Our Readers
Because of a production error, the letters page usually published on Saturday was transposed with the Opinion * Commentary page that should have appeared here today. The Sun regrets the error.