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As jobs go, being editor of the Gazette is hard to beat. The people are interesting, the tasks are satisfyingly challenging, and every two months there’s a tangible product to show for it. But as with any job, the work can pile up, deadlines can loom uncomfortably. For me, this tends to happen most when I write a long piece for the magazine, like the article on environmental sustainability in this issue, “Red and Blue Makes Green.” I find myself torn between doing the regular editor-stuff—basically, trying to make the whole magazine as good as it can be—and my own writing, and sometimes feel I wind up not giving enough attention to either responsibility.

Readers will judge the finished piece, but I might have done a better job—or at least finished more quickly—if I’d partaken of a little cognitive enhancement of the sort discussed in associate editor Trey Popp’s cover story, “Are Better Brains Better?” According to recent research, off-prescription use of drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall, used to treat ADHD, and newer ones like modafinil (Provigil) to improve concentration, wakefulness, and clarity is mushrooming among college students, their teachers, and harried workers generally. The University is taking the lead in figuring out what such “cosmetic neurology” might mean for individuals and society. Current opinions vary widely, from comparisons to “doping” scandals among athletes to claims that use represents a near-obligatory form of self-improvement.

Trey’s article—also written, as far as I know, without chemical assistance—revolves around the work of Penn neuroscientists Martha Farah and Anjan Chatterjee, who are, respectively, the director and one of the associate directors of the University’s new Center for Neuroscience and Society. Involving faculty from a variety of schools, the center will work to bring a more nuanced view—and one informed by actual data—to the subject.

The story quotes PIK Professor and bioethicist Jonathan Moreno to the effect that humans have been tinkering with their own consciousness since they had consciousness to tinker with. The same can be said of humanity’s relationship to our surroundings, from farming to the industrial revolution. Fast forward to the present, and you have global warming and its potentially catastrophic consequences.

Two years ago, Penn was among the first institutions to sign the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which promised, among other things, that signatories would release a comprehensive plan to cut their own emissions of greenhouse gases and operate in a more environmentally sustainable way. Penn’s plan, submitted in September, projects emissions reductions of 17 percent by 2014, with a resulting savings of nearly $13.7 million.

Putting the plan together involved input from staff, faculty, and students across the University, with a critical role played by a small group of recent alumni working as interns in Penn’s department of facilities and real estate.

The issue’s other two features look to the past.

Microbiologist Howard Goldfine helped organize the Year of Evolution in 2008-09 celebrating Darwin’s 200th birthday. In “Darwinism Comes to Penn,” he takes the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species to look at how Darwin’s ideas were first received here on campus.

Finally, frequent contributor Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69 attempts to square the apparent contradictions in the career of crusading prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice, and Law School Dean Owen Roberts  C1895 L1898, who was accused of trimming his ideological sails to suit the prevailing New Deal wind after Roosevelt threatened to “pack” the Court. “The Justice Who Was of Two Minds” suggests that there was more than expediency to the so-called “switch in time that saved nine.”

—John Prendergast C’80
Editor


   
 

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Last modified 10/28/09