Dialogue — March 2022

March 2022

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An Evergreen Activity

A December story explored the value of coloring outside the lines and invited readers to share their work.

Cut up magazine in the shape of a treePhoto: Page Kalkowski, MA ’90, EdS ’92, PhD ’92

Great magazine. You asked us to destroy the Stanford Tree and send you a picture, so here it is. I cut it up and made a tree out of the Tree.
Page Kalkowski, MA ’90, EdS ’92, PhD ’92
Portland, Oregon

Devil in the Details

Our December cover story examined geneticist Michael Snyder’s self-monitoring project and its implications for the future of human health.

Although the work of Michael Snyder is impressive and valuable in a statistical and clinical sense, the notion of applying broad-spectrum, instrumentalized quantification to a wide public is in some ways a step in the wrong direction. Why? Because it removes us even further from direct awareness of our own selves. 

Anytime we increase reliance on external devices to tell us what we are doing, we diminish our ability to perceive it on our own. For example, people running and working out with measuring devices on their upper arms are already distracting themselves from experiencing their own bodies. (Do you really need a monitor to tell you that you’re winded, or that your heart is racing, or that you’re in good physical condition?) 

In addition, overanalysis can lead to unnecessary medical interventions. Over the 80 years of my life, I have declined numerous surgeries for a variety of issues that were discovered through testing. In every case, I’m thankful that I made the choice I did. 

Finally, there’s the comment by Dr. Snyder about longevity: “I’d rather live to 90 than to 60.” There’s a lot of truth in that, but long life in and of itself is a false goal. We used to say, “live fast and die young,” and a lot of people did. Who’s to say that they were wrong?
David Rearwin, PhD ’73
San Diego, California

While I applaud Snyder’s goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle, I am concerned that only cursory reference is made to the psychological impact of self-monitoring.

Primary care is first and foremost preventive care. Preventive care includes regularly scheduled checkups, running the right test at the right time (with a clear plan to address abnormalities), and, most important, listening to and interacting directly with the patient. This approach is evidence-based and extremely cost-effective.

On occasion, popular over-the-counter devices will accurately detect an important abnormality, such as atrial fibrillation. Usually, when I evaluate an alert generated by a personal monitor, my patients are found to have no diagnosis or a benign condition. Much more often, these clients will exhibit a high level of anxiety, which is exacerbated by the frequent notifications from these devices.

As any primary care provider will attest, the most common diagnosis in general medicine is a mental health condition. Currently, no lab test or monitoring device can accurately diagnose anxiety or depression. Regarding personal omics profiling, I predict that over time such hypervigilance will lead to more harm than good.
Robert Saldivar, ’83
Portland, Oregon

The December cover features an article about high-tech medical innovation with the headline “Body Count.” Anyone who lived through the American invasion of Vietnam knows that the U.S. metric for success in that conflict, which took some 2 million lives, were the infamous words body count. I suggest that your headline writer read Nick Turse’s history of those words, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, to understand how that headline struck many of your alumni who protested Stanford’s involvement in that horrific conflict.
Peter Knutson, ’74 
Seattle, Washington

Really? You headlined a very interesting story “The Measures of a Man”? What could it be about Michael Snyder’s work and research that makes your editorial staff think that his maleness needs to be emphasized? Fortunately, in reading the article, there is no suggestion whatsoever, past that headline, that Snyder intends to exclude women from his research projects, in terms of subjects or team members. 

For decades we have known that it is confusing and sexist to use the term man when human is meant. What sort of style guide are you using in this, the 21st century? Otherwise, it was a very interesting and useful article, but the headline certainly put me off initially.
Carol B. Muller, MA ’81, PhD ’86
Palo Alto, California

News Worthy

A December feature explored a surge of young alums enjoying early success in journalism.

I’m encouraged that journalism continues to attract talented young people despite the depressing challenges in the news media business. Good storytelling for the purpose of accountability will continue to be essential for the health of our nation and our democracy, and the Stanford alums you highlighted give me hope. Among the media challenges are the poor management decisions of news organizations themselves, as we learned earlier this year from the experience of Emily Wilder, ’20. She was a victim of the Associated Press’s vague and inconsistent ethical standards for social media. Fortunately, Wilder has landed at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, where she is doing good work on the criminal justice beat. Her story and her commitment to storytelling would have been a good addition to the group of reporters you featured, and a cautionary tale as well.
David Vossbrink, ’72
Sunnyvale, California

Fueled Up

In December, we spoke with alums who want to reinvent supersonic flight

It’s incredible. Supersonic flight was canceled decades ago due to concerns of its harm to our protective ozone layer. It was common knowledge then. But it is overlooked in the “Hot Wings” article and perhaps by folks trying to resurrect supersonic travel from the dead. 
Denise Louie, ’74
San Francisco, California


A photo of John Schwarz, ’60, and his 1,000-item collection of Farm memorabilia got alums talking about their own sacred Stanford sundries. 

Instagram logo

John Schwarz holding up a Stanford flag

I have a brick from the Stanford foundry. Came from the original Band Shak. 
Jacki Williams-Jones, ’76, MA ’77


Love this! My favorite Stanford item is a Stanford waffle iron (like the ones in the dining halls) that I found while sifting through things at Stanford Surplus Property Sales. It’s a fun and functional treat, especially with other alum friends!
Andrew Jabara, ’18, MS ’19

Photo: Meredith Grotevant

Rethinking Our Habits

In his September column, university president Marc Tessier-Lavigne described the formation of a new Stanford school focused on climate and sustainability.

 President Tessier-Lavigne is absolutely correct: We have to change our behaviors as well as deploy new technological solutions if we are to avoid the worst outcomes of the climate crisis. Yet at the recent Stanford reunion and in the Class Book pages, there was a great deal of talk among us seniors about the international trips we’ve taken and those we’re planning, and Stanford still promotes and thus seems to condone these nonessential, fuel-consumptive trips through its enticing Travel/Study program. While collectively we seem to understand the seriousness of the climate crisis, we are not yet making the difficult personal sacrifices urgently needed.
Martha Gibson Plescia, ’71, MA ’75
Sunnyvale, California

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