Monster Mail

Peter Wood

Editor’s note: From time to time we share letters from readers that touch on wider concerns.  


Come Fly with Me

Dear NAS,

                I am a physics researcher at the University of Montreal. My specialty is quantum transport and my experiments require precisely controlled conditions. Unfortunately, during warm weather my colleagues like to open the windows in our building. Not only does the noise and dust interfere with my instruments, but insects fly in as well. Would it be appropriate if I disintegrated some of my colleagues as a warning to the others?

                                                                Andre Delambre

Dear Professor Delambre,

                We recommend that you try window screens first.


Well, let’s see what’s inside.

Dear NAS,

                I am a specialist in Egyptian archaeology, a field that has been sensationalized by various Hollywood movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Mummy. In fact, far from dealing in riches, my department is strapped for funds and I’m finding it difficult to obtain grants for my continuing excavations in upper Egypt. Would it be permissible for me to finance my research by selling on eBay some of my collection of minor antiquities?   I have, for example, a large unopened box that looks very old.

                                                                John Kharis 

Dear Professor Kharis,

                We assume by “minor” you mean fake. We all know that international law prohibits trade in genuine antiquities and archaeological ethics likewise forbid plundering sites.   We say go for it. How much do you want for the box? 

Go Green

Dear NAS,

                I am a professor of psychology at was once a small agricultural college that has grown into a regional university. Unfortunately, many of my faculty colleagues still act as though our primary task is to improve the seed stock and spread the adoption of modern horticultural techniques. The liberal arts cannot flourish in this environment. Now with the rise of the sustainability movement, I see more and more of our students succumbing to the flat affect and anti-humanistic ethic of the old ag school. What can I do to help students to resist?

                                                Professor Miles Bennell

                                                University of California, Santa Mira


Dear Professor Bennell,

                You need a new medium. We recommend podcasting. 


The Key to Happiness

Dear NAS,

                I am a tenured full professor with a long record of research in comparative mythology. For years I have been working on a major synthesis of world mythology that will almost certainly supersede Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Bonnefoy’s Mythologies, and works by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty and others.  To that end, I have sacrificed much, including the family life enjoyed by most faculty members. Of course to protect my work from being misappropriated, I have avoided dribbling it out in journal articles, and I have consequently been accused of being pedantic and secretive. My RateMyProfessor ratings are hurtful. “He is extremely knowledgeable,” is about the best anyone says. I have never gotten a chili pepper as a “hot professor.” On top of this, I have received several rejection notices from academic publishers who tell me my research is “no longer relevant.” I have to admit, I’m depressed. What should I do?

                                                Edward Casaubon


Dear Professor Casaubon,

                Perhaps the answer to improving your image with students and rejuvenating your research lies outside academe. We recommend you get married, preferably to a vivacious young woman who respects scholarship.    



Dear NAS,

                I am a professor of medicine who specializes in sleep disorders. With the help of my research assistant, Cesare, I have developed a effective program to bring public attention to the widespread problem of somnambulism (sleepwalking). You may have seen Cesare and me on Oprah last year. My problem is professional jealousy. Some of my colleagues disparage my work because I have chosen to use popular media to express my message. One even called my appearance on Oprah (which featured a demonstration of somnambulism) as “carnival-esque.” I fear if this continues, it will hurt both my professional standing and my efforts to help those in need. What should I do?

                                                Dr. Antonio Caligari


Dear Dr. Caligari,

                Try winning them over by involving them in some of your shows. We did see you with Cesare and we’re sure he can help you make the case. 


The Bane of Research

Dear NAS,

                I am the fourth generation head of a family foundation that focuses on wildlife preservation. Though not an academic myself, my great-grandfather was a noted astronomer who focused on lunar disturbances, and my father was a professor of botany, who discovered and named several species of plants in Tibet. The family foundation has always supported academic research.  I am increasingly concerned, however, that the academy is becoming a hostile environment for certain kinds of important research, especially experiments using animals. This work is desperately needed. A few animals must be sacrificed to gain the knowledge we need to save old species. Why has the academic community become so narrow-sighted? Why can’t they understand? I think in particular of an NIH director who cancelled funding for research on the wolves in Montana just because it meant that a pack had to be culled. It sets us back years, and when I think of it, it just puts me into a rage.

                                                John Talbot


Dear Mr. Talbot,               

                Calm down. Even a good man, who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night, can make a mistake. The animal rights movement is indeed gaining headway and sometimes interfering with important research. In fact, many academic researchers strongly defend animal research. You should check the website for the groups Pro-Test, Americans for Medical Progress and Victims of Animal Rights Extremism. We don’t want to presume, but you also be interested in the work of the Orphan Drug Research Institute on lycathropogens. Sample: “The incidence of lycomania in North America is underestimated.  Soon-to-be-available pharmacotherapies should promote its early detection and treatment. Full control may depend upon advances in gene therapy.” Keep up the good work.


Castles in the Sky

Dear NAS, 

                I find myself in circumstances where I have limited access to the Internet. I would like to keep up with NAS postings. They sharpen my sense of injustices that need to be set right. Since I do have access to email, is there some way that I could get your articles in that form?   I do get computer privileges now and then, but it is hard to catch up on all that I missed in the meantime. 

                                                 Edmond Dantes


Dear Mr. Dantes,

                 You are in luck! You have NAS articles (and other important links about higher education) delivered directly to your inbox by signing up for CASNET.

                 CASNET is a free, moderated email list produced by the California Association of Scholars ( You can subscribe, unsubscribe, or get information on CASNET by sending electronic mail to [email protected]. In the message body (not the header), type the following commands (capitalized text only):

 SUBSCRIBE CASNET [to subscribe]

 SIGNOFF CASNET [to unsubscribe]

 INFO CASNET [to receive more information on the list]>>

                 Also, for those occasions when you do have access to a computer, you might want to subscribe to our RSS feed. It will store up all the NAS articles in one place for you so you can read them at your convenience. Just go to our home page and click on “Subscribe to NAS articles.” 

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