In the News

By Marie Felde

28 February 2001 | It may be hard to imagine how an Oscar nomination and Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames would wind up in the same news column, but that’s just what happed when writer Paul Mulshine examined the story behind the movie “Erin Brockovich.”

Writing for the Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., Mulshine noted that Ames developed the primary test (the Ames Test) for determining the cancer-causing potential of chemicals. “The movie didn’t bother to call him, so I figured I would,” wrote Mulshine. The problem with the investigation that’s the basis for the film, said Ames, is that “they never controlled for things like smoking and diet. Nobody wants to think anything they do is their own fault.”

On the other hand, writes journalism senior lecturer Susan Rasky in the Los Angeles Times, the rest of the country likes to think everything that happens to Californians — even natural disasters — is our own fault.

Writing on why journalists elsewhere seemed to take such glee in California’s power troubles, she observes: “California’s bouts with Mother Nature are (viewed as) some kind of cosmic retribution for living too well. Maybe that’s why the tone of the energy coverage in recent days is not just apocalyptic, it’s downright hostile.”

Meanwhile, energy economist Severin Borenstein provided a particularly delicious explanation for why our current pricing scheme is a failure. Most homeowners and businesses currently pay the same price for electricity regardless of whether they use it at peak times when shortages loom or at off-peak when there is plenty to go around. “It’s like running a salad bar where you pay by the ounce for anything you eat. Everyone eats the caviar,” he told the Sacramento Bee.

It is true that Berkeley faculty will be in the news on most any day, but Sunday, Feb. 21, was a particularly impressive day in the national media. Two faculty members’ books were reviewed in the New York Times, and Chancellor Berdahl appeared on “60 Minutes.”

Czelaw Milosz was described in the review of his new book of meditations and remembrances as “arguably the greatest living poet.” Not a bad start for a review. The ending wasn’t too shabby, either. “In the end, ‘Milosz’s ABCs’ is a ... testimonial to those who have suffered and gone before us, a hymn to the everlasting marvel and mystery of human existence,” wrote Edward Hirsch.

Public Policy professor David Kirp’s new book, “Almost Home, America’s Love-Hate Relationship with Community,” gets its share of ink as well. In it, says the reviewer, “he avoids any grand notion about the benefits or drawbacks of the concept. Instead, he offers 13 distinct stories about quite distinct types of American communities.”

On “60 Minutes,” correspondent Lesley Stahl examined the rush to create for-profit universities on the Internet. Sandwiched between advocates and critics, Berdahl tells Stahl that for educators the core issue is, “How do we make certain that a degree is truly worth a degree and make certain that we don’t have the equivalent of diploma mills on the Internet?”

A day later, weighing in on another issue of the day, Berkeley Nobel prize winners Donald Glaser, Daniel McFadden and Charles Townes joined 77 others laureates in urging federal funds to support research on human embryo cells. The plea came in an open letter to President Bush that ran in the Washington Post on Feb. 22.

Berkeley newsmakers make online debut
Berkeley In the News, a daily report on local, national and international news stories that feature Berkeley and its faculty, students or staff is now a regular feature of the campus news Web site at
Each weekday, Public Affairs updates the site with a selection of the latest news stories, providing both story excerpts and links to the full articles (when they are available).

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Marie Felde is director of media relations in the Office of Public Affairs. “In the News” is a monthly look at Berkeley faculty, staff and research that made news around the world.


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