The New York Times Archives

December 10, 2005

The Porn Suffix

Establishing a new Internet suffix like ''.com'' or ''.org'' takes deep pockets and patience. This has not deterred Stuart Lawley, a Florida entrepreneur, from trying to establish a pornography-only ''.xxx'' domain. In such a realm, Lawley could restrict porn marketing to adults only, protect users' privacy, limit spam and collect fees from Web masters. The .xxx proposal was finally slated for approval in August by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), but because of a flurry of protest, it has been shelved for now.

Lawley's scheme has aroused support and dissent across the political spectrum. The Family Research Council warns that it will simply breed more smut. But Senator Joe Lieberman supports a virtual red-light district because he says it would make the job of filtering out porn easier.

Meanwhile, some pornographers, apparently drawn by the promise of catchier and more trustworthy U.R.L.'s, have gotten behind Lawley. Other skin-peddlers, echoing the A.C.L.U., see the establishment of a voluntary porn zone as the first step toward the deportation of their industry to a distant corner of the Web, where their sites could easily be blocked by skittish Internet service providers, credit card companies and even governments.

The Free Speech Coalition, a lobbying group for the pornography industry, supports an entirely different approach to Web architecture. It recommends that children be confined to a wholesome ''.kids'' domain. This ''walled garden'' theory of Internet safety is not original. It is borrowed from Lawley himself, who has since dropped it because he deems it impractical.

November 1, 2008

Science of the Five Senses

Art Teams With Science to Explain It All to You


The taste of a ripe tomato, the hook of a catchy song, the scent of a lover’s hair. What is it, exactly, that drives us to seek these things again and again?

Neuroscientists who study perception are starting to discover the inner workings of the sensory mind. Starting on Monday at the New York Academy of Sciences, researchers and artists will team up to explore this new research in a series of talks called Science of the Five Senses. Their conversations will raise a question for the amateur hedonist: If we had a better understanding of the signals our bodies send to our brains, might we take more pleasure from them?

The academy, which was founded in 1817 and now has a membership of more than 25,000 scientists, has recently reached out to the general public with its Science and the City lectures.

“I wanted our live events to be at the intersection of science and culture,” said Adrienne Burke, an editor at the academy who conceived the new series. “That’s how we ended up with a singer and a food writer and an ex-magician. There is a deeper and more common connection between science and art than people tend to recognize.”

For “Science of the Five Senses” Ms. Burke asked the scientists to invite artists to explain their work. “I’m used to booking scientists,” she said. “But I was amazed that all the artists said yes right away, even Rosanne Cash.”

Ms. Cash, the country singer and songwriter, was one of a number of musicians, including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Yo-Yo Ma, on the psychologist Daniel Levitin’s wish list for an evening to be held in April. The academy eventually selected Ms. Cash, who underwent brain surgery last year. Before her operation she had written to the well-known neurologist Oliver Sacks to ask whether she would lose the ability to play music. (She did not.)

“My brain was being crushed; I was in a lot of pain,” Ms. Cash said in an interview. “At first it was dark humor, then it was panic, but then I really got interested in the science of the brain.”

The series will begin with a discussion using excerpts from the documentary “Touch: The Forgotten Sense,” directed by the Danish-born filmmaker Kun Chang, which follows a woman who has been deprived of all bodily sensation by a virus.

“People generally don’t think about losing the sense of touch because we take it for granted,” said Mr. Chang, who recently regained feeling in his own fingers after lifting boxes in a move. “It’s the first thing we get and the last thing we lose. But it has an impact on everything we do.”

The Mexican neuroscientist Ranulfo Romo, who has studied how monkeys and humans store memories of touch, will comment on the science behind the film. He is likely to explain how it is possible for a man to crack a safe with his fingertips, and how a blind and deaf child can read his mother’s lips by placing his hand on her face to feel the vibrations as she talks. This will be Dr. Romo’s first collaboration with an artist.

Next on the agenda will be smell, which can signal the presence not just of food and loved ones but also of predators and sewage. In December the Rockefeller University olfactory researcher Leslie B. Vosshall will join the scientist Avery Gilbert, whose position as consultant for the perfume industry and author of the popular book “What the Nose Knows: The Science of Scent in Everyday Life” appear to qualify him for the role of artist. Among the topics they will cover: Can smells trigger memories? Does body odor really attract mates, and if so, why do we cover it with perfume? What makes some of us insensible to certain scents?

“People are notoriously bad at judging whether they have a good sense of smell,” said Dr. Vosshall, whose lab has discovered a gene that controls how people perceive the odor of male sweat. “From sexuality to food to poison, it’s a very emotionally loaded sense.”

In one of the more unusual pairings, Christof Koch, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology who studies vision and attention, will enlist the master pickpocket Apollo Robbins, who has relieved members of the Secret Service of their watches and wallets, to demonstrate a variety of visual illusions on Jan. 12. The two met last year in Las Vegas at a meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, where Mr. Robbins performed a public pickpocketing.

“I’ve become quite the armchair student of science,” said Mr. Robbins, who recently published a paper titled “Attention and Awareness in Stage Magic” in the prestigious journal Nature Neuroscience. Written in collaboration with psychologists and magicians, the article explained how performers can achieve tricks like spoon-bending by exploiting the habits of eyes and brains.

At the academy Dr. Koch plans to explain Mr. Robbins’s sleight of hand using the latest cognitive research. For the grand finale, however, it will be up to the audience to guess Mr. Robbins’s methods.

“I really live and breathe science, but I still want to have a sense of the mystery of things,” Dr. Koch said. “Both of us are manipulating attention. He does it for entertainment purposes, and I do it to study consciousness.”

For her co-presenter, the taste researcher Linda Bartoshuk invited the chef and author Harold McGee to join her. Although Mr. McGee expressed some hesitation about the term “supertaster,” which Dr. Bartoshuk coined to describe people who have a gene that makes them more sensitive to bitter compounds, he said they would distribute taste strips so audience members could test themselves for the trait.

Mr. McGee, who is about to begin work on a treatise on the science of flavor, said he hoped research into the mechanics of taste would help not so much in the creation of “crazy or novel” dishes as in helping ordinary diners “get greater pleasure out of the foods we already like, and maybe extending the range of things we’re interested in trying.”

He cited the example of the British chef Heston Blumenthal, who recently surprised food chemists when he discovered that the flavor in tomatoes is concentrated in the jelly around the seeds.

For her part, Ms. Burke of the academy said she was hoping the series could reveal the science behind a more commonplace mystery. “We all know what songs we end up humming all day,” she said, and she is looking forward to hearing Dr. Levitin and Ms. Cash explain “what’s going on in your brain that makes that happen.”

“Hooked on a Feeling: The Science of Touch,” with Kun Chang and Ranulfo Romo, will be presented on Monday at the New York Academy of Sciences, 7 World Trade Center, Lower Manhattan;

November 19, 2008

Adrian Kantrowitz,
Cardiac Pioneer

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Dr. Adrian Kantrowitz, who performed the first human heart transplant in the United States in 1967 and pioneered the development of mechanical devices to prolong the life of patients with heart failure, died Friday in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was 90.

The cause was complications of heart failure, said Jean Kantrowitz, his wife of nearly 60 years and a longtime colleague in developing the devices.

On Dec. 6, 1967, when he removed the heart of a brain-dead baby and implanted it into the chest of a baby with a fatal heart defect, Dr. Kantrowitz became the first doctor to perform a human heart transplant in the United States. The patient lived for only six and a half hours, but the operation was a milestone on the way to the routine transplants of today.

Along with Dr. Michael E. DeBakey of Texas and a few others, Dr. Kantrowitz helped open the new era in care for seemingly terminally ill heart patients, using both surgery and artificial devices. His work at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and Sinai Hospital in Detroit had a lasting impact, starting with his first headlines in 1959, when he gave a healthy dog a booster heart muscle.

Over six decades of surgical practice, he designed and used more than 20 medical devices that aided circulation and other vital functions.

Although his 1967 transplant was the first in the United States, it was not the first in the world, following by three days Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s in Cape Town. But Dr. Kantrowitz had been methodical in laying the groundwork for the procedure. He practiced hundreds of heart transplants in puppies over the previous four years, and had planned a human operation the previous year, but was prevented at the last minute because the donor infant had not been declared brain-dead.

“Although Dr. Kantrowitz had the dedication and perseverance to accomplish this remarkable surgical tour de force, it was the notion that, for the first time, science could view the heart as yet another organ that could be fixed that was a revolutionary concept,” Dr. Stephen J. Lahey, director of cardiothoracic surgery at Maimonides Medical Center, said in a statement on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Kantrowitz’s transplant.

While many doctors have worked to replace failing hearts altogether with artificial ones, Dr. Kantrowitz concentrated on finding ways to supplement the work of the natural heart with an impressive array of circulatory devices of his own invention. The most influential was the “left ventricular assist device,” or LVAD, which, for the first time in 1972, allowed a patient with severe chronic heart failure to leave the hospital with a permanent implant.

Another of his inventions was the intra-aortic balloon pump, described in The New York Times in 1967 as “a long, narrow gas line” inserted through the patient’s thigh that inflated “a six-inch-long sausage-shaped balloon” in the aorta. The device deflated when the heart pumped blood and inflated when it relaxed, thereby reducing strain on the heart, according to Dr. Kantrowitz’s theory of “counterpulsation.” The device has been used to treat about three million patients since it went into general use in the 1980s.

He also invented an early implantable pacemaker, designed with General Electric in 1962, and captured the first film of the mitral valve opening and closing inside a beating heart in 1951.

His inventiveness extended beyond cardiology. In 1961, inspired by the way the muscles in the heart were stimulated, he was the first doctor to enable paraplegic patients to move their limbs by electronically triggering their muscles.

Adrian Kantrowitz was born on Oct. 4, 1918, in New York City, to a mother who designed costumes for the Ziegfeld Follies and a father who ran a clinic in the Bronx that charged its patients 10 cents a week.

“My mother told me from the age of 3 that I wanted to be a doctor,” he told The New York Post in 1966.

As a boy he worked with his older brother Arthur to construct an electrocardiograph from old radio parts. The brothers later collaborated on the left ventricular assist device.

After graduating from New York University with a degree in mathematics in 1940, Dr. Kantrowitz enrolled in the Long Island College of Medicine (now a part of SUNY Downstate Medical Center) and completed an internship at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. He earned his medical degree early, in 1943, as part of an accelerated program to supply doctors for the war effort. After serving two years as a battalion surgeon in the Army Medical Corps, Dr. Kantrowitz began a career in cardiac research and became a major figure in the first generation of cardiac surgeons.

From 1948 to 1955, he practiced surgery at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. From 1955 to 1970, he held surgical posts at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, where he led a team that devised many influential devices with support from the National Institutes of Health, including an electronic heart-lung machine and a radio transmitter that allowed paralyzed patients to empty their bladders.

In 1970 Dr. Kantrowitz left Maimonides when “it became apparent that a small community hospital in Brooklyn was not the proper environment for the development of innovative cardiac surgical techniques,” according to a recent profile in the journal Clinical Cardiology. Remarkably, he was able to move his entire team of 25 surgeons, engineers and nurses — and with them a nearly $3 million research grant — to Detroit, where he taught at Wayne State University School of Medicine and held surgical posts at Sinai Hospital for the rest of his career.

Besides his wife, Jean, who helped him start a medical device company, LVAD Technology, in 1983, his survivors include three children, Dr. Niki Kantrowitz, a cardiologist in Brooklyn; Dr. Lisa Kantrowitz, a radiologist in Newport Beach, Calif.; and Dr. Allen Kantrowitz, a neurosurgeon in Williamstown, Mass.; and nine grandchildren.

Dr. Kantrowitz received a lifetime achievement award from the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs in 2001. He did not rest on his laurels. This year the Food and Drug Administration approved a clinical trial of his latest cardiac assistance device, which promises to allow seriously ill patients to move around and even exercise.

December 10, 2008

Bernard Ackerman,
Pathologist of Skin

Bernard Ackerman, 72, Dies; Expert at Skin Diagnosis


Bernard Ackerman, a founding figure in the field of dermatopathology who trained a generation of doctors to recognize skin diseases under the microscope, died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 72.

The cause was heart failure, said his nephew Andy Zwick, who was his collaborator.

Dr. Ackerman was also a forceful voice on a wide range of subjects, including the causes of melanoma and the ethical issues that arise when doctors testify in court.

In the 1960s he developed a diagnostic method that involved viewing skin tissue at low magnification until he saw a broad pattern, which he called a silhouette. Only later would he zoom in to the cellular level to refine the diagnosis.

Dr. Ackerman trained a generation of doctors to use his method on an 18-headed microscope, through which they could view slides from dozens of cases at a sitting.

He was a prolific researcher, the author of more than 700 papers and more than 60 books.

“He had his detractors and he had his sycophants, but everyone recognized that he was the force in his field,” said Dr. Geoffrey Gottlieb, managing director of the Ackerman Academy of Dermatopathology, which Dr. Ackerman founded in 1999.

He often argued for unpopular positions. Recently he expressed strong skepticism that exposure to sunlight causes melanoma, saying the case was not proved. He also lamented what he saw as a trend toward overtreatment of benign skin conditions.

“There has been a mania for taking off these moles that are of no consequence,” he told The New York Times in 2005. “We’re talking about billions and billions of dollars being spent, based on hype.”

As a resident at the University of Pennsylvania hospital, Dr. Ackerman was sent to work at Holmesburg prison, where inmates were paid to endure exposure to toxic chemicals. His experience there led to a lifelong preoccupation with medical ethics.

After serving as an expert witness in more than 200 trials, Dr. Ackerman had a personal brush with the law in 2000, when he reluctantly reached a $2.7 million settlement in a malpractice suit in a skin cancer death in which he said there had been fraudulent medical testimony. In 2003, he started a Web site to expose expert witnesses whom he saw as unreliable; it can now be found at

He founded two professional journals, The American Journal of Dermatopathology and Dermatopathology: Practical and Conceptual, as well as the medical publisher Ardor Scribendi. With his nephew Andy Zwick in 1999, he started, an online resource for the diagnosis and treatment of skin diseases.

Albert Bernard Ackerman was born on Nov. 22, 1936, in Elizabeth, N.J. He earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton and his medical degree at Columbia. His medical residency was interrupted by two years of service at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

In 1969, Dr. Ackerman was hired at the University of Miami, and in 1973, he joined the faculty of New York University Medical School, where he ran the Skin and Cancer Institute. His laboratory there was one of the first to screen for early signs of Kaposi’s sarcoma, a fatal skin cancer now understood to have been closely linked to the AIDS epidemic.

In 1992, he moved to Philadelphia to teach at Jefferson Medical College. He returned to New York City in 1999 to found his own institute, the Ackerman Academy of Dermatopathology, one of the largest training centers for the diagnosis of skin diseases in the world; it is now part of Dermpath Diagnostics, which is owned by Quest Diagnostics.

Dr. Ackerman recently endowed a professorship for the study of culture and medicine at Harvard University. This year, he donated his collection of antique microscopes to Massachusetts General Hospital.

His survivors also include his brother, James, of Pittsboro, N.C., and his sister, Susan, of Summit, N.J.

Asked to describe himself in an interview with a medical journal, Dr. Ackerman used the terminology of the microscope. He said he was “dogmatic and unyielding at scanning magnification” but “reasonable and accommodating at high power” and “humane and empathic up close.”

Little escaped his keen diagnostic eye. One of the last papers he published bore the title, “An Inquiry Into the Nature of the Pigmented Lesion Above Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Left Eyebrow.”

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December 12, 2009

Killer Earth

Nagasaki%201945.png The Gaia hypothesis states that life preserves the conditions for its own survival. But Peter Ward, a paleontologist who specializes in mass extinctions, takes a dimmer view of life on earth. Seeing a tangle of organisms that have evolved to starve their competitors and pollute their surroundings, he argues that for billions of years the biosphere has been its own worst enemy... [text]

December 13, 2009

Perfect Rigor

gessen.jpeg In 2002, a Russian mathematician named Grigori Perelman solved the Poincaré conjecture, a problem that had resisted proof for a century. But soon after he gave up mathematics and retreated to his mother's apartment in St. Petersburg. Why did Perelman turn his back on the world? This question haunts Masha Gessen’s “Perfect Rigor,” a dogged portrait of an elusive man... [text]

December 22, 2009

Mental Snapshots

inner.png Frustrated by the lack of attention to everyday experiences in the field of psychology, Russell T. Hurlburt has devised an unconventional method to investigate the mental lives of his subjects. In Describing Inner Experience?, he presents the case of Melanie, a young woman who was fitted with a beeper that randomly prompted her to record everything in her awareness several times a day... [text]

April 20, 2010

Robert Pound, Physicist

20pound_CA0.jpeg Robert Pound, a Harvard physicist whose experiments confirmed general relativity and paved the way for magnetic resonance imaging, died on April 12 in Belmont, Mass. He was a tinkerer at heart. One student recalls finding him in the machine shop, turning a piece of metal on the lathe in his bow tie and tweeds... [text]

July 15, 2010

Arnold Kramish, Nuclear Expert

Arnold Kramish, a physicist who survived an explosion while working on the Manhattan Project and later became an expert on nuclear proliferation and espionage, died on June 15 in Washington... [text]

July 25, 2010

Gerson Goldhaber, Physicist

Gerson Goldhaber, who after a long career studying particle physics turned his attention to the outer reaches of the universe and found early evidence that dark energy was pulling it apart, died on July 19 at his home in Berkeley, Calif... [text]

October 18, 2010

Benoit Mandelbrot, Father of Fractal Geometry

MANDLEBROT2-obit.jpeg Benoît B. Mandelbrot, a maverick mathematician who developed an innovative theory of roughness and applied it to physics, biology, finance and many other fields, died on Thursday in Cambridge, Mass. “If you take the beginning and the end, I have had a conventional career,” he said. “But it was not a straight line between the beginning and the end..." [text]

August 5, 2013

Time Warped

In this book, the British radio journalist Claudia Hammond delves into scores of experiments on how we track the seconds, hours, months and decades. At each duration she finds distortions and paradoxes, revealing the persistent “capriciousness, strangeness and mutability” of time as we sense it ... [link]

December 31, 2014

The Scan

I write The Scan, a monthly culture column for the Science Times. If you'd like to submit an event, talk, film, exhibit or book, please email me here.

About The New York Times

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Jascha Hoffman in the The New York Times category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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