National Geographic : 2007 Nov
LETTERS Swarm Theory I am of course intrigued by the commonalities of organization shown by so many organisms, including humans. Unfortu nately, there may be one major difference between us and them. I think there is no ques tion that these swarm organ isms have the best interests of their groups at heart. I am not so sure that this is true of our human policymakers. HELEN GHIRADELLA Albany, New York I am disappointed that you chose not to address some of the deeper mysteries of this astonishing behavior. Precision military drill teams cannot per form feats of maneuvering that buffalo do seemingly without thought. Aerobatic jets strug gle to coordinate the motions of half a dozen planes, while hundreds of fish or birds can coordinate their actions instan taneously in three dimensions. If we could understand how they communicate, we could realize enormous benefits for highways, air-traffic control, manufacturing processes, and military applications-not to mention a more profound appreciation for the wonders surrounding us. TIMBER DICK Denver, Colorado Peter Miller could have added a phenomenon that is observ able by everyone, whether in a rural or urban environment. I have noticed that birds flock on an overhead wire or fence line in a well-organized man ner. First, the flocks are almost always of one species. Sec ond, the birds all face the same direction regardless of the direction they approach the wire. This may facilitate their next-neighbor communication. It's fun to watch the flock first land on a wire facing in both directions. Birds start hopping around to change direction and quickly select a single direc tion for the group. Third, spac ing of these birds on a wire is amazingly uniform. One can see individuals making small adjustments in their positions to equalize the spacing. To me this speaks to the uniformity in their innate sense of optimal sharing of body heat. JAMES R. FRYSINGER Doyle, Tennessee is no question of their groups at heart.I am not so sure that this istrue of our human paicymakers° To compare the collective wisdom of swarm bees to the "collective wisdom" of race track bettors is an insult to the bees. Bees work together in an evolutionary dance that inevitably leads to the best choice of a nest. Bettors, on the other hand, are solitary individuals who almost always lose, especially when they fol low the collective wisdom of other bettors who decide the pari-mutuel odds. The crowd's pick, the favorite, is likely to win only 33 percent of the time, and is a losing proposition in the long run. KEITH KOHNHORST Santa Cruz, California Environment: Bottles Up! In light of your recent article on Europe's demand for bottled water, I would suggest that this issue should be taken up by governments and institutions. Our tap water is perfectly drinkable, and many people do not have a problem with drink ing it. The issue is, however, that for those on the move, the easy accessibility of tap water and opportunity to refill bottles has evaporated. There need to be initiatives to reintro duce clean water fountains for public use. These water foun tains would easily and very effectively reduce the plastic bottles flooding our landfills and be another step in the right direction for keeping people healthy while reducing environmental problems. ERIK VLEMMINGS Cobham, England "Who Drinks the Most Bottled Water" did not mention China. During a trip to that country, I noticed that every urban area I visited lacked potable drinking water systems, which forced tourists and citizens alike to purchase water in bottles from ubiquitous vendor stands. I would think that this would push China to one of your top ten spots. BRIAN REITER Poughquag, New York China is the thirdlargest bottled water consumer (after the U.S. and Mexico) by volume. Our map showed per capita consumption.