Ten Burning Questions

The world is such a troubling, intriguing place. Wherever we turn, whether it's the soap aisle in the supermarket or the front page of the newspaper, we run into questions that tickle us, nag at us, and sometimes keep us up at night. What happens when the world runs out of oil? Will reality TV ever go away? Is antibacterial soap really better? Do Muslims hate America?

Driven by our own curiosity, we chose ten ticklish questions and consulted some of the smartest, most thoughtful, most insightful people we know--Kenyon faculty members, each one well qualified to offer, not necessarily definitive answers, but observations informed by scholarly expertise. We learned a lot, and hope you will, too.

Don't touch that DialŪ!

Question for biology professor Joan Slonczewski: Recent studies in Pakistan and Bangladesh suggest that something as simple as washing your hands properly could save your life. But is it possible to overdo it? Do the antibacterial soaps on the market offer a real advantage over plain soap, or are they just providing a false sense of security? Worse, could we be sanitizing ourselves to death?

Reality bites, so why do we watch?

Question for playwright and drama professor Wendy MacLeod '81: Reality TV shows, which appeared at first to be a passing fad, are proliferating nearly to the point of ubiquity. Is "reality" here to stay? What draws viewers to watch--and participants to appear----in these shows? Does our appetite for reality TV tell us anything about our culture at this moment?

Solar power: is it the ray of the future?

Question for chemistry professor Scott Cummings: Burning fossil fuels presents a host of challenges: petroleum prices are rising while reserves are dwindling, and the carbon dioxide emissions from burning both oil and coal are affecting the global climate. What better fuels will we turn to in the future?

Misunderstanding Islam

Question for religious studies professor Vernon Schubel: Disturbing headlines from Iraq to Europe leave many Americans seeing the Muslim world as alien--anti-Western, anti-modern, anti-secular, and violent. Are we heading into a "clash of civilizations"? Has Islam been hijacked by radical fundamentalists who despise Western culture?

The evolution of bird flu

Q uestion for population biologist Robert Mauck: Not a day goes by that we don't read a news article about bird flu, whether it concerns new cases being discovered or preparations being made--or not being made--in case a human pandemic arises. How likely are we to see a pandemic on the scale of what happened in 1918? How worried should we be?

iPod, you Pod, what's up with the iPod?

Question for music professor Ted Buehrer '91: Is the iPod revolutionizing the way we listen to music?

Can organic tomatoes taste like cardboard?

Question for sociology professor Howard Sacks: "Organic" foods are becoming more and more common, in supermarkets and specialty stores alike. What does "organic" really mean? Are organic foods fresher? Are they produced and marketed in a more "socially responsible" way?

Memoirs: Does the truth matter?

Question for Kenyon Review editor David Lynn '76: Writer James Frey was castigated on Oprah for taking fictional liberties in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces --and he was just the latest in a series of supposed nonfiction writers disrobed as fabulists. Why are writers trying to pass off fiction as nonfiction? And if it's great writing, does it even matter?

Madame President?

Q uestion for political science professor Pamela Jensen: There's an increasing amount of buzz in the press that Hillary Clinton or Condoleezza Rice may run for president. Some political pundits even suggest that the television show Commander in Chief, in which Geena Davis plays the president, is laying the groundwork for Americans to vote for a woman. Is America ready to elect a female president?

Eco-death by degrees

Q uestion for biology professor Ray Heithaus '68: We read and hear conflicting views about global warming, ranging from denial of the phenomenon to dire predictions of world destruction. How worried should we really be? Is there anything we as individuals can do?

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