Magazine

Foot-Dragging at Exxon Mobil


"Exxon unleashed" (Cover Story, Apr. 9) hit on what might be a fundamental flaw in the company's long-term prospects: the insularity and arrogance of the corporation's management. Growing worldwide regulatory pressure to reduce global warming gases from fossil fuels is requiring many companies, including Exxon Mobil's competitors, to get into zero or near-zero emissions technologies. Exxon Mobil is resisting this trend, and thus is allowing its rivals to develop vital experience and knowledge of new energy technologies. The company has had 118 years to perfect its oil and gas operations. They won't get that many to adapt to a world of clean energy.

Alex Tapia

Austin, Tex. Instead of challenging industry to rise to the occasion, the President is ready to abandon environmental concerns at the first hint of industry discomfort ("Global warming has Bush on the hot seat," Science & Technology, Apr. 9). Efficiency improvements would not only solve environmental problems but also create jobs, lower operating costs, and keep us technologically competitive with the other developed countries. But if we get too good at it, the President might not get to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

Paul W. Rosenberger

Manhattan Beach, Calif. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham inherits an agency whose prior incarnations were abolished--the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1974 and the Energy Research & Development Administration in 1977 ("Low voltage at the Energy Dept.," Government, Apr. 9). Abraham is better off letting the White House develop energy strategy. He can watch it get shot down by a Congress unwilling to make hard decisions on controversial topic. He will have no scorch marks and will not get blamed for another tired policy document without teeth.

William L.R. Rice

Locust Grove, Va. Robert J. Barro's "Why colleges shouldn't dump the SAT" (Economic Viewpoint, Apr. 9) is right about keeping the SAT but does not even discuss the law of unintended consequences. If the SAT is optional, admissions officers will soon find that applicants who choose not to submit scores have low scores. If recommendations become more important, even Attila the Hun would have no trouble finding admirers. And if grades attain elevated importance, grade inflation will follow.

David Kahn

Montville, N.J.

While one does not expect in an essay of this form the details of a statistical model, providing some details ("The t-statisticfor the admissions test is 60") while omitting others [raises questions]. Barro's statistical model may be correct; one simply cannot know. The model excludes potentially critical data, and the results of the analyses on the data that were included are incomplete and potentially misleading.

Michael F. Cassidy

Marymount University

Arlington, Va.

Robert Barro says that a "t-statistic" is a measure of how closely two variables, in this case admissions test scores and college grades, move together. That definition wouldn't get by in a freshman statistics course: As used here, the t-statistic is a test of the hypothesis that admissions test scores have no relationship to college grades, a claim that no one makes.

Clearer and more appropriate measures--such as the estimated increase in college grades associated with a 100-point change in a student's SAT score--are components of the t-statistic. Since Barro chose not to report an appropriate measure, I strongly suspect that it didn't support his conclusion.

James MacDonald

Burke, Va.

The statement that only "the Harvards" get the best faculty and the best students is debatable. My experience after nearly 40 years spent in both public and private university systems is that top-quality faculty and students can be found in many private and public universities. Moreover, meritocracy is now part of the mission of many public and private university faculty and administrators.

George B. Graen

University of Louisiana

Lafayette, La.

When I was an undergraduate in France, the professor who taught statistics told a story at the beginning of the first lecture. A team of scientists tries to single out factors identifying failing high school students. After extensive analysis of sample data, they come up with the result: Failing high school students have big feet.

Nervous about your kid's shoe size? Just relax: In France, failing high school students repeat grades, so they are older than their classmates and ahead of the others in growth, which includes bigger feet. The lesson, the professor said, was to beware of easy conclusions. SAT scores do not necessarily predict college scores.

Aurelie Thiele

Cambridge, Mass. We commend "Think your secrets are safe?" (Finance, Apr. 9), which encourages consumers to read and understand the privacy materials they are receiving from their banks. It is unfortunate that the tone of the article implies that banks and consumers are not on the same side on this issue: We most definitely are. Customer trust remains the foundation of community banking.

Community banks are spending millions of dollars to inform and educate their customers about financial privacy. We urge consumers, working with their community bankers, to protect their personal financial information.

Diane M. Casey

President and CEO

America's Community Bankers

Washington Access to and comfort with the Internet is fast becoming a necessity for joining the mainstream of U.S. life, rather than a luxury choice ("A long way from tokenism," Government, Apr. 2). For [Federal Communications Commissioner Michael K. Powell] to belittle the digital divide debases a well-founded realization of the importance of the Internet to all of us.

It is sad that this comes from someone who was lucky to be born to the greatest privileges our society offers, but it is worse coming from someone entrusted with ensuring that the nation's communications systems operate in our best interest.

Rawle Brown

Brooklyn, N.Y. Instead of bemoaning the evils of the transfer of wealth from family to family, members of Congress should, at a minimum, advocate immediate exemption of all tax-deferred retirement plans from the estate tax ("Passing on your IRA," BusinessWeek Investor, Apr. 9).

Bernard Gorowitz

Clifton Park, N.Y.

"While the death tax is on death watch" (BusinessWeek Investor, Apr. 9), we have a shortage of organs for transplant. Pass legislation that would allow organ donors to be exempt from the estate tax. That way, only those who refuse to share the gift of life would have to pay the tax.

Donald A. Windsor

Norwich, N.Y. Boy, were you right! I was sitting in the dentist's office this morning and picked up your magazine from almost a year ago. "Wall Street's hype machine" (Cover Story, Apr. 3, 2000) was fascinating--and even truer in retrospect.

Paul Sichert

Troy, Mich.


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