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Albert Einstein, Ecologist? Global Warming Can Be Stopped, World Climate Experts Say Current Science Event

Albert Einstein, Ecologist?
Gelf gets to the bottom of a dubious quote about bees attributed to the great physicist.

by Vincent Valk
Gelf Magazine
April 25, 2007

"Einstein had no particular expertise or even interest in ecology, entomology, or bees."—Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert Einstein Archives

Albert Einstein was probably the greatest physicist of the 20th century. He was not, however, an alien visitor, nor a professional basketball player, nor president of the United States. Nor a biologist. Nor an entomologist. Nor an ecologist. Nor a beekeeper. So Gelf thought it was strange when the following quotation—attributed to Einstein—appeared widely in recent media coverage of a mysterious bee-massacring phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

Perhaps the most bizarre thing about this oft-quoted line is that Einstein probably never said it. Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, tells Gelf, "There is no proof of Einstein ever having said or written it." While Grosz notes that it is extremely difficult to disprove a quote, he "could not remember even one reference to bees in Einstein's writings."

Allowing for the possibility that a friend of the great physicist overheard him say the line in a bar one night, and then decided to preserve it for posterity, Gelf is still pretty sure that this quotation has been passed from one article to another like a bad game of Telephone. (None of the many writers who used the quote and were contacted by Gelf responded to our inquiries.)

Fortunately, the internet has collected a trove of information about the quote. Starting with a link on a Boing Boing post, we found a thread on the hoax-outing site Snopes, where we discovered evidence that the remark goes back at least as far as a January 1994 Associated Press article by Paul Ames on a beekeepers' protest of a meeting of EU agricultural ministers.

Ames traces the quote to a pamphlet distributed by the National Union for French Apiculture (UNAF) at said protest. Coverage of the same event in the Scotsman and the Guardian mentions the same pamphlet. We contacted the UNAF in an attempt to locate the phantom pamphlet, but the group did not respond to the English or French versions of our email. We poked around internet databases and a local library in search of mentions of Einstein in relation to bees, but were unable to discover any instance of the quotation's appearance in the media prior to January 1994.

Since 1994, Einstein's quote has found its way into a plethora of newspapers, including the Washington Post, Der Speigel, the Independent, and the International Herald Tribune.

While some of this coverage dates from before the current mystery over bee deaths, the line has grown in prominence as Colony Collapse Disorder has received more media attention. Most recently, newspapers have printed over-the-top pieces worrying about whether cellphone signals are killing off bees. The International Herald Tribune article largely rebukes this idea, but it does not call the Einstein remark into question.

Even if the quotation's origins go back no further than 1994 and the wishful thinking of an over-eager French pamphleteer, the idea that the disappearance of the bee would lead to the destruction of man in short order may not be as preposterous as it sounds. While nobody knows for sure what would happen, and the four-year time frame suggested by "Einstein" seems arbitrary and probably exaggerated, it is certain that if every bee were to die tomorrow, it would be an unmitigated disaster for human agriculture.

Einstein or not, "no more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man," is a contention backed by at least some evidence. "The world would be a very different place without the pollination services of bees," says Maureen Maxwell, of BeesOnline, a New Zealand-based beekeeping and honey-producing outfit. "They are directly responsible for many of our food and floral crops. Without them, there would be a [greater] reliance on artificial fertilizers, which would increase toxic runoff into our waterways and gradually pollute our food sources and living environment."

According to a recent article on Colony Collapse Disorder in the New York Times (that mercifully does not mention Einstein), last October the National Academy of Sciences indicated that American agriculture may be too reliant upon the honeybee as a pollinator. A Reuters article claims that agricultural production dependent on bees amounts to $15 billion annually and close to one-third of the American diet. The extinction of bees would lead to some very undesirable scenarios, though they fall somewhat short of apocalypse.

Yet Einstein's quote persists. It recently was made into the centerpiece of a bit on Real Time with Bill Maher. It continually pops up in news items and (an admittedly unscientific) Google search on "Einstein" and "bees" returns more than 780,000 hits. Maxwell tells Gelf that she is asked about it regularly when she gives educational tours of her facilities. So why, precisely, do reporters, commentators, and people in the bee industry, continue to attach the insect—and its admittedly serious current dilemma—to a man who, according to Dr. Grosz, "had no particular expertise or even interest in ecology, entomology, or bees"?

Gelf can only speculate, but hitching your story, argument, or life's work to a cultural eminence such as Einstein has an undeniable appeal. Dr. Grosz tells Gelf that "there are numerous fake, twisted, and distortedly translated quotes out there attributed to Einstein. Unfortunately, the internet allows wrong information to proliferate at lightning speed without any control." (We'd like to add that the internet also makes it easier to correct such misinformation.) Still, we suspect that the likes of Einstein and other, similarly revered figures, will continue to be attached to supposed profundities that have little or nothing to do with them. In that vein, this reporter would like to add the following bit of wishful thinking:

"If the Attorney General does not tell the truth to the Judiciary Committee, then the President and Vice-President shall be removed within six months."—Mahatma Gandhi

Go ahead media swarm, have at it!

(Special thanks to Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Mark Turner for their help researching the origins of the Einstein quote, and to Jennifer Sterling for French translation work. If anyone has any more clues about the quote, please email me.)

- Vincent Valk

Global Warming Can Be Stopped, World Climate Experts Say
By John Roach
May 4, 2007
for National Geographic News

Humans have the means to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the catastrophic consequences of global warming, a major climate report released today concludes.

But in order to stabilize the climate, the transition from fossil fuels like coal and oil needs to occur within decades, according to the final report this year from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Delegates representing a network of 2,500 scientists, economists, and policymakers from more than 120 nations hammered out details of the report at a week-long, closed-door meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

"What is an extremely powerful message in this report is the need for human society as a whole to start looking at changes in lifestyle and consumption patterns," Rajendra Pachauri, the panel's chair, said at a press conference today.

The report outlines options communities can take, from using more renewable energy sources like solar and wind to using efficient light bulbs and planting trees. Even controversial nuclear energy is considered a viable option.

In addition the report says countries must adopt policies that put a price on carbon emissions and provide incentives to spur the development of energy-efficient technologies.

Widespread embrace of these measures could stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases at 2000 levels, according to the report.

Failure to adopt these measures, however, could send heat-trapping gases spiraling an additional 90 percent by 2030.

"If we continue to do what we are doing now, we are in deep trouble," Ogunlade Davidson, a co-chair of the working group that prepared the report, said at the briefing.

Monumental Challenge

This is the third IPCC report released this year.

The first concluded global warming is almost certainly human caused. The second warned of the consequences already occurring and yet to come such as massive human death and disease, droughts, floods, and storms.

Today's report outlines a series of options to prevent the worst from occurring.

"We have a really monumental challenge on our hands," Vicki Arroyo of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change in Arlington, Virginia, said in a telephone interview.

Scientists and policymakers have argued over which options to emphasize in the fight against global warming. For example, many environmental groups are concerned about hazardous waste from nuclear energy if that option is widely promoted.

But given the immensity of the challenge, Arroyo said, the "luxury" to ignore any of the available options does not exist.

"We really need to tackle this problem from every angle we can," she said.

Daniel Kammen directs the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. He said in a telephone interview that the market has yet to show which methods will prevail.

"The critical issue isn't to pick and choose too much but is to say, if the governments are going to listen to this report as they should, there is actually a large number of technologies that are available to explore and look at," he said.

Some of the technologies are ready to enter the marketplace now, he added, while others will require further research.

Kammen and Arroyo both said that the cost to the global economy of acting now to curb greenhouse gas emissions is far less than doing nothing.

Economics and Caps

The new report also assesses the likely economic effects of stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The lower the concentration of gases, the lower the impact of global warming but the greater the brunt to global economic activity, the scientists conclude.

According to the report, stabilization of greenhouse gases at the low end of the range—445 parts per million—would limit global temperature rise to about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).

Doing so, however, requires a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 85 percent by the middle of this century.

Achieving this would shave about 0.12 percent off global gross domestic product (GDP) each year, panel co-chair Bert Metz explained at the briefing.

Stabilization at the high end of the range—710 parts per million—would see a temperature rise as high as 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and allow greenhouse gas emissions to increase 10 to 60 percent by 2050.

This scenario would blunt GDP by about 0.06 percent a year.

Officials in China, the U.S., and India fear that the most aggressive cuts would slow economic growth too much and had reportedly pressed for their nations to be excluded from the report.

The University of California's Kammen said such fears are "false."

Though the U.S. and China are the world's top two consumers of coal, a particularly dirty fossil fuel, the countries also happen to have ample biofuel and wind resources.

"So the switch-off job is not as hard as many people are portraying," he said.

In a statement released today, the environmental group WWF said the IPCC report shows it is clearly possible to stop global warming if action is taken now.

"The IPCC has delivered a road map for keeping the planet safe. Now it's the turn of politicians to do more than just pay lip service," said Hans Verlome, director of the group's climate change program.

"We can stop climate change before it's too late."

see "Timeline: The Frightening Future of Earth"

Did antimatter 'factory' spark brightest supernova?

07 May 2007 news service
David Shiga

The brightest supernova ever recorded may have been triggered by an exotic process involving antimatter in an extremely massive star, a new study says. The explosion may offer a rare glimpse of how the universe's first generation of stars died.

The explosion was first spotted on 18 September 2006 and named SN 2006gy. It quickly became apparent that it was something out of the ordinary.

To begin with, it broke the record for the intrinsically brightest supernova ever recorded. Other events, like SN 1987A, have appeared brighter to us, but only because they took place much closer to Earth.

An early analysis of the explosion suggested it might be the result of a stellar corpse called a white dwarf star smashing into the core of a bloated red giant star.

But new evidence suggests it was something even more exotic. It now appears to have been an extremely massive star meeting its end in a highly unusual way that involves the production of antimatter, according to a team of astronomers led by Nathan Smith of the University of California in Berkeley, US.

Exotic process

The researchers used visible and infrared observations from facilities such as the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, California, as well as X-ray measurements from NASA's Chandra space telescope to investigate the nature of the explosion. Watch an animation comparing views of SN 2006gy at different wavelengths.

With 100 times the energy of a typical supernova explosion, SN 2006gy was simply too energetic to be explained by the explosion of a lightweight object like a white dwarf star, even if it were to collide with the core of a red giant, says team member Craig Wheeler of the University of Texas in Austin, US.

"That kind of explanation could not produce the energy we're seeing," he told New Scientist.

The researchers argue instead that it was the explosion of a very heavy star that was born with as much as 150 times the mass of the Sun. Heavy stars normally collapse to form black holes at the end of their lives, but it has long been theorised that especially heavy ones could instead be completely ripped apart by an exotic process called pair instability.

Pressure drop

In the bowels of such a stellar titan, the high temperature and pressure conditions are ripe for the conversion of light into particle pairs in which one particle is an electron and the other is its antimatter counterpart, a positron.

This causes a drop in pressure that makes the star unstable. It begins to contract, which eventually ignites runaway nuclear reactions that rip the star to shreds. Watch an animation of a pair instability supernova.

The huge amount of radioactive material spewed into space from the shredded core of such a star could explain the extreme brightness of SN 2006gy, the researchers say.

"It isn't quite proof yet, but it smells kind of like a pair formation supernova," Wheeler says. "I think it's the opening of a new chapter in supernova research."

Young stars

Avishay Gal-Yam of Caltech in Pasadena, US, a member of the team that initially suggested the white dwarf collision scenario, says in light of the new data, a scenario involving a massive star looks more likely to be correct.

He and colleagues had initially been sceptical of that possibility because only old, relatively lightweight stars appeared to lie within the galaxy that SN 2006gy exploded in, NGC 1260, which is 240 million light years from Earth.

"Additional, very sensitive observations of the core show that it has just a [few] young, massive stars, right where the supernova exploded," Gal-Yam told New Scientist. "So an explanation of the supernova which requires a massive star, which initially seemed unlikely, now becomes more plausible."

He says the idea that the massive star exploded as a result of the exotic pair instability scenario is an exciting but speculative possibility that would need confirmation with future observations.

There had previously been some speculation that another unusual supernova, SN 2006jc, was also the result of pair instability.

First stars

But Alex Filippenko of Caltech, who is a member of Smith's team, says that is unlikely. SN 2006jc was intrinsically much dimmer, suggesting that it spewed far less radioactive material into space, he says. "I think it very unlikely that the same physical mechanism operated in SN 2006jc as in SN 2006gy," he told New Scientist.

SN 2006gy may have offered an unprecedented view of the process that killed off the universe's first stars, he says. The event shows that some extremely massive stars can avoid collapsing to form a black hole, and instead seed the universe with heavy elements when they die. Heavy elements are needed for the formation of planets and life as we know it. "The first-generation stars may have produced and dispersed heavy elements in this manner," Filippenko says.

The event may also presage an even more spectacular explosion in our cosmic backyard. The star that produced SN 2006gy appears to have blown off a lot of material prior to the explosion.

One of the most massive stars in our own galaxy, Eta Carinae, has also been shedding large amounts of material, suggesting that it, too, might be about to die in a pair instability supernova, Filippenko says. If it does go, it will appear amazingly bright because at 7500 light years, it is much closer than SN 2006gy was.

[ Wikipedia article on Eta Carinae ]

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Internet Articles of Random Interest

2007/05/10 Ancient Star Nearly as Old as the Universe Live Science Long before our solar system formed and even before the Milky Way assumed its final spiral shape, a star slightly smaller than the Sun blazed into life in our galaxy, formed from the newly scattered remains of the first stars in the universe.
2007/05/10 Solar System Is "Bullet Shaped" National Geographic Our solar system flies through space in the shape of a speeding bullet, according to data from NASA's two Voyager spacecraft.
2007/05/09 "Encyclopedia of Life" to Catalog All Species on Earth National Geographic Scientists announced plans today to put descriptions, pictures, video, and sounds of the world's estimated 1.8 million named species on the Internet for free.
2007/05/08 Star dies in monstrous explosion BBC News A massive star about 150 times the size of the Sun exploded in what could be a long-sought new type of supernova, Nasa scientists have said.
2007/05/07 Could Light Behave As A Solid? A New Theory Science Daily “Solid light will help us build the technology of this century,” says Dr Andrew Greentree of the School of Physics at the University of Melbourne.
2007/05/07 How The Brain's Backup System Compensates For Stroke Science Daily Researchers have pinpointed in humans how a "backup" brain region springs into action to compensate for disruption of a primary functional area, as happens during stroke. Their finding offers new insight into how the brains of stroke victims can quickly reorganize to enable the beginning of recovery of movement.
2007/05/07 Nanotechnology May Be Used To Regenerate Tissues, Organs Science Daily Research at Northwestern University has shown that a combination of nanotechnology and biology may enable damaged tissues and organs to heal themselves.
2007/05/04 Global Warming Can Be Stopped, World Climate Experts Say National Geographic Humans have the means to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the catastrophic consequences of global warming, a major climate report released today concludes.
2007/05/03 "Weird" New Planet Weighs as Much as 2,500 Earths National Geographic With temperatures ranging from 1000 to 2000°C, gravity 15 times stronger than Earth's, and a year that lasts just 5.6 of our days, HAT-P-2b is not a planet you'd want to visit for vacation.
2007/05/03 Liquid Mercury: Tiny Planet Has Molten Core National Geographic Mercury's metallic core is at least partially liquid, say scientists who studied the tiny planet using Earth-based radio telescopes.
2007/05/03 Pioneer US astronaut dies aged 84 BBC News
US space pioneer Walter Schirra, one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts who flew Nasa's earliest flights, has died aged 84.
2007/05/03 Volcanic Explosion on Mars Created Weird Formation National Geographic A mysterious area of layered bedrock on Mars that has puzzled scientists was formed by a volcanic explosion, new research shows.
2007/04/25 New 'super-Earth' found in space BBC News Astronomers have found the most Earth-like planet outside our Solar System to date, a world which could have water running on its surface.
2007/04/06 Belief in Reincarnation Tied to Memory Errors Live Science People who believe they have lived past lives as, say, Indian princesses or battlefield commanders are more likely to make certain types of memory errors, according to a new study.
2007/04/06 Billions face climate change risk BBC News Billions of people face shortages of food and water and increased risk of flooding, experts at a major climate change conference have warned.
2007/04/06 Major study questions value of school software e-School News The use of certain educational software programs to help teach reading and math did not lead to higher test scores after a year of implementation, according to a major federal report released April 5.
2007/04/06 Star's odd double explosion hints at antimatter trigger New Scientist A star that survived a massive explosion – only to be destroyed in a second blast just two years later – has piqued the curiosity of astronomers. Its bizarre death might be due to the production of antimatter in its core towards the end of its life.
2007/04/05 Did Earliest Human Ancestors Have More Apelike Faces? National Geographic The earliest direct ancestors of modern humans may have looked more like apes than previously thought, a new study suggests.
2007/04/05 U.S. Southwest Drought Could Be Start of New Dust Bowl National Geographic The unprecedented drought that has gripped the southwestern United States isn't almost over, researchers say, it may have only just begun. ... That's the consensus of all but 1 of the 19 climate models used as the basis for this week's upcoming report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), according to a new analysis.
2007/03/28 Paul Cohen, emeritus professor and winner of world's top math prize, dies at 72 Stanford News Cohen won two of the most prestigious awards in mathematics—in completely different fields. He won the American Mathematical Society's Bôcher Prize in 1964 for analysis and the Fields Medal, considered the "Nobel Prize" of mathematics, in 1966 for logic.
2007/03/16 Antarctic Glaciers' Sloughing Of Ice Has Scientists at a Loss Washington Post Some of the largest glaciers in Antarctica and Greenland are moving in unusual ways and are losing increased amounts of ice to the sea, researchers said yesterday.
2007/03/15 Icy map to probe Europa's secrets BBC News Scientists have produced a global geological map of Jupiter's moon Europa, which has been proposed as a destination for a future space mission.
2007/03/12 Darwin's wife's diaries go online BBC News The diaries of the wife of naturalist Charles Darwin have been published online.

Other News Items...

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Political Watch

White House Spins Iraqi Polling

Tony Snow says two polls on Iraqi optimism are "diametrically opposed." A close look shows otherwise.

March 23, 2007


Results of an ABC News survey of public opinion in Iraq found much pessimism as the fourth anniversary of the war approached. When asked for comment, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow cited a British poll which he said offered a "different conclusion." The British poll's summary did sound less gloomy, but a close look at the numbers showed that the actual results of the two polls are similar.


On March 19th, ABC News, and its news media partners, announced the results of a new survey of public opinion in Iraq, the third in a series of Iraqi polls it has conducted roughly every year and a half beginning in February 2004. The previous poll was released in November 2005, and its findings were trumpeted by President Bush as proof that "Iraqis are optimistic -- and that optimism is justified." At that time we found that Bush was citing the polls findings selectively, and that neither Bush nor his critics had accurately painted the full complexity of Iraqi public opinion.

This time the Bush administration isn't embracing the latest poll at all. It found "a draining away of the underlying optimism that once prevailed." Conclusions were so unrelentingly negative that the report is titled, "Ebbing Hope in a Landscape of Loss."  

When asked about these findings at a press briefing, Press Secretary Snow replied that "there was also a British poll at the same time that had almost diametrically opposed results." That mischaracterizes the British poll.

Snow is referring to a poll conducted by the British firm Opinion Research Business . There is nothing in the ORB poll results that contradicts ABC's poll findings. In fact, when the two survey companies asked similar questions, their results were very much in line.  For example:


ABC Poll

Q2. Compared to the time before the war in Spring 2003, are things overall in your life much better now, somewhat better, about the same, somewhat worse or much worse?

42% -"Better"

36% -"Worse"

ORB "British" Poll

Q8. Taking everything into account, do you feel that things are better for you now under the present political system or do you think things were better for you before under the previous regime of Saddam Hussein?

49% -“Better under the current system”

26% -“Better under the previous regime”


So the British poll found a somewhat greater share of its sample – 49 percent as opposed to 42 in the ABC poll – saying that life is better under the current regime. However, the difference is not much more than the statistical margins of error (+/- 1.4% for ORB, +/- 2.5% for ABC). The polls were completed within 11 days of each other in February and early March.

What is different is the way the British poll presents its findings. The press release from ORB says:

ORB: The poll shows that despite the horrendous personal security problems only 26% of the country preferred life under the previous regime of Saddam Hussein, with almost half (49%) preferring life under the current political system.

This language is markedly more positive than the summary of the ABC poll, despite there being little real difference in the results. It is ABC's poll, however, that digs far more deeply. ABC asked 54 questions (beyond demographic ones such as, "age" and "profession") to the British poll's eight. ABC (and its partners, the BBC, USA Today and ARD German TV) asked Iraqis dozens of questions about quality of life, compared with ORB's two or three. ABC can also measure historical trends by comparing three sets of answers to the same questions over a 36 month period.

It's worth considering the source of the British poll. ORB lists Britan's Conservative Party (the tories) as a client, the leader of which describes it as "sister party" to the U.S. Republicans. The Conservative Party supported the invasion of Iraq and supports the presence of the "Coalition of the Willing" there.

Press Secretary Snow was pushed at the March 19 press briefing to comment officially on the ABC poll and he reiterated that, " there was a British poll with twice the sample that reached a different conclusion." ORB's sample size is 5,019. ABC's is 2,212. Either way, the actual numbers of the British poll seem only to bolster the grim conclusions of ABC's.

Continue reading to view comparisons of three other similar questions from the two polls.

- by Justin Bank

Preferred Government

ABC Poll

Q14: Which of the following structures do you believe Iraq should have in the future?

58% –"One unified Iraq with  central government in Baghdad

28% -"A group of regional states with their own regional governments and a a federal government in Baghdad"

14% -"Dividing the country into separate independent states"

ORB "British" Poll

Q5: On balance, which of the following alternatives would you prefer for the future of Iraq ?

64% -"The current system, Iraq a single country with a central national government"

21% -"A new federal system with independent regional governments for areas such as the Kurdish North, Sunni West, and Shia South"


Exposure to Violence

ABC Poll

Q35: Have you or an immediate family member – by which I mean someone living in this household – been physically harmed by the violence that is occurring in the country at this time?

17% -"Yes"

83% -"No"

Q37: Do you have any close personal friends or immediate family members living outside this household who have been physically harmed by violence that is occurring in the country at this time?

47% -"Yes"

53% -"No"

ORB "British" Poll

Q3: Which of the following have you personally experienced in the last three years?

26% -"The murder of a member of my family/relative"

12% - "The murder of a friend or colleague"

8% -"The kidnapping of a member of my family/relative"

6% -"The kidnapping of a friend or colleague"

50% -"None of the above"



Civil War?

ORB "British" Poll

Q4. Which of the following comes closest to your own opinion about the state of Iraq at the moment?

27% -" Iraq is in a state of civil war"

22% -" Iraq is close to a state of civil war but not in one yet."

18% -" Iraq is still some way from a civil war"

21% -"I don’t think Iraq will ever get as far as a civil war"

ABC Poll

Q52. Do you think Iraq is or is not involved in a civil war at this time?

42% -"Yes"

56% -"No"



Langer, Gary, "Voices From Iraq 2007: Ebbing Hope in a Landscape of Loss," ABC News. 19 March 2007.

Bush, George, "President's Address to the Nation," White House. 18 Dec 2005.

Snow, Tony, "Press Briefing," White House. 19 March 2007.

Opinion Business Research, "March 07 - Despite violence only 26% preferred life under Saddam," News Release. 7 March 2007.

Related Articles

Polling in Iraq: Who's Right?

Bush says 70 per cent of Iraqis see their lives going well, but says most Iraqis want US troops out. Both sides are right, up to a point.

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