It has been disappointing in the last few days to see several references in the Star Tribune to the assertion that Barway Collins’ father had “flunked” a “lie detector” test (“Child’s body recovered in Barway search,” April 12, and “Police call Barway’s dad primary suspect in death,” April 13). Not only is this prejudicial — publicly branding a potential defendant as a liar — but it badly misrepresents polygraphy.

A polygraph (“lie detector”) does not detect lying per se; it detects physiological changes that reflect stress felt by the person being monitored. Seeing which questions provoke a stress response may provide clues that the operator may use to guide further questioning; an operator may suspect that a need to lie is the source of an observed stress response, but that’s a subjective call by a questioner — not a fact detected by the machine. “Failing” or “passing” a polygraph examination is a soft concept at best.

This is recognized by the courts (including the U.S. Supreme Court since 1988): The results of a polygraph examination are neither specific nor reliable enough to be admissible as evidence of guilt in a criminal proceeding.

Why was this included in the article at all (or in the public announcement that led to the article)? Even if more accurately portrayed, it wouldn’t add to the simple statement that the person denied involvement in the disappearance but has not been excluded as a suspect.

Dale Hammerschmidt, Minneapolis


What must change: Heeding the pleas of family members

How do we go about improving future drug trials for vulnerable patients? As John Trepp ably demonstrated (“It’s hard to cheer the outcome in the Markingson suicide case,” April 14), factors such as corporate support of drug trials should be considered, for all practical purposes, unchangeable. However, one area does hold promise for beneficial change. That is the lack of serious consideration given at the University of Minnesota to Mary Weiss’ urgent pleas that her son should not participate in such a study. In general, I believe that psychiatrists, no matter how knowledgeable, do not know their patients as well as family members do. If Weiss believed that Dan Markingson was suicidal, or likely to commit suicide if he continued in the trial, why didn’t the psychiatrist listen? I maintain that, unlike the practice of psychologists, psychiatric practice emphasizes quantitative data over emotion. Perhaps Weiss’ emotions prompted Dr. Stephen Olson to prioritize his expert opinion over a mother’s gut feeling. If so, this mind-set needs to be addressed by the psychiatric profession before other mothers lose their sons.

Patricia Barone, Fridley



They don’t need to be paid — their sports need dialing down

Compensate student athletes? (Opinion Exchange, April 14.) The bottom line is that sports are overemphasized in college as well as in the pros. Scholarships are very high pay for some students. Yes, some coaches are overpaid, making them the highest-paid public employee in the vast majority of states. But the arguments that big-school, big-sport players spend “insanely long hours, miss multiple days of classes” and “sell their souls to their sport” are fine ones for sane de-emphasis, not for paying athletes. And we know that a large percentage of big-school, big-sport athletes, especially in the concussion sports, do not graduate.

Stop the silliness of discussing paying players; start the serious discussion about elevating sports to the level of extracurricular activities that don’t disable players but help ready them for a good life: i.e., debate, student newspapers, yearbook and other media, chess, student government, theater, language clubs, choir, music, art and film activities, writing and volunteering, etc.

Not to mention school itself.

Touch football on the lawn and pickup hockey without smashing and fighting are encouraged.

Don Cosgrove, West St. Paul



It took hiring a lawyer to get this out-of-state teacher licensed

I appreciated the April 13 editorial about the need to streamline Minnesota’s licensure for out-of-state teachers. As an experienced math teacher eager to make Minnesota home, I know personally how frustrating the current system is.

Despite the fact that I had taught for nearly a decade in three different states, I was told to complete additional coursework before obtaining a full Minnesota teaching license. But after spending $2,000 and two years on classes, the Minnesota Department of Education and the Board of Teaching said I had to take more courses. Trouble is, no one could tell me which ones.

Ultimately, I hired a lawyer to help me get a straightforward answer. Upon doing so, I got more than an answer: I received my license immediately.

When an experienced teacher has to hire a lawyer to get into the classroom, the system is broken. That’s why I hope our Legislature will improve and streamline our licensure system, giving teachers like me a fair and clear path to the classroom that values our experiences in other states. I am not looking for lower standards, just a fair and transparent process.

Nicole Bridge, Golden Valley



A Scandinavian place? Yes, but it’s even more German

I want to correct the common misconception repeated in an April 14 letter (“Diversity should reflect new, old”) that Minnesota is primarily a Scandinavian state. According to 2000 census figures, 36.7 percent of Minnesotans said they were of German background, while 17.3 percent identified themselves as Norwegian and 9.9 percent said they were of Swedish background, less than the 11.2 percent who said Irish. Minnesotans can rightly claim that their state has a higher percentage of Scandinavians than any other. But Scandinavian-Minnesotans should be aware that the German-Americans among them have given up their umlauts as well.

Chuck Piehl, Mankato



George Bernard Shaw gets a shallow read from letter writer

An April 14 letter contrasted two items on the April 13 Opinion Exchange page: a quotation from George Bernard Shaw — “[t]he happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality of happiness, and by no means a necessity of life” — and an essay that mentioned how the author was swept away on hearing the “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony while in Havana. The letter writer concluded that the contrast “shines a light on Shaw’s shallow vision of man’s need to merely survive in life. According to Shaw, we do not need transcendence, emotional feelings, or the aesthetic of music in our lives.”

I would urge the letter writer to actually read or see Shaw’s plays, which certainly do not validate how she has extrapolated his ideas from one quotation taken out of context. Shaw makes reference to and uses classical music in his plays and actually began his writing career as a music critic, where, among other things, he claimed that “[t]here is nothing in the Bible greater in inspiration than Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.” A cheap credulity is not the same thing as a deep (and even transcendent) happiness.

Donald F. Larsson, Bloomington