(Joyce) #1

THE NEWYORKER, MARCH 16, 2020 5


home gardeners can increase the bio-
diversity and ecological function of their
yards, just as Fiennes has at Holkham.
These include keeping the ground cov-
ered, minimizing any disturbance of the
soil, and avoiding pesticides, chemical
fertilizers, and herbicides. Pioneering
work by Fiennes, as well as by Charlie
Burrell and Isabella Tree, reminds us
that nature can recover quickly under
favorable conditions. Building up healthy
soils can help farmers and gardeners se-
quester atmospheric carbon safely un-
derground while creating a hospitable
habitat for pollinators like bees, birds,
and butterflies.
Diana Donlon
Executive Director, Soil Centric
San Anselmo, Calif.
1
SIMULATING SLAVERY

Julian Lucas explores whether slavery
reënactments are powerful teaching
tools or serve more to trivialize history
and, perhaps, to traumatize students
(“The Fugitive Cure,” February 17th &
24th). About twenty years ago, I taught
a course at Marymount College, in
Tarrytown, New York, in which my
students, a diverse group of young
women, read sections of Harriet Ja-
cobs’s “Incidents in the Life of a Slave
Girl.” I brought into the classroom
large pieces of cardboard that I had
cut to create an enclosure the size of
the attic crawl space in which Jacobs
hid for seven years. Lucas describes
spending several minutes in a crawl
space created for the same purpose by
a reënactor. In my class, only two or
three students were willing to enter
the enclosure, even for a minute. I am
still puzzling over an explanation for
their reluctance.
Jordy Bell
Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

EXPERIMENTAL METHODS


Hannah Fry asks whether tech com-
panies’ large-scale social experiments,
such as measuring the emotional im-
pact that negative posts have on Face-
book users, are sufficiently regulated
(Books, March 2nd). She is right to
point out that such tests are not sub-
ject to federal regulations protecting
human subjects in biomedical research.
But she doesn’t mention that the ex-
periments fall outside the federal defi-
nition of “research.” The protections for
human subjects set out by the Depart-
ment of Health and Human Services
apply only to studies that are “designed
to develop or contribute to generaliz-
able knowledge”—i.e., undertaken with
the intent of public dissemination. Be-
cause market research is not meant to
be seen by the public, the rules protect-
ing human subjects are not generally
applicable—and there are no equiva-
lent federal protections for consumers
whose behavior is studied by private
organizations seeking monetary gain.
Most of the corporate practices that
Fry cites are questionable not due to a
lack of consumer consent but because
they may run afoul of other protections
that our regulatory system is supposed
to provide: truth in advertising, safety
of roads and consumer products, and
access to competitive markets.
Jennifer Steele
Associate Professor, School of Education
American University
Washington, D.C.
1
FARM FRESH


Sam Knight’s profile of Jake Fiennes,
the conservation manager of the
Holkham Estate, in England, show-
cases an approach to environmentally
responsible farming (“Betting the Farm,”
February 17th & 24th). Readers may
wonder whether the nature-friendly
ethos Fiennes espouses, as well as the
inspiring results he is getting, can be
applied to more modest plots. By fol-
lowing a set of principles universally
recognized for optimizing soil health,



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