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Basic knowledge, not age, matters in voters

To the editor: Professor Laurence Steinberg's call to let 16-year-olds vote is not science-based, contrary to his assertion. ("A 16-year-old is as good as an 18-year-old -- or a 40-year-old -- at voting," Op-Ed, Nov. 3)

Although my own research, including a new lifespan study of more than 55,000 people in 59 countries, confirms that many young teens are far more capable cognitively than the median adult, it also shows that the younger people are, the more variability there is in their abilities. That's why it's so easy for media outlets and insurance companies to shine the spotlight on reckless teens: There are plenty of them.

The solution is to set age aside as a criterion for voting, just as we have set aside gender, race and property ownership. If we really want a competent electorate, people of any age should be able to demonstrate through simple oral or written tests that they have some basic knowledge relevant to voting.

Age is completely irrelevant to such competence.

Robert Epstein, Vista, Calif.

The writer is a senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.

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To the editor: Steinberg advises us of his findings, taken from his book revealing "the new science of adolescence."

I hope most readers will be skeptical of that new "science." Such academics seem to think they can drive their juggernaut of "science" over our society.

As for adolescents, of whom I was one, already in college myself at 16, I have the gravest doubt regarding their learning, their judgment, their understanding of reality. Shakespeare's old master of (magical) "science" in "The Tempest" puts it much more accurately — and truly! — when he scolds his intelligent daughter, Miranda: "What, I say?/ My foot my tutor?"

Jascha Kessler, Santa Monica

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