Monthly Archives: March 2012

Observing for beauty

The Scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful.

– Jules Henri Poincare (fieldnotes from “Field Notes on Science and Nature”


False theories die with disproof, but false data may live forever, or so my undergraduate advisor, Richard D. Alexander, told me. A single false fact can corrupt a dataset, a study, even a field. I remembered this as I counted the cells in wasp nest after wasp nest, patiently moving a dental mirror from one side to the other, nudging nighttime wasps aside so my cell count would be correct. I worked half the night in hot Brackenridge Field Laboratory meadows. After all, what would happen if it looked like there were fewer instead of more cells a few nights later?

Perhaps I need not have worried about those thousands of measurements, as accurate as I could make them with one, two, even three or four, counts on difficult nests. But I kept what Dick said in mind, ever aware of how devastating a false claim could be.


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Victor Weisskopf

What is beautiful in science is the same thing that is beautiful in Beethoven. There’s a fog of events and suddenly you see a connection. It expresses a complex of human concerns that goes deeply to you, that connects things that were always in you that were never put together before.

(fieldnotes from Sean B. Carroll’s “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”

A great resource for literary science writing!

Science Writing

We do have literary and narrative science writing before World War II: Rachel Carson, Joseph Mitchell, John Steinbeck, etc. After mid-century, the change from private to public science had enormous consequences, and one of those was the birth of science writing as a distinct field (Franklin).

There also was a change in literature at this same time, a proclaimed “death of fiction,” of the great novel. Some argue that nonfiction writers stepped in to fill the void: Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson. Meanwhile, John McPhee started writing for The New Yorker.

So, what is literary journalism, narrative, creative nonfiction, etc.? You can lump these together or tease them apart. In essence, the forms of writing are often said to “borrow the tools of fiction” to craft true stories. Others would argue that true stories are the original stories. Here are some elements that can…

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Compassion in Politics: Christian Social Entrepreneurship, Education Innovation, & Base of the Pyramid/BOP Solutions

Stephen J. Goulds Criticism of the Theory Evolutionary Psychology

Stephen J Gould’s criticism of evolutionary psychology is actually from the perspective of an evolutionist. He wrote a piece for the New York Review of Books in 1997 which became an exchange on the principles, assumptions, and problems of evolutionary psychology (Gould seems to be taking on Steven Pinkers work How the Mind Works along with other popular titles). Goulds thesis in “Darwininan Fundmentalism” is this:

Evolutionary psychology could, in my view, become a fruitful science by replacing its current penchant for narrow, and often barren, speculation with respect for the pluralistic range of available alternatives that are just as evolutionary in status, more probable in actual occurrence, and not limited to the blinkered view that evolutionary explanations must identify adaptation produced by natural selection.

Gould criticizes what he calls the Darwinian fundamentalists (aka evolutionary psychologists including Pinker et…

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