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evolution

From the VQR Vault: Animals

Whether like a deer lightly on talented feet,
scholar of brambles, incredible racer of meadows,
intuitive knower of leaves and the leaves’ shadows,
antlered with boughs to disguise the shallow retreat,—
or more like a bird, methodical tracer of summers,
keeper of small assignations with day and with night,
irrational singer, whose only defense is the fright,
quicker than trigger, always aware of newcomers,—

Flawed Intelligence, Flawed Design

In 1996, a then-unknown professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, published a book in which he claimed to be the author of a scientific discovery of the magnitude of those of Copernicus or Newton. Those of us in academia who interact with the general public know only too well that there are many people out there with this kind of belief. At least once a week I get a thick envelope containing pages on pages of mathematics showing that God is truly the number pi, or that world peace can be found in the outer reaches of modern topology. The internet has only made things worse. At least these people, unlike many of my other correspondents, feel no need to assure me that they will pray for me—or, conversely, regret that I am past praying for.

The Olfactory Lives of Primates

Dear Chris, I’m sorry you couldn’t make it to Brad and Caitland’s wedding. It was pretty good. The beginning dragged—the usual, everyone standing around, sniffing each other’s breath, figuring out who was from Caitland’s family, who fr [...]

Confessions of a Darwinist

 came to evolution in a roundabout way. Sure, as a kid I had seen the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History—and had heard a bit about evolution in high school. But I was intent on studying Latin and maybe going to law school.

But evolution got in the way. I was dating my now wife, and through her getting to know members of the Columbia anthropology faculty. At the time (early 1960s), anthropology to me meant Louis Leakey and his adventures collecting human fossils at Olduvai Gorge—rather than, say, Margaret Mead and her adventures studying cultures of the South Pacific. A summer spent asking embarrassing personal questions in my halting Portuguese in a small village in northeastern Brazil ended my quest to study evolution through anthropology. I was far more taken with the Pleistocene fossils embedded in the sandstone that formed the protective cove for the fishing boats. By summer’s end I was determined to become a paleontologist.