Man's Place in Nature

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“My heart began to pound as we approached the village,” recalls Napoleon Chagnon, an anthropologist at Northwestern University, Illinois.  “It was hot and muggy, and my clothing was soaked with perspiration…The small, biting gnats were out in astronomical numbers, for it was the beginning of the dry season.  My face and hands were swollen from the venom of their numerous stings.  In just a few moments I was to meet my first Yanomamo, my first primitive man.”

The Human Side of Science

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The human side of science.  It’s a little like the Emperor’s new clothes.  It must exist.  Science, after all, is a thing made by humans, and its history is crowded with examples of how such human wrinkles as ambition, competition, personal likes and dislikes have punctuated its course.  But while The Double Helix went far in dispelling any view of science as an impersonal, completely rational endeavor, many scientists are still of the opionion that the human side of science is ignored, that it is, in the end, irrelevant to the progress of science itself.

An Interview with Barry Lopez

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I wanted to write, but I never thought that I could make my living that way, so like everybody else in that position, I decided to go to graduate school.  I didn’t know what else to do.  I finished a Master’s degree, and I was very briefly in an MFA program.  I never thought of myself in terms of having an occupation as a writer until I filled out my 1040 in April, where I put that down.  I just did what I thought of as “my work”.  I traveled and paid attention, and I tried to express what I saw clearly in language that I thought would leave me, personally on the periphery.  I would remind myself that if I lost a sense of naivete I’d lose the frame of mind the reader needs, which is to start with you from scratch.

Ghosts of Summer's Woods

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There’s something eerie about seeing a cluster of Indian pipes, heads downturned, on a warm summer day.  Ghostly and greenless, they remind one more of mushrooms than of the herbs they are.  Their white flesh is unexpected and freakish, especially when you realize that they are wildflowers and not some oddly formed fungus.

A Dread Disease: Cancer in Modern American Culture

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When the John Jacob Astors offered to give the Womans Hospital of New York a cancer pavilion in 1884, they received a cool reception from the hospital board.  Some of the trustees feared that cancer was contagious.  Others did not want to associate the hospital with such a sickness.  “Cancer may not be contagious,” one board member is supposed to have said, “but the name is.” Irritated and impatient, the Astors decided to finance the building of a new and separate institution for women with cancer.  It opened in 1887, only a century ago, as the New York Cancer Hospital, the first such institution in the United States.

Mind as Laboratory

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You are an alien.

You have detected some motion at one spot on the planet Earth (it’s the New York metropolitan area).  The motions at first appear to be chaotic.  At the highest resolution, you detect entities that are rectangular in shape (automobiles).  You begin analyzing the vectors and velocities of the entities.  There is a terrific data rate.  What does your analysis reveal?

The Harper Dictionary of Science in Everyday Language: Scientific Terms Explained So You Can Really Understand Them

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The relativity theories of Albert Einstein (1879-1955) deal with the most fundamental descriptions of the physical universe: the concepts of time, space, motion, mass and gravitation.  To attempt to “explain” (rather than describe) them here would be an act of presumption, for the following reasons:

A Balanced View of Humankind

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Sociologist Samuel Oliner, tweedy, bespectacled, and silverhaired, is the visual ideal of the small university professor, but his handsome features and thoughtful manner conceal a dark truth, certain horrendous experiences of his childhood and teens that are central to his real identity.  Oliner rarely speaks of them to friends or to colleagues at Humboldt State University at Arcata in northern California, but seeking to exorcise the demons of that period from his psyche he wrote a memoir, privately published in 1979, titled Restless Memories. It opens with an account of the event that destroyed Oliner’s world and led him, forty years later, to undertake the major work of his life, an ambitious research project, just completed, on the psychological and social factors that make for human altruism.

A Roadside Cough Medicine

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In New England the first beacons of spring rise from the ground at just about the equinox, and among those in the forefront are the yellow and orange heads of the coltsfoot.  Big, bright bunches of them offer assurance that the drabness of winter is ending, and that color is returning to the land.

The Rediscovery of Experiment

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“Science walks forward on two feet, namely theory and experiment,” wrote American scientist Robert Millikan on the occasion of receiving the Nobel Prize for physics in 1924.  “Sometimes it is one foot which is put forward first, sometimes the other, but continuous progress is only made by the use of both, by theorizing and then testing, or by finding new relations in the process of experimenting and then bringing the theoretical foot up and pushing it on beyond, and so on in unending alterations.”