How to sell a new-fangled idea

February 14, 2007

Asa Gray

Watch a master teacher first empathize with the struggling skeptic, then cajole him/her with the inevitably of an hypothesis that is merely carrying on the traditions of physics and chemistry.  Brilliant.

“We cling to a long-accepted theory, just as we cling to an old suit of clothes…New notions and new styles worry us, till we get well used to them, which is only by slow degrees…

Such being our habitual state of mind, it may well be believed that the perusal of the new book “On the origin of species by means of natural selection” left an uncomfortable impression…

[But] surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common, revolving mass,–which, through experimental research, has come to regard light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical power as varieties or convertible forms of one force, instead of independent species, –which has brought the so-called elementary kinds of matter, such as the metals, into kindrid groups…the mind of such an age cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned.”

Happy Darwin’s Birthday!  And on November 18th, tilt a glass to Asa Gray, Darwin’s American Bulldog.

Asa Grey, Atlantic Magazine (6 ) No. 33, 109-116

10 things I like about ants

February 14, 2007

Image from Alex Wild’s amazing

From the home office in Wahoo Nebraska, here are 10 amazing ant facts.

10. If you weighed all the ants in a tropical forest, then weighed all the mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, the ants would weigh four time as much.

9. Fire ants are attracted to electricity. No one knows why.

8. The tiniest mature ant colony has 5 workers; the largest has over 100 million.

7. Most ant species have broad diets, but many are incredibly specialized–one eats only spider eggs.

6. Ants invented agriculture–growing fungi on leaves they harvest and mulch–long before humans did.

5. Ants are so successful and common that many ant species specialize on eating other ants.

4. The queens of some ant colonies can live over 10 years, making them some of the longest lived insects.

3. All the worker ants you see are females; all the worker ants from a single colony are most likely sisters.

2. You can recognize the few ant males in a colony by their pinheads and large googley eyes.

1. No ant has been elected to higher office in the United States. Yet.