Life Encyclopedia, Caves, and Untapped Potential
November 15, 2008
Last week I posted a bit from scientist Edward O. Wilson's memoir, Naturalist. A blog entry by tech writer David Pogue reminded me that Wilson is the "father" of the enormous online project called the Encyclopedia of Life. Here is an excerpt from Pogue's interview with Wilson. In answer to a question about how the EOL project came to be, Wilson said,
Because remarkably–and this is little known even in the scientific community–we’ve only begun to explore this planet. It was 250 years ago this year that Karl Linnaeus, the great naturalist in Sweden, began what became the official form of biological classification: two names, like “homo sapiens” for us, and ranging the species in hierarchies according to how much they resemble one another. 250 years ago.
And in that period of time, we have found and given names to perhaps one-tenth of what’s on the surface of the earth. We have now found 1.8 million species. But the actual number is almost certainly in excess of 10 million, and could be as high as a hundred million, when you throw in bacteria.
I love what this means for scientifically oriented children when they grow up—there's so much out there, waiting for them to discover. Of course, one of Wilson's main points is that we all have to work hard to protect our world, too.
Naturalist quickly leaped to the top my list of favorite books read lately. I especially enjoyed the parts about his peripatetic childhood in the South. He even spent a year at military school—when he was only 7. What he wrote about his Harvard colleague James Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA and "the most unpleasant human being [Wilson] had ever met", made me want to read more about that scientist, too.
Speaking of just beginning to explore the planet, the kiddo and I paged through Tony Waltham's Great Caves of the World (Firefly Books, 2008), mostly just looking at the photographs and noting where we'd like to visit. New Mexico, for sure, to see Carlsbad Caverns. If we were scientists or National Park management, we could get into the awesome-looking Lechuguilla Cave, in the same area. (See photo.)
The farther-flung caves under Australia's Nullarbor Desert also caught our eye. Waltham writes, "The Nullarbor has hundreds of blowholes, nearly all too small to enter. Some link to known caves, but others merely indicate that there is a lot more cave passage still to be discovered beneath the Australian desert." A similar theme to Wilson's.
Like Great Caves, Edward O. Wilson's Naturalist is a book written for adults, but would be fine for older teenagers who like science. The next time I'm at the library, I'll look for The Earth Dwellers: Adventures in the Land of Ants, by Erich Hoyt (Simon and Schuster, 1996), a YA nonfiction book about Wilson and others. I'm unable to find a picture-book or middle-grade biography of the scientist. Anyone know of one? An opportunity for a writer, perhaps.
Photograph: Lechuguilla Cave Pearlsian Gulf, by Dave Bunnell. Used under the conditions specified by a Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike 2.5 license.
I have never been in a cave--other than the one under the American Falls in Niagara Falls, which hardly even counts because it's so touristy (although, I must admit, also very cool). I clearly have to fix this situation.
Posted by: adrienne | November 16, 2008 at 08:34 PM
Adrienne, caves are very weird and very beautiful, a winning combination! From the pictures, Carlsbad Caverns looks awesomely odd and pretty.
I've only been to one (that I can remember), the Indian Echo Caverns, near Hershey Park in PA. I think all the caves that you can get into do have a tourist factor.
Posted by: Susan (Chicken Spaghetti) | November 17, 2008 at 08:59 AM