I remember some years ago receiving copies of Scientific American after my brother, he of physics degree, was finished with them. They were mostly confounding to me. I did not have a science background, and being well-read only carries one so far when delving into the minutiae of scientific advancement.
I have improved over the years, sometimes through intellectual curiosity and sometimes through necessity (hello, Covid). I’ve also, via social media mechanisms like Twitter, been able to enrich myself with direct connections with a good number of people in the science fields. These are people much smarter than I am in their respective fields, and it’s delightful to be able to engage them or follow interesting conversational threads in their areas of expertise.
All of which leads me to their universal condemnation of Scientific American’s recent opinion piece trashing the recently departed E.O. Wilson. Wilson, as you may know, was a biologist, naturalist, and writer of some renown. By “some renown” of course I mean that the man won more than 150 awards and medals from around the world for his work, was considered the world’s expert on ants, and was known as the “father of sociobiology.” His Life on Earth series was among the first freely available ebooks on Apple’s iBooks (now Books) app, and it is every bit the tour de force you would expect. I don’t have a distinct memory of when I first encountered Wilson’s work, but I suspect that Life on Earth was it.
The hit piece published in Scientific American has enraged the scientists I follow on Twitter, many of who also bemoan the steep decline of the publication in other ways. With the exception of a few articles, I’ve not read Scientific American in many years, but having read unfortunate piece, the decline is obvious. Wilson is condemned with no evidence whatsoever (as are several others).
We live now in an era where formerly reputable institutions and organizations have lost their way. They are as likely to engage in tribalism, groupthink, and ad hominem attacks as they are to report or comment accurately. I have found this to be true on both ends of the political spectrum.
When the area under attack is science, we are all imperiled. If it falls to the political storms, with it collapses our ability to accurate understand this reality and our place in it.