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Getting Personal

Despite occasional appearances, science is a highly personal pastime

David Schoonmaker

Science often seems to overlook, if not outright neglect, its personal side—at least when putting on its public face. Of course, we all know how intensely personal it actually is. In a world that’s increasingly collaborative and multidisciplinary, it cannot be any other way. And through no conscious intent of the editors, this issue proves it.

The right place to start is with Mohamed Noor and Caiti Heil’s Ethics piece, “Mentor vs. Monolith” (pages 450–453). What can be more personal in science than the relationship between an advisor and a Ph.D. student? Mohamed has become known for the class he offers for all science graduate students at Duke University, “Grad. School 101.” When you read the conversation between Caiti and him, you’ll begin to understand why the wait list for this fall’s session is so long.

Backing up just a bit, try on William Carter’s Macroscope, “An Interlude with Dirac” (pages 438–441). According to most accounts, P. A. M. Dirac was a man of few words carefully chosen—most often “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.” The Carters had the good fortune to see another side of Dirac when, on stopping on Maui to visit the lunar laser ranging observatory, where Carter worked, the Diracs spent the evening with the Carters. Father, as Magrit Dirac referred to Paul, enjoyed a relaxed and pleasant evening reading books to the Carters’ daughter, Pam.

Pat Shipman also relates a personal encounter, but hers was with wildlife of Yellowstone National Park. In her Marginalia, “The Cost of the Wild” (pages 454–457), she explores the complex ecological and economic ramifications of the reintroduction of wolves to the park. The effects are far ranging and offer important lessons for future efforts at “rewilding.” The experience was also exceptionally vivid, as she spent a day observing the life-and-death interactions of wolves.

We also have a wonderful lesson to offer on kindness-of-stranger personalities. Ralf Dahm may be a familiar name to you, as he as written for the magazine on topics ranging from Alzheimer’s disease to zebrafish. Over the years, Ralf has just about defined peripatetic, as we have heard from him from his native Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy and Spain. In this issue, Ralf explains himself in “The Buzz of New Beginnings” (pages 522–523). I won’t spoil the punch line; let’s just say that it’s hard to find the word for “toiletbrush” in a Spanish–English dictionary.

This issue also marks the last of American Scientist’s centennial-year issues. We took one last opportunity to pluck an owl from the archives in the form of Masakazu Konishi’s 1971 article “How the Owl Tracks Its Prey” (pages 494–503). Konishi has earned major accolades for his work combining ethology and neurophysiology (at Caltech since 1975), including National Academy membership.

We also continue the celebration of book reviews, which have been a vital part of the magazine since 1942. You can read a few more of our choices for “classics” beginning on page 517.

Finally, we gave way to curiosity about some of the magazine’s achievements (including sheer volume) over the years (pages 408–409). This is mostly just fun trivia, but I do call your attention to the productivity of one of American Scientist’s true stalwarts, G. Evelyn Hutchinson. Prepare to be amazed.—David Schoonmaker

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