Monday ReadsPosted: December 27, 2021
Over the weekend we lost two giants of biology and the study of biodiversity.
The New York Times: E.O. Wilson, a Pioneer of Evolutionary Biology, Dies at 92.
Edward O. Wilson, a biologist and author who conducted pioneering work on biodiversity, insects and human nature — and won two Pulitzer Prizes along the way — died on Sunday in Burlington, Mass. He was 92.
His death was announced on Monday by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. A cause of death was not given….
“Ed’s holy grail was the sheer delight of the pursuit of knowledge,” Paula J. Ehrlich, chief executive and president of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation said in a statement. “A relentless synthesizer of ideas, his courageous scientific focus and poetic voice transformed our way of understanding ourselves and our planet.”
When Dr. Wilson began his career in evolutionary biology in the 1950s, the study of animals and plants seemed to many scientists like a quaint, obsolete hobby. Molecular biologists were getting their first glimpses of DNA, proteins and other invisible foundations of life. Dr. Wilson made it his life’s work to put evolution on an equal footing.
“How could our seemingly old-fashioned subjects achieve new intellectual rigor and originality compared to molecular biology?” Dr. Wilson recalled in 2009. He answered his own question by pioneering new fields of research.
As an expert on insects, Dr. Wilson studied the evolution of behavior, exploring how natural selection and other forces could produce something as extraordinarily complex as an ant colony. He then championed this kind of research as a way of making sense of all behavior — including our own.
As part of his campaign, Dr. Wilson wrote a string of books that influenced his fellow scientists while also gaining a broad public audience. “On Human Nature” won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1979; “The Ants,” which Dr. Wilson wrote with his longtime colleague Bert Hölldobler, won him his second Pulitzer in 1991.
Dr. Wilson also became a pioneer in the study of biological diversity, developing a mathematical approach to questions about why different places have different numbers of species. Later in his career, Dr. Wilson became one of the world’s leading voices for the protection of endangered wildlife.
National Geographic: Thomas Lovejoy, renowned biologist who coined ‘biological diversity,’ dies at 80.
Thomas Lovejoy, a well-known American conservation biologist who coined the term “biological diversity” in 1980, died on December 25 at the age of 80. Lovejoy, who lived in northern Virginia, spent more than 50 years working in the Amazon rainforest, founding the nonprofit Amazon Biodiversity Center and bringing worldwide attention to the threats of tropical deforestation. In 1971, he received his first grant from the National Geographic Society, becoming an Explorer at Large in 2019.
“To know Tom was to know an extraordinary scientist, professor, advisor, and unyielding champion for our planet,” said Jill Tiefenthaler, the Society’s CEO, in a statement. “He was also a consummate connector, helping bring people and organizations together to preserve and protect some of our most fragile ecosystems and cornerstone species.”
In 1980, he also published the first estimate of global extinction rates, correctly projecting that by the early 21st century a huge number of species would be lost forever. Lovejoy, who held a Ph.D. in biology from Yale University, advised three administrations, the United Nations Foundation, the World Bank, and other organizations on how to protect species and advance the field of conservation biology. Since 2010, Lovejoy served as a professor in environmental science and policy at George Mason University in Virginia.
“Tom was a giant in the world of ecology and conservation,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic Explorer in Residence. “But most importantly, he was a wonderful mentor and extremely generous with his students, colleagues, and friends.”
Despite his focus on some of the world’s toughest environmental challenges, Lovejoy remained an optimist. “We all have an interest in fixing this before it gets badly out of hand, and it’s getting close to that,” Lovejoy told National Geographic in 2015, speaking about climate change. “There are things we can do together. There are energy and innovation possibilities. There are biological solutions that would benefit everyone.
Donald Trump Jr. recently slammed the teaching of Jesus. Relevant: Biblical Scholar Donald Trump Jr. Tells Young Conservatives That Following the Bible Has ‘Gotten Us Nothing.’
On Sunday [December 19], Turning Point USA hosted Donald Trump Jr. where he praised a crowd of young conservatives as “the frontline of freedom” but cautioned that following biblical teaching like “turn the other cheek” was holding them back and has “gotten us nothing.”
“If we band together, we can take on these institutions,” Trump told the crowd in Arizona. “That’s where we’ve gone wrong for a long time.”
“They cannot cancel us all,” he continued. “This will be contrary to a lot of our beliefs because I’d love not to have to participate in cancel culture. I’d love that it didn’t exist. But as long as it does, folks, we better be playing the same game.”
“We’ve turned the other cheek and I understand sort of the biblical reference — I understand the mentality — but it’s gotten us nothing,” Trump said. “OK? It’s gotten us nothing while we’ve ceded ground in every major institution.”
Trump is more correct than he probably knows here. Christianity is a poor device for gaining worldly influence. Nearly every page of the Gospels has stories of Jesus refusing earthly power and exhorting his followers to do the same. In fact, there are few things Jesus talked as much about as the upside down Kingdom of God where “the last shall be first” and “blessed are the meek.” Moreover, he cautioned against seeking earthly influence, going so far as to proclaim “woe to you who are rich.” The most cursory reading of Scripture would leave anyone with the sense that this is not a manual for getting stuff.
Peter Wehner wrote about Don Jr.’s “values” at The Atlantic: The Gospel of Donald Trump Jr.
Donald Trump Jr. is both intensely unappealing and uninteresting. He combines in his person corruption, ineptitude, and banality. He is perpetually aggrieved; obsessed with trolling the left; a crude, one-dimensional figure who has done a remarkably good job of keeping from public view any redeeming qualities he might have.
There’s a case to be made that he’s worth ignoring, except for this: Don Jr. has been his father’s chief emissary to MAGA world; he’s one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party; and he’s influential with Republicans in positions of power. He’s also attuned to what appeals to the base of the GOP. So, from time to time, it is worth paying attention to what he has to say.
Trump spoke at a Turning Point USA gathering on December 19. He displayed seething, nearly pathological resentments; playground insults (he led the crowd in “Let’s Go, Brandon” chants); tough guy/average Joe shtick; and a pulsating sense of aggrieved victimhood and persecution, all of it coming from the elitist, extravagantly rich son of a former president.
Wehner notes Jr.’s reference to Jesus’s teachings of loving our enemies and “turning the other cheek” when they attack us.
Throughout his speech, Don Jr. painted a scenario in which Trump supporters—Americans living in red America—are under relentless attack from a wicked and brutal enemy. He portrayed it as an existential battle between good and evil. One side must prevail; the other must be crushed. This in turn justifies any necessary means to win. And the former president’s son has a message for the tens of millions of evangelicals who form the energized base of the GOP: the scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers. The teachings of Jesus have “gotten us nothing.” It’s worse than that, really; the ethic of Jesus has gotten in the way of successfully prosecuting the culture wars against the left. If the ethic of Jesus encourages sensibilities that might cause people in politics to act a little less brutally, a bit more civilly, with a touch more grace? Then it needs to go….
The problem is that the Trumpian ethic hasn’t been confined to the Trump family. We saw that not just in the enthusiastic and at times impassioned response of the Turning Point USA crowd to Don Jr.’s speech but nearly every day in the words and actions of Republicans in positions of power. Donald Trump and his oldest son have become evangelists of a different kind.
While we’re on the subject of Trumpian so-called “christians,” MSNBC opinion columnist Jarvis DeBerry writes: White evangelicals dying of Covid after denouncing vaccines are wasting martyrdom.
This year we’ve seen a number of conservative personalities, including the late evangelical leaders Marcus Lamb and Jimmy DeYoung, who succumbed to Covid-19 after minimizing the risks of the disease or making disparaging remarks about the vaccines. What is such opposition if not an arrogant attempt to put God to the test, no less problematic, say, than stepping off a great height and counting on being caught by angels?
A personal decision not to take Covid-19 seriously is bad enough. Even worse, though, is a personnel decision to fire those who do. When evangelical Christian radio host Dave Ramsey fired video editor Brad Amos on July 31, Amos responded with a lawsuit against Ramsey Solutions that claims Ramsey thought taking steps to avoid infection showed a “weakness of spirit.” A spokesperson for the company told McClatchy News that Amos was “fired during a meeting to discuss his poor performance with his leaders, where he insulted his most senior leader. He was not terminated for his religious beliefs or how he wanted to handle COVID.”
Weeks later, the National Religious Broadcasters fired spokesperson Daniel Darling after he said in a USA Today op-ed and on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that getting vaccinated was his way of obeying the commandment to love one’s neighbor as oneself. The NRB has stated that on the matter of vaccines, it is “neutral.”
The demands for religious exemptions to Covid-19 vaccination mandates may have Americans convinced that to be religious in America means to be recklessly indifferent to Covid’s dangers. But a December poll from the Public Religion Research Institute finds that at least 60 percent of Jewish Americans, Hispanic Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, white Catholics, Latter-day Saints and “other Christians” believe “there are no valid religious reasons to refuse a vaccine.” The PRRI also finds that at least 50 percent of Black Protestants, other Protestants of color, white mainline Protestants and “other non-Christian religious Americans” share that view.
That leaves white evangelicals by themselves as the only religious group in the country in which fewer than half — in this case, 41 percent — agree that there are no valid religious reasons for such a refusal.
Read the rest at MSNBC.
Stephen Collinson at CNN: Trump and the January 6 committee are now locked in a full-on confrontation.
Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: Capitol panel to investigate Trump call to Willard hotel in hours before attack.
Kelly Weill at The Daily Beast: Pro-Trump Group Invented Voter Fraud Claims Months Before Election.
Evan Osnos at The New Yorker: Dan Bongino and the Big Business of Returning Trump to Power.
Ian Millhiser at Vox: Just how much is Trump’s judiciary sabotaging the Biden presidency?
Raw Story: Biden-slurring dad Jared Schmeck goes full MAGA on Steve Bannon’s podcast: ‘The election was 100% stolen’
What’s on your mind today?