Darwin-L Message Log 3:71 (November 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<3:71>From maisel@Sdsc.Edu  Tue Nov 16 12:51:17 1993

Date: Tue, 16 Nov 93 18:54:33 GMT
From: maisel@Sdsc.Edu (Merry Maisel, 619-534-5127)
Subject: Beetled Browse
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

It's probably a nasty habit, like collecting matchbooks, but I save my copies
of _Natural History_ until Gould's collections of essays appear.  You should
know that he does not just thrust a year's worth of columns into a book, which
he could well do, given the way his stuff sells.  He makes very deliberate
choices and rearrangements.  I don't know if he will put his January column,
"A Special Fondness for Beetles," in the next collection, but I hope he does.
Then we shall all have, in more permanent form, a very nice consideration of
the problem of the little academic teehee passed from generation to generation.

As Gould points out in the column, the latest resurrection of the line from
Haldane was in a review of a meeting by one who attended, Robert May of Oxford,
published in _Nature_ in late 1989:

May began his article: "Haldane's best-remembered remark, that God has `an inordinate fondness for beetles," was elicited by Jowett's question, at high table at Balliol, as to what his studies had revealed about the deity."

This elicited a flurry of letters to _Nature_, one of which pointed out
that Jowett had died when Haldane was a year old and hence the conversation
at high table could not have taken place.  To this, May properly replied,
"Mundane constraints of time and space do not apply to stories about Oxford."

Gould makes the point that the best one-liners are often attributed to those,
already famous, who make a good story better.  (If you've ever had one of your
best lines appropriated in this way, you will know the frustration of being
unable to secure a proper attribution to yourself.)  And he discusses beetles
and how they are counted.  Great column.

Merry Maisel
science writer, San Diego Supercomputer Center
grad student, Science Studies, UC San Diego

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