Friday, March 09, 2007


Today PZ Myers of Pharyngula turns 50. It's no secret that I have my differences, and diametrical oppositions, to Myers; but as birthdays are to be celebrated, it seems fitting to highlight something that Myers, without any doubt, does exceptionally well. I'm reminded of a comment in a preface to an old science book:

Teachers in science are nearly equally divided into two classes ; those who know too much, and those who know too little. Those of the first class, overloaded with science, cannot admit the possibility of meeting with readers who have none ; and, therefore, their essays and introductions are so worded that it requires a tolerable proficiency to understand them. The teachers of the second class fall into the opposite error ; they curtail, garble, and popularize the writings of others without understanding them, forgetful that it requires a consummate knowledge of any science to abridge a work which treats of it ably and at large. The Author submits, with much humility, that both classes are in error: he submits also that introductory works should be written for those who know nothing of the subject on which they read, and by those who possess, in themselves, some practical knowledge of the subject on which they write.

[Edward Newman, The Grammar of Entomology (1835).]

Myers, when he decides to do it, is exceptional at doing precisely this: writing science for those who don't know it, without garbling or curtailing. It's a difficult skill to find -- many people who think they have it, don't -- and it's to be celebrated wherever it is found. And there are only a few in the blogosphere who are even in Myers's league on this point. A sample of some relatively recent posts of his on scientific matters that are worth reading:

Evolution of Vascular Systems
Evolution of the Mammalian Vagina
Basics: Gastrulation
Basics: Gastrulation, Invertebrate Style

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