The parable of the foolish vent worm

Geoff Read gread at actrix.gen.nz
Tue Sep 26 06:07:41 EST 2000


Snieder, R. 2000. The tube worm turns. - Nature 406(6799) 31 Aug:939.

Bizarre essay in which the author, a geophysicist (and it shows), 
bemoans the lack of modern equivalents of L. da Vinci, a Homo 
universalis with extreme breadth of interests, instead we, the scientific 
community are compared to a population of tube worms. viz -  

"This is not a positive development - specialization creates isolation. The 
scientific community can be compared to a population of tube worms. 
These animals live in colonies on the ocean floor at locations where 
hydrothermal vents release nutrients into the water. The tube worms are 
highly specialized; they survive only by extracting nutrients from the 
water at these vents. The worms cannot travel to other vents, which 
prohibits interbreeding among different colonies. Although they are well 
adapted to the harsh conditions of life on the ocean floor, they are 
completely reliant on the stability of their habitat. The specialization of 
tube worms has made them ill-equipped for new challenges. 
 "But perhaps it is not quite fair to compare the scientific community to a 
collection of tube-worm colonies.  [etc, and ] 
"Our challenge is to transform the scientific community from a collection 
of tube worms into an interacting web, resembling a diverse and rapidly 
evolving ecosystem where each member brings its own specialization to 
the party.  

Gosh, sooo much better than the lazy grasshopper and the industrious 
ant story of my childhood book of fables.  And this blather appears in 
Nature, a "prestigious" journal.  

--
   Geoff Read <gread at actrix.gen.nz>


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