Human World

E. O. Wilson: Science is an adventure, and you can participate

EarthSky’s 600+ Global Science Advisors selected Edward Osborne Wilson – better known as E. O. Wilson – as EarthSky’s Science Communicator of the Year for 2010. EarthSky visited Dr. Wilson in Boston in late 2010 and shot a series of videos with him in which he discusses topics including the value and purpose of 21st century science, ants, communicating science, the state of scientific knowledge, and more.

Dr. Wilson told us, among other things, that science is an adventure, and that everyone can participate. EarthSky is releasing the E. O. Wilson videos over the first six months of 2011.

E. O. Wilson is an American biologist, naturalist, author, and professor emeritus at Harvard University – and he is more. He is a science icon who represents a passion for research, clear thinking, and clear communication of what science is and what it is supposed to do. Barbara Kingsolver, who was herself trained as a biologist and who is the author of 13 books of nonfiction and fiction, called Wilson one of the most important biological theorists since Darwin.

Dr. Wilson may be best known among his colleagues for his pioneering research on how ants communicate using chemical signals, and for originating sociobiology, a scientific field that attempts to explain the social behavior of animal species. But people everywhere love him for his books about the natural world. EarthSky was honored that he accepted our award for 2010 Science Communicator of the Year. He told us:

I am surprised and delighted to receive the EarthSky award, because I know that it was voted by colleagues, and I must be doing something right.

The passion to explore life on Earth caused Wilson to create the Encyclopedia of Life – an e-library on biodiversity. It features a post page for every species, featuring a true wealth of information on what is known about each species, so far. The e-library already has 300 million linkable pages. He spoke to us about the exploration of life on Earth, and about the Encyclopedia of Life, when we visited him in Boston in late 2010.

It was to be an online encyclopedia, into which all the known species, previously known, newly discovered, are registered. And everything known about every species is there, available, called up, with each species having [an] indefinitely extensible page. And people can add to it. It’s one of the few areas where people can actually add basic scientific data that’s vetted, screened. The Encyclopedia of Life would be everything known about all of life in all of its varieties, species by species. This came into existence thanks to a generous grant, initially from the MacArthur Foundation, and is a thriving activity today.

Dr. Wilson spoke of science fields immediately open for people to contribute to and discover new things, such as astronomy or the exploration of the diversity of life. He said there are other fields too, in which the big questions are being asked, and major discoveries are being made.

And you shouldn’t say, oh, I’m glad the scientists are busy, they seem to be doing a lot of good things. You should be concerned about what they’re discovering. And you should not be concerned just out of a sense of responsibility. You should be concerned as though you were on the voyage of discovery yourself.

A special thank you to the EarthSky Global Science Advisors, who selected E. O. Wilson as EarthSky’s Science Communicator of the Year for 2010. The EarthSky series of videos with Dr. Wilson – on topics of interest to people everywhere who love science – will be released over the first half of 2011.

January 11, 2011
Human World

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