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biology was more and more my life, though I was still figuring out just what it all might
Scientifically, my chief role models were Fitch as natural historian, Pyburn,
Burghardt, and Riechert as intellectuals. Bold theoretical forays in Evelyn Hutchinson's
TheEcologicalTheaterandtheEvolutionaryPlay and Robert MacArthur's Geographical
Ecology encouraged me to seek broader implications of snake biology, as did Dan Jan-
zen's “Why Fruits Rot, Seeds Mold, and Meat Spoils,” as well as his other clever papers
in the American Naturalist. 25 Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions and
Karl Popper's Conjectures and Refutations emphasized the importance of skepticism
and evidence, and I began developing a feel for scholarship by, for example, comparing
Emmett Dunn's thoughtful analyses of snake evolution with bitter rival Ed Taylor's care-
less description of male and female frogs from the same population as separate new spe-
cies. 26 Along the way Mary Ann Handel, my favorite “cell smasher” at U.T., and Sandy
Echternacht, our new herpetologist, exemplified goal-setting, careful preparation, and
concern for students as key attributes of good teaching.
Students are often sobered to find academia shaped by personal frailties and politics
as well as by its much-vaunted search for truth. We slogged through a rigorous biometry
course, but when I challenged a visiting molecular biologist's lack of statistics one of my
professors admonished me, “This guy's so good he doesn't need them.” We struggled
with public speaking in the face of withering criticism from our teachers and each other,
then were astonished by the sloppiness of another renowned guest, a disheveled eco-
system theorist who scarcely paused as his overhead transparencies slid to the floor. As
for the intense self-focus and ego-jostling that comes with grad studies, antidotes came
from the likes of Leonard Radinsky, a lanky, shaggy-haired New Yorker who studied ta-
pir evolution for his Yale Ph.D., then pioneered fossil brain research at the University
of Chicago. I'd sought his advice on the anatomical basis for behavior and asked, with
obvious envy, “What's it like to be famous?” Len countered, “How many people do you
think have heard of me?” After a moment I guessed several hundred, whereupon he said
with a grin, “Uh huh, so what's the big deal?”
Midway through my Ph.D. a blockbuster topic by Harvard's Edward Wilson drew
me into controversy. Sociobiology provoked a debate on genes and human destiny, ex-
emplified by Peter Klopfer asserting that behavior, unlike anatomy, doesn't have a ge-
netic basis and cannot evolve. 27 Flaws in the Duke professor's arguments paralleled
those in James Atz's homology critique, serving as a foil for my dissertation as well
as the subject for my oral presentation at an Animal Behavior Society meeting held at
the American Museum of Natural History. When several dozen snake species, including
their naive young, kill prey exactly the same way, I asked in my talk, why not turn to
evolutionary heritage as a parsimonious explanation? I was blindsided, though, when
Ethel Tobach, the program host, accused me of falsely maligning Klopfer; fortunately,
Burghardt caught my eye from the sidelines with a nod I took to mean, “Be gracious.”
Tobach was Atz's colleague at the A.M.N.H. and evidently resented ethological perspect-
ives because of Konrad Lorenz's wartime association with Nazi ideology, 28 but during a
coffee break she recanted her criticism of me when confronted with Klopfer's published
Wilson's Sociobiology also fueled my passion for conservation, by way of his un-
abashed celebration of biodiversity. I was understandably focused on the special plight
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