Lindstrom 1 Nathan W.

Lindstrom Professor Brych English 1A 2/24/12

Response to Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs (Responses to “Using Research as a Reading Tool”)

Born in 1941, Stephen Jay Gould was a famous and widely respected American scientist, author, and scientific historian. As one of the most

widely read popular science writers of his generation, Gould became one of evolution’s chief apologists, offering ideas and insights that had him revered and reviled from both sides of the Darwinian ideological divide. The

Skeptical Inquirer calls him “a shining example of the Renaissance person our age so desperately needs” (1). He was the father of the evolutionary theory of punctuated equilibrium, which suggests that sudden accelerations in the evolutionary process could produce rapid changes in species over a comparatively short period of time. The Dallas Morning News calls his

passing at age sixty due to cancer in 2002 “a great loss for science and its relationship with the public” (1). * * * Gould’s essay titled “Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs” first appeared in the April 1984 edition of Discover Magazine. It

Lindstrom 2 was reprinted the following year as part of a collection of Gould’s works entitled The Flamingo’s Smile: Reflections in Natural History. * * * Sir Peter B. Medawar lived from 1915 to 1987, and was a British scientist best known for his medical work on the acceptance of transplanted tissues by the human autoimmune system, beginning with skin grafts for injured soldiers during World War II. He wrote a large number of essays on that and many other subjects, some of which were collected in a 1967 book titled “The Art of the Soluble”, which Gould references in several essays, including his paper “Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs.” * * * Rather than engaging in the wholly pedestrian practice of simply giving the dictionary definitions of the key words Gould uses in his essay “Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs”, a better course might be to relate their various meanings by allowing several famous authors to illustrate them with a few quotes: “There is a good deal of fascination, and some truth, in the theory that different nations enjoy opera in different ways,” says R. A. Straetfeild, in his book The Opera. “According to this, the Italians consider it solely in relation to their sensuous emotions; the French, as producing a titillating sensation more or less akin to the pleasures of the table; the Spaniards, mainly as a vehicle for dancing; the Germans, as an intellectual pleasure; and the

Lindstrom 3 English, as an expensive but not unprofitable way of demonstrating financial prosperity” (italics mine) (23). In Out of the Fog, C. K. Ober tells us of when he went to sea at the tender age of nineteen. He found his romantic notions of sailing the ocean quickly shattered, although the closeness to nature stirred something primal or primitive in his soul. He tells us that “the life that had long appealed to my imagination now came in with a shock and a realism that was in part a disillusionment and in part an intense satisfaction of some of my primal instincts and cravings” (italics mine) (1). Jack London tells us of a man who at once convinced his wife is cheating on him, and equally tries to dismiss his fears as “silly speculation.” In The Little Lady of the Big House, he worries about the fidelity of his spouse, but “continued to discount as absurd and preposterous the possibility of his vague apprehension ever being realized. It was a chance guess, a silly speculation, based upon the most trivial data” (italics mine) (134). * * * In relating several differing theories for the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs, Gould clarifies that “there is no separate problem of the extinction of dinosaurs” (450). By this Gould means that what happened to the dinosaurs cannot be considered in a vacuum, apart from the twined fates of hundreds of other living species that vanished at the same time as the large reptiles. Whatever fate befell the towering Tyrannosaurus Rex also

Lindstrom 4 damned the diminutive diatom, slaughtering both with equal impunity. To

explain one requires explaining the other; their shared doom cannot be treated as separate events. * * * Born near modern-day Florence, Italy in 1564, Galileo was a mathematician, physicist, and astronomer. He became famous when he

invented the hydrostatic balance, and later became the bête noire of the religious authorities by challenging their Aristotelian world view and promoting the Copernican system of the universe. house arrest in 1642. * * * An empirical work is any work that is founded solely upon observed or tested phenomenon, as opposed to work that is theoretical or fictional in nature. For example, a paper that argues that the sun rises in the East and sets in the West could be considered of an empirical nature, as its claim is verifiable by direct observation. Not so, would a paper be if it conjectured that the sun was put in the sky by a mythical being with envisaged powers of creation. Such a paper would not be an empirical work, but instead an He died while under

imaginative fiction. * * * “Do not go gentle into that good night,” begins the villanelle poem that shares its title with its first line, written in 1951 by poet Dylan Thomas (BBC 1). Dylan wrote about his dying father in the poem, and through its lines

Lindstrom 5 explores his personal feelings about death and the grief that losing a loved one brings to those who remain behind. In it, Dylan encourages his father to fight to remain alive, to battle the encroaching darkness. Gould references this specifically to give color to his assertion that the dinosaurs did not pass away peacefully, but rather, as is evinced by their pain-contorted fossil remains, the dinosaurs died in a cataclysmic event. * * * Gould’s reference to “fried testicles” speaks to his discussion of Colbert, Cowles, and Bogert’s idea that “a worldwide rise in temperature at the close of the Cretaceous period caused the testes of dinosaurs to stop functioning and led to their extinction by sterilization of males” (450). His mention of “terminal trips” alludes to Siegel’s assertion that the dinosaurs poisoned themselves on toxic plants that they could not taste. Siegel argues that he is “not suggesting that all dinosaurs [overdosed] on plant drugs, but it certainly was a factor” (452). * * * Carl Sagan was a famous American astronomer and author. Born in 1934, Sagan did much to popularize the pursuit of scientific knowledge through his numerous books and television appearances. He was

extensively involved in the two NASA Voyager spacecraft missions, and having studied the color variations of Mars’ surface, concluded that the changes were brought about by vast windstorms, a theory that was later confirmed by probes sent to Mars.

Lindstrom 6 * * * There are three theories for explaining the disappearance of the dinosaurs that Gould presents in his essay titled “Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs.” The first is that male dinosaurs became sterile thanks to a warming world and an innate inability to adequately regulate the temperature of their testicles. The second theory proposes that dinosaurs succumbed to the consumption of toxic fauna thanks to their literal inability to taste and avoid the poison. The final hypothesis concerns itself with a mass extinction event being brought on by radical climate changes resulting from a large meteor striking the earth. Gould enumerates these theories so that he might demonstrate his injunction of “useless restrictive. It generates no testable hypothesis, and offers no way to obtain potentially refuting evidence” (Gould 449). Through his paper, Gould

considers each of these three extinction scenarios in turn, evaluating each for testability and expandability. * * * P. B. Medawar uses the term soluble frequently in more than just the title of his work, “The Art of the Soluble.” He uses it to refer not to the ability of a substance to be dissolved within a liquid, such as a drop of ink in a pool of water, but instead of a problem that can be solved. Thus, an insoluble problem is one that cannot be solved, or has no solution. An example of this is UCLA psychiatrist Ronald K. Siegel’s hypothesis that dinosaurs became extinct by poisoning themselves through consuming toxic plants. Gould calls

Lindstrom 7 Siegel’s theory a “gratuitous, attention-grabbing guess”, thanks to it being an insoluble theory (453). Photosynthesis is the process whereby green plants and some species of cyanobacteria metabolize light to produce energy. Synchrony refers to two or more actions or events that happen simultaneously, or in synchronization by sharing a like scale of time. Surfaces and volumes are two different measures of polygonal solids, that is, of three-dimensional objects that occupy space. Surface area is the space found between the vertices of the object, or the outermost surface of a sphere. Volume, on the other hand, concerns the contents of the solid, or put another way, the amount of space contained by the surfaces.

Lindstrom 8 Works Cited

Bennett, Gary L. “On Stephen Jay Gould.” Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Sep. 2002. <> “Dylan Thomas: Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.” BBC. <> Gould, Stephen Jay. “Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs.” ← ← The Writer’s Presence. Ed. Donald McQuade and Robert Atwan. Boston: Bedford, 2006. London, Jack. “The Little Lady of the Big House.” Project Gutenberg. 15 Dec. 2002 <> Medawar, Peter B. “The Art of the Soluble.” New York: Oxford UP, 1967 Ober, C. K. “Out of the Fog.” Project Gutenberg. 5 Jun. 2003 <> Siegfried, Thomas. “Stephen Jay Gould Taught Public a Lot About Life, Science.” Dallas Morning News. <> Straetfeild, R. A. “The Opera.” Project Gutenberg. 9 Jul. 2005 <>

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