E. O. Wilson goes on Colbert to tout his book

I got nothing today: bupkes. You people expect me to post all these items every day when I’m doing a book and teaching at the same time, as well as preparing a talk for the Imagine No Religion conference in Canada next week. Oy gewalt! I need either a vacation or the chance to rub the belly of a baby tiger—or both.

But thanks to the readers I have a few contributions. First is the clip of an appearance of famed biologist E. O. Wilson on Colbert two days ago.  (This probably won’t be visible outside the U.S.)

Wilson, as expected if you know him, doesn’t engage in a lot of repartee with Colbert, though there is a funny bit when Colbert instructs Wilson that humans were put on earth to have dominion over the planet and exploit it for our needs). Rather, Wilson’s there to plug his new book, A Window on Eternity: A Biologist’s Walk through Gorongosa National Park. And Wilson’s eloquent and impressive, especially for a guy of 85.  The park, in Mozambique, was once a dense haven for African wildlife, but has been severely damaged by human incursion. Now, though, several organizations are desperately trying to restore it.

If you’re wondering what’s up with Wilson’s right eye, he lost it in a childhood accident while fishing, as described in The Economist:

It all started with a poke in the eye for a seven-year-old boy, out fishing in Alabama. It was 1936, and Ed Wilson’s parents had just divorced, leaving him lonely and introspective. When he pulled up his rod, a pinfish swung into his face and its spine blinded him in one eye. The accident had lasting repercussions. If Wilson had been sighted in both eyes, he might have been drawn to the megafauna, or passed fit for the United States Army and killed in Korea, or otherwise diverted from being an exceptional young biologist. As it was, he came to be reliant on what he could see up close and through a microscope and so was ineluctably drawn to the microfauna.

Here’s part of the Amazon blurb on his new book, which I’m pleased to learn is illustrated by someone whose work has appeared here often: photographer/biologist Piotr Naskrecki:

A Window on Eternity is a stunning book of splendid prose and gorgeous photography about one of the biologically richest places in Africa and perhaps in the world. Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique was nearly destroyed in a brutal civil war, then was reborn and is now evolving back to its original state. Edward O. Wilson’s personal, luminous description of the wonders of Gorongosa is beautifully complemented by Piotr Naskrecki’s extraordinary photographs of the park’s exquisite natural beauty. A bonus DVD of Academy Award–winning director Jessica Yu’s documentary, The Guide, is also included with the book.

Wilson takes readers to the summit of Mount Gorongosa, sacred to the local people and the park’s vital watershed. From the forests of the mountain he brings us to the deep gorges on the edge of the Rift Valley, previously unexplored by biologists, to search for new species and assess their ancient origins. He describes amazing animal encounters from huge colonies of agricultural termites to spe­cialized raider ants that feed on them to giant spi­ders, a battle between an eagle and a black mamba, “conversations” with traumatized elephants that survived the slaughter of the park’s large animals, and more. He pleads for Gorongosa—and other wild places—to be allowed to exist and evolve in its time­less way uninterrupted into the future.


h/t: Stephen Q. Muth (one of Butter’s staff)


  1. Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    I’m really going to miss the Colbert report when he goes to take Letterman’s job he has so many scientists on, I can’t think of another mainstream show that does this?

  2. Posted May 7, 2014 at 5:45 am | Permalink

    It is possible to watch the clip outside of the US. But I noticed that Wilson’s chair is dangerously close to the edge of the podium at the end of the interview. Luckily he didn’t fall.

  3. The Militant One
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:00 am | Permalink

    He was on Charlie Rose last night. It was great.

    • wnwd
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      … yah, it was!, & included some of the photography. It’s usually sometime the following business-day when a Charlie Rose interview is posted to the website:

  4. Daoud
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    lol, just a comment on your conference:

    I love how in huge font in the middle of each day’s schedule it says:

    BAR OPENS 12:00PM

    Dr. Coyne is on at 4pm Saturday, the crowd might be a bit boisterous by then 😀

    • Daoud
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      Though the 4pm Saturday spot will likely be better received than the first spot Sunday morning 😉

      • Larry Gay
        Posted May 7, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Dan Barker speaks Sunday morning at 9. Habits are hard to break.

  5. Doris Walker
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Jerry, I think everyone would understand if you cut back a little.

    But just a little.

    • Posted May 7, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      A little? Oy!

      • Posted May 7, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

        I think we’ll be forgiving if you delay your next post by a few minutes. But no more than five minutes, you slacker! And just this once, to be sure.


  6. Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    I like his idea of setting aside half the planet to be free from development. I’d even up that percentage….


    • Nwalsh
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 9:37 am | Permalink


  7. Posted May 7, 2014 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    Who is Butter?

    • Posted May 7, 2014 at 7:19 am | Permalink


    • Posted May 7, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      ME, THAZ HOO.

      This message has been sent from my Blackberry!

      • Posted May 7, 2014 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        My yahoo email account was hacked just before that big worm event a month ago (my post signature used to have my actual name, Richard Olson), so I missed out on the feature with your cat. I did not know there is a Himalaya breed. Cool lookin’ cat.

        • Posted May 7, 2014 at 11:16 am | Permalink

          They are… (hoping Butter doesn’t read this…) they have their troubles and can lead uncomfortable lives, not being able to breathe so well and all… so I kind-of wish the breeders would cool-it already. But they do have an interesting history.

          They can be a little high-maintenance, but they are sweeter than any breed I’ve known.

          • Posted May 7, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

            If I attempted to vacuum Baihu, I’d wind up sucking up blood. Lots of blood — and all of it my own.

            Fortunately, he’s got a very short coat, and regular petting is almost always all the maintenance it needs. A couple times a year I’ll break out the furminator, but that’s it.


        • Posted May 7, 2014 at 11:18 am | Permalink


          This message has been sent by my Blackberry!

          • Posted May 7, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

            That’s right. Only noob hacker cats hack Yahoo accounts. Butter and his peeps have way more skillz than that.

  8. Posted May 7, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I could listen to Dr. Wilson talk for hours. I had the honor of meeting him (for the third time!) a couple of weeks ago at the EO Wilson Biodiversity Symposium that his alma mater the University of Alabama organized. He is always eloquent and insightful – and often, intentionally hilarious. Definitely an engaging speaker, whatever the venue.

  9. Brian Axsmith
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    ALABAMA boy makes good.

  10. Nwalsh
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Jerry, and what part of the dominion are you coming to next week?

    • Posted May 7, 2014 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Click on the link above; it gives all the info about the Imagine No Religion meeting in BC

  11. Posted May 7, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I doubt Wilson’s latest will be quite as much a bombshell as the one before it. A) Pinker managed the ludicrous feat of writing a whole revisionist “history” of the Blank Slate that ignored the legacy of Robert Ardrey, and only mentioned him to claim he was “totally and utterly wrong” because he supported group selection. B) E. O. Wilson becomes the “father of evolutionary psychology” for repeating themes from Ardrey’s books in “Sociobiology” and “On Human Nature.” C) E. O. Wilson embraces (you guessed it) group selection in “The Social Conquest of Earth! Meanwhile, all the main themes of Ardrey’s books continue to be vindicated right and left, usually with no mention that he ever existed. The goddess of history must have a sense of humor. She occasionally plays some very ironic practical jokes. Sorry about that, Ardrey. Pinker’s “history” is now the “truth.”

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 2:33 am | Permalink

      Ardrey was a playwright, not a scientist, and he really didn’t understand how evolution works (or even how it was supposed, by biologists other than Konrad Lorenz, to work in the 1960s). I do think his books deserve more discussion than they have got in the last few decades, but mainly for their influence on popular culture rather than scientific understanding. It’s hardly likely that he was a significant influence on Wilson, whose group-selectionist aberration must be traced to other sources.

  12. BilBy
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    Gorongosa is a great place – and not that difficult to get to, once you make it to Beira, which has flights from Maputo, which in turn is linked to Johannesburg. Or you can drive and have ‘fun’ on the Mozambican roads! They may have improved in the last few years though.

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