Category Archives: Evolution

The underhand ape

ns_logoIN 2004, Benjamin Olken visited a road-building project in rural Indonesia. There was just one small section missing – a bridge over a stream – but the money had run out because of embezzlement, and construction abandoned. “By the time I got there, you could see where the road had been cleared and built, but the grass had completely grown back,” he says. “The road had fallen into decay…”

This article was first published in New Scientist on 9 November 2011. To continue reading click here.

God-loving linguists

il_logoIN 1963 Barbara and Joseph Grimes sat down with their Huichol neighbours to discuss what to do about the bandits terrorising their remote community. It was clear to everyone that the Grimes themselves were the problem. Seeing Americans living there, at the southern tip of the Rocky Mountains, the bandits assumed the community was rich. The Grimes recognised that it would be best for everyone if they left…

This article was first published at More Intelligent Life on 19 November 2010.

Dreampond revisited

page11-nature_logoOLE Seehausen didn’t expect to find much when he dropped his trawling net into Lake Victoria in 1991. The fish he was studying, called cichlids, had been disappearing from the East African lake for years. So he was astounded when he hauled in dozens of them. Close inspection of their coloration and shapes revealed five distinct species. The graduate student couldn’t wait to deliver the news to his supervisor, Frans Witte, at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “The quality of the phone line was so horrible that I wasn’t sure he had understood that we had caught cichlids offshore again,” he recalls…

This article first appeared in Nature on 8 July 2010. To continue reading click here.

Anthony Allison, unsung hero

il_logoSIXTY years ago, a young graduate was kicking his heels in Oxford, waiting to embark on his medical studies, when he was invited to join an expedition to a country he knew well. Kenya was his childhood home, but this would be more than a nostalgia trip for him. His head stuffed with new-fangled notions about human evolution, he saw it as an opportunity to put his ideas to the test. Thus began one of the great unsung scientific journeys of the last century, whose impact continues to be felt in this one…

This article first appeared in Intelligent Life in spring 2009. To continue reading, click here.

Furry logic

titlepieceIT was an ordinary day at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC. Five orang utans were milling about the yard of the exhibit called the think tank, playing intermittently with a barrel that a keeper had rolled out for them. By the time staff had realised that the power to the electric fence on top of the wall had failed, orang utan Bonnie had up-ended the barrel, scaled it and escaped. Mingling with the zoo’s visitors, her baby son Kiko clinging to her body, she headed for lunch…

This article first appeared in the Guardian on 19 June 2003. To continue reading click here.