Magazine article Natural History

Observing, Skeptically

Magazine article Natural History

Observing, Skeptically

Article excerpt

The first time I ever visited a "wild" cave was decades ago, in the karst-rich country of the southern Appalachians. Caves in their natural state bear little resemblance to commercial caverns: no freight elevators or tastefully lighted stalactites, no cafe and gift shop at the main entrance. The entrance to my first cave was a pit, 160 feet deep; to enter, my guides and I tied a rope to a tree, dropped the other end to the bottom, and rappelled down. The adventure got even better. We scrunched into a crack in the floor of the pit, belly-crawling a few dozen feet through a tight little passage. But then we emerged, rewarded for our efforts, into an immense room at the base of a deafening waterfall, cascading from a darkness too high for our headlamps to penetrate.

Charles Darwin, as far as I know, never crawled around in caves; his weakness as an explorer was isolated volcanic islands. But there's no question he would have been fascinated by Luis and Monika Espinasa's story on page 44, "Why Do Cave Fish Lose Their Eyes?" Darwin posed the same question, and was not able to answer it to his own satisfaction. Subtle observations of the bones in the fishes' eye sockets, and the genes in the fishes' cells, may finally resolve the conundrum.

Lynn Margulis is another close observer of nature, but she is also a scholarly explorer and a fiercely independent thinker. Remarkably, nearly four years after the anthrax attacks of 2001, the life history of the anthrax disease agent remains an open scientific question. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.