ST. LOUIS may never be the scene of a boxing match on the order
of Evander Holyfield vs. Riddick Bowe or Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad
But an equally intense flurry of verbal punches on one of the
heavyweight issues of our time is slated to fly Tuesday afternoon
at the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton. Two of the nation's most prominent
arch rivals will square off on the issue of "Species Extinction: Is
There a Crisis?"
Climbing into the debate ring will be biologist and hometown
favorite Peter Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
His opponent: conservative naysayer Julian Simon, professor of
business administration at the University of Maryland at College
More than 100 science writers from around the country will have
ringside seats to watch the thrust and parry of two great debaters.
They are in town for the 31st New Horizons in Science briefing,
which runs through Thursday. It is open only to journalists.
The briefing is organized by the Council for the Advancement of
Science Writing, a science journalism group that holds the fall
briefing in a different city each year. This year's briefing is
sponsored by Washington University, with support from Monsanto Co.
and the National Science Foundation.
The CASW card features a dozen reports by researchers on the
frontiers of science and technology. Among these reports will be
new findings on organ farming for transplant surgery, an oral
anti-fertility vaccine and a hazardous waste cleanup technique
called "the Lasagna Project."
The Raven vs. Simon bout is shaping up as the main event. It
should capture attention no matter what you feel about the state of
The debate will provide "an incredible tension and atmosphere
very rare at science meetings," said Tony Fitzpatrick, senior
science editor at Washington University and longtime attendee at
the annual briefings. "Both men represent two starkly contrasting
ideologies, and they're outstanding speakers."
Simon, who has a reputation as a caustic debater, and Raven,
known for rapid-fire recitation of statistics, have debated twice
in the past, and you can hear in their voices that there is bad
blood between them.
In a recent telephone interview, Simon said the real reason he
is taking to the ring again is to tell the science writers about
Monte Carlo methods, a statistical technique. But he will pull no
punches on species extinction, he said.
"My message on that is a very simple one: There is no evidence
for species extinction beyond the one a year that has been going on
for the past 80 years," Simon said. …