And in This Corner. the Garden's Peter Raven Squares off with Business Professor Julian Simon over Species Extinction

Article excerpt

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 Ali.

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 Park.

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 Earth.

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. …