The Man Who Knows Too Much
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Prize-winning human mulitprocesor Jared Diamond has a lot on his
Catherine Seipp '78
matter how much you think you know or how much you may in
fact know odds are that Jared Diamond knows much, much more.
The UCLA School of Medicine professor of physiology's breadth and
depth of knowledge is enough to humble any reasonably intelligent
person. Diamond is, by most any definition, a genius. The MacArthur
Foundation gave him one of its genius awards in 1985. He has also
won a Pulitzer (for Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies),
the Coues Award (from the American Ornithologists Union) and an
honorary doctorate from Sejong University in Korea (for contributions
to the greater understanding of the Korean alphabet).
has dazzled colleagues and students with his expertise in wide-ranging
fields of knowledge for decades; recently he's begun to dazzle the
world at large as well. Like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Richard
Feynman, Diamond is that rare scientist who can speak to laymen
- and be understood. Diamond's columns in the science magazines
Discover, Nature and Natural History have brought his original thinking
to a wider audience, and his books - The Third Chimpanzee; Guns,
Germs, and Steel; and Why Is Sex Fun? - are allowing him to reach
even further. Guns, Germs, and Steel, in fact, sold some 25,000
copies the week it was awarded the Pulitzer.
been doing very well, hovering on and off the best-seller lists,"
Diamond says, adding dryly, "I have to be very grateful because
this is not a book about near-death experiences."
scientific literacy among the public at large remains lamentably
low, it is the scientific community's own tunnel vision that seems
most worrisome to Diamond these days. "Most scientists cannot understand
other areas of science," he observes, "and most write in such a
way that scientists in other fields can't understand them." He grabs
a copy of Science magazine off his desk.
is the publication of the American Association for the Advancement
of Science. Somewhere in here it says that the main goal is to enhance
the public's understanding of science. And yet, almost all of the
articles cannot be understood even by a scientist outside the field;
they're just written so technically."