Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A bit humbling

I pride myself in knowing something about a very wide range of topics, even if there are very few in which I could confidently call myself expert. I can converse intelligently on most topics in organismal and population biology, and have read bits and pieces in a large range of other fields. I like to tell myself that this will allow me to make important scientific advances, because I can draw together knowledge from disparate fields. But then when I compare my own writings on the co-evolution of longevity and the brain in primates (the paper I am currently working on) to this amazing detailed, readable and reasonable chapter:

Kaplan H, Gangestad S, Gurven M, Lancaster J, Mueller T, and Robson A. 2007. The evolution of diet, brain and life history among primates and humans. In: Roebroeks JWM, editor. Guts and brains: An integrative approach to the hominin record: Leiden University Press. p 47-81.

The various authors of this paper have each been working on a set of related questions for decades, and they bring together this acquired knowledge into a devastatingly clear and cogent argument. Where I have vague intentions to explore an idea, they have specific arguments and evidence to back them up. I can't help but feel a bit like a child building a pile of sand on top of the great pyramid, thinking I am making it taller when I'm just making a mess. Or maybe it is just past my bedtime.

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