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Once We All Had Gills

Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World

Rudolf A. Raff

Publication Year: 2012

In this book, Rudolf A. Raff reaches out to the scientifically queasy, using his life story and his growth as a scientist to illustrate why science matters, especially at a time when many Americans are both suspicious of science and hostile to scientific ways of thinking. Noting that science has too often been the object of controversy in school curriculums and debates on public policy issues ranging from energy and conservation to stem-cell research and climate change, Raff argues that when the public is confused or ill-informed, these issues tend to be decided on religious, economic, and political grounds that disregard the realities of the natural world. Speaking up for science and scientific literacy, Raff tells how and why he became an evolutionary biologist and describes some of the vibrant and living science of evolution. Once We All Had Gills is also the story of evolution writ large: its history, how it is studied, what it means, and why it has become a useful target in a cultural war against rational thought and the idea of a secular, religiously tolerant nation.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. ix-xi

Most Americans you might meet on the street could name at least one living athlete, musician, celebrity, and politician, but far fewer could name any living scientist – or tell you what scientists do. A British poll of teens found that none could name a single living scientist...

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pp. xiii-xv

No writing can be done in isolation from the influences and assistance of others. The greatest help I’ve had is from my wife and scientific partner Beth Raff. I am deeply grateful for her love and encouragement, for her willingness to read endless manuscript...

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Part 1: Becoming a Naturalist

We don’t often take the time to tell people why we are scientists and how we developed intellectually. I think that’s a mistake in a time when science influences society heavily but few people know a scientist or what he or she does. No one speaks for all scientists...

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1. Space-Time

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pp. 3-14

I am enthralled by time. As long as I can recall I’ve wanted to know how the familiar world we take for granted came about. Th is has been a lifelong fascination because the past is truly not just another country but a chain of linked and ever stranger other worlds. Our evolutionary...

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2. Layers of the Past

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pp. 15-28

My mother, Therese Dufresne, was the daughter of a well-liked local physician, Albert Dufresne, who practiced from 1930 onward in Shawinigan and the surrounding countryside. His house calls could mean anything, including grueling trips into the backcountry by horse-drawn sled or...

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3. An Age of Dinosaurs

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pp. 29-38

We left Canada for Pittsburgh, a mysterious city in Pennsylvania, during the fall of 1949. I know this move was an enormous break in the lives of my parents, hopeful for my father, wrenching for my mother. The trip was just a big adventure into the unknown for me, a...

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4. A School a Minute

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pp. 39-48

My mother never really adapted fully to life in Pittsburgh or felt completely at home with American customs. She always pined for Quebec and for French-speaking friends. Although she spoke English as well as any native speaker, all her life she would emphasize...

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5. In the Natural World

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pp. 49-64

I was an inveterate naturalist. Each year I anxiously awaited the return of spring (and, truthfully, the end of the time-crawling endless school year). I felt a strong curiosity and an intense attraction for the look and feel of natural forms and creatures, the stranger the better. At various times my...

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6. Transformations

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pp. 65-76

After one more family move, I did my last year before college in another new school, Gateway Senior High in the Pittsburgh suburb of Monroeville. As many of my classmates were also new students who had just transferred there with the metastasis of suburban...

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7. Going South

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pp. 77-94

Near the end of my undergraduate life, I set about blissfully applying to graduate schools, including Duke. There was lurking a possible slight hitch to entering this dream world; I had a commitment to serve two years of active duty in the U.S. Navy aft er commissioning as an ensign...

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8. Learning to Love the Bomb

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pp. 95-104

As I was completing my Ph.D. dissertation in the spring of 1967, I uneasily awaited my orders to report for active duty in the U.S. Navy. The anticipation was tense because I was a line officer and thus could have been sent to serve in a warship cruising off the Vietnam coast...

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9. On the Road to Chiapas

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pp. 105-124

As 1968 bloomed, we watched in dismay the growing ferocity of the Vietnam War with the shattering surprise of the Tet Offensive at the beginning of the year, the decline of Lyndon Johnson’s hold on the presidency, and the depressing inevitability of Nixon’s...

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10. The Masked Messenger

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pp. 125-136

When Beth and I returned to State College at the end of the long, anticlimactic journey back from Mexico via Oklahoma, we packed our car full of our possessions and set off for Boston to start postdoctoral work. We moved into the entire middle floor of an enormous...

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Part 2: Finding Evolution, Founding Evo-Devo

To become an evolutionary biologist means understanding not only the science of evolution but also the history of an evolving idea. My own entry into this science seems indirect, but studying development would let me see how major evolutionary questions...

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11. Evolution as Science

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pp. 139-148

When I was a kid and enjoyed collecting fossils and fantasizing about live dinosaurs, I was completely, even magnificently, ignorant when it came to grasping what evolution is, beyond a vague notion of one kind of dinosaur following another through time to their inevitable doom...

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12. Dining with Darwin

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pp. 149-168

Biologists like to have a sense of connection with places or events associated with Darwin. Th at comes mainly from reading Voyage of the Beagle, which along with the great Darwin biography industry has given us an amazing sense of intimacy with him, a sort of feeling of kinship. I feel...

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13. Life with Sea Urchins

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pp. 169-182

My former postdoctoral advisor, Paul Gross, liked to say that “your graduate students are your friends, but your postdocs are your enemies.” This was because graduate students would go off to do postdoctoral work in new areas of research but departing postdocs would want to kick-start...

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14. Embryos Evolving

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pp. 183-200

At Indiana I began thinking about evo-devo as something that should move beyond its mid-twentieth-century form. Over a period of time I developed a parts list of essential elements we would need in order to be able to both ask and answer questions about the evolution of body...

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15. Evolution in the Tasman Sea

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pp. 201-216

In the early 1980s, I started earnestly hunting for the right organism as an experimental system for delving into evo-devo. I thought the ideal animal would be one in which the evolution of early embryonic and larval development could be readily studied because embryos and larvae...

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16. An Alternate Present

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pp. 217-228

I was drawn to Australia because of the extraordinary possibilities it offered to study evo-devo in a marine embryo that had evolved with abandon. Everyone knows about kangaroos and a few other oddities such as giant fruit bats, photogenic koalas, and good beer. So it was for me when...

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17. Biology Meets Fossils

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pp. 229-248

I’ve never lost my interest in fossils or my love of tracking them down in their rocky haunts. Sometimes that haunt lies in the splash at the foot of seaside cliffs. Standing there, I’m lost in time, the fossils merging with the heave of a sea in which an imagined swarm of alert, large-eyed...

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Part 3: Strange New World

America’s rejection of evolution on religious grounds has its own peculiar flavor and history. I’ve watched with dismay as evolution denial has metamorphosed into a general dismissal of scientific reasoning and, worse, turned virulent as conservative religion and conservative...

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18. Darwin's Day in Court

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pp. 251-260

When Galileo turned his telescope to the sky in 1609, he revolutionized our thinking about our place in the universe as surely as in modern times Darwin’s natural selection would give us a new view of our biological origins in nature. Galileo’s startling discovery was that Copernicus had...

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19. Creationist Makeovers

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pp. 261-280

By the 1960s the scene had shift ed again. Th e shock of America being beaten into space by the Russian launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite ever placed in orbit, thrust the quality of our science versus their science into the hysteria of Cold War rhetoric. On the plus...

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20. Evolution Matters

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pp. 281-303

If there are two common paths for children to become entranced with science, either through an early interest in nature or through a later intellectual awakening in school, there seems as well to be another kind of division that comes into the kind of science we do. For some scientists...

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 305-314


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pp. 315-329

E-ISBN-13: 9780253007179
E-ISBN-10: 0253007178
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253002358

Page Count: 354
Illustrations: 6 color illus., 6 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012