Producer's Notes: Why I Do Science: E.O. Wilson

How do you fit your hero into 2 minutes? Very, very carefully…!

All kidding aside, getting to interview Edward O. Wilson was the pinnacle of my career so far.  How often do you get to meet your hero, sit down face-to-face, and ask him questions about his life?  I still get goosebumps just thinking about it!

It probably sounds kind of silly – calling someone you’ve never met your “hero.”  But I think it’s important to have someone in your field of work that you can look up to, be inspired by, and who can challenge you to be a greater person.

The first time I heard E. O. Wilson speak, I was at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival.  He gave the keynote speech for the festival, in which he discussed the role of science and socio-biology in the future of western civilization.  This, of course, was many years ago, before the term “climate change” replaced “global warming;” before we really understood the impact modern man was creating on the globe; before the hopeless pessimists decided there was no turning back.  And yet, in EO Wilson, the eternal optimist had already been born.


I think it was his optimism that drew me in – I am constantly amazed at human nature, wondering WHY we do the things we do.  Throughout history, the studies of science and sociology were hopelessly at odds.  For hundreds of years, the pursuit of knowledge for these topics were on separate paths, since combining the two would essentially negate them both.  Enter Edward O Wilson, eager to learn, and unafraid to say “Nature AND Nuture.”  Needless to say, Wilson spent many years under attack by his colleagues, yet he managed to remain steadfast and optimistic, both about his own research, and about the future of science and biology.

Today, scientists generally agree that nature and nurture are not mutually exclusive.  In fact, E.O. Wilson continues to contribute valuable ideas, creating new ventures and collaborations that continue push the boundaries of modern science. His list of accolades is long: he has won the Pulitzer Prize (twice!); he created the Biodiversity Foundation; he has served on the Boards of Directors of The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, and the American Museum of Natural History; and he conceived the idea of the Encyclopedia of Life - one of QUEST’s National Partners.  Recently, QUEST has been collaborating with local 5th graders for the EOL Education and Learning group’s East Bay Regional Park District Bay Lab Project.

Perhaps the easiest way for me to show you how the world looks to someone like E.O. Wilson is to share this excerpt (which I absolutely LOVE, but unfortunately couldn’t squeeze it into a mere 2 minutes.

“The most common question I’m asked about ants is what do I do about the ones in my kitchen? And my answer is always to be the same – it is to feed them bits of honey and tuna, canned tuna fish. They love those particularly. Then watch where you step. Be careful of little lives. Get down and watch them closely, and you will see as they behave and communicate with one another, to come out and get those little bits of food, you will see behavior that is so strange to human beings, and so complex, that it might be what you would expect to see in life on another planet.”