Stephen Jay Gould Speaks Out Against Science Paparazzi

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Vol 37 Issue 29

Friend's Wife Encountered Twice A Year

GERMANTOWN, TN—Local resident Wayne Beller has encountered Dennis Sharp's wife 12 times during the pair's six-year friendship. "For some reason, it's always twice a year," Whitman said Monday. "So far, I've run into [Sherri Sharp] once this year, when I returned Dennis' Roto-Tiller in early June. I'll probably see her again at some party around Christmastime, and that'll be it." Beller added that Sherri "seems nice enough."

Partygoers Drunkenly Recite 4-H Pledge

MISSOULA, MT—The 4-H pledge was drunkenly recalled Saturday, when a trio of former 4-H members recited the international youth organization's oath between swigs of beer at a house party. "I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living," shouted a heavily intoxicated Benjamin Brower, 29, who was active in 4-H from 1984 to 1986. "Holy shit, I can't believe I still remember that." The nostalgic group chant was followed by an attempt to recall what "Webelos" stands for.

Semiotics Department Accuses University Administration Of Anti-Semiotism

PROVIDENCE, RI—After years of budget cuts and downsizing, Brown University's Semiotics Department lashed out at school administrators Monday, accusing them of "blatant anti-semiotism." "How can such shamefully anti-semiotic acts be condoned in an enlightened society?" asked professor Don Frisch. "It deeply saddens me that in the year 2001, there are still people out there who discriminate against a group of people just because they engage in the study of signs and symbols, especially as elements of language or other systems of communication." Frisch said he is outraged that his department has been relegated to the academic ghetto.

According To Nutritional Information, Local Man Just Had 16 Servings Of Fritos

WAUKESHA, WI—According to the nutritional information on the back of a bag of Fritos, area resident Jerry Ploeg just ate 16 servings of the popular corn chip. "Wow, I didn't realize there were so many servings in there," Ploeg said Tuesday, moments after finishing off the bag, which contained 220 grams of fat and 1,200 percent of the USRDA for sodium. "How big is a serving, anyway?" Ploeg then washed the Fritos down with five servings of Dr. Pepper.

Bank Robbers Fail To Consider O'Reilly Factor

PITTSBURGH, PA—Would-be bank robbers Anthony Nesco, 34, and James Dumas, 36, were foiled Monday after failing to take into account the O'Reilly Factor. "Before they charged into [Fidelity Savings Bank] waving their guns, those two creeps should have thought about me and my tough-talking, straight-shooting, no-nonsense style," said Bill O'Reilly, host of Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor and author of a best-selling book of the same name. "Normally, I take no prisoners, but I'll make an exception in the case of these two crum-bums: Lock 'em up and throw away the key, I say." O'Reilly added that it's absolutely ridiculous, the money these moddycoddled pro athletes make these days.

The Clone Wars

Across the U.S. and on Capitol Hill, debate is raging on the issue of human cloning. What do you think?
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Stephen Jay Gould Speaks Out Against Science Paparazzi

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Paleontologist and author Stephen Jay Gould spoke out against the increasingly aggressive tactics of the paparazzi Tuesday, railing against "the reckless throngs of photographers that relentlessly hound America's top scientists."

Physicist Dr. Richard Kinder is mobbed by paparazzi outside his University of Chicago office.

"The time has come to place limits on these photographers," said Gould, speaking from Harvard University, where he is a professor of geology and zoology. "They are disrupting my life, as well as those of my colleagues, my family, and my friends."

According to Gould, photographers stand poised around the clock at the entrance of virtually any facility where research is being conducted, including such science hotspots as the Mayo Clinic, labs at MIT and Princeton, and the Center For Astrophysical Research in Antarctica. The situation has gotten so bad, Gould said, that scientists are often forced to slip in through alternate entrances, and increased security is required at any conference they attend.

"It doesn't matter if you're in the lab developing semiconductor heterostructures for high-speed opto-electronics or just going out for coffee, someone is always ready to shove a camera in your face," said Gould, who rose to science stardom in 1972 when his theory of punctuated equilibria made him a household name. "As for field studies, I may as well forget them, unless I'm prepared to bring a full team of bodyguards along with me to the dig site."

Brian Greene, whose The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, And The Quest For The Ultimate Theory spent 32 weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list last year, is also fed up with the media.

"Yes, I want people to read my work, but my personal life is my own business," Greene said. "Just because I'm a scientist doesn't mean I have to completely surrender my privacy. The public doesn't have the right to know everything I do every second of the day." Greene recently sued the German magazine Stern for publishing nude sunbathing photos of him and his girlfriend, Stanford University physicist Dr. Aileen Wang.

The latest issue of <i>Science World Weekly.</i>

Members of the paparazzi say they are merely responding to public demand, providing a service to the millions of Americans who closely follow the careers of the world's top physicists, mathematicians, and botanists.

"In this country, people want to know about scientific discoveries the minute they happen," said New Haven-based freelance photographer Lance Evans. "It's only natural that the public would be interested in the personal lives of the men and women behind these discoveries."

Gould insisted that the adoring public is not the problem.

"The paparazzi are far more forceful and disruptive than they need to be," said Gould, who on Aug. 5 pleaded no-contest to a March incident in which he attacked an intrusive paparazzo with a broken graduated cylinder. "I realize they have a job to do, but there is such a thing as taking it too far."

According to Gould, paparazzi often use illegal means to secure photos for such notoriously disreputable tabloids as Science World Weekly and Starz, which bills itself as "your most trusted source for astronomy celebrity news."

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that paparazzi photos often accompany stories that are inaccurate or outright libelous.

"The tabloids make little effort to ground their stories in reality," Gould said. "A recent Science World Weekly story claimed I was starting a project in organic stereochemistry and conformational analysis, which is preposterous. Another tabloid recently ran a contest offering the winner a romantic evening carbon-dating fossils with me in my lab. I never agreed to any such contest."

Gould is urging lawmakers to impose stricter standards on trespassing photographers and implored the public not to purchase tabloids that print "these ill-gotten photos and ludicrous stories."

Many science fans are torn, saying that, while their favorite researchers have a right to privacy, they still crave the latest gossip on them.

"I love Stephen Jay because he's not afraid to take on the historical genesis and broader implications of biological determinism, focusing on the question of the numerical ranking of human groups by measures of intelligence," said Tanya Bymers, 20, of Decatur, GA. "I know I shouldn't, but if I see a tabloid rag with him on the cover, I have to buy it."

Some fans felt less sympathy for celebrity scientists.

"Oh, come on, Stephen," said Trace Leefold, webmaster of www.grantwatch.com, a site that prints rumors about soon-to-be-awarded research grants. "No one put a gun to your head and forced you to enter the field of evolutionary theory. You chose that life."

Alan Heeger and Alan MacDiarmid, co-recipients of the 2000 Nobel Prize For Chemistry, said Gould and his fellow tabloid opponents are too thin-skinned. Dubbed the "Plastics Pals" for their discovery and development of conductive polymers, the researchers are among the few scientists to enjoy a good relationship with the paparazzi, arriving at meetings flanked by a phalanx of photographers.

"If it weren't for all this publicity, it's possible that far fewer people would support our work," Heeger said. "We scientists could actually be in the position of needing to scrape pennies together to complete our vitally important research."

Diehard science fan Jill Krause agreed.

"These scientists are the most important people in America," Krause said. "Our very future depends on them. They are enabling us to live longer and better, discovering the history of the planet we live on, and unraveling the mysteries of the universe. There's no way we'd ever let them work in obscurity. It's laughable."

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