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What makes a good scientist


My recurring dream
EO Wilson Scientist
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In the dream I realised that I didn't have much time left. The plane was due to leave that day or the next day. So if I was going to explore this unknown island I'd better get busy. And then I would find myself hiking, or taking an automobile, to what appeared to be the edge of rainforest on a distant hill. And I would get up to it in the dream, all prepared to work and find all these marvellous native species and so on of ants, and arriving at... I would find, no, it was just a row... a single row of trees, like a windbreak, and on the other side more fields. And then I would wake up. And I said to myself in the course of all this, you know, it was a symbolism in my mind of what had happened. To these places I loved so much. So I kept wondering, and in my dreams as it repeated itself, I gradually became aware of what these islands... exactly what they were. It was the Wallis and Futuna group, a little known archipelago between New Caledonia and Fiji. Never been studied for ants and it's just the kind of place, you know, you'd want to go to be the first. So I said to myself in my waking moments, if I can't get to Wallis and Futuna myself, I'll send a student.

So I managed to get an undergraduate who was going to Australia shortly, and who'd been trained, you know, working on ants. And I asked him if he would take a detour to the Wallis and Futuna Islands, they're under French control I believe. And he said, 'Oh yes'. And quite an adventure for him. And he did, and he collected thoroughly, and then when he came back with the specimens we actually did a monograph on the ants of Wallis and Futuna. The dream did not stop. But now I was not on the Wallis and Futuna, I was back on New Caledonia in my dream and I couldn't get rid of that by going to New Caledonia... sending somebody to New Caledonia. It was only after a long time that the dream faded. Unfortunately, the reality of the destruction of biodiversity in the natural environment that inspired the dream did not fade.

EO Wilson (1929-2021) was an American biologist, researcher (sociobiology, biodiversity), theorist (consilience, biophilia), naturalist (conservationist) and author (two Pulitzer Prizes). His biological specialty was myrmecology, the study of ants.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Wallis and Futuna, New Caledonia, Fiji, anxiety, dream, island, rainforest, biodiversity, destruction of habitat

Duration: 2 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: 2000

Date story went live: 22 May 2018