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Other work with the MacArthur Foundation


The World Environment and Resources Committee
Murray Gell-Mann Scientist
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The World Environment and Resources program—and I was the chairman of the relevant committee at the MacArthur Foundation, which lasted until 1996 when all such committees were abolished—the World Environment and Resources Committee went on to formulate a program of conservation action, conservation research and sustainable development. We work mainly in tropical countries where there are, at least on land, the greatest diversity of… where there is on… at least on land, the greatest diversity of organisms and where there are also lots and lots or poor people, rapidly growing populations: big threats, in other words. And this mix of help to local conservation organizations, help to people trying to do scientific work on analyzing conservation situations, and help to people trying to start modest-scale sustainable projects that would give economic assistance and especially work to local populations in the areas of where the conservation activities  would take place; all of these have done extremely well, and we've operated in a great many different tropical countries, and with considerable success. Nowadays, big organizations, like the World Bank, are trying to infuse money into this kind of activity, but it's up to us and especially the local conservation organizations that we support to try to direct the activities of these giants, which otherwise might not be positive in… in their effect. I liken it to Mohammed driving an elephant using a hook through its ear: we have to subsidize the… the people who will put a hook through the ear of the World Bank, and that sort of thing. And we're doing that now, so I think that's been, it’s… I'm… I’m very proud of that activity; I think it's been immensely successful.

[Q] Is it still..?

But whether in the long run we will succeed, of course, in protecting a major fraction of the world's biological diversity, that's… that’s another story. But I don't believe in checking every little while to see whether it's likely that ultimate success will be achieved. It's like gardening by pulling up the plants to see how they're growing. I don't think one should do that.

New York-born physicist Murray Gell-Mann (1929-2019) was known for his creation of the eightfold way, an ordering system for subatomic particles, comparable to the periodic table. His discovery of the omega-minus particle filled a gap in the system, brought the theory wide acceptance and led to Gell-Mann's winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969.

Listeners: Geoffrey West

Geoffrey West is a Staff Member, Fellow, and Program Manager for High Energy Physics at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He is also a member of The Santa Fe Institute. He is a native of England and was educated at Cambridge University (B.A. 1961). He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1966 followed by post-doctoral appointments at Cornell and Harvard Universities. He returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1970. He left to build and lead the Theoretical High Energy Physics Group at Los Alamos. He has numerous scientific publications including the editing of three books. His primary interest has been in fundamental questions in Physics, especially those concerning the elementary particles and their interactions. His long-term fascination in general scaling phenomena grew out of his work on scaling in quantum chromodynamics and the unification of all forces of nature. In 1996 this evolved into the highly productive collaboration with James Brown and Brian Enquist on the origin of allometric scaling laws in biology and the development of realistic quantitative models that analyse the influence of size on the structural and functional design of organisms.

Tags: World Environment and Resources Committee, MacArthur Foundation, World Bank, Mahommed

Duration: 2 minutes, 49 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010