For those unfamiliar with the Great Stink of 1858, it was essentially the “perfect storm” of a human (and other) waste polluted Thames River combining with a blisteringly hot July and August to produce an incapacitating stench throughout the city of London. Londoners rarely left their homes in order to avoid the wretch-inducing smell. Basic elements of civic government came to a near stand-still. And people at all levels of society called for something to be done.
In an age where so many elected and appointed office holders have, shall we say, less than a sufficient knowledge of the relevant subjects necessary for them to do their respective jobs well, it is difficult to imagine a time when not only were such positions held by people who were not merely competent, they were genuine polymaths, well-versed in matters spanning a range so as to make their modern counterparts seem veritable cartoon characters by comparison.
Zoos are amazing places. At their best, the modern forms mix research and spectacle into a melange that has the power to both entertain as well as enlighten. At their worst… well, let us not dwell on that at present. And as to their history; in their previous existence as menageries and indeed, right up into living memory, some have not only been institutions of scientific study, but but also centers of far more social and political influence than we would likely think possible today.
Not so very long after I entered Lyudmila Trut and Lee Dugatkin’s recently published book “How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog): Visionary Scientists and a Siberian Tale of Jump-Started Evolution” into the “Newly Noted” section, whom did I discover Steve Mirsky interviewing about this very book on the Scientific American Science Talk podcast than Lee Dugatkin himself!