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This is how Science works


EXCERPTS from The New York Times:

Vladimir Nabokov may be known to most people as the author of classic novels like ‘Lolita’ and ‘Pale Fire.’ But even as he was writing those books, Nabokov had a parallel existence as a self-taught expert on butterflies…..

‘By God, he got every one right,’ Dr. Pierce said. ‘I couldn’t get over it — I was blown away.’

Dr. Pierce and her colleagues also investigated Nabokov’s idea that the butterflies had come over the Bering Strait. The land surrounding the strait was relatively warm 10 million years ago, and has been chilling steadily ever since. Dr. Pierce and her colleagues found that the first lineage of Polyommatus blues that made the journey could survive a temperature range that matched the Bering climate of 10 million years ago. The lineages that came later are more cold-hardy, each with a temperature range matching the falling temperatures.

Nabokov’s taxonomic horseshoes turn out to belong in Nome after all.

‘What a great paper,’ said James Mallet, an expert on butterfly evolution at University College London. ‘It’s a fitting tribute to the great man to see that the most modern methods that technology can deliver now largely support his systematic arrangement.’

Dr. Pierce says she believes Nabokov would have been greatly pleased to be so vindicated, and points to one of his most famous poems, ‘On Discovering a Butterfly.’ The 1943 poem begins:

I found it and I named it, being versed

in taxonomic Latin; thus became

godfather to an insect and its first

describer — and I want no other fame.

‘He felt that his scientific work was standing for all time, and that he was just a player in a much bigger enterprise,’ said Dr. Pierce. ‘He was not known as a scientist, but this certainly indicates to me that he knew what it’s all about.’”


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