Emerging From Caves | History | Smithsonian

Emerging From Caves

Science suffers a setback—and leads to a breakthrough

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Reporting his story about the good people of Dayton, Tennessee, where John Scopes was tried 80 years ago for teaching evolution in the public schools ("Evolution on Trial"), Steve Kemper wanted particularly to talk to Kurt Wise, a professor of science at Bryan College in Dayton. After all, Wise has a PhD in paleontology from Harvard and studied with the late, respected paleontologist Stephen J. Gould, an ardent foe of creationism. And Wise believes that God created the world 6,000 years ago.

But he was reluctant to be interviewed. "My only chance to speak with him was to accompany his class on a field trip to Grassy Cove Saltpeter Cave," says Kemper. "So I found myself crawling through a muddy cave on my stomach with a group of kids who believed it had been formed in a matter of hours." I think you’ll agree that getting Wise to comment on the record was worth Kemper's slithering.

And when Kemper asked Dayton resident Eloise Reed, 92, if she believed in evolution or in the Bible's account of the origins of life, she looked at him incredulously. "Why, the Bible!" she answered.

She is not alone in Dayton, which takes pride in its status as defender of the faith. One hotel has a Golden Monkey Lounge, and Dayton residents can obtain license plates proclaiming them citizens of "Monkeytown."

What brought Jeffrey Kluger to the story of the victory over polio ("Conquering Polio"), he says, was "its clear and powerful arc." Like the Apollo 13 near disaster, the subject of a 1994 book coauthored by Kluger, Jonas Salk's relentless assault on the devastating disease was played out against a ticking clock. "Every year that a vaccine wasn't perfected was one more year in which 50,000 or more children could be sickened or killed," says Kluger. "What must it have felt like to the people in Salk's lab when May or June rolled in, the vaccine wasn't ready, and another summer was lost? And then what must it have felt like in 1955 when the vaccine was declared in April and that summer—as well as all the ones that followed—could be saved?"

This year's photo contest yielded no fewer than 27,000 entries. We are overwhelmed not only by the volume of submissions but by their quality. What remarkable photographers Smithsonian's readers turn out to be! As I write, in the last week of February, we have winnowed each category down to fewer than 100 entries. We plan to pick the ten finalists in each category by the end of March and will post them on our Web site April 1. We plan to publish the grand-prize winner and five category winners in our July issue. Great job, everybody!

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus