Mr. Jefferson and Giant Moose

University of Louisville professor Dr. Lee Dugatkin is an evolutionary biologist who has studied the biology of altruism for many years. The author three books, including the "Altruism Equation," today he'll talk about "Mr. Jefferson the Giant Moose," his latest book. "Science is my passion, politics is my duty" - Thomas Jefferson Jefferson in particular loved naturalism. Jefferson's antagonist in this story was Count Buffon, arguably the most well known scientist of his day, who was determined to catalog and describe all life. "And in fact he came reasonably close," Dugatkin says, over the course of 36 volumes. Buffon's book was the talk of Enlightenment Europe. His "theory of degeneracy," however, described new world animals as inevitably feebler. The claim of fewer species also lent credence in Buffon's mind of the natural inferiority of animals in the Americas. Buffon's theorized that the cold and humidity led to this degeneracy. Having never set foot in the new world, however, Buffon got his ideas from "travelers tales", from people who would often give Buffon second hand information.What he heard was that nature had been "adopted on a smaller scale" in America. nd animal life in Virginia, and by extension, the rest of the New World. In it, he includes a table comparing the measurements of old and new world animals, and of the number of species in both. This Dugatkin shows to the crowd. It's here that a giant moose makes it entrance. If numbers could advance the case, perhaps a moose might clinch it. Since popular news of the day referred to the moose as from 8 to 12 feet high, Jefferson starts asking questions of prominent revolutionary colleagues at the height of war. Could I get a moose? He's sent as ambassador to France in 1783 and promptly looks up Buffon to brag a bit about a certain large mammal, the moose. And surprisingly, he gets Buffon to admit that IF he can see such a beast, he, Buffon, will retract his degeneracy argument. A prolific writer on all manner of important issues of the day, Dugatkin says Jefferson would sometimes stop in the middle of a letter on trade or security or other issues of national import and ask, "for goodness sake, where is my moose?"By 1787, eventually a moose is secured and shipped and, incredibly, Buffon agrees to retract publicaly his claims of degeneracy. Then Buffon dies(!), which leaves the world of naturalism divided. Some continue with the degeneracy arguments (after all they had never been retracted in public by Buffon), and some oppose. The arguments were a huge issue of the day right up until the Civil War, when the data and the evident economic might of the United States rendered it moot.Wayne