From today's NY Times
- Ledyard Stebbins, 94, Dies; Applied Evolution to Plants
By CAROL KAESUK YOON
Dr. G. Ledyard Stebbins Jr., one of the leading evolutionary
biologists and foremost botanists of the 20th century, died on Wednesday at
his home in Davis, Calif. He was 94.
Stebbins was one of the architects of the intellectual
watershed known as the evolutionary synthesis, the period during which
knowledge from the study of fossils, genetics, cells and the evolutionary
history of organisms was incorporated into the theories of Charles Darwin,
creating what is now evolutionary biology.
The synthesis has been described by Dr. Stephen Jay Gould,
evolutionary biologist at Harvard University, as "one of the half-dozen
major scientific achievements in our century."
In his role in this seminal event, Stebbins is credited with
bringing modern evolutionary thinking to the study of plants.
"Evolutionary botany is G. Led-yard Stebbins," said Dr.
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, a historian of science at the University of
Florida. "He is the discipline. He founded it on his own."
Stebbins, professor emeritus at the University of California
at Davis, earned his right to such praise with the publication in 1950 of
"Variation and Evolution in Plants."
In the book he displayed an encyclopedic knowledge of
botanical studies from fossils to chromosomes as he provided a detailed
argument that plants were subject to the same processes of evolution as
animals, an idea that biologists today take as a given.
By doing so, Stebbins gave botanists a framework within
which to view the evolution of plants, the newly emerging theory of
neo-Darwinism, in which new findings in genetics and other fields were
merged with Darwin's theories. It remains the dominant theory.
Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky, a fruit fly geneticist and
contemporary of Stebbins who is also recognized as a major figure in the
evolutionary synthesis, wrote to Stebbins at the time of the book's
publication, saying: "It will mark a turning point in evolutionary thought
and of course in botany as well. Of course, this is not to say that I agree
with all you say there, but science progresses because contradictions are
resolved by more work and more thinking!"
It was through such interchanges and the publication of a
series of books from 1920 to 1950 that the field of evolutionary biology
began to take shape. It was a time of "mutual education," as Dr. Ernst Mayr
called it. Mayr, an evolutionary biologist, along with Dr. George Gaylord
Simpson was a prominent figure in the synthesis.
Laboratory geneticists, interested in mutations and
population genetics, joined with field biologists, interested in the
relationships and origins of different species, to make sense of their
respective work. New findings were brought together under the conceptual
umbrella of Darwin's theories of natural selection, and other theories were
Stebbins was said to have a particularly detailed knowledge
of the flora of California. Dr. Francisco Ayala, an evolutionary biologist
at the University of California at Irvine, said Stebbins seemed to know
every plant in the world, not just scientifically, but personally.
George Ledyard Stebbins Jr. was born on Jan. 6, 1906, in
Lawrence, N.Y., to a wealthy family. He had the benefit of naturalist
parents who enjoyed frequent hikes in the country. His mother, Edith, taught
her three children the names and songs of common birds, and his father
taught the children about plants and coastal creatures in tidal pools near
their summer home near Seal Harbor, Maine. Laterm Stebbins carried out his
first published research near there.
He entered Harvard University in 1924 intending to become a
lawyer. But he came under the sway of a charismatic Harvard professor, Dr.
Merritt Lyndon Fernald, one of the century's leading botanists and editor of
the botanical bible, "Gray's Manual of Botany." Stebbins entered Harvard
graduate school to study botany in 1926.
At the time the field of botany was undergoing changes. Once
confined to studying dusty herbarium specimens, botanists interested in
plant species and their relationships were discovering the modern techniques
available for studying chromosomes and genetics. Stebbins, drawn to these
innovations, barely finished graduate school, nearly becoming caught in the
political and intellectual cross-fire within the botany department between
those intent on keeping genetics out and those intent on bringing it in.
Smocovitis suggested that it was Stebbins' ability to
navigate such intellectual rifts that may have allowed him to play his role
in the evolutionary synthesis so successfully, bringing plants, otherwise
forgotten, into the body of modern thinking on evolutionary biology.
After graduate school, Stebbins became a professor at
Colgate University. He later took a position at the University of California
at Berkeley and eventually the University of California at Davis.
After he moved to California, Stebbins met Dobzhansky, then
at the California Institute of Technology. Both biologists had an interest
in the blossoming field of cytology, the study of chromosomes and their use
in the study of evolution.
The two often rode horseback on field expeditions, engaged
in intense discussions of evolution, intermittently stopping to collect
specimens. Stebbins called the plants that he collected on these trips his
Stebbins also played an important role in the emerging
Society for the Study of Evolution, of which he became the third president
in 1948. He used the position to speak out for the botanical side of
evolutionary studies, an field dominated by zoologists. In 1949, he wrote to
Mayr, expressing his concerns about the field's dominant journal, Evolution.
"Many of us on the plant side," he wrote, "are beginning to
feel that 'Evolution' is favoring animals too much, and our interest in the
journal and society is starting to decline."
He was also an early conservationist. In 1967 while
president of the California Native Plant Society, he was influential in
efforts to conserve native plants and habitats. He organized weekly field
trips that got people into the habit of the conservationist's credo of
"taking nothing but pictures, leaving nothing but footprints."
In 1967 he prevented the destruction of a raised beach on
the Monterey Peninsula that he dubbed Evolution Hill, now called the S.F.B.
Morse Botanical Area where Stebbins said all the problems and principles of
evolution could be seen played out among the plant species.
Stebbins received numerous awards, including the National
Medal of Science, the Gold Medal of the Linnean Society of London, the
Verrill Medal and the Lewis Prize. In his honor, the University of
California at Davis renamed Cold Canyon Reserve, 277 acres near Lake
Berryessa, Calif., Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve in 1980.
He served as president of the American Society of
Naturalists, the Western Society of Naturalists, the Botanical Society of
America and the California Botanical Society and as secretary general of the
Union of Biological Sciences. He was also a member of the National Academy
He wrote six other books, including the influential
"Flowering Plants: Evolution Above the Species Level," and a popular work,
"Darwin to DNA, Molecules to Humanity," and some 250 journal articles.
He is survived by a daughter, Edy Paxman of Kalispell,
Mont., a son, Robert, of Corvallis, Ore., and a stepson, Marc Monaghan, of
From today's NY Times
April 18, 2000
Clinton Hopes to Raise Indian Internet Use
By MARC LACEY
HIPROCK, N.M., April 17 -- Moved by the story of a young American Indian girl who won a free computer but lacked a telephone to hook it up to the Internet, President Clinton today announced a program to offer low-cost phone service on the nation's Indian reservations as a first step toward integrating American Indians into the information age.
Mr. Clinton introduced the $17 million initiative, to be financed by an assessment on long-distance companies, at the start of a two-day tour intended to focus attention on the people and places left behind by the computer revolution.
The president began the day in East Palo Alto, Calif., where poverty and crime thrive in the shadow of the bustling Silicon Valley. The sleek office parks housing the Bay Area's hundreds of dot-com ventures stop abruptly at the town line. Internet use among East Palo Alto's schoolchildren is dismally low.
"We can use new technology to extend opportunity to more people than ever before," Mr. Clinton said at a visit to Plugged In, a community group that trains the poor about Web pages and search engines. He urged young people to immerse themselves in technology, citing the thousands of computer-related jobs listed in the Sunday paper.
Later, Mr. Clinton flew to the Navajo reservation here, where he was introduced by Myra Jodie, a 13-year-old girl who won an iMac computer in a Web company's contest that she entered using a computer at her school. But she lacked the phone service in her two-bedroom mobile home in Ganado, Ariz., needed to connect the machine to the World Wide Web.
"It would be really nice to get Internet," said Miss Jodie, who planned to use it to research her favorite bands as well as colleges she would like to attend some day. "To me, the Internet is a tool that can open up the whole world."
On Indian reservations, the so-called digital divide becomes a chasm. Only about 22 percent of Navajos here have phone service, according to White House officials, and many lack electricity, let alone computers or Internet access.
Mr. Clinton's program would offer $1-a-month phone service to up to 300,000 Indians nationwide. To finance the program, White House officials said, the federal surcharge on long distance carriers would be raised four-tenths of 1 percent; if the companies passed along the entire cost, they said, it would amount to about 7 cents a year a consumer.
The initiative, which builds on an existing $500 million program for phone service for the poor, would not require congressional approval, administration officials said.
Government studies show significant gaps in computer literacy exist between the rich and poor. According to a recent Commerce Department report, 80 percent of households with incomes of $75,000 or more have computers, compared with 16 percent of households with incomes less than $15,000.
There are racial divisions as well, the report found, with about 47 percent of white households using computers compared with 23 percent of African American households and 26 percent of Hispanic households.
Mr. Clinton's visit prompted several corporations to make multimillion-dollar financial pledges. Gateway Inc. will provide technology literacy training to 75,000 teachers. America Online pledged 100,000 free accounts to community centers for the poor. The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Black Entertainment Television cable network plan public service announcements to encourage computer use among the young.