Do Lemmings Commit Suicide?: Beautiful Hypotheses and Ugly Facts / Edition 1

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In 1929, a group of scientists, including the author, working at the Bureau of Animal Population, Oxford University, began "the pursuit of the ecological Holy Grail", a scientific endeavor devoted to the search for the secret mechanisms behind biological life cycles as they occur in many animal populations. The results are presented here, in an account of science, not as it should be, but as it really is. Unlike nearly all science books which tell of successful ventures and satisfactory conclusions, this book reveals the harsher story of a scientific question left unanswered. Written by one of this century's most distinguished small mammal ecologists, it is both a personal history of and an apology for a life in science spent on research for which no final dramatic closure was reached. Included along the way are important anecdotes and history about Charles Elton and his pioneering work, from which much of modern population has grown, and insights on the philosophy and practice of science. Whether readers have an interest in population cycles, life sciences, or the history and philosophy of science, they will walk away with the inspiring notion that a life in science without a Nobel Prize is still well worth living.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Since this is the story of the career of most scientists, it needs to be told. I am sure that [Chitty] can speak for the majority that a life in science without a Nobel Prize is still worth living." —David Hull, Dept. of Philosophy, Northwestern University

"Chitty's saga will be of value to historians and philosophers of science as well as to ecologists generally." —Ecology

"Chitty, who is 84, has written a scientific autobiography, and combined it with a treatise on how science is really done. He has interwoven his summary of a career-long pursuit of learning how small mammal populations are regulated in nature (we still do not know how) with a case history of how to work with colleagues, how to design experiments, what observations to gather, and some of the things that can go wrong. . .Required reading for field zoologists." —Choice

"An autobiographical account of a life's work in scientific research. . . . The book begins with a thorough de-bunking of the popular mythology surrounding lemmings. . . . This book is somewhat unusual for its genre, in that the author has chosen to emphasise the disappointments and false starts inherent in scientific research, including all the frustrations familiar to anyone who has ever engaged in the rustic alchemy of field ecology. . . . For philosophers of science and population ecologists who wish to know more about the history of small mammal ecology, this book may illuminate past advances in, and setbacks to, the understanding of population cycles. The references and insights into the practice of science will also be helpful to those unfamiliar with the literature on this subject."—Discovery

"spirited, often amusing book"—The Sciences

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195097863
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 4/28/1996
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.19 (w) x 9.31 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

University of British Columbia (Emeritus)
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Pioneering Observations, 1929-1939
3. Qualitative Changes, 1937-1939
4. Wartime Rat and Mouse Control, 1939-1946
5. Replication, 1946-1951
6. Behavior, Physiologym and Natural Selection, 1949-1961
7. Controversies, 1952-1956
8. Varying the Circumstances, 1952-1959
9. From Wytham Woods to Baker Lake, 1959-1962
10. Synchrony, 1924-1959
11. Review, 1923-1961
12. Epilogue, 1961-1995

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