Stephen Jay Gould, who died of cancer at the age of 60 this past May, defined a place in American culture likely to remain vacant now that he is gone. He was, of course, the country's foremost opponent of creationism and champion of Darwinism, with a unique ability to bring the HMS Beagle and baseball batting averages together in a perfect paragraph or two. But what we may come to value most about him is the lonely stance he took in the Darwin wars.
We associate manifestos with big ideas, combative theses itching to
change the world. While the roar of the manifesto has pretty much faded
from the culture at large, it can still be heard loud and clear in the
digital world. Digital culture continues to foster grand ambitions; it
nurtures not only the ongoing quest for the killer app but also the
search for the one idea that will make sense of most everything.
On June 1993, the prominent Yale computer scientist David Gelernter opened a mail bomb sent by Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber, who had singled Gelernter out as a leader of the technological revolution he despised. Badly hurt, Gelernter survived, and as a recent piece by him, "The Second Coming--A Manifesto" (www.edge.org/3rd_culture/gelernter/gelernter_index.html), shows, his voice on matters of technology is as strong as ever. But during his long, painful convalescence, he began what amounts to a second career as a right-wing political polemicist and culture critic.
On January 1, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) opened an electronic archive on the Web that is intended, eventually, to house or link all biomedical research produced in the United States. But PubMed Central, as the archive is known, has drawn fire from leading figures in academic medicine for threatening to disrupt the established methods of evaluating research for publication. The controversy over PubMed Central is a tale of new technology versus old, of innovation and inertia--and of knowledge in the age of the Internet.