This month marks the publication of a new book, What Makes Biology Unique? (Cambridge University Press, 2004). Such philosophizing about science is inherently fascinating but in this case may be less interesting than the philosopher. The book is the 25th by Ernst Mayr, who was scheduled to add another significant achievement to his already prolific list shortly before this issue of Scientific American hit the newsstands: July 5 was Mayr's 100th birthday.
On May 10 the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) at Harvard University, Mayr's research home for the past 50 years, held a symposium/slightly premature¿birthday bash in his honor. I arrived early and found the Geology Lecture Hall still mostly empty. A few minutes later an exceedingly elderly gent, not Ernst, slowly ambled in and did a cost-benefit analysis on the available seats. I overheard him say to no one in particular, "I need a place close enough so I can hear but not so close that I'll be a distraction when I fall asleep." This ¿minence grise was later introduced to the crowd as one of Mayr's former students.
This article was originally published with the title One Hundred Years of Magnitude.