Click below for larger image.

Sherwin Carlquist in the field.


"The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, it has no place in the
endeavor of science.”
Carl Sagan

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die out, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Max Planck

“In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”
Galileo Galilei

   Why this website was devised and why you should look at it.  All too often, scientific work is presented without a context.   The objective here is to tell you what was behind my publications and a little about related publications of other scientists whose work has helped me. I want to tell why I think that the works cited (and reproduced as pdfs) should be noticed more and remembered (all scientists think that they should have been appreciated more, but I’m willing to give you reasons why).  Of course, I want to be remembered for more than publications, but publications have a tangibility.  This website is not just a statement of the work I do.  Hopefully, it conveys my enthusiasm and my feelings about the research and observations.  A personal view of science.
   A website as a self promotion?  There are original concepts and interpretations tucked away in my books and papers.  My papers are, at best, not the minimalist documents that scientific papers are supposed to be.  Some of the papers look like simple data report papers, and some of them are little more than that, I admit it.  I have worked on wood anatomy of particular families, but the evolutionary patterns in each family show something with regard to ecology, phylogeny, and so I always try to analyze the data with regard to hypotheses in those fields.  And then, every few years, patterns common to a number of families, patterns that have basic ecological and evolutionary significance, emerge.  Then I do a paper on that phenomenon. Not so much a review paper as an exploration paper.  A review paper is what one writes when one has nothing new to offer.  Review papers actually go out of date very soon and are used by few people.  They mostly have the purpose of showing off that the author has mastered a field.   Naturally I wouldn’t want to write a paper just for that, who would?  Discovery papers and exploration papers are what I like to write.  Looking at hypotheses.  Those ideas tend to be forgotten, so this website is a way of calling attention to them.
    A website as a way of marketing ideas.  There is a suggestion in some of the accounts below that I have been disbelieved, marginalized, even attacked.  Or even that other workers have omitted mentioning that I first proposed a number of the ideas that they have used and built on (often much more ably than I could have done). Sometimes true!  Is science a competitive sport?  Increasingly so, because visibility in science often controls availability of money for scientific research.  But in athletic sports, there’s always a chance for another competition, another event where one may do better.  Not so in science.  An idea, once expressed with an appropriate amount of supporting evidence, can never be originated again.  But the originator of the idea can sometimes be submerged by the publicity engendered by later workers.  Envy in science is a very real thing, with a basis that scientists don’t like to talk about.  Younger scientists don’t want to call attention to their own limitations.  They may omit mention of the work of an older scientist intentionally or unintentionally.  Should the work of earlier scientists be downplayed in order to establish the identity of a younger worker?  No, but there is no penalty for neglecting older literature.  In earlier decades, abundant citations of older literature (in comparison to citations of one’s own work) implied good scholarship.  Incomplete coverage of the literature today is not penalized.
    Increasingly, scientists are finding the materials of science on the internet rather than in libraries.  Presentation of talks at national meetings has been viewed as a way of marketing one’s ideas.  Talks evaporate the moment they are given, and have no tangibility.  Publication of a paper in a hardcopy journal was effective in the 19th century, when journals and scientists were relatively few.  Today, however, virtually no library is adequate, whereas there are many scientists attempting work based on published references.  The availability of the internet creates a third avenue of information dissemination—the most important one of all because of universality of access.  It is limited scientifically only by the enterprise of scientists in contributing to it.  I would like to explore the power of the internet in marketing not just scientific work but scientific ideas.
    The sources of enthusiasm and motivation.  A paper that is not read or cited much may not be unimportant or with little merit.  In fact, the fields in which I work are represented by relatively few workers, so papers of mine would at best be read by a small number of people.  My work in island biology is much more familiar to people, because of the appeal of that field to many biologists.  But there are very few of us who work in wood evolution.  Nevertheless, wood evolution is a field that should be known to more plant biologists—and aspects of it are certainly more interesting than the minimal and dry descriptive material one sees in textbooks (which rarely seem to take into account what might be intriguing for students to read about).  One element of this website is to show what has caught my enthusiasm as a scientist, and fueled my fascination for the natural world.  The same things may not fire other imaginations, but the process of developing interests and following them into investigations should be evident in a number of the stories here.  Someone who is an active research scientist over decades does not stay active because of rate of pay or degree of recognition.  A research career is based on enthusiasms, degrees and kinds of emotional involvement with ideas, materials, patterns, and trying to explain what is found.  These are essentially private phenomena that are typically not discussed in the scientific world, where cool and dispassionate presentations are the norm.  All the more reason to talk about enthusiasms and how they happen.
   The role of tools and methods.  Science is a successful collision between tools and ideas.  Sometimes there is a tendency to use a tool on materials just for the sake of using a new tool.  Sometimes someone with good ideas lacks the money for instruments or travel or materials to investigate ideas.  Matching hypotheses with tools and methods and materials that are suitable is everything.  One notes in some workers a yearning for newer and ideal equipment.  To say that good discoveries are made in shabby ill-equipped laboratories (even if that is sometimes true) is not reassuring, and the desire for better equipment and methods should not be discouraged.  But much scientific work can be done with relatively simple tools and relatively small sums of money.  My research is.  That does not mean that other kinds of research can be done on less money.  I would like to promote the idea, however, that money is not the limiting factor as often as one might think, and that many topics with simple design requirements await investigation.
   The focus of my work is adaptational.  Adaptations and how they evolve are demonstrated to me by the comparative method.  Islands are like experimental conditions, for example, so that islands can serve to show how dispersal occurs (and what the range of particular plant and animal adaptations for dispersal is).  A major family of flowering plants, the Asteraceae, showed me how wood evolves with respect to ecology.  With respect to wood, the family is like material put into different experimental conditions.  Thus, narrower vessels in genus after genus of Asteraceae are correlated with dryer conditions.  I am viewing evolution as an ongoing experiment, the results of which are all around us, and merely need to be examined for what they are to be understood.  Overly simplistic?  Yes, but the comparative method is more powerful than one might have thought.  Form and structure of plants are modified very readily over geological time, so that we would do well to expect that forms and structures we see today tell us about adaptation to conditions plants exist in today.  The forms have, to be sure, had a history, and different groups have different possibilities and modalities.  But to view plants primarily as a series of historical happenings misses the wonderful nature of how they are fitted to their existence in the contemporary world.  DNA does change in the history of every group of organisms, but for me, the real interest is in that the plant does visible as a result of the DNA it possesses. 
    A practical concern.  The mode of availability of literature has changed from library availability to internet availability.  I want my work to be as widely available as possible—there is no purpose served by unavailability.  Reproduction of papers in the form of pdfs offers the only way of making texts and illustrations widely available, especially in view of the fact that more than a few of these papers were published in journals of less than maximal circulation, notably AlisoAliso has always been a first-class journal in terms of standards (the articles have always been peer-reviewed).  I submitted papers there in part because with an active pace of publication, one cannot submit manuscripts only to one or two main journals.  Also, my work has ranged widely in topics and, thanks to my travels, geographic origins of materials.  Thus, an unusually wide assortment of journals has published my work.  The construction of this site, if it serves no other purpose, will render many of the papers I regard as major or significant available in pdf form.  And it will tell you what to look for in those papers.  Papers don’t come with a rationale or running commentary, so the contextualization of the pdfs into a commentary format gives you an idea of what I was thinking, how I grew, and even, sometimes, how the work could have been better. So this website really is an experiment in scientific autobiography.
   The pdfs.  You will notice the numerous pdfs, available for downloading, on this website.  I have attempted to select from my papers those that I think might be of wider interest or of greater scientific importance, but pdfs are not given for most of my papers.  A full listing of my papers will be found in Biography and Publications on this site.  For possible copies of papers for which pdfs are not given here, e-mail via Contact and Comments.  For pdfs of the most recent papers, see Recent Work.