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Welcoming Ann Gauger -- and Farewell to Casey Luskin

Ann Gauger.jpg

Would you like the bad news first, or the good? The last day of the calendar year is a time of transition, and not least for the staff of Discovery Institute's Center for Science & Culture. As Casey Luskin announced earlier, he is embarking on a new adventure, one that is exciting for him -- but a major loss for us. At the same time, however, we have a major gain to celebrate: Biologist Ann Gauger of Biologic Institute has joined us as Director of Science Communication.

We had no fewer than two sendoff gatherings for Casey, at the second of which Bruce Chapman observed that Casey's departure is particularly devastating for me as editor of Evolution News. That's true. I joked that it's not too late for Casey to change his mind about leaving -- otherwise, we may as well shut down Discovery Institute. An exaggeration, of course, but certainly Casey has been a pillar of our daily reporting and commentary in this space and a vital mainstay of a great deal else that goes on at the CSC.

Casey is an incredibly knowledgeable writer and thinker on all matters pertaining to design in nature, what he knows being matched by how devotedly he works and how generously he shares his expertise. At the same gathering, John West said that by comparison Casey makes the rest of us look like slackers. Again, true. It will indeed be a challenge to compensate for his not being here.

We all depend on him. And we all love him. You'd have to know Casey to know what I mean, but he is just a very endearing personality, and it's been a privilege to work with him -- and to call him a friend.

We take consolation, though, in being joined by Ann Gauger, a scientist with soul. Readers of Evolution News already know Dr. Gauger as a compellingly lucid writer on and explainer of science. Her scholarly credentials are one thing (BS in biology from MIT, PhD in developmental biology from the University of Washington, post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, with publications in journals including Nature, Development, and the Journal of Biological Chemistry). But there's more.

We were taking staff photos the other day in the Discovery Institute library, which adjoins my office. I listened as the photographer cajoled his subjects to relax by asking things like, "What do you like to do in your spare time? Any hobbies?"

You expect people to say they like to cook, or garden, or remodel. Ann said, "I write music." That I didn't know. Ann later shared some of her work with me, a symphony, and I was very impressed.

But it made sense. To write as clearly as Ann does, in a way that's comprehensible by those of us who aren't scientists, making the arcane accessible, takes a certain deep sympathy for the reader, a passion and a soulfulness of which music is also an appropriate expression.

What can I say about both Casey and Ann? Coincidentally, as I write this I've just been watching a lecture by UC Berkeley mathematician Edward Frenkel, "Mathematics as Hidden Reality." We've referred to him here in the past. You have to see him in person, though.

A remarkably charismatic speaker, Frenkel invokes the mystery of science and the intuition required to perceive it. But what I've just said is the plainest vanilla pr�cis of these 38 minutes. He is alternatively transported by the sublime and enraged by those who are so closed up and out of touch with themselves that, in studying the universe, they flatten it. He hits hard against transhumanism -- "What a word!" -- and is so disturbed or disgusted by a slide showing three bullet points from Ray Kurzweil that he can't bring himself to read the words aloud and instead asks the audience to read it for themselves.

I can't do it justice, but if you watch the lecture you'll get a sense of what Casey Luskin and Ann Gauger, quite different people, nevertheless have in common. It's something rare now in science, as in our culture: an openness to mystery, the sublime, the hidden, and a glowing passion to share that with others. Farewell, Casey! Welcome, Ann!