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The birds' beauty belies their often menacing and destructive nature 

The grand old man of sex: In the Seventies, his name was synonymous with uninhibited hedonism and liberated sex. Today, Alex Comfort's world is bleaker and more austere - and marred by the world's refusal to recognise his qualities as poet, philosopher, or anything except the author of The Joy of Sex

WHEN HE was a teenager, Alex Comfort blew himself up at school while making fireworks, and lost four fingers on his left hand. This accident, it has been suggested, partly explains the generous billing given the big toe in Comfort's celebrated 1972 publication, The Joy of Sex. (The Big Toe - placed between 'Bathing' and 'Bites' - is a 'magnificent erotic instrument . . . In a restaurant, in these days of tights, one can surreptitiously remove a shoe or sock, reach over and keep her in almost continuous orgasm with all four hands fully in view on the table top . . .')

BOOK REVIEW / A gene's-eye view of the whole of creation: How the leopard changed its spots: The Evolution of Complexity by Brian Goodwin, Weidenfeld pounds 18.99

LIKE all animals, each one of us began as a single spherical cell, a minuscule fertilised egg that developed into an embryo and then an adult. The idea is completely familiar, yet the mysteries of development are still largely unexplained. How does one cell give rise to millions of cells, with differing functions, and in exactly the right proportions? How do these various types of cell become organised into elaborate complete structures such as limbs, eyes, kidneys, hearts and brains? How do these patterns remain stable down the generations? And where and how is all the necessary information stored or encoded in that egg?

Bats disaster

(First Edition)

Australians test killer virus

Sydney - Scientists in Australia are to begin field trials of a new virus which they hope will kill many of the country's destructive rabbits. Government biologists expect to test the virus on penned rabbits within three months, subject to quarantine approval. It has devastated rabbit populations in Europe. Reuter

Letter: Company of wolves

Sir: With regard to Kirk Sweetsir's letter (31 May) concerning wolves in the wild, Vic Van Ballenberghe, wildlife biologist with the US Forest Service, based in Alaska, has stated: ' . . . wolf populations will not increase without limit in the absence of exploitation. For example, after wolf control in Game Management Unit 20A stopped, moose numbers more than tripled, but wolves increased only to their pre-control numbers.'

Island fire threatens Darwin's tortoises

CONFUSION and delay were the official responses as a 12-day-old fire continued to burn on the largest island in Ecuador's Galapagos archipelago. There were reports - and denials - that several rare giant tortoises had already died in the flames.

BOOK REVIEW / Reason not the breed: The Nature of Knowledge: Concerning Adaptations, Instinct and the Evolution of Intelligence by Henry Plotkin: Allen Lane/Penguin Press, pounds 20

FOR more than 2,000 years, the theory of knowledge has been the exclusive preserve of philosophy. From Plato to Wittgenstein, philosophers have struggled alone to explain how we can be certain of the future, or the past, or indeed of anything at all. But over the last couple of decades this monopoly has been coming under increasing threat from biologists. Many specialists in human evolution now feel that 'evolutionary epistemology' can solve many of the problems that have stumped philosophers for generations.

Science: Why the four-toed horse lost the race: If evolution is random, why has the family Equidae grown steadily larger and faster? The answer lies in the gut, says Colin Tudge

On 9 April two extraordinary species will thunder the four miles and four furlongs of the Aintree course in the Grand National. In the eyes of most 19th-century and many early 20th-century biologists, these two species demonstrate that evolution has a sense of direction and has laboured without deviation to provide the epitome of running power in the horse, and the apotheosis of intelligent life in the human being.

Mouldy crust's clue to life

MOULDY bread has helped scientists solve one of life's mysteries - how it began.

Clarification: Richard Dawkins

RICHARD Dawkins, the subject of last week's Profile, has asked us to make clear that he is married to Lalla Ward.

Letter: Evolution versus religion: even Darwin had his doubts

EVEN a layman can see that Richard Dawkins' metaphor of a 'selfish' gene (personification, motive, greed) is not so different from the biblical metaphors he appears to have difficulty with ('Darwin's disciple', 2 January).

Letter: Divine comedy

Sir: Given that I explicitly referred to his 'humorous satire', it is irritating to be accused of missing Canon Ward's joke about people nave enough to believe in the Magi (Letters, 28 December and 3 January).

Letter: Visual rhetoric

Sir: Keith Ward (letter, 28 December) is disappointed in Richard Dawkins's failure to realise that a remark in his earlier letter was by way of a joke. The late Tom Driberg had an idea for avoiding such misunderstandings, namely, the use of a typeface slanted the opposite way to italics. He suggested it should be known as 'ironics'.

Profile: Darwin's disciple: Who needs God when we've got biology? Nick Cohen meets the scourge of theologians

'HE'S THE most evangelical atheist I've ever met,' said a senior Oxford theology don. 'He's left people like me feeling very embattled and under attack. Charming when you meet him, of course, but quite certain that religion is a false hypothesis and Darwin had a better explanation.'

SCIENCE / Sexual Milestones

1884 August Weismann points out that sex is not essential for reproduction.
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