Nameless Neighbor of Science
Here's a fascinating anecdote I came across from reading Laura Dassow Walls' Henry Thoreau: A Life:
In December 1849, a neighbor, annoyed by a large hawk killing his hens, shot it out of the sky — but instead of tossing the carcass into the woods to rot, he brought it to Thoreau. What Thoreau did next was also remarkable: he brought it to the Boston Society of Natural History, to show Samuel Cabot (brother of James Elliot Cabot), their curator of birds. Remarkable indeed, agreed Cabot — it was a rare and beautiful American goshawk. Thoreau's donation allowed Cabot to settle a controversy, for it was clearly a new species, unique to America, and not, as Audubon had claimed, the same as the European goshawk.
What amazes me about this story is how the nameless neighbor's choice was the catalyst to this discovery. In his frustration at this hawk killing his hens, he could've easily thrown it into the woods — good riddance! Instead he gave the hawk to Thoreau who gave it to Cabot who then established the legitimacy of the American goshawk. What was going through this neighbor's mind? Who was he?
How curious that a contribution to science doesn't always have to start with a scientist, let alone a citizen scientist. It can start with a nameless neighbor, protecting his hens.