Saturday, November 05, 2005

Stabbing repeatedly, with a purpose.

Is science driven by inspired guesswork?

(Filed: 01/11/2005)

History abounds with examples of how instinct, not data, led to discoveries. Even Einstein's theory of relativity had to wait decades for verification, says Ian McEwan

Proof, whether in science or daily life, is an elastic concept, interestingly beset with all kinds of human weakness, as well as ingenuity.

For centuries, brilliant Christian scholars demonstrated by rational argument the existence of a sky-god, even while they knew they could permit themselves no other conclusion.

When Penelope is uncertain whether the shaggy stranger who turns up in Ithaca really is her husband Ulysses, she devises a proof invoking the construction of their nuptial bed, which would satisfy most of us, but not many logicians.

The mother wrongly jailed for the murder of her children, on the expert evidence of a pediatrician, reasonably questions the faith of the courts in scientific proof concerning sudden infant death syndrome.

And the precocious 10-year-old mathematician who exults in the proof that the angles of a triangle always add up to 180 degrees will discover before his first shave that in other mathematical schemes this is not always so.

Very few of us know how to demonstrate that two plus two equals four in all circumstances. But we hold it to be true, unless we are unlucky enough to live under a political dispensation that requires us to believe the impossible; George Orwell in fiction, as well as Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and various others in fact, have shown us how the answer can be five.

It has been surprisingly difficult to establish definitively what the truth is about any matter, however simple. It is always hard to get a grasp of one's own innate assumptions, and it was once perilous to challenge the wisdom of the elders, or the traditions that had survived the centuries, and dangerous to incur the anger of the gods, or at least, of their earthly representatives.

Perhaps it was the greatest invention of all, greater than that of the wheel or agriculture, this slow elaboration of a thought system, science, that has disproof at its heart and self correction as its essential procedure.

Only recently, over this past half millennium, has some significant part of humankind begun to dispense with the kinds of insights supposedly revealed by supernatural entities, and to support instead a vast and disparate mental enterprise that works by accretion, dispute, refinement and occasional radical challenges.

There are no sacred texts - in fact, a form of blasphemy has turned out to be useful. Empirical observation and proof are, of course, vitally important, but some science is little more than accurate description and classification; some ideas take hold, not because they are proved, but because they are consonant with what is known already across different fields of study, or because they turn out to predict or retrodict phenomena efficiently, or because persuasive persons with powers of patronage hold them - naturally, human frailty is well represented in science.

But the ambition of juniors and an adversarial method, as well as mortality itself are mighty enforcers. As one commentator has noted, science proceeds by funerals.

And again, some science appears true because it is elegant - it is economically formulated, while seeming to explain a great deal. Despite fulmination against it from the pulpit, Darwin's theory of natural selection gained rapid acceptance, at least by the standards of Victorian intellectual life.

His proof was really an overwhelming set of examples, laid out with exacting care. A relatively simple idea made sense across a huge variety of cases and circumstances, a fact not lost on an army of Anglican vicars in country livings, who devoted their copious free time to natural history.

Einstein's novel description, in his theory of general relativity, of gravitation as a consequence, not of the attraction between bodies according to their mass, but of the curvature of space-time generated by matter and energy, was enshrined in text books within a few years of its formulation.

Steven Weinberg describes how, from 1919 onwards, various expeditions by astronomers set out to test the theory by measuring the deflection of starlight by the sun during an eclipse. Not until the availability of radio telescopy in the early Fifties were the measurements accurate enough to provide verification.

For 40 years, despite a paucity of evidence, the theory was generally accepted because, in Weinberg's phrase, it was "compellingly beautiful".

Much has been written about the imagination in science, of wild hunches born out, of sudden intuitive connections, and benign promptings from mundane events (let no one forget the structure of benzene and Kekulé's dream of a snake eating its tail) and of the occasional triumph of beauty over truth.

In James Watson's account, when Rosalind Franklin stood before the final model of the DNA molecule, she "accepted the fact that the structure was too pretty not to be true".

Nevertheless, the idea still holds firm among us laypeople that scientists do not believe what they cannot prove. At the very least, we demand of them higher standards of evidence than we expect from literary critics, journalists or priests.

No wonder so much interest has been generated by the scientists who have responded to the question: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" posed by John Brockman, a New Yorkbased literary agent and publisher of The Edge website.

There appears to be a paradox here: those who stake their intellectual credibility on rigorous proof are lining up to declare their various unfalsifiable beliefs. Should not scepticism be the kissing cousin of science?

Those very men and women who castigated us for our insistence on some cloudy notion that was not subject to the holy trinity of blind, controlled and randomised testing, are at last bending the knee to declare their faith.

The paradox, however, is false. As the Nobel laureate Leon Lederman writes in his reply: "To believe something while knowing it cannot be proved (yet) is the essence of physics."

This collection, mostly written by working scientists, does not represent the antithesis of science. These are not simply the unbuttoned musings of professionals on their day off. The contributions, ranging across many disparate fields, express the spirit of a scientific consciousness at its best - informed guesswork that is open-minded, free-ranging, intellectually playful.

Many replies offer versions of the future in various fields of study. Those readers educated in the humanities, accustomed to the pessimism that is generally supposed to be the mark of a true intellectual, will be struck by the optimistic tone. Some, like the psychologist Martin Seligman, believe we are not rotten to the core. Others even seem to think that the human lot could improve.

Generally evident is an unadorned pleasure in curiosity, a collective expression of wonder at the living and inanimate world which does not have an obvious equivalent in, say, cultural studies. In the arts, perhaps lyric poetry would be a kind of happy parallel.

Another interesting feature is the prevalence here of what E.O. Wilson calls "consilience". The boundaries between different specialised subjects begin to break down when scientists find they need to draw on insights or procedures in fields of study adjacent or useful to their own.

The old Enlightenment dream of a unified body of knowledge comes a little closer when biologists and economists draw on each other's concepts; neuro-scientists need mathematicians, molecular biologists stray into the poorly defended territories of chemists and physicists. Even cosmologists have drawn on evolutionary theory. And everyone, of course, needs sophisticated computing.

To address each other across their disciplines, scientists have had to abandon their specialised vocabularies and adopt a lingua franca - common English. The accidental beneficiary, of course, has been the layman who needs no acquaintance with arcane jargon to follow the exchanges. They are part of an ongoing and thrilling colloquium that is open to all.

©2005. Extracted from Ian McEwan's introduction to What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today's Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty, edited by John Brockman (Free Press), available for £9.99 plus 99p p&p. To order please call Telegraph Books on 0870 428 4112. Ian McEwan's latest novel, Saturday (Jonathan Cape), is also available for £15.99 (rrp £17.99) plus £1.25 p&p.

Thinkers' beliefs

Great minds can sometimes guess the truth, before they have marshalled the evidence or the arguments, using what Diderot called the "esprit de divination".

John Brockman asked scientists, futurists and other creative thinkers: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?"

Randolph Nesse, University of Michigan: "I'm pretty sure that people gain a selective advantage from believing in things they can't prove. Those who are occasionally consumed by false beliefs do better in life than those who insist on evidence before they believe and act."

Stanislas Dehaene, Institut National de la Santé, Paris: "We vastly underestimate the differences that set the human brain apart from the brains of other primates.''

Carlo Rovelli, Centre de Physique Théorique, Marseille: "Time does not exist."

Seth Lloyd, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: "I believe in science. Unlike mathematical theorems, scientific results can't be proved. They can only be tested again and again, until only a fool would refuse to believe in them."

Daniel Hillis, chairman, Applied Minds Inc: "I know that it sounds corny, but I believe that people are getting better. In other words, I believe in moral progress."

Craig Venter, president, J Craig Venter Science Foundation: "Life is ubiquitous in the universe."

Janna Levin, Columbia University: "I believe that there is an external reality, and you are not all figments of my imagination."

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November 6, 2005

Just Googling It Is Striking Fear Into Companies


Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, often intimidates its competitors and suppliers. Makers of goods from diapers to DVD's must cater to its whims. But there is one company that even Wal-Mart eyes warily these days: Google, a seven-year-old business in a seemingly distant industry.

"We watch Google very closely at Wal-Mart," said Jim Breyer, a member of Wal-Mart's board.

In Google, Wal-Mart sees both a technology pioneer and the seed of a threat, said Mr. Breyer, who is also a partner in a venture capital firm. The worry is that by making information available everywhere, Google might soon be able to tell Wal-Mart shoppers if better bargains are available nearby.

Wal-Mart is scarcely alone in its concern. As Google increasingly becomes the starting point for finding information and buying products and services, companies that even a year ago did not see themselves as competing with Google are beginning to view the company with some angst - mixed with admiration.

Google's recent moves have stirred concern in industries from book publishing to telecommunications. Businesses already feeling the Google effect include advertising, software and the news media. Apart from retailing, Google's disruptive presence may soon be felt in real estate and auto sales.

Google, the reigning giant of Web search, could extend its economic reach in the next few years as more people get high-speed Internet service and cellphones become full-fledged search tools, according to analysts. And ever-smarter software, they say, will cull and organize larger and larger digital storehouses of news, images, real estate listings and traffic reports, delivering results that are more like the advice of a trusted human expert.

Such advances, predicts Esther Dyson, a technology consultant, will bring "a huge reduction in inefficiency everywhere." That, in turn, would be an unsettling force for all sorts of industries and workers. But it would also reward consumers with lower prices and open up opportunities for new companies.

Google, then, may turn out to have a more far-reaching impact than earlier Web winners like Amazon and eBay. "Google is the realization of everything that we thought the Internet was going to be about but really wasn't until Google," said David B. Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School.

Google, to be sure, is but one company at the forefront of the continuing spread of Internet technology. It has many competitors, and it could stumble. In the search market alone, Google faces formidable rivals like Microsoft and Yahoo.

Microsoft, in particular, is pushing hard to catch Google in Internet search. "This is hyper-competition, make no mistake," said Bill Gates, Microsoft's chief executive. "The magic moment will come when our search is demonstrably better than Google's," he said, suggesting that this could happen in a year or so.

Still, apart from its front-runner status, Google is also remarkable for its pace of innovation and for how broadly it seems to interpret its mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."

The company's current lineup of offerings includes: software for searching personal computer files; an e-mail service; maps; satellite images; instant messaging; blogging tools; a service for posting and sharing digital photos; and specialized searches for news, video, shopping and local information. Google's most controversial venture, Google Print, is a project to copy and catalog millions of books; it faces lawsuits by some publishers and authors who say it violates copyright law.

Google, which tends to keep its plans secret, certainly has the wealth to fund ambitious ventures. Its revenues are growing by nearly 100 percent a year, and its profits are rising even faster. Its executives speak of the company's outlook only in broad strokes, but they suggest all but unlimited horizons. "We believe that search networks as industries remain in their nascent stages of growth with great forward potential," Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, told analysts last month.

Among the many projects being developed and debated inside Google is a real estate service, according to a person who has attended meetings on the proposal. The concept, the person said, would be to improve the capabilities of its satellite imaging, maps and local search and combine them with property listings.

The service, this person said, could make house hunting far more efficient, requiring potential buyers to visit fewer real estate agents and houses. If successful, it would be another magnet for the text ads that appear next to search results, the source of most of Google's revenue.

In telecommunications, the company has made a number of moves that have grabbed the attention of industry executives. It has been buying fiber-optic cable capacity in the United States and has invested in a company delivering high-speed Internet access over power lines. And it is participating in an experiment to provide free wireless Internet access in San Francisco.

That has led to speculation that the company wants to build a national free GoogleNet, paid for mostly by advertising. And Google executives seem to delight in dropping tantalizing, if vague, hints. "We focus on access to the information as much as the search itself because you need both," Mr. Schmidt said in an analysts' conference call last month.

Telecommunications executives are skeptical that Google could seriously eat into their business anytime soon. For one thing, they say, it will be difficult and expensive to build a national network. Still, they monitor Google's every move. "Google is certainly a potential competitor," said Bill Smith, the chief technology officer of BellSouth, the Atlanta-based regional phone company.

The No. 1 rival to phone companies in the Internet access business, Mr. Smith noted, is the cable television operators. "But do I discount Google? Absolutely not," he said. "You'd be a fool to do that these days."

In retailing, Google has no interest in stocking and selling merchandise. Its potential impact is more subtle, yet still significant. Every store is a collection of goods, some items more profitable than others. But the less-profitable items may bring people into stores, where they also buy the high-margin offerings - one shelf, in effect, subsidizes another.

Search engines, combined with other technologies, have the potential to drive comparison shopping down to the shelf-by-shelf level. Cellphone makers, for example, are looking at the concept of a "shopping phone" with a camera that can read product bar codes. The phone could connect to databases and search services and, aided by satellite technology, reveal that the flat-screen TV model in front of you is $200 cheaper at a store five miles away.

"We see this huge power moving to the edge - to consumers - in this Google environment," said Lou Steinberg, chief technology officer of Symbol Technologies, which supplies bar-code scanners to retailers.

Such services could lead to lower prices for consumers, but also relentless competition that threatens to break up existing businesses.

A newspaper or a magazine can be seen as a media store - a collection of news, entertainment and advertising delivered in a package. A tool like Google News allows a reader or an advertiser to pick and choose, breaking up the package by splitting the articles from the ads. And Google's ads, tucked to the side of its search-engine results, are often a more efficient sales generator than print ads.

"Google represents a challenge to newspapers, to be sure," said Gary B. Pruitt, chief executive of the McClatchy Company, a chain of 12 newspapers including The Star Tribune in Minneapolis and The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. "Google is attacking the advertising base of newspapers."

At the same time, Google and search technology are becoming crucial to the health of newspapers as more readers migrate to the Web. As one path to the future, Mr. Pruitt speaks of his newspapers prospering by tailoring search for local businesses, but also partnering with search engines to attract readers.

Within industries, the influence of Internet search is often uneven. For example, search engines are being embraced by car companies, yet they pose a challenge to car dealers.

George E. Murphy, senior vice president of global marketing for Chrysler, said Chrysler buys ads on 3,000 keywords a day on the big search sites: Google, Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN and AOL, whose search is supplied by Google. If a person types in one of those keywords, the search results are accompanied by a sponsored link to a Chrysler site.

Chrysler refines its approach based on what search words attract clicks, and studies its site traffic for clues on converting browsers to buyers. "We've got Ph.D.'s working on this," Mr. Murphy said. "The great thing about search is that you can do the math and follow the trail."

After following a link to a Chrysler Web site, a prospective buyer can configure a model, find a dealer and get a preliminary price. Only dealers can make final price quotes. Yet with more information on the Web, the direction of things is clear, in Mr. Murphy's view. "It will fundamentally change what the dealer does, because telling people about the vehicle won't add value for the customer anymore," he said. "If dealers don't change, they'll be dinosaurs."

Mr. Breyer, the Wal-Mart board member, watches Google closely in his job as managing partner of Accel Partners, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. These days, he advises startups to avoid a "collision course" with Google, just as he has long counseled fledgling companies to steer clear of Microsoft's stronghold in desktop software.

Internet search, like personal computing in its heyday, is a disruptive technology, he said, threatening traditional industries and opening the door to new ones. "We think there is plenty of opportunity for innovation in the Google economy," Mr. Breyer said.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Voting to be noticed...but not in the way one might think.

Why Vote?


A Swiss Turnout-Boosting Experiment

Within the economics departments at certain universities, there is a famous but probably apocryphal story about two world-class economists who run into each other at the voting booth.

"What are you doing here?" one asks.

"My wife made me come," the other says.

The first economist gives a confirming nod. "The same."

After a mutually sheepish moment, one of them hatches a plan: "If you promise never to tell anyone you saw me here, I'll never tell anyone I saw you." They shake hands, finish their polling business and scurry off.

Why would an economist be embarrassed to be seen at the voting booth? Because voting exacts a cost - in time, effort, lost productivity - with no discernible payoff except perhaps some vague sense of having done your "civic duty." As the economist Patricia Funk wrote in a recent paper, "A rational individual should abstain from voting."

The odds that your vote will actually affect the outcome of a given election are very, very, very slim. This was documented by the economists Casey Mulligan and Charles Hunter, who analyzed more than 56,000 Congressional and state-legislative elections since 1898. For all the attention paid in the media to close elections, it turns out that they are exceedingly rare. The median margin of victory in the Congressional elections was 22 percent; in the state-legislature elections, it was 25 percent. Even in the closest elections, it is almost never the case that a single vote is pivotal. Of the more than 40,000 elections for state legislator that Mulligan and Hunter analyzed, comprising nearly 1 billion votes, only 7 elections were decided by a single vote, with 2 others tied. Of the more than 16,000 Congressional elections, in which many more people vote, only one election in the past 100 years - a 1910 race in Buffalo - was decided by a single vote.

But there is a more important point: the closer an election is, the more likely that its outcome will be taken out of the voters' hands - most vividly exemplified, of course, by the 2000 presidential race. It is true that the outcome of that election came down to a handful of voters; but their names were Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas. And it was only the votes they cast while wearing their robes that mattered, not the ones they may have cast in their home precincts.

Still, people do continue to vote, in the millions. Why? Here are three possibilities:

1. Perhaps we are just not very bright and therefore wrongly believe that our votes will affect the outcome.

2. Perhaps we vote in the same spirit in which we buy lottery tickets. After all, your chances of winning a lottery and of affecting an election are pretty similar. From a financial perspective, playing the lottery is a bad investment. But it's fun and relatively cheap: for the price of a ticket, you buy the right to fantasize how you'd spend the winnings - much as you get to fantasize that your vote will have some impact on policy.

3. Perhaps we have been socialized into the voting-as-civic-duty idea, believing that it's a good thing for society if people vote, even if it's not particularly good for the individual. And thus we feel guilty for not voting.

But wait a minute, you say. If everyone thought about voting the way economists do, we might have no elections at all. No voter goes to the polls actually believing that her single vote will affect the outcome, does she? And isn't it cruel to even suggest that her vote is not worth casting?

This is indeed a slippery slope - the seemingly meaningless behavior of an individual, which, in aggregate, becomes quite meaningful. Here's a similar example in reverse. Imagine that you and your 8-year-old daughter are taking a walk through a botanical garden when she suddenly pulls a bright blossom off a tree.

"You shouldn't do that," you find yourself saying.

"Why not?" she asks.

"Well," you reason, "because if everyone picked one, there wouldn't be any flowers left at all."

"Yeah, but everybody isn't picking them," she says with a look. "Only me."

In the old days, there were more pragmatic incentives to vote. Political parties regularly paid voters $5 or $10 to cast the proper ballot; sometimes payment came in the form of a keg of whiskey, a barrel of flour or, in the case of an 1890 New Hampshire Congressional race, a live pig.

Now as then, many people worry about low voter turnout - only slightly more than half of eligible voters participated in the last presidential election - but it might be more worthwhile to stand this problem on its head and instead ask a different question: considering that an individual's vote almost never matters, why do so many people bother to vote at all?

The answer may lie in Switzerland. That's where Patricia Funk discovered a wonderful natural experiment that allowed her to take an acute measure of voter behavior.

The Swiss love to vote - on parliamentary elections, on plebiscites, on whatever may arise. But voter participation had begun to slip over the years (maybe they stopped handing out live pigs there too), so a new option was introduced: the mail-in ballot. Whereas each voter in the U.S. must register, that isn't the case in Switzerland. Every eligible Swiss citizen began to automatically receive a ballot in the mail, which could then be completed and returned by mail.

From a social scientist's perspective, there was beauty in the setup of this postal voting scheme: because it was introduced in different cantons (the 26 statelike districts that make up Switzerland) in different years, it allowed for a sophisticated measurement of its effects over time.

Never again would any Swiss voter have to tromp to the polls during a rainstorm; the cost of casting a ballot had been lowered significantly. An economic model would therefore predict voter turnout to increase substantially. Is that what happened?

Not at all. In fact, voter turnout often decreased, especially in smaller cantons and in the smaller communities within cantons. This finding may have serious implications for advocates of Internet voting - which, it has long been argued, would make voting easier and therefore increase turnout. But the Swiss model indicates that the exact opposite might hold true.

But why is this the case? Why on earth would fewer people vote when the cost of doing so is lowered?

It goes back to the incentives behind voting. If a given citizen doesn't stand a chance of having her vote affect the outcome, why does she bother? In Switzerland, as in the U.S., "there exists a fairly strong social norm that a good citizen should go to the polls," Funk writes. "As long as poll-voting was the only option, there was an incentive (or pressure) to go to the polls only to be seen handing in the vote. The motivation could be hope for social esteem, benefits from being perceived as a cooperator or just the avoidance of informal sanctions. Since in small communities, people know each other better and gossip about who fulfills civic duties and who doesn't, the benefits of norm adherence were particularly high in this type of community."

In other words, we do vote out of self-interest - a conclusion that will satisfy economists - but not necessarily the same self-interest as indicated by our actual ballot choice. For all the talk of how people "vote their pocketbooks," the Swiss study suggests that we may be driven to vote less by a financial incentive than a social one. It may be that the most valuable payoff of voting is simply being seen at the polling place by your friends or co-workers.

Unless, of course, you happen to be an economist.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Literature via biology.

November 6, 2005

The Literary Darwinists

By D. T. MAX

Jane Austen first published "Pride and Prejudice" in 1813. She had misgivings about the book, complaining in a letter to her sister that it was "rather too light, and bright, and sparkling." But these qualities may be what make it the most popular of her novels. It tells the story of Elizabeth Bennet, a young woman from a shabby genteel family, who meets Mr. Darcy, an aristocrat. At first, the two dislike each other. Mr. Darcy is arrogant; Elizabeth, clever and cutting. But through a series of encounters that show one to the other in a more appealing light - as well as Mr. Darcy's intervention when an officer named Wickham runs away with Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia (Darcy bribes the cad to marry Lydia) - Elizabeth and Darcy come to love each other, to marry and, it is strongly suggested at book's end, to live happily ever after.

For the common reader, "Pride and Prejudice" is a romantic comedy. His or her pleasure comes from the vividness of Austen's characters and how familiar they still seem: it's as if we know Elizabeth and Darcy. On a more literary level, we enjoy Austen's pointed dialogue and admire her expert way with humor. For similar reasons, critics have long called "Pride and Prejudic" a classic - their ultimate (if not well defined) expression of approval.

But for an emerging school of literary criticism known as Literary Darwinism, the novel is significant for different reasons. Just as Charles Darwin studied animals to discover the patterns behind their development, Literary Darwinists read books in search of innate patterns of human behavior: child bearing and rearing, efforts to acquire resources (money, property, influence) and competition and cooperation within families and communities. They say that it's impossible to fully appreciate and understand a literary text unless you keep in mind that humans behave in certain universal ways and do so because those behaviors are hard-wired into us. For them, the most effective and truest works of literature are those that reference or exemplify these basic facts.

From the first words of the first chapter ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife") to the first words of the last ("Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters"), the novel is stocked with the sort of life's-passage moments that resonate with meaning for Literary Darwinists. (One calls the novel their "fruit fly.") The women in the book mostly compete to marry high-status men, consistent with the Darwinian idea that females try to find mates whose status will assure the success of their offspring. At the same time, the men are typically competing to marry the most attractive women, consistent with the Darwinian idea that males look for youth and beauty in females as signs of reproductive fitness. Darcy and Elizabeth's flips and flops illustrate the effort mammals put into distinguishing between short-term appeal (a pert step, a handsome coxcomb) and long-term appropriateness (stability, commitment, wealth, underlying good health). Meanwhile, Wickham - the penniless officer who tries to make off first with Darcy's sister and then carries off Lydia - serves as an example of the mating behavior evolutionary biologists call (I'm using a milder euphemism than they do) "the sneaky fornicator theory."

Humans beyond reproductive age also have a part to play in the Literary Darwinist paradigm. Consider Mrs. Bennet, Elizabeth's mother. Jane Austen calls her "invariably silly," and most critics over nearly two centuries have agreed. But for Literary Darwinists, her marriage obsession makes sense, because she also has a stake in what is going on. If one of her daughters has a child, Mrs. Bennet will have further passed on her genetic material, fulfilling the ultimate aim of living things according to some evolutionary theorists: the replication of one's genes. (J.B.S. Haldane, a British biologist, was once asked if he would trade his life for his brother's and replied no, but that he would trade it for two brothers or eight cousins.)

It is useful to know a bit about current literary criticism to understand how different the Darwinist approach to literature is. Current literary theory tends to look at a text as the product of particular social conditions or, less often, as a network of references to other texts. (Jacques Derrida, the father of deconstruction, famously observed that there was "nothing outside the text.") It often focuses on how the writer's and the reader's identities - straight, gay, female, male, black, white, colonizer or colonized - shape a particular narrative or its interpretation. Theorists sometimes regard science as simply another form of language or suspect that when scientists claim to speak for nature, they are disguising their own assertion of power.
Literary Darwinism breaks with these tendencies. First, its goal is to study literature through biology - not politics or semiotics. Second, it takes as a given not that literature possesses its own truth or many truths but that it derives its truth from laws of nature.

"The Literary Animal," the first scholarly anthology dedicated to Literary Darwinism, is to be published next month. It draws from the various fields that figure in Darwinian evolutionary studies, including contributions from evolutionary psychologists and biologists as well as literature professors. The essays consider the importance of the male-male bond in epics and romances, the battle of the sexes in Shakespeare and the motif in both Japanese and Western literature of men rejecting children whom their wives have conceived in adultery. "The Literary Animal" spans centuries and individual cultures with bravura, if not bravado. "There is no work of literature written anywhere in the world, at any time, by any author, that is outside the scope of Darwinian analysis," Joseph Carroll, a professor of English at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, writes in an essay in "The Literary Animal." Why bring literature into what is essentially a social science? Jonathan Gotschall, an editor of "The Literary Animal," offers an answer: "One thing literature offers is data. Fast, inexhaustible, cross-cultural and cheap."

There is a circularity to an argument that uses texts about people to prove that people behave in human ways. (I'm reminded of the Robert Frost line: "Earth's the right place for love:/I don't know where it's likely to go better.") But Literary Darwinism has a second focus too. It also investigates why we read and write fiction. At the core of Literary Darwinism is the idea that we inherit many of the predispositions we deem to be cultural through our genes. How we behave has been subjected to the same fitness test as our bodies: if a bit of behavior has no purpose, then evolution - given enough time - may well dispense with it. So why, Literary Darwinists ask, do we make room for this strange exercise of the imagination? What are reading and writing fiction good for? In her essay "Reverse-Engineering Narrative," Michelle Scalise Sugiyama tries to simplify the question by picking stories apart, breaking them down into characters, settings, causalities and time frames ("the cognitive widgets and sprockets of storytelling") and asking what purpose each serves: how do they make us more adaptive, more capable of passing on our genes?

or the moment, Literary Darwinism is a club that may grow into a crowd; there are only about 30 or so declared adherents in all of academia. (The wider field of biopoetics - which relates music and the visual arts to Darwin as well - can claim another handful.) But it has captured the imagination of a number of academics who grew up with other literary critical techniques and became dissatisfied. Brian Boyd, for instance, a well-known scholar of Vladimir Nabokov and professor at the University of New Zealand in Auckland, changed his focus in his 40's to Literary Darwinism, gripped by what he calls its "one very simple and powerful idea."

It may seem strange that English professors in search of inspiration would turn to evolutionary biology, but you should never underestimate the appeal of the worldview Darwin formulated. It has a way of capturing people's attention. While not everyone enjoys being reminded that humans descend from monkeys (or even worse, from prokaryotic bacteria), many of us like the subtle reassurance that Darwinism offers. Despite its theory that unceasing change is the essence of life, it can be perceived as a reassuring philosophy, one that believes there are answers. And a philosophy that implies "survival of the fittest" pays a great compliment to all of us who are here to read about it. So it is little surprise that evolutionary biology has come to be invoked not merely as a theory about changes in the physical makeups of living beings but also as an explanatory tool that appeals to both academics and to everyone's inner pop psychologist. (Jack Nicholson explaining his bad-boy behavior to an interviewer for The New York Times in 2002: "I have a sweet spot for what's attractive to me. It's not just psychological. It's also glandular and has to do with mindlessly continuing the species.")

Literary Darwinism - like many offshoots of Darwinism - tends to find favor with those looking for universal explanations. Like Freudianism and Marxism, it has large-scale ambitions: to explain not just the workings of a particular text or author but of texts and authors over time and across cultures as well. It may also allow English professors to grab back some of the influence - and money - that the sciences, in the Darwinian fight for university resources, have taken from the humanities for the past century. But for now, to march under the Literary Darwinist banner you had better be independent and unafraid. "The most effective and easiest form of repudiation is to ignore us," Carroll says.

Literary Darwinists give off a cultlike vibe. When they talk about like-minded academics who won't acknowledge their beliefs in public, they sometimes call them "closeted." The 56-year-old Carroll's own conversion to the discipline took place when, as a young, tenured but disgruntled professor of English at the University of Missouri at St. Louis in the early 90's, he picked up "The Origin of Species" and "The Descent of Man" and had an "intuitive conviction" that he had found the master keys to literature. Carroll had always liked big ideas; he'd had a "big Hegel phase" when he was 21. "The basic conception crystallized for me in a matter of weeks," he remembers, and the notes he began taking "at high intensity" formed themselves into the founding text in the field, "Evolution and Literary Theory," published in 1995.

Jonathan Gottschall, a 33-year-old editor of "The Literary Animal," began his graduate studies in English at the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1994 and was surprised at how little his professors cared about linking literature with "the big, Delphic project of seeking the nature of human nature. They didn't believe in knowledge. In fact they could only render the word in quotes." When he found a copy of the zoologist Desmond Morris's 1967 book, "The Naked Ape," in a used bookstore, Morris's observations on the overlap between primate and human behavior spoke to him. (Animals often play a role in these conversion narratives: Ellen Dissanayake, the author of "What Is Art For?" and a biopoeticist at the University of Washington, was primed for her conversion in part by watching the behavior of wild animals - her husband at the time was a director at the National Zoo in Washington - and comparing them to her young children.)

Soon after reading "The Naked Ape," Gottschall reread the "Iliad," one of his favorite books: "As always," he writes in the introduction to "The Literary Animal," "Homer made my bones flex and ache under the weight of all the terror and beauty of the human condition. But this time around I also experienced the 'Iliad' as a drama of naked apes - strutting, preening, fighting, tattooing their chests and bellowing their power in fierce competition for social dominance, desirable mates and material resources." He brought his ideas to class. "When I would say things like 'sociobiology' and 'evolutionary biology' in class," Gottschall remembers, "my classmates would hear things like 'eugenics' and 'Hitler.' It was a measure of how toxic the material was."

His interest in Literary Darwinism does not seem to have helped Gottschall's career - "The Literary Animal" was rejected by more than a dozen publishers before Northwestern University Press agreed to take it on. And Gottschall himself remains unemployed (though that is a condition familiar to many English Ph.D.'s). Literary Darwinists claim that no acknowledged member of their troupe has ever received tenure in this country. "Most of my closest friends ended up at the Ivies or their equivalents," Joseph Carroll says, while he is at "a branch campus in a state university system."

The alpha male of Literary Darwinism is the 76-year-old Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson. "There's no one we owe so much," Gottschall says. Wilson contributed a foreword to "The Literary Animal" in which he writes that if Literary Darwinism succeeds and "not only human nature but its outermost literary productions can be solidly connected to biological roots, it will be one of the great events of intellectual history. Science and the humanities united!" Wilson has been working for 30 years to prepare the way for such a moment. In 1975, he began the expansion of modern evolutionary biology to human behavior in his book "Sociobiology: The New Synthesis." In the last chapter, he tried to show that evolutionary pressures play a big role not just in animal societies but also in human culture. "Many scientists and others believed it would have been better if I had stopped at chimpanzees," Wilson would remember later, "but the challenge and the excitement I felt were too much to resist."

In "On Human Nature," published three years later, Wilson revisited the question with new energy. The field that emerged in part out of his work, evolutionary psychology, asserts that many of our mental activities and the behaviors that come from them - language, altruism, promiscuity - can be traced to preferences that were encoded in us in prehistoric times when they helped us to survive. According to evolutionary psychologists, everything from seasonal affective disorder to singing to lifesaving is - or at least might be - hard-wired. Evolutionary psychologists also try to demystify the nature of consciousness itself, positing, for example, that the brain is a collection of separate modules evolved to serve mental operations, more like a Swiss Army knife than a soul. A controversial implication of their theories is that evolution may be responsible for some inequalities among groups. One has only to recall the trouble that Lawrence Summers, Harvard's president, brought on himself earlier this year when he speculated that evolution might have left women less capable than men of outstanding performance in engineering and science to see how the notion continues to roil us.

All the same, today we speak casually of innate preferences, adaptive behavior and fitness strategies. Consider how evolutionary psychology has displaced Freud. Who, upon discovering that a remote tribe had an incest taboo, would ascribe it to unconscious repression on the part of the sons of their sexual attraction to their mothers? Instead, we would likely cite an evolutionary biology principle that states that we have evolved an innate repulsion to inbreeding because it creates birth defects and birth defects are a barrier to survival.

In a recent telephone conversation, I asked Wilson to assess the state of the revolution he helped touch off. How far had sociologists and psychologists gone in folding evolutionary principles into their work? Wilson laughed and said silkily, "Not far enough, in my opinion." Nonetheless, he looks forward to seeing sociobiology dust the wings of the arts - especially literature - with its magic. "Confusion is what we have now in the realm of literary criticism," Wilson writes in his foreword to "The Literary Animal." He amplified the point on the phone: "They just go on presenting it, teaching it, explaining it as best they can." He saw in literary criticism, especially the school led by Derrida, a "form of unrooted free association and an attempt to build rules of analysis on just idiosyncratic perceptions of how the world works, how the mind works. I could not see anything that was truly coherent." Predicting my objection, he went on: "We're not talking about reducing, corroding, dehumanizing. We're talking about adding deep history, deep genetic history, to art criticism."

Literary Darwinists use this "deep history" to explain the power of books and poems that might otherwise confuse us, thus hoping to add satisfaction to our reading of them. Take for instance "Hamlet." Through the Literary Darwinist lens, Shakespeare's play becomes the story of a young man's dilemma choosing between his personal self-interest (taking over the kingdom by killing his uncle, his mother's new husband) and his genetic self-interest (if his mother has children with his uncle, he may get new siblings who carry three-eighths of his genes). No wonder the prince of Denmark cannot make up his mind.

Or look at Jonathan Gottschall's study of the "Iliad," which emphasizes how the fighting over women in the epic is not the substitute for the fight over territory, as commentators usually assume, but the central subject of the poem, occasioned by an ancient sex-ratio imbalance, a fact he unearthed in part from studies of the archaeological records of contemporary grave sites.

One of the central beliefs of evolutionary psychology is that pleasure is adaptive, so it is meaningful that Literary Darwinism is enjoyable to practice. But while its observations on individual books can be fun and memorable, they also feel flimsy. As David Sloan Wilson, an editor of "The Literary Animal" and a professor of biology and anthropology at SUNY-Binghamton, puts it, "Tasty slice, but where's the rest of the pie?"

And Literary Darwinism is not equally good at explaining everything. It is best on big social novels, on people behaving in groups. As the British novelist Ian McEwan notes in his contribution to "The Literary Animal," "If one reads accounts of . . . troops of bonobo . . . one sees rehearsed all the major themes of the English 19th-century novel." But I don't think even by stretching one's imagination primates evoke "The Waste Land" or "Finnegans Wake." Tone, point of view, reliability of the narrator - these are literary tropes that often elude Literary Darwinists, an interpretive limitation that can be traced to Darwin himself; his son once complained that "it often astonished us what trash he would tolerate in the way of novels. The chief requisites were a pretty girl and a good ending." Darwin was drawn to books that were Darwinian. Similarly, Literary Darwinists are better on Émile Zola and John Steinbeck than, say, Henry James or Gustave Flaubert. I would read their take on Shakespeare's histories before the tragedies and the tragedies before the comedies, and in "The Tempest" I'd be curious about their observations on the Prospero, Miranda and Fernando triad but not on Caliban or Ariel. I don't care if there are selection pressures on mooncalfs and sprites.

Ultimately, Literary Darwinism may teach us less about individual books than about the point of literature. But what can the purpose of literature be, assuming it is not just a harmless oddity? At first glance, reading is a waste of time, turning us all into versions of Don Quixote, too befuddled by our imaginations to tell windmills from giants. We would be better off spending the time mating or farming. Darwinists have an answer - or more accurately, many possible answers. (Literary Darwinists like multiple answers, convinced the best idea will win out.) One idea is that literature is a defense reaction to the expansion of our mental life that took place as we began to acquire the basics of higher intelligence around 40,000 years ago. At that time, the world suddenly appeared to homo sapiens in all its frightening complexity. But by taking imaginative but orderly voyages within our minds, we gained the confidence to interpret this new vastly denser reality. Another theory is that reading literature is a form of fitness training, an exercise in "what if" thinking. If you could imagine the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans, then if you ever found yourself in a street fight, you would have a better chance of winning. A third theory sees writing as a sex-display trait. Certainly writers often seem to be preening when they write, with an eye toward attracting a desirable mate. In "The Ghost Writer," Philip Roth's narrator informs another writer that "no one with seven books in New York City settles for" just one woman. "That's what you get for a couplet."

Yet another theory is that the main function of literature is to integrate us all into one culture; evolutionary psychologists believe shared imaginings or myths produce social cohesion, which in turn confers a survival advantage. And a fifth idea is that literature began as religion or wish fulfillment: we ensure our success in the next hunt by recounting the triumph of the last one. Finally, it may be precisely writing's uselessness that makes it attractive to the opposite sex; it could be that, like the male peacock's exuberant tail, literature's very unnecessariness speaks to the underlying good health of its practitioner. He or she has resources to burn.

Generally, Literary Darwinism positions literature not as a luxury or as an add-on but as connected with our deepest selves. There is a grandeur to this view, and also a good deal of conjecture. That is because evolutionary biology is unusual among the sciences in asking not just "how" things work but also "why" - and not the why of local explanations (Why does water freeze at 32 degrees?) but the why of deeper ones, why something exists (Why did we evolve lungs? Why do we feel love?). There is no lab protocol to solve these sorts of mysteries, which the inductive techniques of science are poorly designed to answer, and so in the end, evolutionary biologists' conclusions can far outrun their research.

Take, for example, the human fear of snakes. According to Edward Wilson, this fear had its beginning in prehistoric times, when many of our ancestors were killed by snake bites. Those who feared snakes survived in greater numbers than those who didn't. This was the period when the human brain was becoming hard-wired, so our fear, rooted now in our genetic makeup, outlived its usefulness. Even after snakes stopped killing us very often, we remembered how we felt when they did. Over time, because they had traumatized us when we were most impressionable, snakes took a central role in our imaginative lives, becoming a center of our religion and art - whence the protection of the kings of ancient Egypt by the cobra goddess Wadjet; Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec serpent god of death and resurrection; and the fascination D.H. Lawrence felt when an uninvited guest slithered "his yellow-brown slackness soft-bellied" down to his water trough.

It is a nice story backed by some evidence. Children have a readiness to fear snakes that needs only an encounter or two to set it off. Their fear remains even after they outgrow ordinary childhood fears. And many primates, our nearest relatives, also have a readiness - an easily evoked potential - to be afraid of snakes. But we need to know a great deal before asserting that our snake obsession is an example of the sort of "gene-culture co-evolution," in Wilson's words, that evolutionary psychology - and literary Darwinism - depend on. For one thing, if there is a module in the brain that contains the predisposition to fear snakes, it has not yet been found. Nor do we really know how many snake deaths there were in prehistoric times. Nor whether that number was sufficient to create a phobia, which, moreover, for some reason would have had to remain fixed until the present day in the human mind instead of dropping out through further evolutionary selection, as you might expect a useless phobia to do. Today it might be people who love snakes who outreproduce the ophidophobes, since some snakes make good eating and their skins can be sold for money, yet we have no evidence of this pattern. At the same time, we must ask why there are equivalent or greater dangers our ancestors withstood that do not seem to have led to phobias - for instance, fire.

When you try to evaluate the importance of snakes to myths and the arts, you have to make several more assumptions. First, are snakes any more prominent in our imaginations than, say, eagles, which have never preyed on us? And if they are, does it not seem as likely that our fascination with them comes from there being something special (module-activating, if you like) about the snake's motion or its shape - its resemblance to a stick, or pace Freud, to the penis? Or about the fact that it kills with poison rather than through lethal wounding, as most wild animals do? Why trace our fear of them only back to their supposed role as a prehistoric killer of our ancestors?

ometimes evolutionary psychological theory feels like a start toward a science rather than a science itself. Consider, for instance, the larger question of the human imagination's role in evolution. Let's assume the capacity for imagination is inherited. Then most evolutionary psychologists would assume that human imagination was favored by natural selection and that it helps us to survive. But imagination could just as well not be an adaptation to (imagined) survival pressures but an accidental byproduct of such an adaptation. Maybe evolutionary pressures favored a related mental process like, say, curiosity, and because the higher brain, where such mental activities reside, is a sort of huge pool of neurons, it also produced the capacity for imagination. And, as Stephen Kosslyn, a Harvard psychology professor, notes, "Whether any of this was itself the target of natural selection is anybody's guess."

To be fair, evolutionary psychologists deserve credit for asking whether complex human behavior can be transmitted through a genetic-cultural link even if they cannot yet show that it is. Theirs remains an alluring approach. What they need in order to overcome their problems is the equivalent of the early-20th-century elaboration of the function of genes - or at least more and better hard science to support their conclusions.

A similar focus would help Literary Darwinists. They would benefit from studying writers and readers in the laboratory to see what parts of the brain our taste for literature comes out of and what the implications are. Such experiments could reveal quite remarkable things. For instance, we know that a structure in the brain called the hippocampus has a key role in long-term memory formulation. Scanning readers using functional M.R.I.'s - M.R.I.'s set to track blood flow to different areas of the brain - we can also see how different works activate their readers' hippocampuses. Those words that light up the hippocampus the most are the ones people wind up remembering best. So functional M.R.I.'s of the hippocampus could provide the beginning of a biological basis for the hoary assumption that "Pride and Prejudice" is a classic and maybe even a justification for the rest of the literary canon.

Even more interesting, brain scanning might one day help to explain the act of reading itself. "Reading is a funny kind of brain state," says Norman Holland, a professor who teaches a course on brain science and literature at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "If you're engrossed in a story, you're no longer aware of your body; you're no longer aware of your environment. You feel real emotions toward the characters." What is going on in our heads? Are we in a dream? A heightened reality? A trance?

Edward Wilson told me that he is confident neurobiology can help confirm many of evolutionary psychology's insights about the humanities, commending the work to "any ambitious young neurobiologist, psychologist or scholar in the humanities." They could be the "Columbus of neurobiology," he said, adding that if "you gave me a million dollars to do it, I would get immediately into brain imaging." In fact, you won't always need a million dollars for the work, as the cost of M.R.I. technology goes down. "Five years from now, every psychology department will have a scanner in the basement," says Steven Pinker, a Harvard cognitive psychologist. With the help of those scanners, Wilson says that science and the study of literature will join in "a mutualistic symbiosis," with science providing literary criticism with the "foundational principles" for analysis it lacks.

David Sloan Wilson, the co-editor of "The Literary Animal" (and the son of the novelist Sloan Wilson), sees the potential of that embrace differently. "Literature," he says, "is the natural history of our species," and its diversity proves us diverse. No one in "Pride and Prejudice" takes exception when, at the book's opening, Elizabeth Bennet's father's cousin comes to propose to her. In Daniel Defoe's "Moll Flanders," the title character can, at the same time, consider her incest with her brother "the most nauseous thing to me in the world" and say she "had not great concern about it in point of conscience" because she had not known they were related. Humans are complex, and the best books about them are too. So rather than narrowing literature, David Wilson says that Literary Darwinism may broaden evolutionary psychology.

It may, in fact, have already done so. Think about evolutionary psychology. It is seductive and metaphoric, alluring and imagistic. It is fun to riff on. It takes bits of information and from them builds a worldview. It convinces us that we understand why things happen the way they happen. When it succeeds, evolutionary psychology impresses us with the elegance and economy of that vision and, when it fails, gives us a sense of waste and unthriftiness on the author's part. It may be true or it may just have some truth in it, and once you have encountered it, you can never see things quite the same way again: it works a kind of conversion in you. Isn't it, then, already a lot like literature?

D.T. Max, a frequent contributor to the magazine, is working on "The Dark Eye," a cultural and scientific history of mad cow and other prion diseases.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

Friday, November 04, 2005

A sad commentary on modern life.

This should have been good news, but evidently through no fault of its own...


Good Smell Perplexes New Yorkers

310 words
28 October 2005
The New York Times
Late Edition - Final
Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company. All Rights Reserved.

An unseen, sweet-smelling cloud drifted through parts of Manhattan last night. Arturo Padilla walked through it and declared that it was awesome.

''It's like maple syrup. With Eggos. Or pancakes,'' he said. ''It's pleasant.''

The odor had followed Mr. Padilla and his friend along their walk in Lower Manhattan, from a dormitory on Fulton Street, to Pace University on Spruce Street, and back down again, to where they stood now, near a Dunkin' Donuts. Maybe it was from there, he said. But it wasn't.

Mr. Padilla was not alone. Reports of the syrupy cloud poured in from across Manhattan after 9 p.m. Some feared that it was something sinister.

There were so many calls that the city's Office of Emergency Management coordinated efforts with the Police and Fire Departments, the Coast Guard and the City Department of Environmental Protection to look into it.

By 11 p. m., the search had turned up nothing harmful, according to tests of the air. Reports continued to come in from as far north as 112th Street shortly before midnight. In Lower Manhattan, where the smell had begun to fade, it was back, stronger than before, by 1 a.m.

''We are continuing to sample the air throughout the affected area to make sure there's nothing hazardous,'' said Jarrod Bernstein, an emergency management spokesman. ''What the actual cause of the smell is, we really don't know.''

There were conflicting accounts as to its nature. A police officer who had thrown out her French vanilla coffee earlier compared it to that. Two diplomats from the Netherlands disagreed, politely. Rieneke Buisman said it smelled like roasted peanuts. Her friend Joris Geeven said it reminded him of a Dutch cake called peperkoek, though he could not describe that smell.

Fame's aroma.

Eau de J. Lo? Beckham in a bottle? Star- powered fragrances are hotter than ever, and Coty has mastered the formula.

Julia Boorstin
1,854 words
14 November 2005
U.S. Edition
© 2005 Time Incorporated.


White musk and Georgia peach? A splash of rhubarb? Jennifer Lopez herself is trying to decide. She closes her eyes and inhales, a fragrance-soaked strip of paper under her nose, tapping the heel of her black suede pump on the carpet of a suite at the Peninsula in Midtown Manhattan. "Glow is so fresh and sexy and clean," she purrs, referring to her first fragrance, launched in 2002. "This is so ... the dark side of Glow."

Lopez passes the paper strip to Catherine Walsh, one of half-a- dozen Coty executives hovering in the room, waiting for the pop star to make up her mind. Walsh, a silver-haired pixyish woman, runs the licensing arm of Lancaster, Coty's high-end cosmetics division, which creates and markets Lopez's line of perfumes. "You can't just slap my name on a bottle," Lopez says, flipping through Walsh's color swatches, her diamond ring flashing, riffing on packaging ideas.

"I bet you've got it all figured out," says Coty CEO Bernd Beetz, walking into the room. A proper, 55-year-old German, Beetz greets Lopez with a double-cheek kiss. She sits up straight and nods. "This can be like a black-tie, nighttime version of Glow, for an older demographic," she exclaims. "Oh, and I want to try it in a white bottle with diamonds." Beetz, who created J'Adore for Christian Dior and previously ran Procter & Gamble's Europe division, shrugs. "It's not always easy," he says. "But I let Jennifer have the final word, because creating a fragrance consistent with her world is entirely worth it."

Indeed, Jennifer Lopez has been very good to Coty: Glow was one of the most successful fragrance launches ever, and her family of fragrances (Glow, Miami Glow, Still, and Live) brings in more than $100 million a year. Coty has also been good to Lopez. Although the privately owned New York company won't reveal the details of its license agreement with the pop star, most celebrities get between 5% and 10% of sales just for putting their name on a bottle of perfume.

Welcome to the $1 billion celebrity-fragrance business, the fastest-growing segment of the $25 billion global fragrance industry. Every star, it seems, from Donald Trump to Paris Hilton, has introduced scents, and many--including those two--have fizzled. But Coty, the world's largest fragrance maker, hasn't had any stinkers. And this fall it is unveiling its largest roster of new celebrity scents--from Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely to Kimora Lee Simmons's Baby Phat, from eau de Shania Twain to David Beckham in a bottle.

LINKING CELEBRITIES TO FRAGRANCES IS hardly new. In the 1930s, Schiaparelli designed a bottle to look like Mae West's figure. In the 1950s, Givenchy created a perfume for Audrey Hepburn. In the early 1980s, Dynasty stars Joan Collins and Linda Evans promoted fragrances linked to their TV show. And in 1987, Elizabeth Taylor-- her movie career long since faded, but her fan base intact--put her name on a perfume called Passion. Taylor's White Diamonds perfume, launched a few years later by the company that is now Elizabeth Arden, became the most successful celebrity fragrance of all time, with more than $1 billion in sales. It's a smart strategy. "Building a fragrance brand name from start, without any affiliation, is a very expensive proposition," says Candace Corlett of WSL Strategic Retail, a New York City consulting firm. "A much quicker route to sales is to borrow a star's identity."

But with the exception of Taylor, whose line continues to sell well, television and movie stars were displaced on perfume shelves by fashion designers such as Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein. Fashion-branded perfumes were dominant through the 1990s--until the market became saturated earlier this decade. That's when fragrance houses turned their attention back to Hollywood. Elizabeth Arden hired Catherine Zeta-Jones as its public face, and Chanel did the same with Nicole Kidman.

It wasn't until Coty bottled the essence of Jennifer Lopez in 2002 that a company duplicated Elizabeth's Taylor's success. Lopez wasn't an obvious choice. She was still a rising star and had been tarnished by her relationship with hip-hop entrepreneur Sean "Puffy" Combs, who had been charged (and later acquitted) in connection with a nightclub shooting. But after test-marketing 20 celebrities with focus groups, Coty, which had never marketed a celebrity fragrance, swung into action. "She had just become the first person to ever have a No. 1 movie and album at the same time," says Coty's Walsh. "That green dress made her a fashion icon--a triple threat."

Walsh met with Lopez on her honeymoon with Chris Judd in Venice. She recalls that Lopez, fresh out of the shower, sketched a curvy bottle and said, motioning to her bathrobe: "Make it smell like this- -like soap." Walsh sent her ideas to half-a-dozen fragrance houses. She met five more times with Lopez, refining the smell and the packaging. The result was Glow, which Beetz decided to sell exclusively in department stores. He figured the placement would attract Lopez's young followers to fragrance counters while also appealing to older department-store regulars. The counterintuitive strategy worked.

Today Coty has the widest range of celebrity licenses of any fragrance company. It is No. 1 in the mass-market perfume business (its cheapest product is an $8.75 bottle of Mary-Kate and Ashley) and No. 3, behind Estee Lauder and Chanel, in the department-store market (its priciest is a $250 bottle of Marc Jacobs). Coty's licenses have helped grow the 101-year-old company from $1.4 billion in revenue in 2001 to $2.1 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30. And those revenues are likely to approach $3 billion in the current fiscal year, with Coty's acquisition of Calvin Klein fragrances from Unilever in July, putting it within spritzing distance of the FORTUNE 500.

Coty's success with Glow inspired a rush of celebrity scents. Elizabeth Arden, which had made an unsuccessful bid to land Lopez, later signed Britney Spears. "Like Elizabeth Taylor, Britney has had some great successes and some personal challenges," says Ron Rolleston, chief marketing officer at Elizabeth Arden. "That makes her more accessible, and she has a really devoted fan base." Curious, which launched last fall, racked up about $100 million in sales in its first year. Estee Lauder embraced the trend with a Donald Trump scent, which analysts call a "disaster." (Lauder says it didn't quite meet industry expectations.) And to reposition its Tommy Hilfiger fragrances, Lauder signed singers Beyonce and Enrique Iglesias.

Meanwhile Coty signed Celine Dion to target women in their mid- 30s, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen to snag the tween market, and Shania Twain to appeal to the country-music crowd. It even began using celebrities to market its nonlicensed brands, featuring Matthew McConaughey in Stetson ads, singer Jewel for its Healing Garden bath and body products, and supermodel Kate Moss as the face of Rimmel London, Coty's fastest-growing business and, thanks largely to Wal- Mart, which rolled out the line in the U.S., the world's fastest- growing cosmetics brand.

BIG NAMES CAN BRING BIG TROUBLE. IN October, pictures of Moss snorting cocaine appeared on the front page of a London tabloid, leading many companies to dump her as a model. Despite rumors that Wal-Mart and Walgreens had encouraged Rimmel to break off the relationship--Walgreens denies it; Wal-Mart wouldn't comment--Coty says it will continue working with Moss.

"If you're selling a personality, you can't control whether an actress gets a front-page divorce," says Elizabeth Montgomery, who follows the perfume business for equity research firm SG Cowen. An even bigger risk is the unanticipated loss of cool, which can be deadly in the costly world of marketing fragrances. Brands must have a shelf life of more than a year to justify the expense of a launch. And while gross margins can be as high as 75%, marketing costs can push operating margins as low as 5%. A real payday comes only when customers return to buy a second bottle or a "flanker"--industry- speak for brand extension. But the benefits come with challenges: how to adjust a product mix while introducing new scents; how to expand a higher-end product from department stores to mass retailers.

None of this seems to be putting a damper on the industry's fixation with celebrities. Next year promises to be even more starstruck, with launches planned for his-and-hers fragrances inspired by Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf (Estee Lauder), a Hilary Duff perfume (Elizabeth Arden), and even the scent of celebrity author Danielle Steel (also Elizabeth Arden). For Coty and its rivals, managing celebrity brands will continue to be as tough as, well, managing a roomful of stars--you never know which one might implode.



The celebri-scent business has gotten crowded, but still more stars are joining the fray. We'll see these boldface bottles next year.

P. DIDDY Estee Lauder is launching the rap impresario's Sean John Unforgivable cologne in Saks in December. Additional products will be rolled out more widely in February.

ANDRE AGASSI & STEFFI GRAF The tennis stars are the first celeb couple to inspire matching fragrances. Estee Lauder's Aramis Always will launch in Europe next spring.

HILARY DUFF Smells like teen spirit? The actress-singer signed with Elizabeth Arden for a fall 2006 scent to target younger fans than those of its other starlet, Britney Spears.

DANIELLE STEEL The most successful living author (believe it) agreed to have Elizabeth Arden create a namesake fragrance for debut next fall. Will it smell like ink?

One step closer to oblivion.

U.S. Patent Office Publishes the First Patent Application to Claim a Fictional Storyline; Inventor Asserts Provisional Rights Against Hollywood

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will publish history’s first “storyline patent” application today from an application filed in November, 2003. Inventor Andrew Knight will assert publication-based provisional patent rights against the entertainment industry.

Falls Church, Virginia (PRWEB) November 3, 2005 -- Further to a policy of publishing patent applications eighteen months after filing, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is scheduled to publish history’s first “storyline patent” application today. The publication will be based on a utility patent application filed by Andrew Knight in November, 2003, the first such application to claim a fictional storyline.

Knight, a rocket engine inventor, registered patent agent, and graduate of MIT and Georgetown Law, will assert publication-based provisional patent rights against anyone whose activities may fall within the scope of his published claims, including all major motion picture manufacturers and distributors, book publishers and distributors, television studios and broadcasters, and movie theaters. According to the official Patent Office website, provisional rights “provide a patentee with the opportunity to obtain a reasonable royalty from a third party that infringes a published application claim provided actual notice is given to the third party by [the] applicant, and a patent issues from the application with a substantially identical claim.”

Before a patent will issue, however, the application must overcome the hurdles of utility, novelty, and nonobviousness found in U.S. patent laws. According to Knight, the utility requirement addresses whether an invention falls within statutory subject matter, while novelty and nonobviousness address whether the invention is identical to or impermissibly similar to previous inventions. That fictional storylines may be patentable was first suggested in a November, 2004 article in the Journal of the Patent and Trademark Office Society, “A Potentially New IP: Storyline Patents.” The article argues that binding case law strongly suggests that methods of performing and displaying fictional plots, whether found in motion pictures, novels, television shows, or commercials, are statutory subject matter, like computer software and business methods.

Regarding the utility requirement, “The case law of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has established that virtually any subject matter is potentially patentable,” explained Jay Thomas, Professor of Law at Georgetown University. Further, “Due to the broad scope of patentable subject matter, novel storylines may fall within the [utility requirement],” said Charles Berman, Co-Chair of the Patent Prosecution Practice at Greenberg Traurig LLP.

The real issue? According to Berman, “Non-obviousness probably presents the biggest challenge to patentability” because minor variations on a central theme may generate so many different storylines. Nevertheless, Knight asserts that his claimed storyline meets all statutory requirements, including nonobviousness.

The fictitious story, which Knight dubs “The Zombie Stare,” tells of an ambitious high school senior, consumed by anticipation of college admission, who prays one night to remain unconscious until receiving his MIT admissions letter. He consciously awakes 30 years later when he finally receives the letter, lost in the mail for so many years, and discovers that, to all external observers, he has lived an apparently normal life. He desperately seeks to regain 30 years’ worth of memories lost as an unconscious philosophical zombie.

Will Knight’s claimed storyline pass the rigors of nonobviousness and issue as a U.S. Patent? If so, the stakes are high. According to Thomas, “Given the robust scope of patent protection provided by the Patent Act… storyline patents potentially provide their owners with a significant proprietary interest.”

The U.S. Patent Office will publish subsequent storyline patent applications, also invented by Knight, on November 17 and December 8 and 22.

Feeding the mouth that will bite you.

November 4, 2005
VC Nation
Excited and Wary, Investors Look at China



WHEN Joe Schoendorf, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, was in Shanghai a few years ago to hear a pitch from a Chinese start-up company, he sensed something familiar. He interrupted the meeting, walked to the window and pulled back the curtains.

"What are you looking for?" he remembers the would-be entrepreneurs asking.

"I just wanted to make sure I was in China and not back in Palo Alto," he responded.

China's high-technology community, with its brains and competitive spirit, is probably more like its counterpart in Silicon Valley than any other in the world.

Yet Silicon Valley's views of investment in China have tended to swing between wild optimism and deep anxiety - with the anxiety going beyond a fear of losing money. Some worry about helping Chinese start-ups move up the technology food chain.

These days, the Valley venture capitalists are sharply divided in two camps: one rushing into China and one holding back.

"The Valley is excited and it's scared at the same time," said Richard Shaffer, editor in chief of VentureWire, a venture capital newsletter publisher.

The dominant perspective is that China is a vast sea of opportunity, from its low-cost skilled labor pool to its enormous consumer market that is more than one billion strong.

In fact, it is now routine for venture investors to demand that their start-up firms place the bulk of software development and manufacturing efforts in China or India. (A supply chain problem at a manufacturing arm in China, however, can easily ruin financial results in any given quarter.)

For China skeptics, the concern is that American investment will help energize a formidable competitor, which could come to dominate both markets and technologies.

The fear is based in the Valley's complex relationship with China as supplier, partner, customer and competitor. Most venture capitalists say this evolving relationship will define the future of the Valley and maybe even technology development in the United States.

The Ningbo Bird Company is one case in point. It went from being a contract manufacturing supplier for Motorola to being a serious rival in the Chinese handset market in a matter of a few years.

Still, last year, most of the Valley seemed to throw caution aside as venture firms invested nearly $1.3 billion in China, up nearly 30 percent from 2003, according to Zero2IPO, a venture capital research and consulting company based in Beijing.

But in the first half of this year, investment slowed drastically after several changes in Chinese securities regulations. Those new rules caused "a decline of 50 percent in the first two quarters," said Dixon Doll, managing director of Doll Capital Management, based in Menlo Park, Calif.

The lull is ending, though, in part because of the high-profile success of the initial public offering of Baidu, a Chinese search engine company that was able to raise $86.6 million in August, and a securities rule change in October. In September, Sequoia Capital, a major backer of Google, was reported to be planning a $200 million fund and hiring several employees in China.

That announcement followed an earlier joint agreement this summer by Accel Partners, a leading Silicon Valley firm, and the International Data Group to set up a $250 million fund.

There have even been reports recently that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Valley's highest-profile venture firm, was creating its own China fund, though people briefed on the firm's plans said that was not true. While Kleiner has recently added Colin L. Powell as a partner to serve as a "rainmaker" in Asia, it remains concerned about changes in Chinese security laws that could complicate the return of investment funds to the United States.

Mr. Schoendorf, who is an Accel partner, sees benefits in helping China to become a fierce new competitor. He likens this moment of anxiety and promise to the 1970's, when Japan began to compete successfully with the United States.

"The Chinese graduate more engineers than we do," he said. "They're smart, they work hard, and so the only way to compete with them is to remain more innovative."

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

The parallel universe.

The Hit Factory

Who needs major labels, marketing, or airplay? A social networking site is getting more hits than Google -- and turning invisible bands into mini entertainment networks. How MySpace became the MTV for the Net generation.

By Jeff Howe

The members of Hawthorne Heights have no business being rock stars. They play a strain of punk that has consigned innumerable bands to the obscurity of dive bars and pirate radio. For the past three decades, a devotion to this stripped-down, anticommercial music has meant never quitting your day job.

And yet here they are on a dusty summer day in Pomona, California, playing for thousands of adoring fans. Hawthorne Heights is a big draw at this year's Warped Tour, a movable punk feast featuring more than 300 bands on 48 North American stops. The kids in the audience - a multiracial mix of teens from across Southern California - appear transported, pushing toward the front of the stage where slam dancers crash against each other like pinballs. Those in the front rows chant the lyrics with red-faced intensity. They've memorized the entire set.

Hawthorne Heights is touring the country in a plush bus. The quintet's debut album, The Silence in Black and White, has sold more than 500,000 copies since its release last year, and the group has appeared on ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live and been on MTV's TRL. The five young men from Dayton, Ohio, are living the rock-and-roll dream - but they took a highly unconventional path to get there. The band achieved its popularity without any real radio or TV airplay, a feat unheard-of a few years ago. They aren't signed to a major label, and they don't want to be. They don't need industrial-strength marketing campaigns or heavy rotation.

What they have is MySpace, a community Web site that converts electronic word of mouth into the hottest marketing strategy since the advent of MTV. Massively popular, MySpace is nominally a social networking site like Friendster, but nearly 400,000 of the site's roughly 30 million user pages belong to bands. The rest belong mostly to teens and twentysomethings who attend the groups' shows, download their songs, read their blogs, send them fan mail, and enthusiastically spread the word.

As it happens, the man behind this phenomenon is working his way through the Warped Tour crowd like a rock star himself. Everyone seems to know Tom Anderson. A laid-back 29-year-old in a plaid shirt and baseball hat, he can hardly take three paces before he's asked to autograph a shoe, a T-shirt, or in one case a naked back. No wonder: His photo shows up at the top of every MySpace user's "friends" list. As the first friend of every MySpace member, Anderson may be one of the most popular humans on the planet.

And in the entertainment universe that MySpace is helping to create, friends count. "This generation is growing up without having ever watched programmed media," says Courtney Holt, head of new media and strategic marketing at Interscope, one of the first labels to embrace MySpace. "They don't think in terms of the album, and they don't think in terms of a TV schedule. They think in terms of TiVo, P2P, AOL, and of course MySpace. We're just going to have to adapt."

By any measure, MySpace is one of the top sites on the Web. It racked up 9.4 billion pageviews in August - more than Google - and new users are signing up at a stunning rate of 3.5 million a month. But these aren't the only numbers that drew the attention of Rupert Murdoch, chair and CEO of News Corp., which agreed to buy MySpace's parent company in July for $580 million: The site hosts 12 percent of all ads on the Web, more than any other site. MySpace should gross $30 million to $40 million this year, says John Tinker, an analyst with ThinkEquity in New York. And with News Corp.'s sales force behind it, he estimates the company could double that figure in 2006.

To focus on corporate finances, though, is to miss a larger point. The real economic beneficiaries of MySpace are the ambitious young musicians in Pomona and around the country who are creating a new, life-size kind of stardom. Over the past couple years, MySpace and other community sites, like, have launched a number of acts: Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Relient K, and Silverstein, among others. Relient K, which plays earnest pop punk with an understated Christian message, has sold more than 500,000 albums in 12 months. My Chemical Romance's last album sold more than 1 million copies.

These artists have discovered what could be the first serious business model for music in the post-Napster era. The old way of doing things, which counted on a few blockbusters to finance dozens of expensive failures, is yielding little besides a decline in major label revenue. By contrast, "MySpace bands," as the site's publicist refers to them, keep production and promotion costs as low as possible. They give away their best two or three songs as downloads or streams and use social networking and email blasts to reach an audience hungry for new music. Converts become zealots, more than making up for any lost CD revenue through sales of concert tickets, T-shirts, messenger bags, hoodies, posters, and bumper stickers. With little fanfare, these groups are creating a new middle class of popular music: acts that can make a full-time living selling only a modest number of discs, on the order of 50,000 to 500,000 per release.

For this generation of musicians, the mass market and the hit-making apparatus it supports are relics of a bygone age. The new reality is that their audience isn't listening to radio or vegging out in front of MTV. The audience is online.

Tom Anderson wasn't much interested in the Web when he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1997 with a double major in English and rhetoric. He moved to San Francisco and started an alternative rock band called Swank. It barely lasted a year, and hardly anyone noticed when it broke up. Still, the experience left a deep mark on Anderson. There was a stark division between rock haves and have-nots. Bands were either on magazine covers and all over the radio or completely invisible. "I saw how hard it was for even really talented bands to reach an audience," he says. At the time he was standing right in the middle of the dotcom boom. Like a lot of people, he thought the Internet could change the way bands connected with their fans. "I just didn't know how," he says.

But Anderson's interests extended beyond the Internet or music. After a long trip to Taiwan, he returned to California in 1999 to pick up a master's in film studies at UCLA. During his first week at school, he was in the computer lab checking his class schedule when he saw an ad for "I logged on to find a girl," he says. "But I wound up being more intrigued by the idea that people could connect over the Net for all kinds of reasons."

Anderson finished the two-year UCLA program in a year. After graduating, he intended to return to Asia. But first he needed money. Walking through his Los Angeles neighborhood one day, he saw a flyer promising $20 to anyone who answered the ad. A week later, he showed up at a nondescript office building in Santa Monica for what turned out to be a one-on-one focus group. The interviewer, who worked for an online storage startup called Xdrive Technologies, was so impressed with her subject that she hired him as a copywriter. Anderson figured he'd be at Xdrive for three weeks, just long enough to earn plane fare to Singapore.

It didn't work out that way. Anderson hit it off with Chris DeWolfe, Xdrive's VP of sales and marketing. "Tom was so obviously full of smart ideas, I wanted to work more closely with him," says DeWolfe, now CEO of MySpace. By mid-2001, the two had left Xdrive to form their own marketing company, Response Base Marketing. The next year, they sold the business to eUniverse for $3.3 million. They continued to run the company, but they were already looking for a new challenge.

In the spring of 2003, Anderson started thinking about online connections again, particularly social networking sites. He believed that services like Friendster, which was just beginning to catch on, were stifling creativity when they could be encouraging it. Users' homepages all looked alike; Anderson imagined something much more fluid and customizable. He also realized that social networking needed to accommodate groups as well as individuals - teams looking for players, professionals looking for work, filmmakers looking for a crew, bands looking for an audience.

Finally, Anderson decided to broach the subject with DeWolfe. He barged into his office: "Dude, we've got to talk. I've been thinking about Friendster."

For Eron Bucciarelli, the earnest, mop-headed drummer of Hawthorne Heights, a degree in communications from Ohio's University of Dayton seemed like a dead end. His heart was in punk rock: first grunge, then hardcore and death metal. In 2001, he took a job with the local cable company and joined an unsigned pop punk quintet called A Day in the Life, after the Beatles song of the same name. The members devoted themselves to the band, playing at every opportunity. It was grueling: lousy venues, seedy hotels, and long road trips.

"We went on tour every weekend," Bucciarelli explains. "We'd pack up the van right after work on Friday, play a show that night in Pittsburgh, play the next night in Philly, wind up in Delaware somewhere on Sunday, and then drive all night to get back to Dayton by Monday morning."

Before long, the punishing regime of day jobs and weekend tours took its toll. A brief flirtation with the indie label Drive-Thru Records fizzled. The band's lead singer, J. T. Woodruff, was disenchanted and exhausted; he had two jobs and attended night school. When the bassist quit, the other members were ready to follow his lead.

But Bucciarelli wouldn't let go. He convinced his bandmates to hire another bass player, and they continued under a new name: Hawthorne Heights. "We used to tellpeople it was because we liked Nathaniel Hawthorne," he laughs, "but that's bullshit. We just thought it sounded cool."

The band decided to reinvent itself along more commercially viable lines. "We agreed this would be our last shot," he says. "We didn't want to be in our late 20s playing some Elks hall. We'd be geezers." The first element in need of overhaul, they decided, was the music. A Day in the Life played pop punk built on catchy guitar riffs. "We dropped the classic rock influence and added breakdowns and screaming," he says. It pushed their sound closer to the post-punk genre known as screamo.

Bucciarelli saw the potential of online communities to build an audience for the new band. "I knew that Web sites like, which had just started, would be better than radio at introducing us to the kind of people who might listen to our music." He took the band into a jerry-built studio and recorded a two-song demo. When he posted the tracks on, they got thousands of downloads before Hawthorne Heights had even played in front of a live audience. Then, following advice from, Bucciarelli started pitching labels with their new sound.

It wasn't clear that his hard work would pay off. Drive-Thru didn't like the new direction. A few other companies asked them to come out to California to play a showcase, but they couldn't afford the trip. Victory Records, a thriving indie label known for successfully marketing marginal acts, sent a form letter. "It basically said, 'Don't call us, we'll call you,'" he says.

Bucciarelli wasn't so easily put off. He guessed the email address of Victory president Tony Brummel and sent a message reminding him that Hawthorne Heights was available. "I basically told him Drive-Thru was interested and he should move fast," he says. The tactic worked. Brummel called the next day and asked the band to come to Chicago to play for him and some other people at the label. "We were in heaven," Bucciarelli recalls.

They arrived at Victory's office several hours early on one of the coldest days of the year. "The back window on our van was broken," Bucciarelli recalls, "so we sat huddled together for warmth until Tony showed up to let us into the Victory studio."

They set up, and 20 or so people from the label trickled in. "The studio was big," Bucciarelli says. "It could have fit 100 people, but they all stood in back." They played five songs. Guitarist Casey Calvert was so nervous he nearly puked into the microphone. When they finished, Brummel thanked them. He said he'd be in touch and left the room.

The band drove the six hours back to Dayton in anguished silence. "We thought they hated us," Bucciarelli says. "Then Tony called the next day and told us to get ready to sign a contract."

Hawthorne Heights could now record an album. But who would buy it?

When Anderson laid out his ideas for DeWolfe in the spring of 2003, he described an online service unlike anything on the Web. It would, he said, be the ultimate social hub: part Friendster, part Blogger, part, part craigslist. "The idea was that if it was a cool thing to do online, you should be able to do it on MySpace," he says. That summer, he and DeWolfe pitched the idea to eUniverse (later renamed Intermix Media), which agreed to provide startup capital in exchange for majority interest. The pair hired a team of five programmers and set to work.

DeWolfe, who had a lot of connections to the Los Angeles creative community, solicited suggestions from bands, artists, and other creative types. At first, growth was slow. A small but fervent community of musicians and club kids, many from the LA area, latched onto the site as a way to promote their music and stay in touch with fans. The site encouraged creativity to the point of chaos. For MySpace's mostly young demographic, their pages were multimedia outgrowths of their jackets, lockers, and notebooks - a place for band stickers, poems, personality quizzes, R-rated photos, and anything else HTML allows.

In September, around the time Hawthorne Heights was sending its demo to Victory, MySpace exploded.

The magnitude of the growth hit Anderson when he flew to San Francisco to see a late-season baseball game. The night before, Anderson had indulged in his obsessive habit of checking the rankings for MySpace. "Over the course of just a few days we'd gone from the 30,000th most popular site to the 3,000th," he says. Sitting in SBC Park watching the Giants beat the Dodgers, he looked around the stadium, taking in the 40,000 cheering fans. It struck him that approximately that many people were now signed up on MySpace. "Until then, we were getting maybe 500 new users a day," he says. By October they were getting 10,000 new users a day.

The Victory contract was a morale boost for Hawthorne Heights, but it didn't do much to improve the group's financial situation. "We cut a very, very different deal than we would have gotten with a major," Bucciarelli says. In fact, the band received a paltry advance. "We got about $5,000, and that immediately went to pay off our minivan."

But Bucciarelli wasn't looking for a big check. "We could have gotten a million dollars up front and all lived large for a while," he says, "but we'd have spent the rest of our careers trying to recoup." That's the way many contracts work: Any label's outlay associated with a band - from studio time to radio promotions - is billed against the band's advance.

Hawthorne Heights kept costs low from the beginning. They spent around $20,000 on recording and another $5,000 on a video. And because Victory budgets a fraction of what the majors do on marketing and promotion, Hawthorne Heights needed a cheap way to build demand for their June 2004 album release. So that spring they began posting a few songs on MySpace, which was becoming a hub for the indie music community. Fans began to find them. By the time the album came out, "we had 20,000 friends in our MySpace network," Bucciarelli says. But the bandmates were lavishing attention on them. On tour, each musician would spend four to five hours online every day, answering emails and "adding" new friends. (MySpace users must approve each person who requests to be added as a friend.)

The fans loved it. "They can't believe they're actually getting a response. You've got a fan for life."

By frequently updating their blog and swapping in new songs on their page, the Hawthorne Heights guys were able to give fans a reason to return. That increased the online buzz, and the fan club grew fast, eventually, topping 200,000 - a direct marketing list that any major-label act would kill for.

MySpace is also overflowing with devoted fans. Since mid-2004, the number of unique visitors has grown from 2 million a month to roughly 22 million. Keeping up with that rate of expansion hasn't been easy. Bandwidth costs are enormous, as are the programming challenges posed by scaling the site's features to accommodate the growing traffic. At last count, the company had 125 employees. "It's crazy," Anderson says. "It seems like we're always moving into larger office spaces."

Anderson and DeWolfe will roll out a wireless version of the site by the end of the year, and they recently launched a video service that hosts some 2,000 clips - for starters. The operation is also expanding overseas. "We have 700,000 members in the UK alone, and that's without a British domain," Anderson notes. After England, he has his sights set on Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia.

Even as MySpace has emerged as a platform for small-time bands to make a living, it is gaining credibility as a promotional venue for larger acts as well. Last spring, Interscope used the site to debut new albums by established artists including Beck, the Black Eyed Peas, and Nine Inch Nails. All three had the biggest first-week sales of their careers.

For the moment, artists like Kanye West and Coldplay have fewer friends on their MySpace pages than Hawthorne Heights. "But that doesn't mean we don't have pages," says Ted Mico, VP of strategic marketing at Capitol, Coldplay's label. "We can't afford not to," Mico says, noting that, by maintaining a presence on the site, artists can use MySpace to stay in the public eye between major releases.

Today the record business - tomorrow the rest of the entertainment industry. Network television is catching on; NBC debuted The Office, its docu-comedy series, as a Web cast on MySpace in March, and a group devoted to the Fox series The O.C. boasts nearly 90,000 members. The latest Cameron Crowe movie, Elizabethtown, has its own page, and a fan group for the Filipino super-featherweight boxer Manny Pacquiao has more than 23,000 members, some of whom can be counted on to show up at his bouts.

Going mainstream has its downside, of course. MySpace thrives on a sense of immediacy and community. The spirit is independent, even rebellious. Maybe that's why there was a noticeable backlash when the deal with News Corp. was announced. How cool can a Web site owned by Rupert Murdoch be? Parody profiles of Murdoch have sprung up, and conspiracy theories abound, such as the false rumor posted on Slashdot that News Corp. would own the copyrights to songs hosted on the site.

Meanwhile, public ownership is likely to impinge on the service's laissez-faire culture. For instance, a surprisingly brazen market in illicit goods and services flourishes in the "groups" section of the site ("sex for drugs anyone? … san fernando valley …"). And while Anderson and DeWolfe ban profiles posted by users under the age of 14, they can't sift through millions of new pages every month - or keep users from lying about their ages.

But whether MySpace ultimately succeeds or fails is beside the point. Its dramatic emergence is the first conclusive evidence of a new era in which the distance between audience and artist is greatly diminished. Companies that flourish will be those that can navigate the changed topography.

J. T. Woodruff doesn't need a road map. At a recent Warped stop in Cleveland, Hawthorne Heights lead singer is sitting on a cooler at the band's merchandise table, hawking bumper stickers, pins, and a dozen different T-shirt designs. "Best deal on the tour!" he cries. "Five bucks for five stickers!" His girlfriend hands up products from behind the table while Woodruff bargains with a blond kid in a T-shirt that reads Kiss me: I'm punk.

It's a living. And there's not a bodyguard in sight.

Contributing editor Jeff Howe ( wrote about art provocateur Banksy in issue 13.08.