Wade Davis

Wade Davis

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Edmund Wade Davis is a Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 anthropologist
Anthropology
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

, ethnobotanist
Ethnobotany
Ethnobotany is the scientific study of the relationships that exist between people and plants....

, author and photographer whose work has focused on worldwide indigenous cultures, especially in North and South America and particularly involving the traditional uses and beliefs associated with psychoactive plants. Davis came to prominence with his 1985 best-selling book The Serpent and the Rainbow
The Serpent and the Rainbow (book)
The Serpent and the Rainbow is a book by ethnobotanist and researcher Wade Davis. He investigated Haitian Vodou and the process of making zombies. He studied ethnobotanical poisons, discovering their use in a reported case of a contemporary zombie, Clairvius Narcisse.The book inspired a dramatic...

about the zombie
Zombie
Zombie is a term used to denote an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means such as witchcraft. The term is often figuratively applied to describe a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli...

s of Haiti
Haiti
Haiti , officially the Republic of Haiti , is a Caribbean country. It occupies the western, smaller portion of the island of Hispaniola, in the Greater Antillean archipelago, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Ayiti was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the island...

.

Davis has published popular articles in Outside
Outside (magazine)
Outside is an American magazine focused on the outdoors. The first issue debuted in September 1977 with its mission statement declaring that the publication was "dedicated to covering the people, sports and activities, politics, art, literature, and hardware of the outdoors..."Its founders were...

, National Geographic
National Geographic Magazine
National Geographic, formerly the National Geographic Magazine, is the official journal of the National Geographic Society. It published its first issue in 1888, just nine months after the Society itself was founded...

, Fortune
Fortune (magazine)
Fortune is a global business magazine published by Time Inc. Founded by Henry Luce in 1930, the publishing business, consisting of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated, grew to become Time Warner. In turn, AOL grew as it acquired Time Warner in 2000 when Time Warner was the world's largest...

and Condé Nast Traveler
Condé Nast Traveler
Condé Nast Traveler is a US magazine published by Condé Nast. It has its origins in a mailing sent out by the Diners Club club beginning in 1953, listing locations that would take the card. It began taking advertising in 1955. In order to attract more advertisers, it became a full-fledged magazine,...

.

In 2009 he was selected to be the speaker for the Massey Lectures, for his publication, The Wayfinders.

Biography


Wade Davis is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. Named by the NGS as one of the Explorers for the Millennium, he has been described as “a rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life’s diversity.” In recent years his work has taken him to East Africa, Borneo, Nepal, Peru, Polynesia, Tibet, Mali, Benin, Togo, New Guinea, Australia, Colombia, Vanuatu, Mongolia and the high Arctic of Nunuvut and Greenland.

An ethnographer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker, Davis holds degrees in anthropology and biology and received his Ph.D. in ethnobotany, all from Harvard University. Mostly through the Harvard Botanical Museum, he spent over three years in the Amazon and Andes as a plant explorer, living among fifteen indigenous groups in eight Latin American nations while making some 6000 botanical collections. In 1974, at the age of 20, he crossed the Darien Gap
Darién Gap
The Darién Gap is a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest separating Panama's Darién Province in Central America from Colombia in South America. It measures just over long and about wide. Roadbuilding through this area is expensive, and the environmental toll is steep. Political...

 on foot in the company of the celebrated English author and amateur explorer, Sebastian Snow
Sebastian Snow
Sebastian Edward Farquharson Snow, , born in Midhurst, Sussex, was an eccentric English adventurer who became the first person to travel the length of the Amazon River....

. His work later took him to Haiti to investigate folk preparations implicated in the creation of zombies, an assignment that led to his writing Passage of Darkness (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986), an international best seller later released by Universal as a motion picture.

His other books include Penan: Voice for the Borneo Rain Forest (1990), Shadows in the Sun (1993), Nomads of the Dawn (1995), The Clouded Leopard (1998), Rainforest (1998), Light at the Edge of the World (2001), The Lost Amazon (2004), Grand Canyon (2008), Book of Peoples of the World (ed. 2008) and One River (1996), which was nominated for the 1997 Governor General's Literary Award for Nonfiction. His books have been translated into fourteen languages, including Basque, Serbian, Japanese and Malay.

His latest book is The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, the 2009 Massey lectures. He currently is fulfilling a two-book contract with Knopf (USA). A history of the early British efforts on Everest will be published in 2011. Sheets of Distant Rain will follow.

Davis is the recipient of numerous awards including the Gold Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (2009), the 2002 Lowell Thomas Medal (The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club
The Explorers Club is a professional society dedicated to scientific exploration of Earth, its oceans, and outer space. Founded in 1904 in New York City, it currently has 30 branches world wide...

) and the 2002 Lannan Foundation $125,000 prize for literary non-fiction. He has been granted Honorary Degrees (Doctorate of Sciences) from University of Victoria (2003), University of Guelph (2008), Colorado College (2010) and University of Northern British Columbia (Doctorate of Laws 2010). In 2004 he was made an Honorary Member of the Explorers Club, one of twenty. In 2011 he will receive The Explorers Medal, the highest award of the Explorers Club.

A native of British Columbia, Davis, a licensed river guide, has worked as park ranger, forestry engineer, and conducted ethnographic fieldwork among several indigenous societies of northern Canada. He has published 180 scientific and popular articles on subjects ranging from Haitian vodoun and Amazonian myth and religion to the global biodiversity crisis, the traditional use of psychotropic drugs, and the ethnobotany of South American Indians. Davis has written for National Geographic, Newsweek, Premiere, Outside, Omni, Harpers, Fortune, Men's Journal, Condé Nast Traveler, Natural History, Scientific American, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Globe and Mail, and numerous other international publications. Davis is a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers
International League of Conservation Photographers
The International League of Conservation Photographers is a nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography...

 (iLCP)

His photographs have appeared in some 20 books and more than 80 magazines, journals and newspapers, including National Geographic, Time, Geo, People, Men’s Journal, Outside, and National Geographic Adventure. They have been exhibited at the International Center of Photography (I.C.P.), the Marsha Ralls Gallery, Washington, D.C., the United Nations (Cultures on the Edge exhibition 2004), the Carpenter Center of Harvard University, and the Utama Center, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Select images are part of the permanent collection of the U.S. State Department, Africa and Latin America Bureaus.

Davis is the co-curator of The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes, first exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and currently touring Latin America.

A first collection of Davis’ photographs, Light at the Edge of the World, appeared in 2001 published by National Geographic Books, Bloomsbury and Douglas & McIntyre. A second collection is under contract for fall 2011 publication with Douglas & McIntyre.

Davis’ research has been the subject of more than 800 media reports and interviews in Europe, North and South America and the Far East, and has inspired numerous documentary films as well as three episodes of the television series, The X-Files.

A professional speaker for over twenty years, Davis has lectured at the American Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, California Academy of Sciences, Missouri Botanical Garden, Field Museum of Natural History, New York Botanical Garden, National Geographic Society, Royal Ontario Museum, the Explorer's Club, the Royal Geographical Society, the Oriental Institute, the Chattaugua Institute, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank as well as some 400 universities, including Harvard, M.I.T., Oxford, Yale, Stanford, U.C. Berkeley, Duke, Vanderbilt, University of Pennsylvania, Tulane and Georgetown.

He has spoken at the Aspen Institute, Bohemian Grove and on numerous occasions for the Young President’s Organization and at the TED Conference. His clients have included amongst others Microsoft, Shell, Hallmark, Fidelity Investments, Bank of Nova Scotia, MacKenzie Financials, Healthcare Association of Southern California, National Science Teachers Association, NDMA (Non-prescriptive Drug Manufacturers Association), International Baccalaureate, European Council of International Schools, Canadian Association of Petroleum Geologists, Canadian Association of Exploration Geophysicists, American Trial Lawyer’s Association, American Judges Association, American Bankers Association, Centaur Technology, Canadian Association of Actuaries, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, as well as several leading pharmaceutical companies including Warner-Lambert, Bayer, Miles, Bristol-Myers, and Abbott Laboratories.

An Honorary Research Associate of the Institute of Economic Botany of the New York Botanical Garden, he is a Fellow of the Linnean Society, Fellow of the Explorer's Club, and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Davis was a founding board member of the David Suzuki Foundation and he recently completed a six-year term on the board of the Banff Centre, Canada’s leading institution for the arts. He currently serves on the board of the Amazon Conservation Association. In 2009 he delivered the CBC Massey lectures, Canada’s most prestigious public intellectual forum.

Davis was the series creator, host and co-writer of Light at the Edge of the World, a four-hour ethnographic documentary series, shot in Rapa Nui, Tahiti, the Marquesas, Nunuvut, Greenland, Nepal and Peru, which is currently airing in 165 countries on the National Geographic Channel and in the USA on the Smithsonian Network.

Davis is a principal character in the MacGillivray Freeman IMAX film, Grand Canyon Adventure, (www.grandcanyonadventurefilm.com) released in the spring of 2008. Currently playing in 55 theatres worldwide, the film has grossed more than $25 million. Other television credits include the award winning documentaries, Spirit of the Mask, Cry of the Forgotten People, Forests Forever, and Earthguide, a 13 part television series on the environment, which aired on the Discovery Channel in 1990.

Davis has recently completed a new four-hour series for the National Geographic, Ancient Voices/Modern World, which was shot in Australia, Mongolia, and Colombia. It is currently airing worldwide on the National Geographic Channel as the second season of Light at the Edge of the World.

Davis is a member of the International Advisory Board, Hunt Consolidated, PLNG, and is also currently engaged in a three-year campaign, Journey to Zero, an effort sponsored by Nissan and TBWA to support zero emission vehicles. See: http://journey-to-zero.posterous.com/

When not in the field, Davis and his wife Gail Percy divide their time between Washington, D.C., Vancouver and the Stikine Valley of northern British Columbia. They have two children.

Quality of scientific work


In 1983, Davis first advanced his hypothesis that tetrodotoxin
Tetrodotoxin
Tetrodotoxin, also known as "tetrodox" and frequently abbreviated as TTX, sometimes colloquially referred to as "zombie powder" by those who practice Vodou, is a potent neurotoxin with no known antidote. There have been successful tests of a possible antidote in mice, but further tests must be...

 (TTX) poisoning could explain the existence of Haitian zombie
Zombie
Zombie is a term used to denote an animated corpse brought back to life by mystical means such as witchcraft. The term is often figuratively applied to describe a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli...

s. This idea has been controversial and his popular 1985 follow up book (The Serpent and the Rainbow) elaborating upon this claim has been criticized for a number of scientific inaccuracies. One of these is the suggestion that Haitian witchdoctors can keep “zombies” in a state of pharmacologically induced trance for many years. As part of his Haitian investigations, Davis commissioned a grave robbery of a recently buried child. (Dead human tissue is supposed to be a part of the “zombie powder” used by witchdoctors to produce zombies.) This has been criticized in the professional literature as a breach of ethics.

The strictly scientific criticism of Davis’ zombie project has focused on the claims about the chemical composition of the “zombie powder”. Several samples of the powder were analyzed for TTX levels by experts in 1986. They reported that only “insignificant traces of tetrodotoxin [were found] in the samples of ‘zombie powder’ which were supplied for analysis by Davis” and that “it can be concluded that the widely circulated claim in the lay press to the effect that tetrodotoxin is the causal agent in the initial zombification process is without factual foundation”. Davis’ claims were subsequently defended by other scientists doing further analyses and these findings were criticized in turn for poor methodology and technique by the original skeptics. Aside from the question of whether or not “zombie powder” contains significant amounts of TTX, the underlying concept of “tetrodotoxin zombification” has also been questioned more directly on a physiological basis. TTX, which blocks sodium channels on the neural
Neuron
A neuron is an electrically excitable cell that processes and transmits information by electrical and chemical signaling. Chemical signaling occurs via synapses, specialized connections with other cells. Neurons connect to each other to form networks. Neurons are the core components of the nervous...

 membrane, produces numbness, slurred speech, and possibly paralysis or even respiratory failure and death in severe cases. As an isolated pharmacological agent, it is not known to produce the trance-like or “mental slave” state typical of zombies in Haitian mythology, or Davis’ descriptions, although one might consider the effects of set and setting in combination with the drug.

Davis did not suggest, however, that the zombie powder containing TTX was used for maintaining "mental slaves" but for producing the initial death and resurrection that convinced the victim and those who knew them that they had become zombies. The effects of fugu
Fugu
is the Japanese word for pufferfish and the dish prepared from it, normally species of genus Takifugu, Lagocephalus, or Sphoeroides, or porcupinefish of the genus Diodon. Fugu can be lethally poisonous due to its tetrodotoxin; therefore, it must be carefully prepared to remove toxic parts and to...

 TTX poisoning in Japan agree with the reports of zombification. The zombies, such as Clairvius Narcisse
Clairvius Narcisse
Clairvius Narcisse was a Haitian man said to have been turned into a living zombie by a combination of drugs. His case was the subject of a book, The Serpent and the Rainbow.-History:...

, were kept biddable by regular doses of the poisonous zombi cucumber, Datura stramonium
Datura stramonium
Datura stramonium, known by the common names Jimson weed, devil's trumpet, devil's weed, thorn apple, tolguacha, Jamestown weed, stinkweed, locoweed, datura, pricklyburr, devil's cucumber, Hell's Bells, moonflower and, in South Africa, malpitte and mad seeds, is a common weed in the...

which produces amnesia, delirium and suggestibility.

Media

  • Davis' research into “Haitian Zombies” was explored in an episode of Science Channel's Dark Matters: Twisted But True
    Dark Matters: Twisted But True
    Dark Matters: Twisted But True is a television series featured on the Science Channel. It is hosted by John Noble.- External Links :*...

    .

See also

  • The Serpent and the Rainbow, the fictionalized horror movie based on Davis's book by the same name and his doctoral dissertation.

External links