And your point being?

12 03 2007

Over at Pharyngula, Lynn Margulis has posted the first entry of what I understand to be a blog tour. I won’t go into extreme detail about what she wrote here (there’s plenty of discussion to be had over at Pharyngula in the coming hours), but I do have to say that I didn’t find the piece particularly compelling. First, Margulis describes her leeriness when it comes to popular science writing and media, saying that much of what has been said about her is false (although never exactly stating what these untruths are or illuminating her stance on the confused issues) and that despite their good intentions, popular science writers cannot hope to convey science without bias or prejudice. This is not to say they shouldn’t try, but in Margulis’ view only the initiated in particular areas of research can hope to get close to the truth.

Margulis then devotes a paragraph to criticism of “Neo-Darwinism” without stating what her concept of it is or what exactly her problems with it are. She writes;

The staunch neo-Darwinist claims have become less and less valid as information from other fields (e.g., molecular biology and the fossil record) has increased. It is not unusual, especially in the science of evolution, that theories contradictory to the neo-Darwinian “thought-style” are ignored or rejected, not on the basis of their claims, or proof of those claims, but on the, often unconscious, grounds that they do not agree with our biases.

I can only assume this stems from her own dissenting views when it comes to current evolutionary theory, but as I stated before, her position and the problems she perceives with certain aspects of evolutionary theory are left in the dark. She ends with a paragraph extolling science as the search for truth, regardless of whatever that truth may turn out to be, and she states

…the deliberate faith-based distortion of what really is known is despicable.

This is true, but she does not mention who this is aimed at (creationists? evolutionary scientists?) and further illumination is needed. I do not wish to be harsh, but I found the whole of the piece to be a bit vague; I’m still left scratching my head as to what parts of evolutionary theory Dr. Margulis rejects, why she does, and what aspects of her own ideas have been misrepresented (with the appropriate correction). Like I stated before, hopefully some of these gaps will be filled in via the comments and chat that will take place later, but at the moment I can’t say I’m especially impressed.


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6 responses

12 03 2007
Chris Harrison

The whole thing was just weird. It was a bunch of random assertions cobbled together under a blanket of, as you said, vagueness. Hopefully, she’ll get around to commenting on some of the comments left for her. I do wonder what Myers thinks of her post. Hopefully, he’ll offer his take soon.

12 03 2007
Chris Harrison

Here’s the transcript from the chat session with Lynn: http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/03/margulis_chat_transcript.php
I’m only about 1/2 way finished reading though. PZ has made a few appearences so far.

12 03 2007
laelaps

Thanks for the link Chris. I read the transcript myself and I wasn’t very impressed. Then again, I don’t think it was the proper forum for the conversation (probably a day or two of assertions and rebuttals would have worked better), but overall I don’t think she did a good job explaining her position or responding to criticisms/questions. She had some valid points, i.e. that we should not overlook the majority of earth’s history when thinking about evolution, but overall it didn’t make me want to run out and read any of her books.

12 03 2007
Chris Harrison

My thoughts exactly. The chat transcript just desintigrated into energy/environmental stuff that I’m sorry I wasted my time reading.
Anyway, I’m guessing that it’s spring break for you too? You seem to be posting something new every 30 min. No complaints from me though!

12 03 2007
laelaps

Indeed Chris, I’m on spring break as well (although I have to work, but I’ve got plenty of reading material to keep my occupied when I’m not working). I guess I just felt guilty about not posting very much over the weekend so I had to compensate todayđŸ˜› hah. In reality, most of the time I’m at work when I write, just because there’s a slew of new material and I like to keep my mind active, so I take little “blog breaks” here and there. Glad you’re enjoying it though!

As for Margulis, I’ll likely post more about it later on, but overall I was underwhelmed and feel that her contributions didn’t elucidate much. Overall, it seems to me that she has a point about some things (i.e. the need for greater integration of ecology into evolutionary science) but then she takes it a bit too far (the Gaia hypothesis). I also didn’t like the way she tried to pussyfoot around the AIDS issue and said that she isn’t concerned with the past 3 million years of evolution. Other than my love for animals, I think there is a perfectly good reason why much of evolution focuses on animals. They’re attractive to us and fun to study (which is of course, a bias), but also because they’re still changing and we can understand more about recent prehistory than the Hadean, Archean, etc. This isn’t to say that the majority of earth’s history isn’t important, but at present, how much do we really know (or can we know) about such ancient events? Regardless, I didn’t particularly care for what she said or her writing style, so I’ll stick to reading “The Ancestor’s Tale” and “Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and Diet of Worms” over my break.

12 03 2007
Chris Harrison

Good on you. Yeah, I’m about half way through The Ancestor’s Tale right now. The problem I have is that Dawkins mentions a lot of interesting things in the book, but due to its breadth, he has to move on without getting into too much detail. So, given my unnatural fixation with biology, I have to repeatedely stop reading his book and get online to research neoteny and ring species etc. Oh, and look for a little something for Darwin’s Beagles in your email soon.

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