RIP Lynn Margulis, ctd.

by Greg Mayer

The New York Times has published an obituary. It’s dreadful. Here’s the worst part:

The hypothesis was a direct challenge to the prevailing neo-Darwinist belief that the primary evolutionary mechanism was random mutation.

Rather, Dr. Margulis argued that a more important mechanism was symbiosis; that is, evolution is a function of organisms that are mutually beneficial growing together to become one and reproducing. The theory undermined significant precepts of the study of evolution, underscoring the idea that evolution began at the level of micro-organisms long before it would be visible at the level of species.

I’ll leave the dissection of this nonsense as an exercise.

JAC addition:  I agree with Greg; it’s dreadful.  And here’s Margulis’s dismissal, given as a quote in the obituary, of an entire cadre of evolutionary biologists:

“I work in evolutionary biology, but with cells and micro-organisms. Richard Dawkins, John Maynard Smith, George Williams, Richard Lewontin, Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould all come out of the zoological tradition, which suggests to me that, in the words of our colleague Simon Robson, they deal with a data set some three billion years out of date.”

As if the work of these people has nothing to contribute to evolutionary biology because it applies to modern-day species!  It’s like saying a mechanic can’t work on modern cars because he doesn’t know anything about Stanley Steamers or Model Ts!.

Modern organisms are hardly “out of date”, and they do obey the rules of population genetics. Margulis might as well have dismissed all the architects of modern evolutionary theory, including J. B. S. Haldane, Sewall Wright, Ronald Fisher, and Bill Hamilton.

Margulis’s legacy would be far more positive if she hadn’t spent the last few decades going around saying that she alone had the correct handle on evolutionary biology, and everyone else was wrong.  And it would have helped had she not been an HIV-AIDS denialist, asserting that the virus didn’t even exist and the disease was really syphillis, rendered undetectable because the spirochete became symbiotic with our cells. How do we weigh that deadly denialism against her positive contributions about symbiosis?

And then there were her views that the 9/11 destruction in New York was due not to an act of terrorism but to deliberately set bombs. In the video below she explains this crazy idea, and you can read her essay about it here.

Margulis’s legacy in science is secure: because she walked among us, we understand much more about nature than we would have otherwise.  Her pushing the theory, in the teeth of doubt and criticism, that some cellular organelles descend from ancient bacteria, is a major advance in our understanding of life.

But her legacy is not unmixed, and her life leaves us with another lesson: if a scientist has a Big Idea that turns out to be right, that does not automatically make her right about everything else. None of us, however famous, should be immune to the criticism that characterizes our discipline. As we remember her on this sad occasion, let us at least have a balanced view of her life.

118 Comments

  1. schlafly
    Posted November 24, 2011 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    If it is so bad, and if you can say it better, then please tell us what Margulis argued.

    • Alex
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:10 am | Permalink

      What do you mean?

    • Torbjorn Larsson, OM
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

      Is this the infamous Schlafly running the anti-science outfit Conservapedia and instigating the creationist buffoonery of the Lensky affair?

      I think it is, because it doesn’t make sense to express someone else’s theory to support one’s own. In fact it is as misguided as creationists attacking evolution in order to suggest that their ideas has any support at all. (A fallacy of false dilemma.)

      In any case whomever I am addressing, the creationist theme makes a good comparison:

      To make the proffered suggestion short-circuit the question if these ideas has any acceptance and, before that, any validity. This seems to be lacking. And this is where creationists would have to start; to do actual work.

      Nobody expects it to be possible if creationism is invalid. And indeed creationists have managed to validate that hypothesis many times by their obvious lack of progress. Creationism is incapable; incorrigible; incompetent; injust [obs. of unjust, Merriam-Webster].

  2. Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:20 am | Permalink

    I just finished reading the whole obituary, and agree it could have been better. It leads me to believe she favored her theory over neo-Darwinism, but did not reject neo-Darwinism totally. Any opinions?

    • Reginald Selkirk
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      My opinion is that her theory fits in with neo-Darwinism, rather than being a “direct challenge” to it. Or do you think that the process of endosymbiosis does not involve random mutation and natural selection?

  3. Greg Esres
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    So was this lady a one-hit wonder? The stopped clock that was right just once?

    • Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:42 am | Permalink

      Yes, that is exactly what she was. She was right about one big thing – and not many people can say that, so she deserves credit for it. But she more than used that credit up being wrong, in a big way, about almost everything else. She bizarrely saw herself as ant-Darwinian, and bad-mouthed the entire neo-Darwinian synthesis and just about everybody associated with it. She once said, in my presence, “John Maynard Smith does;t understand evolution”. Fortunately she was not taken seriously enough for her net influence to be negative, but it’s a close-run thing. Sorry to sound grumpy about the dead, but this foolish obituary is enough to drive anyone to it.

      Richard

      • Posted November 25, 2011 at 5:09 am | Permalink

        @Richard Dawkins
        Your comment suggests that Margulis used up her credit by being disrespectful towards her colleagues/peers rather than by being false.

        Being wrong is not such a big crime in science. After all, most scientists are wrong most of their times, when they are speculating/hypothesising.

        As far as turning crank at reaching dotage goes, Margulis is in very good company. Besides Pauling’s Vitamin C craze, there is Wallace’s phrenology and spiritualism, Price’s Christian fundamentalism, you name it. Hamilton even had an ‘endosymbiotic’ hypothesis about the origin of HIV from life Polio-vaccines in chimps with SIV.

        • SLC
          Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:34 am | Permalink

          1. In addition, there is astronomer J. Allen Hynek supporting the nonsense of alien abductions and physicist Brian Josephson supporting the nonsense of PK, ESP, and cold fusion.

          2. The late Professor Margulis also palled around with a Holocaust denier.

          • Posted November 25, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

            The all time record for an accomplished scientist going off the rails, has to go to Johannes Stark. He won the 1919 Nobel Prize for his discovery of what came to be known as the Stark effect. He was later an enthusiastic Nazi, who hounded Jewish scientists out of academia, and attempted to establish himself as the Führer of German physics.

            • SLC
              Posted November 26, 2011 at 8:11 am | Permalink

              Re Johannes Stark, the physicist Philip Lenard,also a Nobel Prize winner should also be mentioned. Like Stark, he was an enthusiastic Nazi and promoter of “German Science,” and a severe critic of “Jewish Science, e.g. Einstein.”

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:41 am | Permalink

          joe: Being wrong is not such a big crime in science. After all, most scientists are wrong most of their times, when they are speculating/hypothesising.

          There is a strong distinction between being speculatively wrong about a field where the experiments have not yet been done, and being persistently wrong after the data are in. The data on HIV as the cause of AIDS have been in for a couple decades.

          • Posted November 25, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink

            @Reginald Selkirk
            Right. I would still draw a finer line.

            There is probably much room for contrarian thinking in science as a strategy of testing theories. Thus, Galileo Galilei was a contraria in wondering what it would look like if the sun stood still and the earth rotated, while the obvious ‘evidence’ that the sun moved round the earth came in on a daily basis.

            The difference is between applying contrarian thinking constructively for arriving at experiments or tests that nobody has previously thought of or employing it destructively.

            • SLC
              Posted November 26, 2011 at 8:18 am | Permalink

              I think it is important here to cite a comment attributed to Enrico Fermi, that a scientist who have never been wrong is a scientist who has accomplished little.

              Even the more important scientists who have ever lived have, occasionally, been wrong.

              1. Issac Newton was wrong in his claim that diffraction and interference could be explained by a solely particulate theory of light. He was also wrong about his belief that lead could be turned into gold through chemical processes.

              2. Charles Darwin was wrong about inheritance being an analog process; in fact, it is a digital process.

              3. Albert Einstein was wrong about the existence of black holes and almost certainly wrong about the validity of quantum mechanics.

              The point, of course, is that Newton, Darwin, and Einstein were right far more often then they wrong. In the case of the late Prof. Margulis, it appears that the reverse is true.

              • Amphiox
                Posted November 26, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

                Considering that Newton spent most of his life and energy working on alchemy and mysticism, he was actually probably wrong more than he was right.

                But he had to good sense to publish and popularize the stuff that he got right, while keeping most of the stuff that he got wrong secret.

              • SLC
                Posted November 26, 2011 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

                Re Amphiox

                Relative to Newton’s forays into alchemy, I would point out that, given the state of knowledge at the time, it was not totally idiotic to postulate that chemical processes could turn lead into gold. None of Newton’s contemporaries had any better handle on the subject then he did.

              • Ichthyic
                Posted November 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

                I would point out that, given the state of knowledge at the time, it was not totally idiotic to postulate that chemical processes could turn lead into gold.

                but in then, it’s hardly a fair comparison to Margulis, since we DO have a great deal of knowledge about the prevalence of selection in nature, and a good number of studies on population genetics, and a decent enough sampling to understand that what she proposes, that symbiosis is the major driving force of evolution, just isn’t so.

                Margulis is even further out from reality than Newton’s alchemy was in his day.

              • SLC
                Posted November 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

                Re Ichthyic

                Note that I stated above that the late Prof. Margulis, unlike Newton, Darwin, and Einstein was wrong far more often then she was right. By the way, Newton was also wrong in his notion that the intercession of god was required to maintain the stability of the solar system. As Laplace showed 100 years later, he had no need of that hypothesis.

              • Posted November 28, 2011 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

                Where does Newton say that God is required to maintain the stability of the solar system? In my copy of Principia he clearly says that God is required to set up the solar system in a stable state, but he doesn’t say God is required to maintain it thus. The only caveat I would add is that I am using a translation. Does anyone know where I can get a copy in the original Latin? (The one advertised on Amazon is incomplete)

              • SLC
                Posted November 29, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

                Re Bernard Hurley

                Attached is a portion of a talk given by Neil Tyson where he claims that Newton invoked god as the maintainer of the stability of the Solar System somewhere in the Principia Mathematica.

              • Posted November 29, 2011 at 11:50 am | Permalink

                SLC, thanks for the link. I have actually seen this talk before. I know people SAY that Newton’s thought that God was required to account for the continued stability of the solar system, but I can’t find any statement to that effect in Principia. He discusses God in a section called “General Scholium” at the end of Book 3. In my addition this is four pages long. I will quote that passages from it that seem relevant (emphasis mine):

                “The six primary planets are revolved about the sun…. Ten moons are revolved around earth, Jupiter and Saturn, … but it is not to be conceived that mere mechanical causes COULD GIVE BIRTH to so many regular motions…”

                A bit later there is a sentence which looks ambiguous in English:

                “This most beautiful system or the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the wise council and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”

                Note that Newton does explicitly not say anything about God keeping the solar system stable, although the English could, at a stretch, be interpreted this way. However I suspect that the original Latin used the verb procedere, in which case “proceeds from” means something like “is metaphysically dependent upon” as in the Nicene creed where the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

                Later on having speculated about the possibility of planetary system around other stars he says:

                “.. lest the systems of the fixed stars should, by their gravity, fall on each other mutually, HE HATH PLACED those systems at immense distances one from another.”

                Not the use of the past tense in the above.

                About a page later he seems to be explicitly denying the God intervenes:

                “In him are all things contained and moved; yet neither affects the other: God suffers nothing from the motion of bodies; bodies find no resistance from the omnipresence of God.”

                Later still he says that gravity accounts for all celestial motion:

                “And to us it is enough to that gravity does really exist, and act according to the laws which we have explained, and abundantly serves to account for all the motions of the celestial bodies, and of our sea.”

                It is clear that Newton thought God was necessary to set up a stable solar system, but the evidence suggest, to me, at least, that he God was not required to account for the continuing stability thereof. I would be interested if anyone knows of a passage where Newton contradicts this.

              • Posted November 29, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

                Sorry there are a few typos in my last post but I think it is clear what I am saying.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted November 27, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink

          Being wrong is not such a big crime in science. After all, most scientists are wrong most of their times, when they are speculating/hypothesising.

          being absolutely wrong in the face of overwhelming, incontrovertible, BASIC, evidence is bad enough, but then PERSISTING in being wrong, and claiming everyone else is wrong, is not just a crime in science, it’s crankery at its finest.

          sorry, but Margulis is the very definition of crank.

      • Linda Jean
        Posted November 25, 2011 at 7:37 am | Permalink

        Agreed. She was right about one BIG thing as you state. That is more than the 99 % of scientists can say.

        • MosesZD
          Posted November 25, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

          OTOH, 99% of scientists are probably not AIDs deniers and fall for crankish 9/11 scams either.

          And how ‘big’ is a big idea? Because my wife has been published (multiple times) in Cell, Nature and Science which are the Top-3 journals in molecular and developmental biology.

          So, while she’ll never win a Nobel, because her research isn’t applicable to any of the categories, (though it is used in cancer research vis cancer cell motility) I’d put her up there with Commodore Crank any day of the week. And unlike Commodore Crank, she’s never fallen for any of the crankish, conspiracy, contrarian bullshit of Pauling, Watson, Deusberg, Margulis, etc.

      • Xianfa Xie
        Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

        Mr. Dawkins, you are right in saying that Margulis was right with her symbiosis origin of eukaryotes theory but was wrong in supporting many other “crazy” ideas. But I think it is not so wrong for her to say Maynard Smith did not quite understand evolution. He understood a little bit better than many other population geneticists, but not the real molecular mechanisms of evolution. I do not think no one, including you, should be so dogmatic on any scientific theory, and honestly I do not think you understand the molecular mechanisms of evolution either. Again I suggest you to study hard molecular biology, genomic evolution, epigenetics, developmental biology, biochemistry, structural biology before you champion again natural selection as the only mechanism of evolution. -Hope you won’t take this personally.

        • Xianfa Xie
          Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

          My typo above: I do not think any one, including you, should be so dogmatic …

        • whyevolutionistrue
          Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

          Few people have ever understood evolution as well as John Maynard Smith did. He also understood quite well, and made significant contributions to, most of the subdisciplines you mention (with the caveat, of course, that he died in 2004, and we’ve learned lots of neat things since). To construe Margulis’s comment to mean that he, like every person that has ever lived, didn’t know everything is to make her comment wholly vacuous or purely ad hominem.

          While the late Maynard Smith may need someone to speak up for him, Richard Dawkins doesn’t, but I must say that to claim he is ignorant of these subdisciplines, and that he maintains that natural selection is the only mechanism of evolution, reveals an ignorance of Dawkins’ work that can only be described as profound.

          GCM

          • Xianfa Xie
            Posted November 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

            Please advise me on where, in which book or article, I can find Mr. Dawkins’ better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of evolution by SERIOUSLY looking into the disciplines I mentioned. Honestly, I stopped reading his books on evolution after reading his “The Selfish Gene”, but I did flip over most, if not all, of his new books. However, I did not see any dramatically different view on evolution there, though I really like his book “The God Delusion”, in which he made his greatest intellectual contribution I think.

            • whyevolutionistrue
              Posted November 25, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

              Well he’s written quite a bit since Selfish Gene (1976), so you’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do. To start with, I’d recommend the Blind Watchmaker (1986), and the discussion in chap. 11 of development and its relationship to the genome. This is one of the best appreciations of the epigenetic nature of development I’ve read, and, though I don’t know if this is the original source, it’s where he likens development to a ‘recipe’, in the process taking down the notion that the genome is a ‘blueprint’ for the organism. This of course is over 25 years old, and I’m sure he’d have other things to say, or say them slightly differently now. There’s a fair amount on development in The Greatest Show on Earth (2009) for example, the passage (pp. 358-359) where he shows his delight in what we’ve learned about Hox genes. But as I’d noted in my first comment, Dawkins is well able to argue for himself, and doesn’t need me to defend him, so perhaps you should ask Dawkins directly, either by querying him or his writings.

              GCM

              • Xianfa Xie
                Posted November 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

                I certainly know he has written many more books since his 1976′s “The Selfish Gene”, and as I said earlier, I had flipped over most, if not all, of them. I also noticed his discussion on Hox genes in The Greatest Show on Earth. But I really did not see in-depth understanding and appreciation what the most recent advances in the disciplines I previously mentioned can contribute to the understanding of the mechanisms of evolution. I happened to have chance to interact with him in person over a year ago, in which I did not see any change of his position from his understanding of natural selection as THE mechanism of evolution. Yes, I have been waiting for his reply to my posts here, but so far still have not heard from him yet.

        • Posted November 26, 2011 at 5:36 am | Permalink

          No I don’t take it personally, I take it professionally. I have written many times that natural selection is NOT the only mechanism of evolution. I have said it is the only known mechanism of ADAPTIVE evolution. And I’ll say that again. Natural selection is the only known mechanism of adaptive evolution, meaning the evolution of complex adaptations carrying the illusion of design. If you have another candidate not involving selection, let’s hear it.

          Richard

          • Xianfa Xie
            Posted November 26, 2011 at 9:43 am | Permalink

            Richard, glad you do not take the discussion personally. But natural selection is not the only mechanism for “adaptation”. Many seemingly “adaptive” features are pre-adaptive. The organism with a new feature can select the environment, rather than being selected by the environment. I call this “organismal selection”, rather than “natural selection”.

            • Posted November 26, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

              Xie Xian Fa,

              Hen you yi ci.

              Do you have a blog or direct me to a webpage where I can read up on your concept of organismal selection?

              • Posted November 27, 2011 at 9:18 am | Permalink

                Thank you Steve for the interest. Please wait for the publication of my article on this, if I will not get scooped (now my idea is out) and if the dominant school in the field allows.

            • Ichthyic
              Posted November 27, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

              The organism with a new feature can select the environment, rather than being selected by the environment.

              being able to select an environment would be?

              yeah, that’s right, a selected adaptation.

              cranks ahoy!

              • Posted November 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

                I really do not understand your comments. If you are more than a despicable coward, please show your real identity rather than anonymously attacking everybody as cranks here. And yes, please make your comments sensible!

              • Ichthyic
                Posted November 27, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

                Note however, organismal selection and natural selection are both selections, but by different agents and in different directions.

                no, they aren’t different at all.

                you’re using the terminology abysmally incorrectly.

                did you need a refresher course on the actual theory of evolution, or do you prefer to just keep spewing your inane strawman of it?

                all I can tell you is to remember that anything that influences the proportion of a specific allele within a population is either subject to selection or drift.

                all you are doing is going backwards to say the same thing, and thinking you’ve “discovered” something.

                you’re a crank, pure and simple.

  4. Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:26 am | Permalink

    Lynns Lesson–
    There is a difference between persistent/clever/lucky scientists who work hard and revolutionize their fields, and people who just say the opposite of what scientists are saying and pretend they are super geniuses when some shit finally sticks.

    http://scienceblogs.com/erv/2008/05/when_good_scientists_go_bad_ho.php

    When the ‘revolutionary’ is spouting HIV Denier lines and 9/11 conspiracies, pretty sure the ‘revolutionary genius’ is just an ‘arrogant contrarian’.

    Makes me think anything ‘right’ Margulis said was by chance, not by design.

    • Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:27 am | Permalink

      html win!

    • Keith
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:39 am | Permalink

      Even if by chance, “chance favors the prepared mind,” to paraphrase Pasteur. Margulis was brilliant, which is what makes her story all the more tragic. She could have much more productive as a scientist and public intellectual had she also exhibited a bit more humility and intellectual honesty. I’m skeptical of anyone who insists on being right all the time, or who lacks the ability to admit error.

    • Posted November 25, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      I largely agree.

      True skepticism is recursive: You must scrutinize all arguments. You must also scrutinize the arguments used to scrutinize the arguments, and then scrutinize the arguments used to scrutinize the originally scrutinized arguments, and so on.

      Margulis stopped being a skeptic after the first step. She vigorously attacked various scientific arguments, but completely failed to apply the same skepticism to her initial attack.

      Skepticism is much like an arch. If any piece is missing, it collapses into a useless heap.

  5. Flotsam
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    It’s the Linus Pauling Syndrome.

    From Scienceblogs.com:

    THE NOBEL DISEASE

    It’s been noted that there appears to be a tendency among Nobel Prize recipients in science to become enamored of strange ideas or even outright pseudoscience in their later years. Indeed, it’s happened often enough that some wags have dubbed this tendency the “Nobel disease.” Be it Linus Pauling and his obsession with vitamin C, Nikolaas Tinbergen and his adoption of the “refrigerator mother” hypothesis as the cause of autism (which has led one blogger going by the ‘nym Prometheus to quip that Tinbergen’s Nobel acceptance speech represented a “nearly unbeatable record for shortest time between receiving the Nobel Prize and saying something really stupid about a field in which the recipient had little experience”), or Louis J. Ignarro going from a Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in figuring out nitric oxide signaling pathways to pushing his book on arginine supplementation as a cure-all for heart disease and becoming a shill for Herbalife, there’s something about becoming a Nobel Laureate that has a tendency to lead people to becoming cranks. Either that, or maybe it’s because mavericks who make Nobel-worthy discoveries have a tendency not always to recognize that not all of their ideas are as brilliant as the ones that garnered the Nobel Prize for them, although certainly another possibility is that winning the Nobel Prize tends to give some scientists an inflated sense of their own expertise in fields of science not related to the ones for which they won their Nobel Prize in the first place. Maybe it’s a bit of all of these.

    • Alex
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:15 am | Permalink

      One could play the “crank or champion” game with new Laureates and bet how they turn out.
      One more example is Brian Josephson. Every time I hear him speak I want to hit my head with something (usually the desk).

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:45 am | Permalink

        And now Luc Montagnier has gone in for wacky homeopathic stuff.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted November 25, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

        But wouldn’t it be preferable to hit HIS head?

    • Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:52 am | Permalink

      I doubt if the receipt of a Nobel Prize turns anyone into a crank. However a Nobel Laureate’s cranky ideas will usually receive much more publicity than anyone else’s.

      • MosesZD
        Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

        Richard Fenyman talked about this one time. He said what happens is that once you win the Nobel people are always asking you about your opinion on things. At that point you pretty much had three choices which I have taken, over-time, and elaborated into some basic observations of the ‘famous scientist/person’ role in society.

        First, stick with what you know. Just keep your mouth shut about other issues and do your science/job/etc.

        Second, do offer opinions. But do the hard work necessary to become enough of an expert that your opinions are correct. In science this would mean studying the relevent literature and issues and not just crankishly going against convention. And when do offer these opinions, always disclaim them as you’re not an expert, just an educated layman.

        Third, become a pompous idiot offering opinions when asked about things for which you had neither skill nor knowledge. And, of course, make sure you never correct them to the reality of the data, but instead keep digging.

        While most of those that win the Nobel prize go the first route, and some go the second (like Feynman), unfortunately there are some that go the third route. And those that go the third route are often incredibly destructive to the credibility of science.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

          Einstein wrote some tremendously stupid things about science & religion.

        • Posted November 26, 2011 at 6:25 am | Permalink

          Two weeks ago I heard the psychologist Daniel Kahneman (Nobel for economics) speak at the Royal Institution. He said on at least two occasions ‘I don’t know’, or ‘that quesstion is beyond my field’, so some people really do know their limits!

    • Posted November 27, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

      Heh. Nice to see yours truly quoted:

      http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2009/02/vitamin_c_and_cancer_has_linus_pauling_b.php

      As for the “Nobel disease,” let’s not forget its latest victim, Luc Montagnier:

      http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/11/luc_montagnier_the_nobel_disease_strikes.php

  6. Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:13 am | Permalink

    A one-trick-pony decided it was an all-round show-horse.
    That one trick was very, very good, but the subsequent attempts to emulate a Lipizzaner were transparently abysmal.
    Dunning-Kruger anyone?

  7. Corey
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:29 am | Permalink

    Both Richard and Jerry are right to criticize Lynn for many of her ideas. But they do a general disservice to science by downplaying the importance of symbiosis. A symbiont free animal is an abstraction; it does not exist in nature. Overall, symbiosis is one hell of a good way to generate novelty, and thus should not be dismissed so easily by two prominent evolutionary biologists. Is a cow a cow without its cellulose digesting bacteria, is a Green Hydra a Green Hydra without its photosynthesizing alga, is an aphid an aphid without its amino acid producing bacteria? No.

    • Posted November 25, 2011 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      I didn’t downplay symbiosis, and I can’t see that Jerry did either. I once out-Lynned Lynn by suggesting that the entire gene pool of a sexually reproducing species could be seen as a symbiotic colony of genes, each one naturally selected in the environmental background provided by the others. Symbiosis is important, no question. But she jacked up the publicity value of her interesting point of view by claiming that it was anti-Darwinian, that all speciation involves symbiogenesis (and even that the entire world can be seen as a symbiotically constituted organism). Have a look at this book review by the distinguished zoologist Paul Harvey: http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storyCode=188231&sectioncode=31

      • Posted November 25, 2011 at 2:53 am | Permalink

        If every speciation event was a case of symbiosis, as Marguils claimed, shouldn’t the number of species quickly reduce to 1 as speciation went on? Wouldn’t that have been a simple knock-out argument against such a claim?

        P.S.: I think the golden middle is a reticulate phylogeny, neither exclusively bifurcating nor exclusively fusing.

        • Reginald Selkirk
          Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          … shouldn’t the number of species quickly reduce to 1 as speciation went on?

          I don’t follow you. Margulis claimed that natural selection and evolutionary novelty were quite common – among microorganisms.

          • Posted November 25, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

            If endosymbiosis means that two species become one and each event of speciation involved such a fusion, then the number of extant species should be reduced by one with each event of speciation?

            I’m probably missiong wsomething. It’s too plainly impossible.

            • Reginald Selkirk
              Posted November 25, 2011 at 8:16 am | Permalink

              At least one of the symbionts is usually a prokaryote. As mentioned, Margulis had no trouble recognizing evolutionary innovation in microbes.

              Members of species A and species B could go the symbiotic route, creating species C, and leave other members of their species existing as A and B. So the introduction of a new species would not necessarily mean the elimination of the old ones.

            • joe
              Posted November 25, 2011 at 8:17 am | Permalink

              *klonk* (sound of my head dropping on desktop at realising my mistake)

              • Troy
                Posted November 25, 2011 at 10:19 am | Permalink

                Not to rub it in, but, um, if we evolved from monkeys how come there still are monkeys?

              • InfiniteImprobabilit
                Posted November 29, 2011 at 1:22 am | Permalink

                @troy

                Oh dear, you’re not from around here, are you?
                1. Nobody says we evolved from monkeys, we evolved from a common ancestor somewhere way back. And it was apes.
                2. Regardless of that, if we’d evolved from an offshoot population of ancestral monkeys, it seems to me quite possible that the original monkeys might have survived little changed – like, I don’t think evolution prohibits this. So the continuing presence of monkeys does not logically forbid the presence of us, any more than wolves disqualify poodles.
                3. : Do not let the Librarian hear you using the M word. Not even trolls cross the Librarian. :)

              • InfiniteImprobabilit
                Posted November 29, 2011 at 1:26 am | Permalink

                Damn HTML. Should have said
                3: [Terry Pratchett mode ON]: Do not let the Librarian hear you using the M word. Not even trolls cross the Librarian. :)

              • Ichthyic
                Posted November 29, 2011 at 1:30 am | Permalink

                uh, Troy’s comment was a joke.

                note the headdesk by joe he was responding to.

              • InfiniteImprobabilit
                Posted November 29, 2011 at 1:43 am | Permalink

                icthyic said:
                “uh, Troy’s comment was a joke.
                note the headdesk by joe he was responding to”

                Oh. You mean… ummm… I rushed in with guns blazing and annihilated my foot?
                Excuse me a moment
                [Aaaaaaaargh!]
                Thank you.

                Maybe I should lurk around here a bit longer before I suggest someone else is not from around here. Yep, that might be a good idea. Apologies to everyone especially Troy.
                Mumble mumble…. [shuffles off into corner]

              • Posted December 5, 2011 at 10:42 am | Permalink

                Thanks anyway, InfiniteImprobability. Troy rubbed it in and now he’s got his due :-)

  8. Dan
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    I remember reading quite a few Lynn Margulis quotes back in my young earth creationist days (her and Gould were both favorites with the Answers in Genesis crowd). I’m sorry to see that it looks like a lot of those anti neo-Darwininian synthesis quotes might have been in context, I just assumed they were quote-mines.

  9. Dan
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    Prof. Dawkins,
    I’d just like to sidetrack the thread for a moment to say thank you. Thanks in large part to your writings (as well as the works of Michael Shermer and our own Jerry Coyne), I went from being a home-schooled, young-earth creationist, homophobic Christian Fundamentalist who graduated from high-school not knowing what an electron was to currently being a 27 year old atheist in my first year of medical school. I only started reading your books on evolution at 22 in order to learn better how to proselytize to ‘Darwinists’, and my eyes were opened to the joys of a scientific worldview. Thank you for standing up for science and rationality, I shudder to think where I could be today if I’d stayed on the fundamentalist path.

    • Keith
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:50 am | Permalink

      Wow, congrats, Dan! Clearly, your own intellectual curiosity and hard work factored into your success as well.

    • Posted November 25, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Dan, your story made me smile. All the best with your studies!

      Although I’ve never been strongly religious, Prof Dawkins played a significant part in igniting my interest in science, science communication, atheist advocacy and critical thinking. If you’re reading this professor, thank you so much.

    • Bruce S. Springsteen
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      What, Dan? Professor Dawkins’ stridency on religion didn’t drive you deeper into the fundmentlist cave? You must be some sort of inexplicable anomaly, an exception to the self-evident rule that plain, sharp criticism only makes hardened enemies.

      Seriously, congratulations. Testimonials from folks like you are “pearls of great price” worth everything paid to get them.

      • SLC
        Posted November 28, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

        I’m sure that Mooneytits will not be overjoyed by this comment.

  10. Posted November 25, 2011 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    The elderly brain & decision making -

    http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/47/17242.abstract

  11. MosesZD
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    She made an important discovery in evolution. But when one looks at her entire career of crankery… I tend to think it was just a fortuitous accident that gave her far more cachet than she otherwise deserved.

    • SLC
      Posted November 26, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

      Kerry Mullis anyone?

  12. Dominic
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Back in June I went to an LSE lecture by Peter Godfrey-Smith on the evolution of the individual – after all, what is an indivual? It was the Lakatos lecture – quite a prestigious prize – & is available here -

    http://www.petergodfreysmith.com/Evo_Ind_PGS_Lakatos_2011_Web.pdf

  13. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:32 am | Permalink

    The hypothesis was a direct challenge to the prevailing neo-Darwinist belief that the primary evolutionary mechanism was random mutation.
    Rather, Dr. Margulis argued that a more important mechanism was symbiosis; that is, evolution is a function of organisms that are mutually beneficial growing together to become one and reproducing. The theory undermined significant precepts of the study of evolution, underscoring the idea that evolution began at the level of micro-organisms long before it would be visible at the level of species.

    JC: I’ll leave the dissection of this nonsense as an exercise.

    OK, I need my daily exercise. This parses to ignoring the fact that the state of the organisms which underwent symbiosis, and their process of becoming symbionts, involved random mutation and natural selection.

    • Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      As far as I know the folks believing that random mutation was all there was to evolution were called “Mendelians” and they saw themselves as anti-Darwinians and the neo-Darwinian synthesis was exactly about overcoming this misconceived opposition.

  14. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    No matter how adamantly we deny it we are (very) prone to egomania. Very few entirely escape its poisonous clutches. Natural (and sexual) selection provides a tantalizing explanation for this. But Darwinians seem no better protected for it.

  15. Sigmund
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    “The theory undermined significant precepts of the study of evolution, underscoring the idea that evolution began at the level of micro-organisms long before it would be visible at the level of species.”

    In other words the prevailing idea before Margulis was that evolution didn’t occur in microorganisms? What nonsense!
    I think this obituary just illustrates the gulf between those who understand science and those (like Bruce Weber, the obit writer) who clearly do not.
    Margulis was well known amongst biologists for making contentious unfounded claims about evolutionary biology. Almost nobody within science agreed with her on these points and yet Weber goes ahead and takes these quotes of hers that, while they are something she said, are to all extents and purposes nonsense to anyone who knows anything about modern biology.
    I think an apt analogy for Webers mistake would be to use her quotes about 911 as fact and then fail to question them.

    “Rather, Dr. Margulis argued that a more important mechanism for the fall of the WTC towers was the explosive charges placed there by elements within the Bush administration. This theory undermined significant precepts of the official story of 911, underscoring the idea that the idea that terrorists flew planes into the buildings is seriously flawed”

    • Kevin
      Posted November 25, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      +1

      I would suggest you send that revised paragraph to the obit writer.

      Of course, one has to remember that obit writers are usually obit writers because they’ve demonstrated an almost complete lack of talent at writing news stories. Yet, they’re capable of writing series of coherent sentences (subject-object-verb; subject-object-verb). Rather than fire the poor schlub, they assign him to the obits desk.

      It’s also a place for those once-good reporters who have passed their prime and are on their way out the door. It’s either there or writing editorials. Friends of the publisher get to write editorials. Those who aren’t write obits until they retire/quit.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted November 25, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

        retire/quit or obit…

  16. Jim Thomerson
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Back around 19890, we considered inviting Lynn Margulis to give a seminar. Our chair at the time was a cell biologist. She nixed the idea on the grounds that Margulis was not a scientist. I was rather surprised at her position.

  17. Thanny
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Let’s not forget that endosymbiosis was not Margulis’ own idea. It was proposed much earlier, and all Margulis did was revive the hypothesis at a time when experimentation was capable of substantiating it.

    She also claimed that cilia and flagella were endosymbionts, a claim which has not held up (despite Mixotricha paradoxa).

    As I see it, she had a career full of crazy pursuits, and one of them just happened to bear fruit. Broken clock kind of deal.

    • Josephine
      Posted November 26, 2011 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Thank you! I think you’re the first to mention this in this thread. I would really have expected Jerry to note in the post that endosymbiosis is not at all a novel idea. Even if Margulis popularised it, she didn’t come up with the theory — giving her even less credibility.

  18. Posted November 25, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    that video posted is very hard to sit through. mostly because you can tell she’s stuttering on her own crazy. very hard to listen to her speak.

    • Posted November 25, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, I had the same reaction. It’s kind of hard to tell if it’s just the lack of social grace that is fairly common in scientists, but something about her in that video is just… off. Even in the first half or so that’s a fairly boilerplate explanation of the scientific method & the importance of open publication & criticism, I get the impression that while she may not have lost her marbles, she is at least having some difficulty keeping track of them.

  19. MadScientist
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    It sounds like the obit. was penned by Dorion. Are obits. done by fax press release these days?

  20. neil
    Posted November 25, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    Margulis was unorthodox. It was her weakness, and the source of her greatest triumph. But, as an atheist, counted as unorthodox in our god-permeated society, may I say “long live unorthodoxy.”

  21. Posted November 26, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Too much denigration of a fellow scientist who just died here. I think Jerry got it right: “let us at least have a balanced view of her life”. She certainly got the symbiosis origin of eukaryotes right, though that was not her original idea. But what about the other people at her time who ridiculed this idea and people who are still trying to downplay the importance of this idea today? Surprisingly, so many SCIENTISTS are such orthodox conformists. We are not church members, are we?

  22. Posted November 26, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Lynn Margulis was first and foremost a great human being. She was also a spectacular scientist. In my opinion, during this generation, it is vastly more courageous to question received wisdom in science than to challenge religion.

    For bacteriologists, Lynn Margulis taught us to not get too carried away by the revolution in molecular sequence data, and to place the new work in the broader context of evolution. Hence she was skeptical of the interpretation of Carl Woese’s distinguished work on Archae. Lynn Margulis writes of this in the preface to my book on “Microbial Diversity”:

    “The paucity of endosymbionts and absence of cyclical cell fusion is what makes Carl Woese’s currently preferred term “Archaea” an anathema, as it implies that these microor- ganisms somehow are not bacteria. Whereas Woese’s original concept of “Archaebacteria” led to an immense contribution to the literature of the analysis of microbial life, “Archaea” is a misnomer. Archaebacteria (usually methanogens, halobacters, or sulfoacidophils) are, after all, bacteria in every sense. Like all their prokaryotic brethren they are homogenomic, have small ribosomes and chromonemic organization, transfer small pieces of DNA, and are not products of symbiotic fusions.”

    Lynn Margulis exhibited the best practice of reflective natural sciences. She writes eloquently, demonstrating a command of knowledge pulled from various disciplines. In the opening paragraph to the preface for “Microbial Diversity,” she wrote:

    “When we contemplate “evolution of life on Earth” we tend to imagine changes in animals and plants. We picture little ape-men who yelp at their hairy wives or small running Pale- ocene mammals who run on the third (“middle finger”) digits of their fore and hind legs that enlarge and harden to become hooves. We see forests of ancient scaly Lepidodendron trees descend to become the little club mosses (also called ground pine or Christmas fern). Mostly the word “evolution” conjures the grunting caveman to singing cave painter transi- tion in northern Spain and southern France. Although we know that no Eohippus ever awoke one fine and sunny spring morning, to stretch his legs and watch his toes transform to horny hooves, nor did any bone-splitting, marrow-chomping hairy Neanderthal survey the snow- scape to return inside the limestone cavern to outline horned antelope before the fire, such exaggerated evolutionary images enchant and attract us. What is seldom conjured up by the phrase “evolution of life on Earth” is bacteria.”

    http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/ogunseitan/chapters/00_Prelims_i_to_xvi.pdf

    Best wishes.

    - Dele

    • SLC
      Posted November 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

      As has been pointed out by others, including Prof. Dawkins, Prof. Margulis, like J. Allan Hynek and William Shockley degenerated into a nutcase in her declining years. Clearly she was in over her head in discussing HIV/AIDS, the collapse of the twin towers on 9/11/2001 and apparently showed poor judgement in palling around with a Holocaust, despite her Jewish ancestry.

  23. Posted November 26, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Just to be fair, how many ideas most people currently contribute to Charles Darwin are his own original ideas?

    1. Natural selection and sexual selection?

    Here is what Buffon (1707-1788) said:
    “It may be said that the movement of Nature turns upon two immovable pivots – one, the illimitable fecundity which she has given to all species; the other, the innumerable difficulties which reduce the results of that fecundity, and leave throughout time nearly the same quantity of individuals in every species.”

    Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin said:
    “The final cause of the this contest amongst the males seems to be, that the strongest and most active animal should propagate the species, which thence become improved.”

    What about Wallace?

    2. Common ancestry?

    Again, Buffon said:
    “…there is no further limit to be set to the power of nature, and we should not be wrong in supposing that with sufficient time she could have evolved all other organized forms from one primordial type …”

    3. Early origin of life?

    He obviously accepted the spontaneous generation idea described by Lamarck though that was not the latter’s original idea either. He also accepted Lamarck’s principle of use and disuse.

    4. Pangenesis?

    That was an old theory, even to Charles Darwin.

    The problem is, Charles Darwin never gave proper credits to these people, even his grandfather, let alone Buffon and Lamarck.

    Another problem is, most of us today are ignorant or completely biased when dealing with our icon Charles Darwin.

    No double standards please!

    • InfiniteImprobabilit
      Posted November 27, 2011 at 12:47 am | Permalink

      Yes, and Galileo did not invent the heliocentric theory of the solar system, George Stephenson did not invent either railways or the steam locomotive, and the Wright Brothers did not invent the aeroplane. BUT they got the well-deserved credit because they took the ideas and developed them into a complete working, publicly acknowledged, system. (Insert obligatory Newton quote about ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’).

      • tomh
        Posted November 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

        InfiniteImprobabilit wrote:

        (Insert obligatory Newton quote about ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’).

        Of course, like the rest of the scientists mentioned, Newton didn’t originate this phrase, it dates to the 12th century, to John of Salisbury, who actually attributes it to someone else. Maybe there really is nothing new under the sun.

        • Posted November 29, 2011 at 11:45 pm | Permalink

          Newton said this to Robert Hooke, who was particularly short.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted November 30, 2011 at 1:03 am | Permalink

            Errm, according to Wikipedia, “Hooke was not of particularly short stature, although he was of slight build…” It seems uncertain whether or not Newton intended it as an (implied) insult. There’s a whole Wikipedia page on the phrase anyway, which I treated somewhat perfunctorily.

            • SLC
              Posted November 30, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

              Given Newton’s very low opinion of Hooke, a man with who he carried on a decades long feud, it was probably meant as an insult. Unfortunately, Newton was a very unpleasant man who engaged in controversy with almost all of his contemporaries, particularly Hooke and the Bernoullis. He engaged in disputes with Leibniz as to the credit for the development of calculus and with Huygens as to the nature of light. A very different personality then Darwin and Einstein.

    • SLC
      Posted November 27, 2011 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      Buffon and Erasmus Darwin were merely speculating; they had no evidence to support their notion of common descent. Darwin assembled the evidence in his treatise on the subject, “On the Origin of Species.”

      • Posted November 27, 2011 at 8:25 am | Permalink

        It was no more than a speculation for Charles Darwin either, just a speculation written in more words. He did not provide the “proof” for “common descent”, except of the known examples of animal breeding, particularly that of pigeons. Note, it was through extrapolation, not evidence collecting, for Charles Darwin to generalize from the selective breeding of animals by humans to all natural species on the earth.

        • Dave
          Posted November 27, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          There is no “proof” of common descent, or of anything else in science for that matter. There is only the accumulated weight of evidence generating testable hypotheses which provide opportunity for “disproof”. As noted above, Darwin set out the evidence available to him in sufficient detail to convince most of the scientific community within a few years. And contrary to your assertion, he discussed many lines of evidence besides the results of selective breeding – the geographic distribution of animals and plants, for example.

          Darwin was a great scientist who truly revolutionized our understanding of the world, and, importantly, never assumed that his insights into Biology made him an expert on everything under the sun. In contrast, Margulis was a serial crank who hit the spot with one good idea.

          • SLC
            Posted November 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

            Mr. Dave makes a very important point here relative to “proof” in the context of science. The fact is that there is no such thing as “proof’ of any scientific hypothesis. Proof is a concept of mathematics and symbolic logic. In science, there is only evidence that supports a hypothesis or evidence that falsifies it. In the entire history of science, there has never been a hypothesis that has been “proven”.

        • Ichthyic
          Posted November 27, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

          Note, it was through extrapolation, not evidence collecting, for Charles Darwin to generalize from the selective breeding of animals by humans to all natural species on the earth.

          tell the truth, now, you never actually READ Origins, did you?

          Even Wallace, who postulated the concepts of selection and common descent independently almost at exactly the same time Darwin did, admitted that Darwin had provided far more abundant evidence in support from the field than he could likely ever provide, and was MORE than happy to let Darwin publish the idea as his own in Origins.

          and, of course, that’s just Darwin; we’ve accumulated orders of magnitude more evidence for both selection and common descent since, from many different fields, and the genetic evidence itself is entirely overwhelming.

          … just in case you actually wanted to suggest there isn’t a literal mountain of evidence in support of common descent.

  24. Posted November 27, 2011 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    I think it’s a shame she seemed to take herself as so much of an unquestionable scientific authority just because she came up with one brilliant hypothesis.

    It’s dangerous enough that a recognised scientist should be so arrogant and so superficially critical of other scientists, but that obituary to me emphasises how important science communication is; if writers don’t have any scientific knowledge they should not be left to explain science.

    Also, here she mentions about science needing to be openly available for criticism – I agree on that, and reminds me of a certain case of Discovery not showing the last episode of series on the polar regions…

  25. Steve Murphy
    Posted November 27, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    I think Greg, Jerry, Richard and many others have it right: It is not unbalanced or unfair to point out that Dr. Margulis tended towards science by press release and ad hominems at the best of times. Indeed, when Richard and Jerry noted her dismissals of key people like Maynard Smith and Richard (and I would bet Jerry got curtly waved away at some time as well), it reminded me of one of her plenaries at a conference. There she actually *did* dismiss Fisher and Wright as also being inconsequential to evolutionary and ecological foundations (I work partially on Fisherian approaches to community analyses so it was news to me that they were so unimportant). Granted, contemporary ideas have shown some of their propositions to be in need of modifying (such is science and the march of time and knowledge) but to dismiss them without any justification was hubris indeed.

  26. Posted November 27, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I guess it goes to show that the scientist is not the data nor the results. Good science done well is independent of the personality of the researcher.

    Thanks for the good work she did.

  27. Popa Dominic
    Posted November 28, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Would Margulis also be getting as much publicity as she has/is if she were not the first wife of the late Carl Sagan?

    • SLC
      Posted November 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      In fairness, at the time of her marriage to the late Carl Sagan, her scientific reputation was at least as good as his.

  28. Posted November 28, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    A few reactions from Lynn Margulis’ #3 son. First, Prof. Dawkins, everyone is reading this and you don’t really sound grumpy, you sound insecure and small and not very nice.

    Second, I think the thread that runs through my mother’s controversial ideas later in life that is not captured here is the corrupting influences of money and political power – from which she was, perhaps inexplicably, largely immune. Both the causes of the complex suite of diseases now characterized as AIDS (including symptoms that used to be diagnosed as syphilis) and the cause of the collapse of WTC 7 are poorly understood, yet powerful political and economic forces prevent further inquiry. The citations above are essentially uncritical; they refuse to acknowledge a question exists (“the data have been in for decades”) or to question the motivations of those with a pat answer (what happens to a lesser microbiologist’s career if she criticizes the HIV-AIDS hypothesis?). But it is certainly true that my mother was far better at science than she was at politics: compared to the theories of cell symbiosis and Gaia — about which she is almost certainly not only right but prescient — AIDS and the World Trade Center are decidedly mundane subjects.

    Third, on a personal level, my mother touched untold numbers of people with her unbridled generosity of spirit, unmatched energy and unlimited optimism. She hated humanity (or at least dismissed our race as largely insignificant in the grand scheme) but loved individual humans. It sounds like she hurt the feelings of some old men along the way; she never bothered to mention that to me because it really did not matter to her as much as it apparently did to them. Whether history vindicates her opinions of AIDS and the WTC or not, she will be remembered adoringly as fundamentally right about the things that truly mattered.

    • SLC
      Posted November 29, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Whether history vindicates her opinions of AIDS and the WTC or not, she will be remembered adoringly as fundamentally right about the things that truly mattered.

      Ordinarily, I would refrain from commenting on a statement from an individual defending the reputation of his mother. However, the last statement in Mr. Margulis-Ohn’s comment cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged because of the deleterious effects of HIV/AIDs denial, particularly in Africa and, in particular, South Africa. The denial of the relationship between HIV and AIDS has led to the unnecessary deaths of thousands on that continent.

      Prof. Margulis, in response to a comment of mine on PZ Myers’ blog several years ago, stated that she based her opinion on HIV/AIDS on her confidence in the scientific qualifications of Prof. Peter Duesberg of the Un. of California Medical School. Prof. Duesberg’s scientific reputation, which 40 years ago was very considerable, has been destroyed because of his denial of the relationship between HIV and AIDS. Prof. Duesberg has, at various times, denied that HIV even exists and, then moved the goal posts when this position became untenable to claiming that HIV is a harmless retrovirus. However, the good professor, when challenged to have in injection of blood known to be HIV positive, has punted, making up all kinds of excuses, thus refusing to put his money where his mouth is.

    • Ichthyic
      Posted November 29, 2011 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      Second, I think the thread that runs through my mother’s controversial ideas later in life that is not captured here is the corrupting influences of money and political power – from which she was, perhaps inexplicably, largely immune. Both the causes of the complex suite of diseases now characterized as AIDS (including symptoms that used to be diagnosed as syphilis) and the cause of the collapse of WTC 7 are poorly understood, yet powerful political and economic forces prevent further inquiry.

      interesting. There appears to be a repeated pattern.

      so, what do people here think?

      is this paranoia and lack of judgement genetic, or a result of Lynn’s influence?

      There is a definite pathology here, though I’m not the one to identify it specifically.

      • SLC
        Posted November 30, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

        I think it is just a son defending his mother’s scientific reputation. Obviously, the nonsense in his comment demonstrates that he is totally ignorant of the peer reviewed literature on HIV/AIDS, and the various structural engineering articles on the collapse of the World Trade Center.

  29. Posted December 1, 2011 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    JAC claims that Lynn Margulis’ statements about the WTC are “crazy.” She merely said that NIST did not test the evidence. She insisted that hypotheses must be tested. Is this crazy? What is crazy is believing an idea is crazy without looking at the evidence.

    For example, in Appendix C of its World Trade Center Building Performance Study, FEMA claimed:

    “Evidence of a severe high temperature corrosion attack on the steel, including oxidation and sulfidation with subsequent intergranular melting, was readily visible in the near-surface microstructure. A liquid eutectic mixture containing primarily iron, oxygen, and sulfur formed during this hot corrosion attack on the steel… The severe corrosion and subsequent erosion of Samples 1 and 2 are a very unusual event. No clear explanation for the source of the sulfur has been identified.”

    However, no mention sulfur or melted steel was later included in the NIST report. “This is not science” as Lynn says in the interview, when NIST throws out evidence that doesn’t fit their predetermined conclusion that no explosives were used.

    There are a number of other examples of evidence being ignored in the NIST report. If it’s not possible to have an intelligent conversation about these issues of evidence without naming calling and inflamed rhetoric then there is no hope for science or democracy any more.

    Above SLC mentions “the various structural engineering articles on the collapse of the World Trade Center” but doesn’t cite any. I have only found this article: Bažant, Zdeněk P.; Yong Zhou (2001). “Why Did the World Trade Center Collapse? – Simple Analysis.” Journal of Engineering Mechanics ASCE,(Northwestern University) on which all subsequent “various articles” seem to depend. When we consider that over 1600 architects, material scientists, and chemists (see ae911truth.org) contest Bažant, we should at least make room for discussion of the issue. If not, we’re not doing science.

    None of the debunkers have tried to reproduce Steven Jones or Niels Harrit’s experiments in order to prove wrong their findings. Instead they try to discredit their characters. This is what I see going on on this blog too. This is not science.

    • SLC
      Posted December 2, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink

      Relative to Prof. Steven Jones, the following link debunks his allegations. Prof. Jones has yet to publish any of his manuscripts in a respectable peer reviewed journal of physics or structural engineering. In fact, his colleagues in the engineering department at BYU have disassociated themselves from his claims, much like Prof. Michael Behe’s colleagues in the biology department at Lehigh Un. have disassociated themselves from him.

      However, aside from the issues raised by Prof. Jones and his critics, Prof. Margulis had no training or expertise in the area of structural engineering to place her in a position to pontificate on these issues. Any more then she had, by her own admission, any training or expertise in HIV/AIDS research to place her in a position to pontificate on Prof. Duesberg and his critics.

      http://www.debunking911.com/jones.htm

      • Posted December 2, 2011 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        Let me repeat: If someone wants to reproduce the experiments performed by Jones and/or Harrit and prove them wrong, then I will be convinced. I will not be convinced by what someone says about them on a blog.

        As I predicted you came back saying that Jones and Harrit aren’t credible and you made appeals to authority, not to material evidence. That’s just not science. Science doesn’t give a damn about what peers think if those peers haven’t done the experiments. Lynn said nothing about materials science and so did not “pontificate” outside her area of expertise. She spoke about the scientific method in general.

        • SLC
          Posted December 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

          If a scientist has something to say, he/she publishs it in a peer reviewed technical journal. Prof. Jones did not publish his results in a peer reviewed technical journal. Therefore, he had nothing to say. Period, end of story.


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