Suzan Mazur hearts Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini

March 22, 2010 • 6:17 am

You may recall Suzan Mazur’s breathless reporting on “The Altenberg 16” (which she has apparently turned into an online book, Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry.

Her thesis has been not only that modern evolutionary biology is rotten to the core, but that we evolutionists all know it and are desperately trying to cover up a crumbling paradigm.  Her interviews with people like Stuart Pivar and my old boss, Dick Lewontin, are really funny: Mazur desperately wants them all to admit that evolutionary biology is bankrupt, no matter what they think.  Instead of finding out what they think, she presses and presses them to agree with her. It seems that most of these hilarious interviews have disappeared from the internet, but you can get a taste of them here and here.

Well, of course she quite likes What Darwin Got Wrong, but claims that it doesn’t go far enough in exposing the corrupt evolution industry.  In other words, it wasn’t looney enough!

There is no mention of right or wrong fresher perspectives like that of Stuart Pivar, whose toroidal model Piattelli-Palmarini found initially interesting, or of geologist Mark McMenamin, who thinks the famous Dolf Seilacher Namibian tongue fossil is a flattened morphogenetic torus, a “paleotorus”.

Some of these scientists have discussed with me at length in online interviews various mechanisms of evolution — particularly, Stuart Newman — saltational mechanisms of embryonic development, chemical oscillation, etc. Scott Gilbert, who gets no attention in What Darwin Got Wrong, referred to “five main mechanisms for the generation of anatomical diversity” in our Q&A last year: heterochrony, heterotopy, heterometry, heterotypy, heterocyberny. Almost every scientist I’ve spoken to, however, does admit that the PROCESS of evolution remains elusive.

I was glad to see that the Italian edition of the Fodor, Piattelli-Palmarini book references my coverage (“la saggista e giornalista”) of the Altenberg 16 saga and (“fieramente indipendente”) Scoop Media. Lynn Margulis too is acknowledged in Italian via our phone interview from Oxford, in which she recounts how she and Francisco Ayala pronounced neo-Darwinism dead one night at a meeting with Whiteheadian philosopher John Cobb. Philosopher and zoologist Stan Salthe with his “poisonous” view that Darwin’s theory is “unexplainable caprice from top to bottom” is cited in Italian as well, and rightly so, because Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini agree to a degree.

. . . What happens next as the neo-Darwinist house of cards collapses and the turnaround in evolutionary science proceeds with the circle drawn wider and wider to include more of the public? “The Jerry Coyne crowd will just fade into the background,” one evolutionary scientist whispered to me. . .

Nice!  I’m sad that she doesn’t identify that “evolutionary scientist,” who apparenently had to “whisper” out of fear that our evil, hornéd cabal would bring down the wrath of Darwin. But I’m flattered and honored to have the crowd of sane evolutionary biologists named after me!

Mazur is a real hoot, and I really don’t worry about her attacks on evolution because, so far as I can determine, nobody takes her seriously.

13 thoughts on “Suzan Mazur hearts Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini

  1. Almost every scientist I’ve spoken to, however, does admit that the PROCESS of evolution remains elusive.

    I nominate that statement as the most idiotic of the year.

  2. That interview between Mazur and Lewontin is very funny and telling. She is really trying to force the issue.

    I clicked on the other link you provided then read the blurbs on the back cover of her book. Strange stuff. You have quotes from Lewontin UN-endorsing it, you have a quote from Lynn Margolis, some progressive magazine editor, Noam Chomsky, and an author who wrote about the US drug war. This collection of blurbs is supposed to reflect the “cover up” and the “industry” aspects of evolutionary thought? Why not get a quote from one of the original conference members?

    Also, it’s worth noting that Gunther Wagner’s (a “member” of the 16) studies look at “evo-devo” concepts from a population genetic perspective, such as his 1997 paper called “A population genetic theory of canalization” or a later paper looking at a “population genetic theory of genetic robustness” so I’m not sure why such traditional population genetic concepts are so maligned within this Mazur-manufactured conspiracy.

    In fact, one can rattle off several papers concerning “evo-devo” concepts that are rooted in population genetic theory like Slatkin’s 1987 quant-gen approach to heterochrony, Kondrashov’s pop gen stuff of gene duplication, Mike Lynch’s and Nancy Moran’s (differing) pop gen research on genome organization…etc.

  3. The interview with Lewontin is astounding. It’s not just her embarrassing performance in the interview: it’s the fact that she would then make it available, apparently oblivious to the shellacking she took.

  4. You have “Suzan” (with a ‘z’) in the title, but “Susan” (with an ‘s’) in the text. Her book as represented in google books uses “Suzan” (with a ‘z’).

  5. Just for you to know, in Italy the world is upside down; F&PP book will be published in a matter of weeks by Feltrinelli, the most left leaning and “cultural” among the italian publishing house. And the latest Dawkins book has been published by Mondadori, the owner of which is Mr. B., our fascist P.M.
    Go figure

  6. What makes creationism really distinct from other kinds of conspiracy theories is that the creationists seem to really believe that one day they will be vindicated, everyone who mocked them will hang their heads in shame, and all the universities of the world will start “ID research” (whatever that is).

    Which always baffles me, because as crazy as, say, 9/11 truthers are, at least they don’t think that one day history books will read “on 9/11/01 the US government destroyed the twin towers in a controlled demolition.” They think that the cover up is permanent.

    Creationists, on the other hand, think that evolution is always JUST on the verge of losing its virtually universal acceptance.

  7. F&PPs missed much if not most of the petty details they included about natural selection (NS) and about evolution by natural selection (EBNS) as well as about what students of NS and EBNS can and cannot disentangle; but they got the most important thing right:

    according to F&PP, game theory (GT) would not be a theory either, because whenever you look at a GTal system that can be “understood” using GTal analysis and principles, you cannot say anything about who will win unless you are told say what symbols the cards have, how many cards there are, what the specific rules of the game are, etc….

    and indeed game theory is not a “scientific theory” like that of gravitation since most GTal phenomenology depends crucially on the arbitrary (or on the non-unifiable natural-historical) details relevant in each case.

    natural selection (NS) narratives fall between these two extremes: they mobilize a firework of circumstantial natural-historical details that are GTally relevant (in ceteris-paribus or dynamically positive ways), but abstractly speaking the winners are always “the result” of the Bauplan’s potential to be altered (due to mutation, etc) so that modified “units” show up that deal with the specific selective agent/regime better than existing units do.

    this *non-exhausted* Bauplan’s potential is part of the unifying “gravity-like” force driving evolution by natural selection (EBNS) and GT evol.bio models have nothing “ontologically” comparable to offer (i.e., they have no obligate links to unifying natural entities and quantities).

    but this potential of Bauplaene part of what van valen called the “3rd law of natural selection” (1976; van valen meant EBNS when he wrote “natural selection”).

    no need to say that the “gravity-like” force driving NS (as opposed to that driving EBNS) cannot be studied in the same way and time scales as the “gravity-like” force driving of EBNS…

    all in all, the trailer-park-level understanding of what a scientific theory should be that has been put on display by most of the phil.of biol and evol.biol establishment frauds who have commented on the F&PP “idiot-savant” book rivals with that of the peddler of puerilo-retarded animistico-suggestive anthropomorphizations, r.dawkins; and their arguments are barely less misguided and heuristically less pernicious that D’s syllogistic imbecility about “DNA with intentionality”.

    the unifying “gravity-like” forces driving NS and EBNS remain unknown and available stories “different for each case” (let’s celebrate diversity!) are ontologically truncated.

    yes, in his tired recent nyrb piece on this affair, r.lewontin mentions that F&PP have stated that they are not asking for such a force, but the real question is whether they would have anything to grumble about if the force was already a central focus of research in evol.bio.

    truly, it’s shocking to see –among “professional” philosophers of science– such ignorance of the deep epistemological canons that distinguish better-grounded scientific theories, and to see –among “professional” evolutionary biologists– such ignorance of deep evolutionary biology.

    this whole debate shows one more time what kind of charade the american system of promotion of self-complacent paper-churner/grant-chaser hybrid frauds has generated…

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