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Michael Flannery on non-Darwinian discoverer of the Archaea, Carl Woese

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The Archaea are now recognized as the third kingdom of life.

Starting with Wallace’s contributions to a reality-based understanding of evolution, science historian Michael Flannery turns to Carl Woese (1928–2012) and writes:

That historical glimpse has more recently been reprised in the work of biologist Carl Woese, who increasingly came to disdain Darwinian evolution for its simplistic reductionism, and who revised the basic story of life to include three — not just two — essential types: prokaryotic cells, eukaryotic cells, and now archaeal cells. His discovery shook the scientific establishment, but his brave perseverance eventually prevailed even if it did earn him the label of biology’s scarred revolutionary.

Michael Flannery, “When Darwinian Evolution Became Obsolete” at Evolution News and Science Today

Scarred revolutionary? See Jonathan McLatchie’s obituary reflections on his work from 2013:

In 1997, the journal Science described him as “Microbiology’s Scarred Revolutionary.” Woese’s classification of life’s three domains was slow to be accepted, and it received criticism from prominent biologists such as Ernst Mayr (Mayr, 1998). As data supporting Woese’s classification mounted, however, the view of a unified Prokarya was virtually unanimously rejected.

Carl Woese also recognized the ubiquity of phylogenetic conflict across the tree of life, noting that “No consistent organismal phylogeny has emerged from the many individual protein phylogenies so far produced,” and that “Phylogenetic incongruities can be seen everywhere in the universal tree, from its root to the major branchings within and among the various taxa to the makeup of the primary groupings themselves” (Woese, 1998).

Like so many of science’s great pioneers, Carl Woese’s persistence in the face of criticism (which eventually won him the day) deserves to be emulated by aspiring young scientists. Never be afraid to think outside the paradigm, and be truly innovative.

Jonathan McLatchie, ““Microbiology’s Scarred Revolutionary”: Carl Woese, RIP” at Evolution News and Science Today (January 4, 2013)

Woese had to fight hard to get others to see the Archaea that were really there. McLatchie is right; we can all learn from that.

See also: Carl Woese regretted that he had not succeeded in overthrowing “the hegemony of the culture of Darwin.”

One Reply to “Michael Flannery on non-Darwinian discoverer of the Archaea, Carl Woese

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    In 1997, the journal Science described him as “Microbiology’s Scarred Revolutionary.”
    A sympathetic headline like that couldn’t happen now. The description in any “science” magazine now would be “WITCH! HERETIC! TRUMPTARD! QANON! BURN HIM NOW!”

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