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Tangled Tree (book)

Jerry Coyne continues to be unhappy over David Quammen’s book on Carl Woese

Readers will remember science writer David Quammen’s new book, The Tangled Tree:A Radical New History of Life, a biography of Carl Woese, who first identified the Archaea (and doubted Darwinism). They will also doubtless remember Darwinian evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, who does not life Tangled Tree, and… Well, he still doesn’t like it and has been holding forth of late: Most of the publicity about the book—to be sure, publicity pushed by Quammen himself—centers on HGT. It is, we’re told, something that radically overturns Darwin’s view of the “tree of life” and of evolution, and even revises our own view of “what it means to be human” (after all, we’re also told, a substantial part of our genome is dead, Read More ›

Jerry Coyne minimizes the significance of horizontal gene transfer

As we might expect. Darwinian evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne offers his thoughts on science writer David Quammen’s new book about Carl Woese, The Tangled Tree:A Radical New History of Life: Quammen is right that the horizontal transfer of genetic information does complicate our effort to understand the evolutionary past, but he goes too far in claiming that HGT essentially undermines any and all attempts to reconstruct the evolutionary past: “The tree of life is not a true categorical because the history of life just doesn’t resemble a tree.” Before accepting this radical conclusion, we must answer two questions: How in practice can horizontal genetic transmission occur, and how common is it? … In the end, Quammen provides us with a lucid Read More ›

At New York Times: Darwin skeptic Carl Woese “effectively founded a new branch of science”

David Quammen, author of The Tangled Tree:A Radical New History of Life, a biography of Darwin skeptic Carl Woese, who discovered the Archaea, offers a long reflection at the New York Times on how biology is moving away from Darwinism: Woese was a rebel researcher, obscure but ingenious, crotchety, driven. He had his Warholian 15 minutes of fame on the front page of The Times, and then disappeared back into his lab in Urbana, scarcely touched by popular limelight throughout the remaining 35 years of his career. But he is the most important biologist of the 20th century that you’ve never heard of. He asked profound questions that few other scientists had asked. He created a method — clumsy and Read More ›