Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

ForeWord review: The Mystery of Metamorphosis

The following book review by Joseph Thompson was published April 1st at ForeWordReviews.com.

In 2009, retired zoologist Donald Williamson published a radical theory shocking the scientific world. His paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) suggested the dual stages of an insect’s life, larval and adult, are a result of hybridization rather than through more orthodox evolutionary methods.

The majority of the uproar came not from the audacity of Williamson’s suggestions, but from his bypassing the journal’s peer review process. His paper had been accepted through a now defunct system unique to PNAS that afforded publication to papers providing they had two referees. The scandal overshadowed Williamson’s arguments. The academy faced accusations of nepotism and, in the words of one Duke University biologist speaking to Scientific American, of publishing a paper “better suited for the ‘National Enquirer than the National Academy.’”

Now, almost two years later, physician and evolutionary biologist Frank Ryan examines Williamson’s claims on the basis of their scholarship in The Mystery of Metamorphosis: A Scientific Detective Story. The author of several books, Ryan sparked discussions among academics and casual readers alike with Darwin’s Blind Spot and in 1993, the New York Times selected his book The Forgotten Plague as the non-fiction book of the year. The Mystery of Metamorphosis marks Ryan’s return to the stormy waters of modern science in an attempt to understand evolution’s dynamic concepts, and their relationship to the mystifying lifecycle of many marine and terrestrial creatures.

The enormity of Ryan’s task and the complexity of the cross-disciplinary research would have overwhelmed a lesser writer. Part history lecture and part science class, Ryan brings an accessible passion to the subject comparable to Carl Sagan’s popularization of astronomy. As he builds the case for hybridization in The Mystery of Metamorphosis, Ryan leads readers through the earliest ideas put forth by Darwin and his contemporaries to the modern questions raised by the Cambrian explosion. Like Sagan, Ryan is able to communicate complex theories without becoming simplistic while challenging basic evolutionary concepts.

Opening with a foreword by biologist Lynn Margulis, who refereed Williamson’s paper, and Dorian Sagan, Ryan nods at the past controversy but avoids revisiting its ad hominem accusations. Regardless of the scandal, however, Williamson’s idea is inescapably radical. To be accepted, a massive amount of testing, proof, and elucidation is needed. This is where The Mystery of Metamorphosis ultimately leads the reader: not to a limiting declaration, but rather to a call for greater understanding and exploration.Read the source article at ForeWordReviews.com.Frank Ryan’s The Mystery of Metamorphosis is available now.


3 Ways Spraying More Herbicides on Public Land is Bad

The following is a guest post by Tao Orion, author of Beyond the War on Invasive Species. It is an open letter to the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regarding its proposal to add three new herbicides for invasive species management on western public lands. Find out below, how you can voice your concerns […] Read More..

Arid Agriculture: How to Reduce Heat Stress in Crops and Livestock

Regardless of where you stand on the climate change issue, there’s one reality few can deny. During the summer, many places in North America are now regularly suffering temperatures above 100˚F, whereas they rarely did in the past. It’s also widely known that such high temperatures put heat stress on crops that are not very […] Read More..

When it Comes to Invasive Species, Just Say NO to Eradication

What if we looked beyond the notion of invasive species as enemies, and instead harnessed them for beneficial uses? Beyond the War on Invasive Species offers just such a bold alternative to the chemical and intensive eradication efforts, one that is holistic and inspired by permaculture principles. First-time author Tao Orion makes a compelling case […] Read More..

The Limits to Growth and Greece: Systemic or Financial Collapse?

Could it be that the ongoing Greek collapse is a symptom of the more general collapse that the Limits to Growth model generates for the first two decades of the 21st century? Author Ugo Bardi (Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet) examines the correlation between what is unfolding between Greece […] Read More..

Wild Edibles: 5 Tips for Beginner Foragers

Ever spotted a dandelion growing in your backyard and wondered, can I eat that? According to wild plants expert Katrina Blair, the answer is a resounding yes. And there are plenty of other commonly found weeds that fall into this category as well. In her book The Wild Wisdom of Weeds, Blair introduces readers to […] Read More..