Sciencewriters Archive


In Memory of Lynn Margulis

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

Lynn Margulis died in late November 2011. She was a longtime friend of Chelsea Green Publishing, and collaborated with us on the Sciencewriters Books imprint to develop outstanding science books for the general public.

A recent article in Orion (“State of the Species”) by Charles C. Mann, captured some of Lynn’s unbending scientific mind matched by an equally caring and playful spirit. Mann lives in Amherst and would often encounter Lynn while walking through town.

What follows is a brief excerpt from the article, but if interested you can also listen to Mann talk about Lynn in this Orion podcast interview about the article.

Bacteria and protists can do things undreamed of by clumsy mammals like us: form giant supercolonies, reproduce either asexually or by swapping genes with others, routinely incorporate DNA from entirely unrelated species, merge into symbiotic beings—the list is as endless as it is amazing. Microorganisms have changed the face of the earth, crumbling stone and even giving rise to the oxygen we breathe. Compared to this power and diversity, Margulis liked to tell me, pandas and polar bears were biological epiphenomena—interesting and fun, perhaps, but not actually significant.

Does that apply to human beings, too? I once asked her, feeling like someone whining to Copernicus about why he couldn’t move the earth a little closer to the center of the universe. Aren’t we special at all?

This was just chitchat on the street, so I didn’t write anything down. But as I recall it, she answered that Homo sapiens actually might be interesting—for a mammal, anyway. For one thing, she said, we’re unusually successful.

Seeing my face brighten, she added: Of course, the fate of every successful species is to wipe itself out.

Pure Lynn.

When Lynn died, she left behind a groundbreaking scientific legacy that spanned decades and inspired thousands of scientists, environmentalists, writers, and thinkers around the world. This unique anthology, collated by her son Dorion Sagan, includes essays that cover her early collaboration with James Lovelock, her critique of neo-darwinism, her support of David Griffin’s critique of the official account of 9/11, her love of Emily Dickinson, her inspiration of young scientists, especially women, and much more.

The book includes contributions from Dorion Sagan, Jorge Wagensberg, Moselio Schaechter, Andre Khalil, James Lovelock, Bruce Clarke, Niles Eldredge, Michael F. Dolan, Jan Sapp, Michael J. Chapman, Martin Brasier, Denis Noble, Josh Mitteldorf, Stefan Helmreich, William Irwin Thompson, David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb Jr., David Abram, Peter Westbroek, Rich Doyle, Joanna Bybee, Terry Y. Allen, Penny Boston, Emily Case, David Lenson, Betsey Dexter Dyer, and Lynn herself.

Below are some early reviews, and praise, for this tribute to Lynn’s lasting legacy.

“Margulis’s complex personality beguiles, frustrates, charms, and elevates various writers, resulting in a stunning portrait that no single remembrance could have captured.” — ForeWord Reviews

“Her insistence that most evolution involves symbiogenesis led to a lifetime of debate. It also leads to some inspired writing in this book of essays. This is a captivating read for anyone interested in what powers great scientists.” — Publishers Weekly

“I can’t imagine what the world of biological science in the twentieth century would have been had Lynn Margulis not come along. In this volume, we can read about some of the vast range of intellect she influenced.” — Wes Jackson, president, The Land Institute

“Lynn and I often argued, as good collaborators should, and we wrangled over the intricate finer points of self-regulation, but always remained good friends, perhaps because we were confident that we were right.” — Dr. James Lovelock, contributor, and author of The Vanishing Face of Gaia

“It was life—profligate, teeming life in all its weirdness—that held the magic for her, not this featherless biped with its confused aspirations. Lynn intuited and doggedly gathered evidence to show that most anything we two-leggeds take special pride in—our capacities for cogitation, conviviality, and culture—had been invented, eons before, by the microbial entities that compose us.” — David Abram, contributor, and author of Spell of the Sensuous

“It’s the ideas that really matter—and Lynn certainly had hers. They were novel and profound, and she simply wanted all the rest of the world to adjust their thinking to accommodate and embrace what she saw were the simple, beautiful truths that she had uncovered.” — Dr. Niles Eldredge, contributor, and author of Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life

“I hope that in due time she will be recognized as one of the greatest scientific thinkers of our time.” — Ernest Callenbach, author of Ecotopia

To see “indomitable Lynn” for yourself, watch this video of her debate with Richard Dawkins at Oxoford.

And for sense of the reverence and love the book contains, read Dr. James Lovelock’s essay, On Lynn.

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Lynn Margulis

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Lynn Margulis: The Life and Legacy of A Scientific Rebel is now available in our bookstore.

Publishers Weekly recently praised the collection, saying, “There are two kinds of great scientists, writes former American Society of Microbiology president Moselio Schaechter in this eclectic, sometimes electrifying, book about biologist Lynn Margulis. There are those making ‘impressive experiments’ and those making ‘groundbreaking theoretical syntheses.’ Margulis was the latter….This is a captivating read for anyone interested in what powers great scientists.”

Collated by Margulis’s son Dorion Sagan, the book includes contributions from many of Lynn’s colleagues and friends — all of them revolutionary thinkers of one kind or another. This unique anthology includes essays that cover her early collaboration with James Lovelock, her critique of neo-darwinism, her support of David Griffin’s critique of the official account of 9/11, her love of Emily Dickinson, her inspiration of young scientists, especially women, and much more.

Other recent reviews have also praised this collection of essays as a fitting tribute to a rebel who influenced, and inspired, many.

“Taken as a whole, Sagan’s collection is a fitting tribute to a woman whose life and legacy have touched so many others,” noted Foreword Reviews. “As [Sagan] notes, her indomitable spirit lives on through her children, grandchildren, colleagues, and students—and most of all, through the work that she championed so well.”

Don Mikulecky wrote this thoughtful and in-depth review of the book for DailyKos, saying, “If you know about Margulis’ work you still need to read this book because it is a multifaceted view of this magnificent person and her ideas and puts her wok into a context that enriches our understanding.”

Margulis was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1983, received the prestigious National Medal of Science in 1999, and her papers are permanently archived at the Library of Congress. Less than a month before her untimely death, Margulis was named one of the twenty most influential scientists alive— one of only two women on this list, which include such scientists as Stephen Hawking, James Watson, and Jane Goodall.

Pre-Release Special: Lynn Margulis!

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

“It was life—profligate, teeming life in all its weirdness—that held the magic for her, not this featherless biped with its confused aspirations. Lynn intuited and doggedly gathered evidence to show that most anything we two-leggeds take special pride in—our capacities for cogitation, conviviality, and culture—had been invented, eons before, by the microbial entities that compose us.”

David Abram, contributor, and author of Spell of the Sensuous

When scientist Lynn Margulis died last year, the world lost a true intellectual revolutionary — but her vibrant legacy lives on.

Margulis’s son and longtime collaborator Dorion Sagan collected essays from his mother’s colleagues and friends, and compiled them into a beautiful tribute. To celebrate the book’s arrival, we’re putting Lynn Margulis: The Life and Legacy of a Scientific Rebel on sale this week for 25% off.

Sagan remembered his mother in an “evolutionary eulogy”, adapted from what he told his children after Margulis’s passing.

Your grandmother was so smart, talked so fast, and about so many subjects that hardly anybody—maybe even not she herself—could always understand everything she said.

She said: “Evolution is no linear family tree, but change in the single multidimensional being that has grown to cover the entire surface of Earth. ”

She said: “The idea that we are ‘stewards of the earth’ is another symptom of human arrogance. Imagine yourself with the task of overseeing your body’s physical processes. Do you understand the way it works well enough to keep all its systems in operation? Can you make your kidneys function? . . . Are you conscious of the blood flow through your arteries? . . . We are unconscious of most of our body’s processes, thank goodness, because we’d screw it up if we weren’t. The human body is so complex, with so many parts. . . The idea that we are consciously caretaking such a large and mysterious system is ludicrous.”

Read the entire essay at Seven Pillars House of Wisdom.

Lynn Margulis touched the lives of many scientists and other thinkers, many of whom contributed essays to the book. James Lovelock, who first articulated the hypothesis that the Earth’s many interconnected biotic systems essentially behave as a unified organism (what came to be known as the Gaia Theory), write in the excerpt below about first meeting Margulis.

Lynn Margulis: Essay by James Lovelock

Remembering Lynn Margulis: An Evolutionary Eulogy

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

When renowned scientist Lynn Margulis died last November, she left behind a vibrant legacy. Her inspiring, innovative work on evolution touched scientists, environmentalists, and nature writers alike. This winter, Chelsea Green is publishing a book to celebrate her memory, filled with essays by her colleagues, collaborators, and other thinkers who were influenced by her work. Lynn Margulis: The Life and Legacy of a Scientific Rebel, will be available in mid-October. Foreword Reviews recently wrote,

“In this thoughtful and expertly curated collection, Margulis’s son and long-time collaborator, Dorion Sagan, calls her ‘indomitable Lynn.’ A fearless and zealous advocate of her theories who could also display a loving heart, he writes, ‘[H]er threat was not to people but to the evil done to the spirit by the entrenchment of unsupported views.’

In other essays, Margulis’s complex personality beguiles, frustrates, charms, and elevates various writers, resulting in a stunning portrait that no single remembrance could have captured. Luminaries throughout the scientific world share their memories of her bulldog attitude and scientific contributions, showing that although she’s gone, her work definitely still resonates and informs evolutionary biology and other fields.”

The article below was written by her son, Dorion Sagan. For more information, click here.

Grandma Lynnie is dead. But what is life? Where do we go when we die?

It’s a funny thing: Death is the opposite of life. But so is birth. Your birth continues the life of your parents—here Zach, Jenny, Robin, and Jeremy—just as your parents’ lives continued the life of their parents.

What does this mean? It means that life and death are not so simple.  Although a body may disappear, its form—with some changes—continues. We are one of the changed forms of our parents.

Your grandmother studied an organism—it may look like a plant, but it’s a bryozoan, an animal—named Pectinatella magnifica—in this very pond. It is a funny-looking, puffy creature that looks kind of like a brain on a stick. And she made a discovery: it lives with other organisms, purple bacteria I think, that help it grow. She was still working on this when she died.

When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly it changes, and when a butterfly lays its eggs, it changes again: We say the butterfly dies when the body that lays the eggs dies, but, if you think about it, the cycle goes on. We could say that the caterpillar dies and the butterfly is born.

Focusing on this idea, we could say that her body died, but part of her—you and me—has already been born again: not in a religious sense but as your bodies and minds, which don’t know as much as her yet, but do contain some of the same thoughts and feelings.

So we should not be so sad. You are not just a grown up who is twenty or thirty or forty years old, or a kid who is 8 or 9 or 10 or 11 or 12 years old. You are part of a collection of microbes, including symbiotic bacteria that joined forces—fast ones and slow ones, oxygen breathers and those that could live in the mud, green ones and transparent ones—billions of years ago. Life on Earth is 3.8 billion years old and it has not stopped reproducing since it started. You may disappear but you may also become part of a new form—not a ghost, but a grandchild.

She and I wrote about this in What is Life?. We tried to show that life is not just a thing, a body, but a process—and that looking at it this way was not make-believe, but scientific.

“‘What is life?‘ is a linguistic trap. To answer according to the rules of grammar, we must supply a noun, a thing. But life on Earth is more like a verb. It is a material process, surfing over matter like a strange slow wave. It is a controlled artistic chaos, a set of chemical reactions so staggeringly complex that more than 4 billion years ago it began a sojourn that now, in human form, composes love letters and uses silicon computers to calculate the temperature of matter at the birth of the universe.”

Your grandmother was so smart, talked so fast, and about so many subjects that hardly anybody—maybe even not she herself—could always understand everything she said.

She said: “Evolution is no linear family tree, but change in the single multidimensional being that has grown to cover the entire surface of Earth. ”

She said: “The idea that we are ‘stewards of the earth’ is another symptom of human arrogance. Imagine yourself with the task of overseeing your body’s physical processes. Do you understand the way it works well enough to keep all its systems in operation? Can you make your kidneys function? . . . Are you conscious of the blood flow through your arteries? . . . We are unconscious of most of our body’s processes, thank goodness, because we’d screw it up if we weren’t. The human body is so complex, with so many parts. . . The idea that we are consciously caretaking such a large and mysterious system is ludicrous.”

She said: ‘The notion of saving the planet has nothing to do with intellectual honesty or science. The fact is that the planet was here long before us and will be here long after us. The planet is running fine. What people are talking about is saving themselves and saving their middle-class lifestyles and saving their cash flow.”

She said: “We are walking communities. . . Of all the organisms on earth, only bacteria are individuals.”

By that she meant that we are not who we think, just animals, but also bacteria, and other microbes. These bacteria help us make vitamins, they live in and on our bodies, and, though they sometimes make us sick, they also come together to make new forms of life. The amoebas and Paramecia and Pectinatella that Grandma discovered in this pond, which she swam across every day this summer, are examples of such creatures that bring together bacteria and other kinds of life in their bodies. They are connected. So are you. We are connected not only to the beings inside us, but also to the beings outside us, of which we are a part. So remember this—and when you think of grandma gone and are sad, remember also that her body is going back to the water and the ground, and that her memory is now part of you, and you are part of her, and that in a sense she is not leaving us but coming back to us in another form.

Related Links:

Image Notes: 1. Lynn Margulis on November 13, 2011, just nine days before her passing on November 22, 2011, at Uxmal Pyramids, Yucatan, Mexico. (Photo credit: Amarella Eastmond.)

Dorion Sagan is a science writer, essayist, and theorist. He is author of numerous articles and twenty-three books translated into eleven languages, including Death and Sex, and Into the Cool, coauthored with Eric D. Schneider. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, the New York Times Book Review, Wired, and the Skeptical Inquirer. Look for Lynn Margulis: The Life and Legacy of a Scientific Rebel, an anthology of essays about the late Lynn Margulis, from scientists and philosophers around the world, due out this fall.

Article originally published by Seven Pillars Press.

Novelist Anne Rice: The Mystery of Metamorphosis is “A gem of a book”

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Earlier this month Frank Ryan’s latest book, The Mystery of Metamorphosis, got some much-deserved praise from a very interesting source: novelist Anne Rice!

Rice was so taken with Ryan’s story about the misunderstood scientist Don Williamson, and his research that questions our typical understanding of how animals like caterpillars end up as beautiful butterflies, that she posted this to her Facebook wall:

“In Ryan, I’ve found another brilliant science writer, like Nick Lane, who makes available to the scientifically challenged some insight into the magnificence and mysteries of biological life on this planet. This is just a wonderful book. If you have, as I do, a million questions about how caterpillars become butterflies, and no science vocabulary to study it, well, this may be the book for you. This is beautifully written. A gem of a book.

The Mystery of Metamorphosis (UK edition) also received a nice review this month from Cosmos magazine:

“In an equally entertaining and informing fashion, Ryan guides his readers through the lives and works of some of the key figures who explored the mystery of metamorphosis, its mechanisms and its evolution. He interweaves prose with scientific facts and paints a vivid picture of his characters as he describes their theories and experiments as well as their personal struggles and achievements.”

If your curiosity is plenty piqued, you might enjoy reading this excerpt from the book, entitled “The Beautiful Mystery.”

The Mystery of Metamorphosis Prologue

Save the Date! Lynn Margulis Symposium March 23-25

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Lynn Margulis was a revolutionary scientist, who died late last year. Her theories about the way life evolved and the interlinked systems of cooperating organisms that constitute the biosphere of our planet inspired many — even while sowing controversy in the conservative realms of her own field of study. As her son Dorion Sagan puts it, Margulis had “a congenital lack of fear,” and she pursued the truth of the world around her regardless of the outsider status the pursuit gave her in some communities.

This BBC Radio 4 episode of The Last Word feature talks about Margulis’s fascinating contributions to scientific understanding, and feisty personality. The section on her starts around 13:30.

Later this spring, the University of Massachussetts is holding a symposium on the legacy of Lynn Margulis. Details below:

Lynn Margulis Symposium—A Life in Science: in Memory and Celebration

Friday March 23 to Sunday March 25, 2012

The University of Massachusetts, in collaboration with the family and friends of Lynn Margulis (1938-2011), cordially invites you to a Symposium, March 23-25, 2012, celebrating her life and work. Although the Symposium is still in its early planning stages, we wanted to alert you and other interested parties you may know in order to provide the lead-time needed to save these dates and arrange for travel to and from Amherst, Massachusetts.

We are very excited about this opportunity to gather in memory of Professor Margulis, and to explore the history, importance, and future of her intellectual accomplishments.

As plans take shape, they will be posted to <www.geo.umass.edu/margulis_symposium.html>.

Preliminary Schedule of Events

Friday March 23, 2012
Welcome and Lynn Margulis Film Festival

Saturday March 24, 2012
Welcome followed by seminars on Gaia, astrobiology, symbiosis, and a tribute dinner with Peter Westbroek, William Irwin Thompson, and a new essay by James Lovelock

Sunday March 25, 2012
Community and colleague comments and an afternoon field trip in memory and celebration to Lynn’s favorite swimming hole (and last research site), Puffers Pond

Lynn Margulis, along with her son, Dorion Sagan, coauthored and curated our Sciencewriters Series. Find out more about the series here, and browse the titles in the series here.

Lynn Margulis, 1938-2011

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Chelsea Green is extremely saddened to announce the death of renowned evolutionary biologist Lynn Margulis who died at her home on November 22 at the age of 73. Lynn and her son, Dorion Sagan, created Chelsea Green’s Sciencewriters Books imprint, which Chelsea Green launched in the fall of 2006 to develop outstanding works of science for the general public.

Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan were the founders of Sciencewriters, an educational partnership devoted to advancing science through enchantment in the form of the finest possible books, videos, and other media. Blending exciting writing with depth of knowledge and dedication to scientific integrity, Sciencewriters Books published new and established authors on cutting-edge topics that are key to our survival. Chelsea Green has published 8 books in the Sciencewriters Books imprint, including 3 books authored or co-authored by Margulis: Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love; Dazzle Gradually: Reflections on the Nature of Nature (with Dorion Sagan); and Mind, Life, and Universe: Conversations with Great Scientists of our Time (with Eduardo Punset). The most recent Sciencewriters Book, The Mystery of Metamorphosis by Frank Ryan, was released in April, 2011 (for which Margulis wrote the foreword).

Lynn Margulis was best known for her theory of species evolution by symbiogenesis, put forth in Acquiring Genomes (co-authored with Dorion Sagan, 2002), which describes how speciation does not occur by random mutation alone but rather by symbiotic détente. Behavioral, chemical, and other interactions often lead to integration among organisms, members of different taxa. In well-documented cases some mergers create new species. Intimacy, physical contact of strangers, becomes part of the engine of life’s evolution that accelerates the process of change. Margulis worked in the laboratory and field with many other scientists and students to show how specific ancient partnerships, in a given order over a billion years, generated the cells of the species we see with our unaided eyes.The fossil record, in fact, does not show Darwin’s predicted gradual changes between closely related species but rather the “punctuated equilibrium” pattern described by Eldredge and Gould: a jump from one to a different species. She also co-developed the Gaia hypothesis with her friend James Lovelock, which describes how the earth acts like a self-regulating organism, not a dead piece of rock.

At the time of her death, Lynn Margulis was Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She received the 1999 National Medal of Science from President Bill Clinton and had been a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences since 1983 and of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences since 1997. In 2008 she received the very prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal, given every 50 years by the Linnean Society of London. Author, editor, or coauthor of chapters in more than forty books, she has published or been profiled in many journals, magazines, and books, among them Natural History, Science, Nature, New England Watershed, Scientific American, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science Firsts, and The Scientific 100. She has made numerous contributions to the primary scientific literature of microbial evolution and cell biology.

Lynn was a great and generous friend and advocate for many other scientists and students, fierce truth seeker, and passionate teacher and life force. Her loss is going to be felt around the world and in the scientific community for many years to come.

In lieu of flowers, friends may contribute to the Lynn Margulis Memorial Fund to support students to continue her scientific research. Checks may be sent directly to “Lynn Margulis Memorial Fund” at Northampton Cooperative Bank, PO Box 550, Amherst, MA 01004. A public celebration of her life is being scheduled for early in 2012.

Here are a few other articles about Lynn’s Passing:

New York Times obituary

SpaceRef.com “In Memorium”

John Horgan blog at Scientific American

Also an interview  with Lynn earlier this year: Discover Magazine interview

Lynn Margulis – One of the 20 Most Influential Living Scientists

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Scientist and author Lynn Margulis is one of the 20 most influential scientists alive today, according to Super Scholar! Her ideas about symbiogenesis have vastly enriched conventional ways of understanding biological evolution.

We couldn’t agree more. Since 2006, Chelsea Green has partnered with Margulis and her son, scholar Dorion Sagan, to produce Sciencewriters Books, an imprint created to develop outstanding works of science for the general public. The imprint incorporates the work of Sciencewriters, an educational partnership devoted to advancing science through enchantment in the form of the finest possible books, videos, and other media (www.sciencewriters.org).

Read the Super Scholar article.

And check out these Sciencewriters Books, which are guaranteed to blow your mind.

The Mystery of Metamorphosis: A Scientific Detective Story
Metamorphosis has intrigued human observers for thousands of years. While everyone knows this trick of nature transforms caterpillars into butterflies, fewer are aware that this process of transformation also occurs in many other insect species, as well as in amphibians and—in its greatest diversity—in marine creatures.
Death and Sex
Two books under one cover deliver a brief, incisive, and entertaining romp through the science of sex and death.
Luminous Fish: Tales of Science and Love
A unique look at the inner lives of scientists.

Join Evolutionary Biologist Frank Ryan with Jay Ackroyd

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Wednesday May 25th at 10am join author Frank Ryan for a virtual talk with Jay Ackroyd on Blog Talk Radio. Jay discusses the controversy – both the ideas and their reception – bubbling up around The Mystery of Metamorphosis with physician and evolutionary biologist Frank Ryan. Listen HERE live and later on Blog Talk Radio.

The Mystery of Metamorphosis is an accurate depiction of a scientific revolution 150 years in the making. Nowhere else will readers find such a sweeping account of this strange and wonderful mystery—or such a thoughtful, balanced presentation of why metamorphosis has landed center stage in debates over evolution itself.
Participate through IRC (internet relay chat) Simple!

1.     Before or during a program, connect to http://webchat.freenode.net/

2.     Give yourself a name.

3.     Enter #vspeak into the channel field.

4.     NOTE: ‘Relay Rinq’ is not a person but a bridge to IRC chat.

5.     While listening to a live program on BlogTalkRadio, type comments and questions into the text field. Read what others write.

6.     Begin your question with ‘QUESTION’ so it’s easy for the host to spot.

Hybridisation – different thinking

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

NEW book The Mystery of Metamorphosis, A Scientific Detective Story by Frank Ryan is set to propel the work of a Port Erin marine biologist on to the world stage.

Don Williamson’s controversial theory of evolution – in which he postulates that evolution also occurs through hybridisation – is known in some areas of the scientific world, but this is the first time it has been introduced to popular audiences in the US and UK.

More than two thirds of the book are devoted to the work of Dr Williamson, who is described as ‘the iconoclastic modern-day scientist . . . whose studies of marine life led him to the boldest and most controversial theory of evolution since Darwin’s own’.

It charts Dr Williamson’s life, his upbringing in Seahouses, Northumberland, the discovery of his theory while lecturing at the Port Erin Marine Laboratory and his battle to gain acceptance of his theory in the scientific community – a struggle made far harder after he had a major stroke in 1990 that left him partially paralysed and, for a time, unable to speak, read and write.

‘It is quite weird reading a book about yourself,’ said Dr Williamson, 89. ‘It seems unreal, but at least he (Frank Ryan) has got his facts right. He does record my views and he made a very good job of it.’

And, he noted wryly, it is rather like reading his own obituary!

The island and Port Erin naturally feature in the book as Ryan casts his eye over events and the setting.

This means the book also reinforces the great loss felt to the scientific community following closure of the laboratory in 2006.

Dr Williamson described his ‘eureka’ moment.

‘When I was revising a lecture on larvae and evolution that I gave to honours BSc students, I pointed out there were various anomalies that could not be explained, but I did not go beyond that,’ he said.

‘But this particular year, 1983, I tore up my lecture notes and rewrote them.

‘I said that all these anomalies could be explained if larvae transferred between one group of animals and another. It was only in the subsequent two years I worked out it must have been done by hybridisation and must be done by the sperm of one animal and the egg of another.

‘ It’s more possible in the sea where eggs and sperm are broadcast and fertilisation is not in the female but in the sea. From time to time there is every chance eggs could be fertilised by foreign sperm, in most cases it comes to nothing but if it happens over millions of years, something will hatch out.’

His battle to gain recognition of his theory and have his papers published has been enormous.

Martin Angel, the editor of Progress in Oceanography, the publication in which Dr Williamson’s paper appeared, said: ‘Darwin would probably have had less trouble submitting a draft of the Origin of Species to the Bishop of Oxford.’

A very important part of the journey has been the support of Lynn Margulis, distinguished professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, whom Dr Williamson first contacted in 1988 because his theory shared elements with her theory of cells.

She wrote the foreword to the book with her son, Dorion Sagan (whose late father was astrophysicist Carl).

The battle to get his papers accepted by scientific journals continues and he has written an entry in the book ‘Evolution from the Galapagos’ to be published next year.

Dr Williamson has also challenged other biologists to conduct experiments to prove hybridisation occurs and said he has had a couple of ‘expressions of interest’.

Gratified that Ryan’s book is helping to introduce his theory to a wider audience than ever before, he said: ‘I like to think Darwin would welcome it. He was a broad-minded man, and going back to Darwin’s time – although I didn’t realise it until well after I developed my theory – the first suggestion that larvae had been transferred was made by a young man at Cambridge, Frank Balfour. He had the beginnings of the same idea, he died up Mont Blanc, aged 31, before he could develop his theory further. He was tipped as the successor to Darwin.’

He added: ‘I’m reasonably satisfied that my theory has got so far – it cannot now be swept under the carpet so somebody will take it up in the future.

‘It should be Frank Balfour’s name attached. He wrote a treatise on embryology in two volumes, it was a massive thing. He was an international expert on the development of animals. The theory of larvae evolution was tucked in behind it.

‘He did not get anywhere as far as I got, but it’s the start of my theory.

‘Had Darwin and he lived, they would probably have developed it together and it would probably be mainstream biology.’

 Read the full article here. 


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