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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.


Chelsea Green Weekly for May 5, 2017

Ever wonder what your favorite Chelsea Green authors do between writing groundbreaking–both literally and figuratively–books? Here are the best links and resources for your weekend reading pleasure. Let’s start with The Alzheimer’s Antidote. The Alzheimer’s Antidote Amy Berger has been making the rounds on the health, wellness, and fitness circuit, explaining the theories behind her revolutionary […] Read More

How to Make Biochar

Doing some spring cleaning around your property? By making biochar from brush and other hard-to-compost organic material, you can improve soil—it enhances nutrient availability and also enables soil to retain nutrients longer. This excerpt from The New Farmer’s Almanac, Volume 3, explains how to get started. To make biochar right in your garden, start by […] Read More

The 10 Steps that Establish Your Baby’s Microbiome

Research is emerging almost daily on the role of the microbiome in human health. But how do we acquire this mysterious community of microbes and more importantly how do we make sure the good bacteria outnumber the bad? According to a new book by Toni Harman and Alex Wakeford, Your Baby’s Microbiome, it all starts […] Read More

Prepare! Keep a Grab-n-Go Survival Kit Handy

Are you prepared in the event of a sudden emergency? Blizzard, earthquake, insurrection after the inauguration? We know a lot of people are wondering what’s coming next in the US, as well as the world, given terrorism, politics, and global warming, among other threats. In this excerpt from When Technology Fails, a popular book on […] Read More

Chelsea Green: In the Media 2016

Oh, 2016. Where did the time go? Each year, Chelsea Green receives hundreds of mentions (well over 1000 in 2016) in the media both big and small. From interviews, to excerpts, to opinion pieces by authors we’re always working to make sure that the mission and message of each book is spread far and wide. […] Read More
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