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When Science Becomes Polemic: My Reply to Jerry Coyne’s Interview at Skeptiko

On February 14 Alex Tsakiris of Skeptiko interviewed biologist Jerry Coyne. In the course of their discussion my book Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life came up. So did my earlier review of Coyne’s Why Evolution is True, in which I had taken Coyne to task for his scant mention of Wallace (the father of modern biogeography), an error of omission that calls the validity of his book into serious question.
Coyne, dismissive of my book and Wallace’s contributions, insisted that the famed co-discoverer of natural selection never used biogeography as an argument in support of evolution and claimed that Darwin deserves preeminence in this regard, an assertion I find unsupportable by substantial historical evidence.
There appear to be only two possible reasons for Wallace’s conspicuous absence in Coyne’s book:

  1. the author is ignorant of Wallace’s contributions in biogeography, or
  2. Wallace doesn’t serve the author’s polemical purposes.

Given Coyne’s standing in the biological sciences I can only assume the latter. When science becomes polemic, history suffers. Those interested in specifics can read my follow-up interview with Alex Tsakiris here in addition to my written reply.

Michael Flannery

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael A. Flannery is professor emeritus of UAB Libraries, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He holds degrees in library science from the University of Kentucky and history from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written and taught extensively on the history of medicine and science. His most recent research interest has been on the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). He has edited Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press, 2008) and authored Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press, 2011). His research and work on Wallace continues.



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