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France Sounds Like a Good Place to Do Science

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Didier Raoult, the “most productive and influential microbiologist in France” according to Science and known as a candid Darwin critic, is looking more interesting all the time. We noted a profile of him and his work the other day. This is from an interview that he gave to Le Point:

The vision of life undergoing refinement today is more Nietzschean than Darwinian. On the one hand, there is Apollo, beautiful, rational and organized, and, on the other hand, there is Dionysus, causing disorder, chaos, what is unforeseen, with recombination following the bacchanalia. Vertical gene transfers within a species, with their progressive changes selected by the environment, resemble the Apollonian world. Lateral gene transfers between different species via microbes evokes by its brutality the radical universe of Dionysus.

In some ways, this is a very radical thing to say because it is the expression of the view that at this stage of inquiry, we have no better scheme by which to understand life than those provided by ancient myths of agency and action.
In another way, it is a very conservative thing to say because in order to animate those myths scientifically, Raoult feels compelled to fall back on some very familiar ideas involving the lateral and vertical transfer of genes. It is as if a man were to offer a description of a vast army in motion strictly in accounting terms — three hundred dollars for red berets, eleven hundred dollars for paper clips, and just where are the receipts for machine gun oil?
At the very least, this is a man and a scientist who is thinking and who is sensitive to the fact that the questions he finds interesting have a long history in philosophical (and literary) thought. They are not easy questions to ask and even more difficult to answer.
If he spends much time in the U.S., he must be surprised by the narrowness, intolerance and nastiness of prevailing Darwinian thought, its vile tone of sneering sarcasm. Evidently there are no Nick Matzkes in France, no Larry Morans, no Donald Protheros, no PZ Myers. This alone would make France a fine place to work.

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