I buy books at a much higher rate than I read them. I simply can’t help it; I walk in a use book store, see how cheap all the books are, and usually buy two or three. Meanwhile, I am smack-dab in the middle of my college quarter and have almost no time for reading outside my textbooks. I was in the local Davis used bookstore, Sweet Briar Books, and came across Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origin of Species, by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, that I thought looked very interesting. It apparently presents a new way to look at speciation events, claiming that they are the result of symbiotic associations between organisms. It also claims that evolution by standard mutation and selection is too weak an assembling agent to account for the diversity of life, but rather we should look at the way organisms acquire entire genes and genomes from symbionts, mainly microbes. Looked interesting, so I picked it up.
I should have thumbed through it more diligently, for when I got home I realized that someone had written notes in the book! Truly horrifying. Upon closer inspection, I realized that it wasn’t just anybody’s comments, but rather the asinine comments of a presumably Creationist reader. The notes are only refined to a span of six pages of the subchapter entitled Heredity and Health, which seems to be the only section of the book said Creationist read, since the rest of the book is completely free of erratic outbursts of ignorance. Here is an example, with my best translation.
It appears to say,
This (all?) explains that scientists themselves don’t know the evidence for evolution, and assumes that the reader will trust that the author. . .
This comment is aimed at a page describing that many biologists are very busy doing their respective research, and therefore many are not aware of the vast strides evolutionary biologists have made with regard to documenting evolution in action. His little note to himself seems awfully hastily written, and one can almost feel the disdain emanating off the page. Their claim is interesting, because the page of the book to which his comment is referring only states that,
Science has documented evolution in action even if most scientists are not aware of the fact. Most information relevant to understanding evolution lies hidden in arcane literature. The news does not reach either the professional or the public. A fragmented body of literature, detailed but disorganized, does document the ways in which species originate and case studies exist that follow speciation.
The angry critic’s claim that the reader just has to trust the author is ridiculous, since the author cites some of this literature in the text a few sentences down: Mayr (1942, 1982), which the deranged critic even boxed in pen! That means, oh angry one, that you must turn to the References section in the back of the book. Do that and you’ll find five full pages of citations. Obviously this person is not accustomed to reading a book about science. If there’s anything the author doesn’t want you to do, it’s take their word for it. Also, the author only claims that journals of evolutionary biology don’t reach as wide an audience as they perhaps should be, even within the biological sciences (I disagree with this). Nowhere does she state that it doesn’t exist, which is clearly what the angry scribbler believes. Oh, but there’s more!
From top to bottom it says,
Healing ignorance with religion.
This guy doesn’t like it when religion is depicted as old and obsolete. His first comment, “So?”, is next to a sentence talking about how early microbiologists didn’t know much about stages of the malarial parasite. What do you mean “so?” So what? It’s talking about the way science progresses. This reader is just pissed, hardly making it passed an accurate historical reference without scrambling for the pencil. And his final comment, “Says who?”, is just silly. Says the author, that’s who. It’s pretty common knowledge that medicine was rather archaic in the old days. To expect a citation for that claim is like demanding a citation for claiming the holocaust happened.
Furthermore, who exactly is this person talking to? It’s one thing to make notes to stimulate your previous thought process when thumbing through previously read pages, but to make comments like “So?” and “Says who?” is equivalent to talking to yourself. This person even underlines and writes “lol” under certain word choices made by the author.
The full sentence reads, “The marvelous details of how one species leads to another, or vanishes permanently, need spokespeople.” What’s so fiendishly funny about the use of the word marvelous? I get the feeling that he would prefer the word miraculous. Simply put, the details regarding speciation are pretty damn amazing, and yes, marvelous too. The operative word in my last sentence is details. The details exist, whether or not one chooses to believe they do. Sure, it takes work to understand them, but they are tremendously understandable. What isn’t understandable is how life could have been created instantly 6000 years ago, yet leave a fossil record over three billions years old. That claim is truly lolworthy.
Last but not least, there’s this little gem. It says,
Here the authority is the author. Take our word for it, we’re scientists.
I am not sure whether they realize that the author is a well-respected scientist, who has spent many decades in the field and lab actually running experiments and inspecting nature. No scientist would want to just have their word taken as final. Science is all about NOT taking anyone’s word for it, but instead questioning everything and demanding evidence. This comment also shows a disrespect for scientists. I would like to ask the scribbler, “precisely whose word, other than the word of a scientist, would you prefer to take?” Scientists are actually investigating the world. They have expertise; that’s why their claims have a degree of weight to them over non-experts and theologians who are either ignorant, or are liars. Keep in mind, though, that a scientist’s word is only as strong as the evidence supporting their claim. Instead of reading a popular book on science, like the one in which you angrily scribbled mindless drivel, read the actual scientific literature: peer-reviewed journals.
Luckily I have read past the section containing the childish and ignorant comments. It’s all clear reading from here on out. The book is very good so far, but I have many issues with it. I will post a review of it once I get a chance to finish it, i.e., when I am through with the first round of mid-terms.