Sunday, November 27, 2011

Speaking ill of the dead

Jerry Coyne has written a couple of posts about the death of Lynn Margulis over at his blog Why Evolution is True. The first one was rather respectful of her contributions to science and ignored her less than stellar contributions to science. The second post went into more details about her flaws.

In the comment section to the first post I dared to make the statement that Margulis was not a great scientist, but rather someone who made a great contribution to science, but otherwise promoted quackery such as HIV/AIDS-denial. Or as I put it:

I would think that great scientists as a minimum should be able to apply critical thinking to subjects, and be able to understand the scientific literature, even if outside their area of expertise.

Margulis was a HIV/AIDS-denier and a 9/11 conspiracy nut. She also frequently showed disregard towards the scientific method, and claimed that her ideas were dismissed because they flew against orthodoxy.

She did some great contributions to science, but as a scientists, she had deep, serious flaws, and promoted opinions which were not only wrong, but dangerous (e.g. HIV/AIDS-denial).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this wasn't taken too kindly by some of Margulis' friends and colleagues, who obviously felt that I was insulting the memory of their great friend. Or as one Michael J. Chapman put it:

I was Lynn’s friend and co-author for 20 years (look us up on Amazon). I also team-taught her courses on symbiogenesis, Gaia theory and protists. The comments here display a level of understanding of her work that might earn, at best, a C+ in one of her undergraduate courses. At worst, by contrast, are cowards who can’t even wait a while before slamming the departed. Yes I mean you, Kristjan Wager, so clearly envious of her fame, so clearly unworthy to lick the grime off her porch steps.

This comment speaks to the general idea of not speaking ill of the dead, and saying that if you do so, you have some kind of base motives for it. Well, fuck that - I don't play that game. If someone don't earn my respect during life, they certainly don't earn my respect by dying.

Personally I don't give a rat's ass about Lynn Margulis' contributions to science. I am not a scientist, and don't claim to be one. What I do care about is how she used her status, gained through her contributions to science, to promote dangerous ideas. She denied that there was such a thing as a HIV virus, using her reputation of "thinking outside the box" to indicate that other scientists were just dismissing her ideas because she flew against orthodoxy - something she had done before, and won.

I dislike all quacks, but if there is one sort of quacks I really hate, it's HIV/AIDS-deniers.

The family and friends of Lynn Margulis have lost someone close to them, but the rest of the world has just lost another quack. A quack who had contributed to the science in the past, but had gone on to endanger other people by promoting dangerous, and wrong, ideas, putting other people at risk.

I won't apologize for saying that.

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