Suzan Mazur's online book about the "Altenberg 16" conference
It's not Yasgur's Farm, but what happens at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria this July promises to be far more transforming for the world than Woodstock. What it amounts to is a gathering of 16 biologists and philosophers of rock star stature – let's call them "the Altenberg 16" – who recognize that the theory of evolution which most practicing biologists accept and which is taught in classrooms today, is inadequate in explaining our existence. It's pre the discovery of DNA, lacks a theory for body form and does not accomodate "other" new phenomena. So the theory Charles Darwin gave us, which was dusted off and repackaged 70 years ago, seems about to be reborn as the "Extended Evolutionary Synthesis."
. . . .despite the fact that organizers are downplaying the Altenberg meeting as a discussion about whether there should be a new theory, it already appears a done deal. Some kind of shift away from the population genetic-centered view of evolution is afoot.
Mazur has been accused of "glamorizing" and "sensationalizing" the Altenberg conference. A lot of people were misled into having false hopes for the conference. Articles about the conference are here on Evolution News & Views and here on Panda's Thumb.
In the introduction of the online book, Mazur wrote:
No one knows how life began, but so-called theories of evolution are continually being announced. This book, The Altenberg 16: Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up? exposes the rivalry in science today surrounding attempts to discover that elusive mechanism of evolution, as rethinking evolution is pushed to the political front burner in hopes that "survival of the fittest" ideology can be replaced with a more humane explanation for our existence and stave off further wars, economic crises and destruction of the Earth.
Hey, I thought that the issue here was supposed to be science, not ideology.
The introduction continued,
Evolutionary science is as much about the posturing, salesmanship, stonewalling and bullying that goes on as it is about actual scientific theory. It is a social discourse involving hypotheses of staggering complexity with scientists, recipients of the biggest grants of any intellectuals, assuming the power of politicians while engaged in Animal House pie-throwing and name-calling: "ham-fisted", "looney Marxist hangover", "secular creationist", "philosopher" (a scientist who can’t get grants anymore), "quack", "crackpot". . . . . .
First we had "theistic evolutionist" and now we have "secular creationist." And calling someone a "philosopher" -- oooh. That is really getting nasty.
Perhaps the most egregious display of commercial dishonesty is next year’s celebration of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species – the so-called theory of evolution by natural selection, i.e., survival of the fittest, that was foisted on us almost 150 years ago. . . . .
Scientists agree that natural selection can occur. But the scientific community has known for some time that natural selection has nothing to do with evolution. . . .
Saying that "natural selection has nothing to do with evolution" is wrong -- for example, we do know that natural selection is a driving force behind microevolution. The issue is that natural genetic variation and natural selection alone might not be enough to account for the diversity of living things.
The introduction continues,
I broke the story about the Altenberg affair last March with the assistance of Alastair Thompson and the team at Scoop Media, the independent news agency based in New Zealand. ... But will the A-16 deliver? Will they help rid us of the natural selection "survival of the fittest" mentality that has plagued civilization for a century and a half, and on which Darwinism and neo-Darwinism are based, now that the cat is out of the bag that selection is politics not science? That selection cannot be measured exactly. That it is not the mechanism of evolution. That it is an abstract rusty tool left over from 19th century British imperial exploits.
Or will the A-16 tip-toe around the issue, appease the Darwin industry and protect foundation grants?
Well, you seemed pretty confident about the A-16 when you wrote Chapter 2 -- you said, "despite the fact that organizers are downplaying the Altenberg meeting as a discussion about whether there should be a new theory, it already appears a done deal."
The website of the Darwin Day Celebration organization says of Massimo Pigliucci, one of the Altenberg 16 and an organizer of the conference,
The third member of the Board was Dr. Massimo Pigliucci who, also independently, initiated an annual Darwin Day event at the University of Tennessee, in 1997. Dr. Pigliucci became the Vice President.
Ironically, Mazur said above, "Perhaps the most egregious display of commercial dishonesty is next year’s celebration of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species." Small world, isn't it? Also, Pigliucci is the author of a book titled Denying Evolution:
"Denying Evolution" aims at taking a fresh look at the evolution–creation controversy. It presents a truly “balanced” treatment, not in the sense of treating creationism as a legitimate scientific theory (it demonstrably is not), but in the sense of dividing the blame for the controversy equally between creationists and scientists—the former for subscribing to various forms of anti-intellectualism, the latter for discounting science education and presenting science as scientism to the public and the media. The central part of the book focuses on a series of creationist fallacies (aimed at showing errors of thought, not at deriding) and of mistakes by scientists and science educators. The last part of the book discusses long-term solutions to the problem, from better science teaching at all levels to the necessity of widespread understanding of how the brain works and why people have difficulties with critical thinking.
Maybe this whole affair should be called Laughingstock Nation instead of Woodstock Nation.