Evolution: Except Vanity Fair Media Doesn’t Get It

“Unless the discourse around evolution is opened up to scientific perspectives beyond Darwinism, the education of generations to come is at risk of being sacrificed for the benefit of a dying theory.” – Stuart Newman , New York Medical College


Will the Real Theory of Evolution Please Stand Up?



An E-Book in 8 Parts – Part 6 – Chapters 11 & 12

© Copyright July 2008 by Suzan Mazur



      Evolution Tribes

1 The Altenberg 16
2 Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?
3 Jerry Fodor and Stan Salthe Open the Evo Box
4 Theory of Form to Center Stage
5 The Two Stus
      Stuart Kauffman – Peace, Love & Complexity
      Stuart Newman – The Chess Master
6 The Two Massimos
      Massimo Pigliucci – Evolution & Flamboyance?
      Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini – Evoluzione senza Adattamento
7 The One and Only Richard Lewontin
8 Knight of the North Star: Antonio Lima-de-Faria, Autoevolution
9 The Wizard of Central Park: Stuart Pivar
10 Richard Dawkins Renounces Darwinism as Religion
11 Rockefeller University Evolution Symposium
12 Mainstream Media Doesn’t Get It – Except Vanity Fair
13 Stuart Newman: Evolution Politics
14 The Astrobiologists
      Bob Hazen: The Trumpeter Of Astrobiology
      Roger Buick & Nasa: Follow The H2O Or Energy Not Selection
      David Deamer: Line Arbitrary Twixt Life & Non-Life
      Ex NASA Astrobiology Institute Chief Bruce Runnegar
      NASA Humanist Chris McKay: Where Darwinism Fails

Appendix — Related Stories
      A Stuart Kauffman: Rethink Evolution, Self-Organization is Real
      B Stuart Newman’s “High Tea”
      C The Enlightening Ramray Bhat
      D Piattelli-Palmarini: Ostracism without Natural Selection
      E Niles Eldredge, Paleontologist
      F Stan Salthe: Neo-Darwinians Risking ‘Rigor Mortis’
About the Author




      A two-day “Evolution” symposium in May inside Rockefeller University’s Buckminster Fuller dome drew a varied crowd of enthusiasts. Athough the event was gene-centered – there were some fascinating speakers, such as Roger Buick on the earliest known life on Earth (in a rock in Australia) and Ulrich Technau, a University of Vienna colleague of Gerd Mueller, on the Cnidaria and emergence of body features.

      As I walked in, I noticed Eugenie Scott in the corner. She’s the director of the non-profit National Center for Science Education headquartered in California. Scott was busy typing on her laptop.

      I decided to ask her some questions since I’d interviewed her colleague Kevin Padian about the “evolution debate”, and he’d hung up on me. Padian was a witness at the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial on Intelligent Design.

      Scott’s NCSE advises schools on what science textbooks are appropriate. And NCSE works with science organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and others in putting together conference speakers.

      Scott told me she was at the Rockefeller symposium because she was coordinating the lecture that night by University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne, who she billed as “the recipient of an Award of Excellence and Meritorious Service from the Illinois Public Defender Association and a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, among other honors”.

      Coyne’s talk was titled: “Feeding and Gloating for More: The Challenge of the New Creationism”.

      Coyne investigates origin of species from a genetics perspective. He’s a pal of Selfish Gene author Richard Dawkins. Prior to the symposium, Coyne had asked me not to contact him for future quotes because I told him I didn’t need his comment on the Newman & Bhat self-organization paper.

      When I introduced myself to Eugenie Scott, who was unfamiliar with my stories on evolution, I asked her what she thought about self-organization and why self-organization was not represented in the books NCSE was promoting?

      She responded that people confuse self-organization with Intelligent Design and that is why NCSE has not been supportive.

      I then asked her why she had as an NCSE board director someone from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints-funded Brigham Young University, and suggested that maybe NCSE should reorganize the board.

      Scott objected to the comment and returned to her laptop.

      At that point I noticed Rockefeller University President, Sir Paul Nurse tip-toe into the dome. I’d been wanting to speak with him as well. I’d emailed some of my evolution stories to him, but received no response.

      I finally got the opportunity to chat following lunch, when the elevator in the cafeteria went up to the 8th floor by mistake and Paul Nurse appeared as the door opened. He said he’d never received the stories – although his secretary told me she’d printed out my email and put it on his desk – and that I should try sending them again, which I did by snail mail.

      We had another conversation later that day just before the Coyne lecture during which he agreed that a public television roundtable on evolution was a good idea but that Pfizer had sponsored his Charlie Rose science series and he no longer had Pfizer as a sponsor.

      Several days later, Paul Nurse’s assistant called me to confirm they’d received my articles in hard copy and she was sure I’d get a call from Nurse after his return on May 16th. When I did not hear from him, I followed up with a phone call requesting an interview but as yet I’ve not received a call back.

      Since the Rockefeller conference did not include speakers on self-organization, I took the opportunity to quizz Harvard’s Andrew Knoll from the floor following his talk. I asked him if he was aware of Stuart Newman’s hypothesis that all 35 animal phyla self-organized at the time of the Cambrian explosion a half billion years ago without a genetic recipe, with natural selection following as a stabilizer. There was a bit of a rustle in the audience.

      Knoll had just finished covering life on the Precambrian Earth and had taken the opposite, that is, natural selection perspective. He said he was not familiar with Newman’s paper and insisted: “No, it’s natural selection every step of the way.” Knoll avoided eye contact with me for the rest of the event.

      Washington University Earth scientist Roger Buick told me during the cocktail hour that I’d upset the argument Knoll had just carefully delivered.

      But not everyone was upset. I got a tap on the back from Gerry Peretz, the brother of New Republic’s Marty Peretz who said he was a former student in Stuart Newman’s lab. He asked me if I’d like to have lunch.

      So we talked. He was careful not to disclose any lab secrets, said he liked Newman and thought he was a superb scientist, although he found his politics a bit too progressive – that Newman had been the darling of Rolling Stone at one point.

      It may have been a 2004 Mother Jones article Peretz was referring to about Newman’s attempt to patent a part human, part animal chimera to highlight the dangers of the commercialization and industrialization of organisms, which he fears will ultimately include humans.

      The Jerry Coyne address left many speechless – but for the wrong reasons. Why was Coyne preaching about Creationism to a highly educated, largely non-religious audience of scientists on Manhattan’s Upper East Side? Didn’t Coyne know New York Magazine ran a “God is Dead” cover decades ago and that churches in Manhattan have turned around in real estate deals for more than 30 years?

      Coyne, dressed down in jeans for the talk, and anticipating confrontation, did not to take many questions from the floor. So people moved to the stage to engage him before he could exit.

      He was not happy to see me. His mouth was white and parched from speaking and he looked like he needed a beer. Nevertheless, he was cordial.

      When I questioned his comment in the speech about natural selection (he said he was aware of 300 examples but didn’t have time to describe them), and reminded him that even his pal Richard Dawkins said we need a theory of form – Coyne defended his friend, suggesting that Dawkins did not have self-organization in mind. . .




      The mainstream media has failed to cover the non-centrality of gene story to any extent. As mentioned in the opening pages of this book, this has to do largely with Darwin-based industry advertising, editors not doing their homework and others just trying to hold on to their jobs. Following is an opinion piece I submitted to top mainstream news organizations, and a sampling of rejections. I tailored the story in some cases because of space limitations. Some news organizations just got a proposal. Here it is for the record.


“Unless the discourse around evolution is opened up to scientific perspectives beyond Darwinism, the education of generations to come is at risk of being sacrificed for the benefit of a dying theory.”
Stuart Newman, New York Medical College

There are distinct parallels to the time of English naturalist Charles Darwin and now. Almost 150 years ago when Darwin set out his theory of evolution in Origin of Species, traditional structures were crumbling, particularly in the universities, giving way to the need for more science and technology. Cheap printing brought information to the masses as today’s Internet is doing. Secularization swept through Western society and now attempts to complete the job around the globe.

Richard Milner, who tours the US dramatizing Charles Darwin in a one-man show and for many years edited paleontologist Steve Gould at Natural History magazine, told me that people were “chafing under the strictures of religion” during Darwin’s time. He said Darwin and his disciple Thomas Huxley, nevertheless, were “absolutely amazed” at how quickly the existing paradigm was overturned and Darwinian evolution accepted and adopted not only in science but in law, literature and virtually throughout the culture.

Charles Darwin might also have been shocked to see his image replace that of Charles Dickens on British currency.

From about 1875 on, “science came to be portrayed as a means to create and educate better citizens for state service and stable politics and to ensure the military security and economic efficiency of the nation,” British and European intellectual historian Frank Turner has noted. Turner, who I reached by phone at Yale, where he serves as Director, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, advised that this is the situation in America today where scientists are “the most successful intellectuals in securing public funds” and in exchange for government grants agree to work to “ensure better health, economic stability and national security”.

What does this all mean for evolutionary biology? Well, as civilization experiences another such cycle of “change” – Darwin’s theory of evolution has also now come under scrutiny as inadequate in explaining our existence. In fact, there is considerable noise for its reformulation. It was last dusted off 70 years ago and repackaged.

The thinking is we can no longer pretend evolution is just about Darwinian natural selection even if that’s what most biologists say it’s about and textbooks repeat it.

Darwin didn’t even know about genes and DNA, for example. But there is “other” compelling evolutionary evidence emerging, as well, prompting the call for a new synthesis.

In fact, in July a group of 16 biologists and philosophers plan to meet in Altenberg, Austria at the Konrad Lorenz Institute to discuss an “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis”. Among some of these “other” concepts the KLI group will examine are self-organization, phenotypic plasticity and non-centrality of the gene.

One of those participating in the Altenberg meeting is Stuart A. Newman, a professor of cell biology and anatomy at New York Medical College. Newman thinks he has a coherent theory of form – something the Darwinian theory has lacked. It reflects a 20-year synthesis of Newman’s work.

Newman’s hypothesis has to do with self-organization, which he describes as “the capacity of certain materials, non-living as well as living, to assume preferred forms by virtue of their inherent physical properties”. A snowflake is one such non-living example of self-organization.

In a free-access paper published April in Physical Biology: “Dynamical patterning modules: physico-genetic determinants of morphological development and evolution”, Newman and his co-author Ramray Bhat conclude that all of today’s 35 animal phyla self-organized roughly a half billion years ago as life moved from single cell to multicell (the increased number of single cells at the time of the Cambrian explosion and their secretions caused a sticking together of cells).

A pattern language Newman & Bhat call DPMs (dynamical patterning modules) then explored body building of these highly plastic multicellular organisms, i.e., formation of body cavities, segmentation, appendages, primitive hearts and eyes. Selection followed as a stabilizer, say Newman & Bhat.

They also say the DPMs – “gene products and the physics they mobilize” – still exist today, though only to a degree, since they’re now “hardwired to the genome through millions of years of stabilizing evolution”.

The Newman & Bhat paper challenges the popular view of leading molecular biologist and geneticist Sean Carroll, author of Endless Forms Most Beautiful, that an “unusually intense selection on regions of DNA that do not encode proteins led to extremely rapid, but still incremental, diversification of form” around the time of the Precambrian-Cambrian boundary.

Carroll has written in a recent article in Scientific American that fewer than 10% of genes “are devoted to the construction and patterning of animal bodies during their development from fertilized egg to adult” and much “remains to be explored”.

But Newman, who describes Carroll as a “neo-Neo-Darwinist”, emailed me saying that while regulatory mutations can cause changes in form – “sometimes dramatic” – “where do the forms come from in the first place?”

Carroll advised several weeks ago he would review the Newman & Bhat paper, but has now said he’s been “hit with a piano over the back – figuratively” and didn’t think he could comment. He’s also said “biologists are tribal”, and that there are several Altenberg-type conferences in the next few months, adding that he declined an invitation to participate in Altenberg.

Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, told me we need both natural selection and a theory of form during his recent New York book tour. However, he has refused to discuss the Newman & Bhat paper.

Scientists like D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson in the early 1900s pioneered theory of form, although the idea was marginalized as fossil evidence showed evolution to be non-linear. Then in 1972, Niles Eldredge and Steve Gould suggested evolution was indeed linear with their punctuated equilibrium paper. And in the past several decades form has been reinvestigated and reinvigorated by developmental biologist Stuart Kauffman’s trailblazing of self-organization at Santa Fe Institute, as well as others.

Form appears to be moving center stage as time for discussion of the proposed remix of the theory approaches.

Rutger’s philosopher Jerry Fodor’s London Review of Books article “Why Pigs Don’t Have Wings” unleashed the debate about evolution without adaptation last Fall. Fodor is co-authoring a book on this with University of Arizona cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini and told me the theory of natural selection is “wrong in a way that can’t be fixed”.

Stan Salthe, a natural philosopher and zoologist at Binghamton University, who hosted a powerful online conversation among scientists about the Fodor article, similarly dismisses natural selection, defining Darwin’s theory of evolution as “just unexplainable caprice from top to bottom” and “what evolves is just what happened to happen”.

Stuart Newman and Ramray Bhat have schematic drawings to accompany their theory of form. Newman has also written and edited books touching on the subject – one with University of Vienna theoretical biologist Gerd Mueller and another with University of Missouri biological physicist Gabor Forgacs.

Meanwhile, Stuart Pivar, an independent scientist in New York, claims he’s the only one with an animated set of human and animal blueprints for form – which he’s published in his book Engines of Evolution.

There is no doubt about the need for a reformulation of the theory of evolution and the public’s interest in it. So the fact that this summer’s Altenberg meeting, for one, is private has caused some consternation, particularly on the science blogosphere where there’s been a call for streaming of the event to a global audience.

Stuart Newman has long maintained the public should share in scientific knowledge because American science is publicly funded. In fact, he’s written eloquently about the ethics of this: “In a society with democratic values it should be inarguable that those who pay for scientific research and will eventually experience its effects should be informed of what is in store while there is still a chance to discuss its objectives and influence its course.”

Don’t we all really want to know how publicly funded scientists are rethinking our evolution?

* * * * *


“Dear Suzan:
I am writing to you from X, where I am on vacation.
I made a joke in passing to you a couple of weeks ago, a sour little joke about the nature of journalism, but little did I know the whole thing would come almost completely true.

I must explain.

As you know, I had to run a piece by X. Her thesis was that there is a paradigm shift going on. I thought it was a great piece.

My joke to you was, “So let’s get X’s piece in the paper – and then we can run yours, unless my new bosses hate X’s piece and it gets me fired.”

Well, it didn’t get me fired, not yet, anyway, but boy, did they hate it. Too complicated, they said. Not clearly enough explained. Ahead of the audience. Gotta be careful, they said; as editors, we have to come out of ourselves and think of our readers more.

. . .in fact, said they, we should begin to rethink the whole . . . section, which (despite recent readership numbers which were record-setting) is probably too brainy and needs more edge, more appeal to young folks, a re-design. And they told me point-blank not to try anything like X again.

Whew. This means we will not run your piece . . . I . . . apologize, very sincerely, especially in light of your patience and kind willingness to add things I was wanting.

. . .I am grateful to you for your hard work and devastated about this turn of events. Sincerely”

PUB 2:

Thanks very much, but I think we’ll pass. This isn’t quite right for us. Also, we currently have a staff writer and two contributors covering evolution so the field is fairly crowded for us. Best, Jim Gorman [New York Times]”

PUB 3:

This has a lot in it that’s interesting, but I think that it’s just going to take more space than we have on offer to adequately explain what these scientists are up to for a general readership. We’re going to pass on it, but thanks very much for letting us consider it. I hope you’ll keep us in mind in the future. Best, Susan [Brenneman, Los Angeles Times]”

PUB 4:

“Hi Suzan,
Sorry to be so slow in getting back to you, I am going to pass on this. The evolution issue is an interesting one and I’m sure you’ll be able to land this somewhere. Best, John Pomfret, Editor, Outllook, Washington Post

PUB 5:

“Suzan, while your argument undoubtedly deserves an airing, I still think our mag is not the right venue for this piece. We don’t usually stray into scientific debates in this kind of way. I urge you to try somewhere else–if not a popular science journal, then maybe one that’s less focused on politics/culture than The Nation. Regards, Roane [Carey]”

PUB 6:

“Dear Susan,
Thanks for your call, and for this pitch. It’s a good idea for a story but, as I should have mentioned yesterday, we’ve actually got a Darwin piece in the works already. It’s much smaller in ambition than yours, but I’m afraid it crowds out the possibility of our assigning another one. So we’ll have to pass. But I wish you luck in placing this elsewhere. Best, Scott [Stossel, The Atlantic]”

PUB 7:

“Arghhh! Sorry I didn’t phone. Have only just finished my section, and frankly the only conversation I want now is with a bottle of wine.

Did Fodor say anything interesting?

BTW, I see from your code that you are a New Yorker. I’ll be there at the end of next week. Given that I wouldn’t be able to run your story in next week’s edition anyway, as SciTech will be devoted to a conference report from the AAAS (which is why I am coming to America in the first place), maybe we could thrash things out face to face over a different bottle of wine then? Bestest, Geoff [Carr, The Economist]”

PUB 7 (more)

“Sorry. Have had to cancel the New York trip. Will be in touch when I get back to London. Geoff”

PUB 7 (more)

“Dear Suzan I’ll be in town next week. What does your dance card look like? Best Geoff”

PUB 7 (more)

“How does Wednesday morning look? Geoff”

PUB 7 (more)
3/25/2008 11:54 AM

“I’m pretty much chocca from Wednesday evening to Friday evening, I’m afraid. I’ve been roped into a conference. Coffee on Saturday morning? Or I’ll be back again in about three weeks.

What are we discussing? I think we are discussing the difference between evolution and ontogeny, and whether there is any fundamental mechanism of evolutionary change other than natural selection. . . Geoff”

PUB 7 (more)
3/25/2008 2:38 PM

“Well, I’m still very sceptical of the whole premise. You would have to convince me it is intellectually sound before I commissioned something. There is some interesting stuff. Most of what is being presented as new either still depends at bottom on natural selection on the primary DNA sequence or does not seem to me to have the necessary generational stability to act as an alternative mechanism. Do you reckon you could do that? Geoff”

Vanity Fair:

“Hello Susan,
We’ve reviewed your pitch, and we’d like you to follow up with us after the Altenberg conference to let us know what came out of it, and how the scientific community is reacting. At that point, we’ll take another look and get back to you. Best Wishes”




Suzan Mazur’s interest in evolution began with a flight from Nairobi into Olduvai Gorge to interview the late paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey. Because of ideological struggles, the Kenyan-Tanzanian border was closed, and Leakey was the only reason authorities in Dar es Salaam agreed to give landing clearance. The meeting followed discovery by Leakey and her team of the 3.6 million-year-old hominid footprints at Laetoli. Suzan Mazur’s reports have since appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur, Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs.

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