Rachel Carson and Marie Tharp

The phylogenetic work done here
has been dismissed, blackwashed and ridiculed. As in any Science, data is added, mistakes are corrected and every effort has been made to minimize taxon exclusion. Continued vetting of the data makes it stronger. That’s what I’ve been doing all weekend with some conflicting data in basal tetrapods.

As everyone knows,
new hypotheses are sometimes not well accepted by the establishment, whether that authority is religious or scientific. So it’s well understood and even expected that dismissal and ridicule is just part of the process. Earlier we looked at the snails pace at which the feathered and active dinosaur hypothesis was accepted over more than a century.

Here are two other workers
in biochemistry and geology who also received their share of flak from the scientific authorities of their day, not so long ago. See for yourself if the pattern of attack sounds familiar – and more importantly, when you might reserve judgement in the future, especially if you don’t have experimental or observational evidence that supports your contention, but are only relying on something you read in a book.

Rachel Carson
In 1963 author Rachel Carson warned about the effects of pesticides and herbicides – especially the pesticide, DDT, in her book, The Silent Spring. Although it sparked a revolution in environmental policy and created a new ecological consciousness, it also enraged chemical industry scientists who dismissed her work. After all, DDT had done wonders to kill mosquitos and other insect pests from WWII on into the 1960s. But it also lingered, upsetting the balance of nature, killing birds and mammals and making people sick. DDT was ultimately outlawed.

The blowback from scientists
From the PBS website video“Scientists for the chemical industry and the USDA were incensed by Carson’s assertions. They formed essentially a war council together to develop a propaganda campaign to discredit Carson, to discredit the Science in her book and to defend their practices.”

Historian David Kinkela reports, “There is this real tension between the chemical scientists as this sort of hyper-masculine lab intensive research that produces these wonderful technologies – and these scientists who work in Nature who examine issues over the long term, but who really aren’t scientists. They’re sort of like a cult. And having a woman at this particular moment being the lead spokesman of that kind of idea really chafed and made the chemical scientists really angry.”

One industry paper
was entitled, “Bias, Misinformation, Half-Truths Reduce Usefulness of ‘Silent Spring’. The large chemical company, Monsanto, spoofed the first chapter of Silent Spring with an animated cartoon that imagined and showed the dangers of what the world would be like without DDT and other pesticides –  if one were to outlaw or restrict their usage, as other scientists supporting Carson were starting to report.

Historian Naomi Oreskes reports, “The idea that this woman with a Master’s Degree, that she knows something that ‘we’ don’t know… you just see their condescension towards her in their really dismissive approach and their misrepresentation of her work. They tried to accuse her of rejecting modernity, of being unrealistic, of wanting to ban all pesticides. None of which are true. But it’s a way to try to discredit her and it’s a way of not even having the argument.”  

PBS Carson video click here

Marie Tharp
Geologist Marie Tharp discovered the mid-ocean mountain chain that encircles the world gleaned from data retrieved from sonar pings in the period after WW2. In other words, she had second hand observation. She never saw the mountain chain in a submersible. YouTube video here.

The blowback from scientists
According to Tharp, “The world reaction was: amazement, then skeptical, then scornful.”

As everyone knows, this find confirmed the earlier continental drift of Alfred Wegener, that was also ignored for decades and finally provided a mechanism for the hypothesis with Tharp’s data.

So, others have suffered blackwashing, too.
only to be vindicated later. It’s just part of the deal. Thank you for your continued support and readership as ReptileEvolution.com enters its sixth year.



7 thoughts on “Rachel Carson and Marie Tharp

  1. You know this is what crackpots do, right? They bring up the small minority of cases in which some revolutionary was mocked by the consensus to bolster their own heterodox views as being potentially revolutionary. Carl Sagan (1979) said it best- “The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.”

    Fact- you have real problems with your methods. The fact zero phylogeneticists have defended your methods while everyone with experience in the area who has commented agrees with the criticism should mean something to you.

    • And yet, the cladogram is fully resolved AND all derived taxa are the product of a gradual accumulation of traits AND when tested by colleagues taxa are shifting to their LRT topology AND you still can’t tell me which taxa do nest incorrectly and where they should go. Perhaps the real problem is you haven’t repeated the experiment with the present taxon list or subsets thereof. Or you have other issues that prevent you from offering congratulations rather than criticisms. Even the niggardly acquiescence of your previous reply can’t quite come to grips with the growing realization that there’s a change in the air. Most importantly, you’re also forgetting, Mickey, that crackpots never show evidence. I do in abundance.

      • Then why not submit your evidence to a peer-reviewed journal?

        (Explanations that involve some sort of community reluctance to think outside the box are invalid, so please don’t use them.)

  2. Thanks for your suggestion, Chris. At present I’ve submitted about a dozen manuscripts to peer-reviewed journals, including PLOS which accepts payment for publication, all rejected. In the 1990s I used to get referee comments that noted typos and missed references. Now they just write a short paragraph explaining to the editors that I have a reputation for bad observation, that you can’t have so many taxa with so few characters, that my results do not match traditional studies, or that I need to see first hand every specimen that I list. I even submitted an update to an earlier published paper of mine that pointed out and rectified the earlier errors. And finally, every paper that has been accepted (about 8 or 9 now, I think) was done so only on the voice of one referee with the other strongly denouncing it. So, why sit on all these discoveries when the Internet gives one a voice? It’s not for personal glory, but for promoting overlooked relationships among taxa that I do this. And for pointing out obvious errors and highlights in the literature.

    • Yeah, but as long as it’s online and not in the literature, no one can actually use it. You wonder why people ignore your work? That’s why – unless it’s gone through peer review and been published in a legitimate journal, it’s not really usable.

      That your work has been so frequently rejected in peer review says something. That you’re running up against entrenched opinion is one explanation, but it’s not the only one.

      Observations based on digital manipulation of photographs, and not on observation of the specimens themselves, should not be accepted in the peer-reviewed literature. I say this from very extensive personal experience; the number of species I coded for analysis from photographs that I didn’t have to later completely recode once I saw the real thing is precisely zero. If I were asked to review one of your manuscripts, and saw that it was based on the kinds of reconstructions I see on your blog, I would call for its rejection. If that was the rationale followed by others who rejected your work, they did the right thing.

  3. That brings us back to theory vs. practice. Your theory is correct in your practice and you use that to judge my results. Fair enough. However, like you, Chris, I reject earlier work when better data comes along. And I judge the results rigorously. If I don’t get a gradual accumulation of traits, if something even smells wrong I go back and work on it, as you would.

    You say I manipulate photos. I do color them. That’s not really manipulation. If I do move the pieces to create a reconstruction I leave the original untouched so you can judge the work.

    On the occasions when I have visited the specimen(s) or the specimens have visited me, the work has been likewise rejected because the refs can’t believe that an amateur saw something that was overlooked in a fossil that not too many PhDs actually pay attention to. So ironically they’re judging my firsthand observations with their secondhand observations.

    As I said before, what I’m doing is creating a tree topology on a grand scale so the problem of taxon exclusion is minimized. You can attend to the details, but if you’re working from the wrong perspective and without all the right parts, you’re in trouble. I provide a guide for anyone working on their own smaller, more focused projects. So should not include pterosaurs with dinosaurs, caseids with synapsids, Eunotosaurus with turtles, etc. etc.

    As I mentioned earlier, using only the literature and a few visits to museums I have been able to make discoveries that later are rediscovered by other workers. So there is some value here.

    As the experience of the scientists listed above indicates, sometimes it takes awhile. That’s works for me. The process of discovery is fun.

  4. Quick addendum: colleagues don’t have to cite the website or blog site, or use either. I realize that is inappropriate. All I suggest is they use the pertinent taxa in their own tests. I am an outsider looking in. And because of that, I have seen things that insiders have overlooked.

    That being said, if someone ‘discovers’ something that was earlier discovered here, then it’s okay to be happy about that. If they want to claim the discovery when it has been online for several years, that’s not right. Better to include me as one of the authors.

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