political correctness in biology?

Curtis Clark jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU
Tue Sep 14 22:48:52 CDT 1999

At 10:34 PM 9/13/99 -0700, Ken Kinman wrote:
>     I cannot understand how you as an eukaryologist can so minimize the
>developmental and morphological complexity of the Protista, much MUCH less
>the Metaphyta and Metazoa.  Your statement that prokaryotes are
>statistically the full range of life would certainly make Woese smile, but
>would certainly make many others cringe.

I'm more interested in science than scientific politics, and I don't much
care who smiles or cringes if the facts are straight. If every eukaryote
died tomorrow, there would be some really sorry mitochondria and
prokaryotic parasites, but life on Earth would continue. If all the
prokaryotes died, life would end.

Eukaryotes are *necessarily* more complex morphologically than prokaryotes,
because the latter never got good at multicellularity. But just because we
have organs, that doesn't make organs the sine qua non of biological

And yes, there are many extremely interesting eukaryotes among your
"protista". There are many interesting chemical elements besides hydrogen
and helium, too, but, statistically speaking, the universe is made of
hydrogen and helium: any random sample of less than enormous size would
show only those two elements. It is my impression that prokaryotes don't
outnumber eukaryotes by quite that margin, but if you randomly select areas
with living organisms, virtually all will be dominated by prokaryotes.

>      Should we join Woese in being so horrified by guilt of being
>anthropocentric, that we feel compelled to swing the pendulum in
>the opposite direction (to an absurb degree)?  Is this some kind of
>political correctness among biologists?  Perhaps we did not pay enough
>attention to bacteria in the past, but for heaven's sake, methinks you
>protest to much.

I'm sorry that your world-view is so Woese-centric. Some of us are able to
study biology without worrying about what either Woese or Mayr thinks.

Curtis Clark                  http://www.csupomona.edu/~jcclark/
Biological Sciences Department             Voice: (909) 869-4062
California State Polytechnic University      FAX: (909) 869-4078
Pomona CA 91768-4032  USA                  jcclark at csupomona.edu

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