political correctness in biology?

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Sep 15 10:34:31 CDT 1999

>From: Curtis Clark <jcclark at CSUPOMONA.EDU>
> >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
> >the Metaphyta and Metazoa.  Your statement that prokaryotes are
> >statistically the full range of life would certainly make Woese smile,
> >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.
>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.

    Even statistically speaking, infinite numbers of hydrogen atoms are
relatively boring unless they are studied in the context of the molecules
which make up our Solar System's geology and the "evolving molecules" (so to
speak) that have made life possible and interesting to study.  Life (as we
know it) obviously could not exist without hydrogen-bonding.
     Prokaryotic evolution is certainly interesting to me and very complex,
but wouldn't the world be a boring place without the structural
(morphological) and developmental metacomplexities of Metaphytan and
Metazoan life and their evolutionary history.
     We humans undoubtedly depend on prokaryotes for our continued
existence, and our cells and cellular organelles are descended from
prokaryotes.  But as fascinating and complex as I find prokaryotes to be,
they are dwarfed in complexity by their Metazoan descendants.
     In my opinion, those differences in complexity are best reflected by 4
or 5 kingdoms of life (one prokaryotic kingdom and three or four eukaryotic
kingdoms).  Such a global classification seems to be maximally heuristic,
relatively easily comprehended by any educated person, and it will surely
outlive the presently popular three domains (especially after the problems
inherent in that system become more apparent).      ------K.K.

> >      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 too 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.
      I think my world-view is quite eclectic, but thank you for your
"concern".  I just think biology has recently become far too Woese-centric
for its own good (and a lot of good biology is being ignored in the
process).  I'm sure your research will continue quite nicely without
worrying about Mayr and Woese opinions, but I for one am more worried about
the long term.  I don't have the resources to effectively challenge Woese in
the near term, but I do not intend to let that keep me from doing what I can
now.  It would be a lot easier on me just to give up now and wait for
Woese's paradigm to crash and burn, and then say "I told you so".
     But that wouldn't be the responsible thing to do, if anything can be
done to mitigate the damage of that "crash", or maybe we can even get it
back safely on the ground and the good parts can be refurbished and made
useful again (that depends on what the pilot does from here on out).
Perhaps a lousy metaphor, but perhaps a bit instructive.  Chalk it up to the
"crackpot" in me.
                             ----Ken Kinman

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