“Leading edge”?

There’s this new book out, Life: The Leading Edge of Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, Anthropology, and Environmental Science, which has a number of people rightfully irate that it has 23 authors, not a one of them a woman. I was also astounded to see among its leading edge authors Ernst Mayr, who died in 2005 at the age of 100.

There are no women in evolutionary biology who can compete with the corpse of a centenarian man? That’s pretty bad.

And Kary Mullis? Good grief.

I guess this article wasn’t humorous after all, but dead serious reporting.


  1. says

    There are no women in evolutionary biology who can compete with the corpse of a centenarian man? That’s pretty bad.

    They could at least have invited Ursula Goodenough. As far as I know, she has been known to dabble in genetics, she wrote the very book – appropriately called “Genetics” – we used in med school some 35 years ago, and she is still alive and kicking. Surely, she would have been Good Enough, not to say excellent, yes?

  2. Bernard Bumner says

    Mulls? Kurzweil? Very sciencey!

    Mayr! In what sense is this compendium of older famous men, written from the “Leading Edge”? This appears to be an author list which privileges the visibility of figureheads over any sort of novelty of perspective. It utterly lacks ambition – this is the same old collection of voices that you’ll find in any popular science section of the library.

    The lack of diversity even extends to other white guys in that respect, but the absence of women or POC also suggests to me that this is just a rehashing of the same material and perspectives which have filled these books for the last twenty years.

  3. says

    this is just a rehashing of the same material and perspectives which have filled these books for the last twenty years.

    Yep. Just the nth attempt at making money without doing any real work.

  4. rachelkaminsky2691 says

    That centenarian is actually quoted in the first paragraph of Lynn Margulis’ wikipedia page as saying that her most famous discovery was “perhaps the most important and dramatic event in the history of life.” Not to mention her many debates with Richard Dawkins (also mentioned on her page, but curiously not his) w/r/t neo-darwinism. There are, of course, many outstanding women biologists who should have been asked to participate in this book. But given her foundational contributions to the field, Dr. Margulis deserves to be represented here (conspiracy theories notwithstanding) as much as, if not more than, any of these men. Possibly one of the most obvious and egregious examples of why diverse perspectives matter.

  5. Bernard Bumner says

    @ Bart B. Van Bockstaele #4,

    Ah! Perhaps I was imagining a continuous cutting edge, where their metaphorical blade has already dropped.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    I agree he book should have included material from several women.
    Having said that, Mayr was an impressive fellow, doing science into his nineties (having been born in Strassburg/Strasbourg when it was part of Imperial Germany). Do not blame him for the crapiferous nature of the editor.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    Should have been “the” book, not “he”. Freudian slip? Dammit PZ, you have let your computer be a vector for the misogynist mind virus, allowing it to leap from book to internet into my brain.

  8. Bernard Bumner says

    @ birgerjohansson #7,

    Mayr is absolutely an important figure, but do his opinions or work require further exposure in new sources? His body of writing is already very prominent and easily accessed. Given the supposedly forwards looking remit of the book, it is fair to say that Mayr is not well placed to reflect that.

  9. briquet says

    I see lots of things that are crap listed here.

    But I realized looking at the books I’ve read in the last year, there’ve been a lot by female authors, but no science books by female authors. Apparently how I pick book length popular science hasn’t included diverse authors. Anyone want to help me get a list going of recent books?

    Obviously any recommendations may be interesting to someone, but since I’m looking for books I personally would be excited to read I’ll add some preference: I’m thinking books that are offering to “Explain science to me” over “biography of scientist” or “history of science” (so e.g., I wouldn’t jump at The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks in this context). Recent is up to maybe 10 years old, as long as the specific topic isn’t obsolete. I prefer biology, ecology, chemistry, anthropology and enivonrment over physics, computer science & gadgetry, or neuroscience. Futurism and techno-hype I don’t like.

    I’d be super excited if I came away with a list of 5 more books to read (honestly I’d be excited any time I get new books to list) so I’m hoping this thread isn’t past its sell by date.

    I’ll start it off with Lab Girl by Hope Jahren, which I haven’t read but is on my list.