The source of the claim that hydroxyquinone can treat the coronavirus, Didier Raoult, is a successful biomedical careerist in France, and a bit of a humbug. There are good reasons to be suspicious of the quality of his work.
Not surprisingly, Raoult’s rapid rise raised as many eyebrows as huzzahs. While his fans applaud the 3,000 scientific articles Raoult has co-signed, his critics argue that these staggering numbers do not add up. Do the math, they remark, and it turns out the Marseillais researcher publishes more papers in a month than most productive researchers publish in a career. Raoult’s method, according to one critic, is to task a young researcher at IHU with an experiment, then co-sign the piece before it is submitted to publication. “Raoult is thus able to reach this absolutely insane number of publications every year,” according to one anonymous source quoted by the site Mediapart. More disturbingly, the critic added, “it is simply impossible for Raoult to verify all of these papers.”
Yep. That’s the hallmark of a hack. But I want to focus on something in my bailiwick. He has written a book, Beyond Darwin, which is in French so I’m sorry (or perhaps relieved) to say I haven’t read, but I did read a translated interview with Raoult about it, via Google Translate (any infelicities in the translation should not be blamed on Raoult).
He belongs to a school of all-too-common evolutionary cranks who have a vague impression of what Charles Darwin said in the 19th century, know nothing at all about modern evolutionary biology, and imagine that the two are synonymous, so that they can deliver a double-whammy of ego gratification: evolutionary biologists are stupid, and he is brilliant, having discovered all the flaws in Darwinism all on his own.
For a long time, we thought that we were descended from a common ancestor: the Sapiens. In May 2010, a dramatic development: the results of an analysis of DNA taken from the bones of Neanderthals revealed that 1 to 4% of our genes come from Neanderthal. Whether we like it or not, we are related to this bastard, and not only to Sapiens “the intello”. The two met and mixed. The genealogical tree of the human species is anti-Darwinian because our ancestor is at the same time Sapiens, Neanderthal, a bacterium and a virus!
There are two gross errors in that accusation. The first is the idea that we think speciation has to be abrupt and instantaneous. Nope. No one argues that, so this is not a novel insight on his part. Speciation is often a mingling of braided streams that gradually separate, so the history of Homo neandertalensis and Homo sapiens is fairly typical of two closely related species. Calling that anti-Darwinian is kind of weird, because yeah, modern evolutionary biology is often non-Darwinian or even anti-Darwinian in the sense that we know a heck of a lot more about genes and genetics and the details of evolutionary history than Charles Darwin did. You don’t get a medal for bravery in defying 19th century beliefs in the 21st century, where undergraduate biology majors know things Darwin didn’t.
The second error is his over-emphasis on horizontal gene transfer. Of course some small amount of DNA from outside our direct lineage is occasionally inserted into our germ line via viral infection. Again, no one knowledgeable about evolution is going to be stunned by this revelation. The edifice of evolutionary theory is not perturbed in the slightest by the inclusion of yet another mechanism for mutation. What next? Gamma ray mutation means our genetic makeup has been modified by rays from outer space, therefore we’re all part alien? I probably shouldn’t give him ideas.
I occasionally run into cranks who insist there is no structure to our evolutionary history, that we’re all a melange of bits and pieces cobbled together into patchwork chimeras. Daoult isn’t the most extreme example of this nonsense, but he does have it bad.
The Darwinian tree does not exist. It is a fantasy. The idea of a common core with divergent species like branches is nonsense. A tree of life, why not, but then planted upside down, roots in the air! If the species had definitively separated millions of years ago, there would in fact be no more living species on the planet. Each would have degenerated in its corner for not having been able to sufficiently renew its genetic heritage.
Except that we do have tools to measure the structure of a clade, and the evidence for it exists. I have no idea where this idea that we’d go extinct if we didn’t have other species to interbreed with comes from. I also don’t understand what “renew its genetic heritage” means.
In the Darwinian vision of evolution, everything was created once and for all, and if new species appear, it is only by gradual adaptation of existing species. In fact, nature does not just evolve, it continues to invent species.
This would be a surprising interpretation to the author of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. How does nature “invent species”, if not by branching cladogenesis? Do these newly invented species lack ancestors? Do they just spontaneously pop into existence without predecessors?
We discovered that a bacterium called Wolbachia had succeeded, by infecting a worm, in integrating 80% of its chromosome. She had, in fact, made a new species of worm! A brutal and massive evolution which has nothing to do with the slow and vertical evolution described by Darwin. If a woman carrying the herpes HV6 is pregnant, the virus having integrated into her chromosome, her son will have the virus in her genes. The boy’s grandfather will therefore be partly a virus!
This is not a particularly useful way of looking at our evolution. About 8% of our genome is made up of endogenous retroviral sequences, accumulated over many millions of years. These don’t significantly contribute to our physiology or morphology; they have accumulated precisely because they have so little impact on our overall biology that they escape natural selection for humans. So no, these things don’t fit any reasonable definition of “grandfather”.
He wouldn’t be an anti-Darwinian if he didn’t exercise a little hyperbole to show off his resentment of Darwin.
Darwinism ceased to be a scientific theory when Darwin was made a god. By introducing the concept of evolution after Lamarck, Darwin came to upset the frozen conception of creationists, who thought that the world had been stable since its creation. But, from then on, it became the object of a double myth. The myth of the diabolical for creationists, those who think that everything was created in a week, and the myth of scientists, who make “the origin of species” the new Gospel.
If you believe in the Judeo-Christian God, Darwin even makes it easier to understand him. With what we discover about biology, we come back rather to the gods of Antiquity. The men of Antiquity were perhaps animated by a just presentiment when, in mythological tales, they depicted hybrid beings, chimeras: Satyrs, Centaurs and Minotaur. Now imagine an evolutionary story written by a Buddhist scientist. It would be a question of cycle, even recycling, and mosaic beings, which we find in Nietzsche.
Hoo boy. There’s a common creationist trope, that Darwin is our god. It doesn’t work. We’re awfully critical of Darwin, and we rejoice when we discover new violations of his supposedly sacred dogma. Darwin is respected because of his careful, disciplined methodology and his appreciation of the evidence, and because he did have a brilliant insight that changed how scientists thought about history. It’s only kooks who simultaneously think Darwin is unjustly seated on a heavenly throne, and that they have had the grand, revolutionary insight that will allow them to displace him.
I won’t even get into his crap about old gods and chimeras, or his appallingly quaint rant about Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomies. Everything about this guy screams opportunistic kook with an exaggerated ego. At least it’s nice that he has found a friend in Donald Trump. They have much in common.
If you think I’m rude and dismissive, read this:
Now consider this. Raoult’s past papers show falsified data, which even resulted in his ban by ASM for one year, to which Raoult responded with threats of lawsuit. He is a patriarchal control freak and a misogynous bully who violently punishes all disagreement and uses threats against whistleblowers and victims to achieve compliance. He is pathologically resistant to criticism and believes to be infallible and omniscient: Raoult denied anthropogenic climate change in 2013 and before that, the microbiologist even denied evolution in his 2011 book “Beyond Darwin“. Raoult’s new study on chloroquine as the cure for COVID19 is obviously flawed, at best.
Should we really trust his claims and put our all lives in his hands?
Yet somehow he hangs onto his prestigious position with hundreds of underlings and publishes approximately a paper a day. This kind of abuse of the system ought to get him fired. It won’t.