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May 15, 2014

An Open Letter to Armand Marie Leroi (Continued, With a New Postscript)

The first part of the Open Letter is available here

Dear Armand,

Connections you fail to make.

1. What I think will be eventually judged as twentieth century Biology’s most embarrassing episode was the publication and enthusiastic receptionit's received nearly five thousand citations—of Gould and Lewontin’s Spandrels paper. 

Now, Armand, consider this. As lead author of a 2003 paper in Nature Reviews Cancer you expressed agreement with a fragment of my theory—that following adoption of physiological modifications lethal juvenile cancer rates increased—but, unlike me, you ignore the import of that fact to evolutionary theory.
Those increased cancer rates demolish the Gould-Lewontin notion that non-adaptive physical modifications could have played a significant role in Bilaterian evolution. If a prospective new feature offered no immediate survival benefit whatsoever, but increased the incidence of lethal juvenile cancereven slightlythat feature would not have been selected.

Need I point out that the same idea also demolishes any suggestion that genetic drift played a major role in Bilaterian evolution?

Armand, you hold a university title that includes the word “evolution.”  You could have written a publishable paper pointing out the significance to evolutionary theory of those pediatric cancer rates: they nullify anti-adaptationist notions as they pertain to the bilaterian phenotypes. Instead, your paper appeared in a cancer journal where it was classified as "Opinion" and ignored by evolutionists.

As I wrote in the rejected TREE manuscript, “Neo-Darwinism is insufficiently Darwinian,” meaning that in Bilaterian evolution natural selection in the form of cancer selection explains the heretofore inexplicable: the unbroken chains of perfect construction of the most complex things in the universe. But you managed to ensure that no one will read those words in that journal.

2. In your review you called my attention to a paper. (Thanks, but I had already read it.) It’s the one announcing findings by researchers at the University of Rochester relating to the apparent absence of cancer in naked mole rats. You failed to notice that those rodents are peculiar for another reason: they live exceptionally long lives. If you had noticed, would you have made the connection I made as reflected in this posting? I doubt that since you are under the delusion that you understand my theory and that I do not. My comprehensive theory asserts that programmed bilaterian senescence is an anti-cancer device, an idea you choose to ignore, but which the science editors of The New York Times do not. (Some scrolling required.)

Rescind their Nobel!

You wrote that jellyfish are probably capable of getting cancer because they have “totipotent” cells. You ignore, as I do not, their >500 million year history of living on the ocean surface without opaque non-cellular outer covering or even protective pigmentation.  Using your reasoning, mushrooms, sponges and pine trees, all of which have totipotent cells, are also capable of dying of cancer. The fact that it has been observed only in Bilaterians and not in any other multicells is, so you emphatically imply, irrelevant.  

Tellingly, you do not even mention oncogenes.  If functioning oncogenes play no role in cancer (which is implied by your “totipotent” reasoning) I infer that you believe Varmus and Bishop did not deserve the Nobel they were awarded for their oncogene research.  I am not surprised.  After all, you are convinced James F Danielli and the other JTB reviewer were wrong to publish my theory, that the Nature book reviewer  was wrong to say I was right and that his editors erred in publishing that review.. Why let a little thing like a Nobel interfere with Armand Leroi’s objective to prevent other biologists learning of Graham’s theory?

This is what you ought to have done.

When asked by TREE's editor to review my manuscript an ethical scientist, one who put the long-term interests of Biology ahead of his own careerist ambitions, might have responded like this : “I am familiar with Graham’s idea. It has some merit but I think he goes too far in ascribing evolutionary influence to lethal juvenile cancer. However, his theory was published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology and Nature’s book reviewer did like it, so perhaps I am missing something. Because his proposed article is a straightforward argument for his already-published theory I see no harm in letting the readers of TREE learn of his idea's existence and make up their own minds.” 

You didn't do that. Instead, you convinced the editor not to publish my manuscript but in doing so you have made a grievous error. You failed to appreciate the utter seriousness of evolutionary theory and you forget that one's ability to influence others is not immortal. I am sure that if he were still living Stephen Jay Gould, that master of self-promotion, could countersomewhatthe influence of those biologists who now contemptuously  refer to him  as a charlatan. (Google will confirm.) But his manipulative skills no longer exist.   


You are now on record as fully supporting a theory that claims Bilaterian evolution was the result of mechanisms also found in cell colonies, that you are convinced those unbroken chains of perfect development in all Bilaterian lineages occurred without a feedback mechanism connecting the basic part, the somatic cell, to the controlling entity, the gene pool. You should hope that Biology continues to attract only those minds that judge Spandrels as insightful and important. You should also hope that no serious people in other disciplines notice the central weakness of evolutionary theory. For what it is worth, most readers of this posting were physicists. Also for what it is worth, I will be contacting systems engineers and industrial engineers in the hope that some of them might agree with me that Biology's central theory needs a major amendment.

Some career advice.

You've given me unsolicited advice so I will now return the favor. 

In your efforts to acquire more public notice you should stick to venues suitable to your capabilities. By all means conduct more TED lectures to non-scientists on "same-old, same-old" topics, do narrate nature films (you were quite good in the one I saw) and do write another biology-oriented trade book, but be sure it contains, as did your first, lots of pictures. Avoid writing or speaking on evolutionary theory. You have no aptitude for it. You would only risk beclowning yourself, as you have in this episode. 

James Graham