Josh Trapani Responds to Frank Ryan

The Independent's Josh Trapani replies to Frank Ryan's response to the review of The Mystery of Metamorphosis.

See Josh Trapani’s original review of The Mystery of Metamorphosis here.

See Frank Ryan’s reply here.

What irked me about The Mystery of Metamorphosis was not so much that it had an agenda, but that despite its agenda it was written to sound as though it was taking “a deliberately neutral perspective.” The result, I feared, would mislead “intelligent lay readers.” Frank Ryan’s response to my review is not cause for reconsideration of this view.

My review did mention, albeit briefly, that one major thread of Ryan’s book focused on earlier studies of insect metamorphosis. It should surprise no one, however, when reviewers devote the most attention to a book’s controversial parts, and Donald Williamson’s ideas about hybridization and metamorphosis are quite controversial.

My review provided a description, with links, of the controversy surrounding Williamson’s 2009 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The harshest statement in my review labeled Ryan an “unreliable narrator” for not mentioning anything about this incident. Ryan’s response also fails to mention it. The problem is that the failure to disclose or address this controversy will likely be lost on lay readers who are unfamiliar with it or with the personalities involved – such as Lynn Margulis, the National Academies member who advocated for Williamson’s paper…and also wrote the foreword to Ryan’s book.

An examination of the current state of scientific knowledge on metamorphosis and how we arrived at it would look quite different from The Mystery of Metamorphosis. Ryan mentions the work of Rudolph Raff, a prominent researcher in the promising area of evolutionary developmental biology. Had the book devoted more attention to “evo-devo,” it would have been a better book.

Ryan calls for a repeat of Williamson’s hybridization experiments with genetic testing of the results, citing methods used by Raff as a model. Ryan and I agree that Williamson’s theory, if somehow true, would revolutionize evolutionary biology. So I end as I ended my original review: by asking why, if this is scientific work worth doing, no one in the Raff Lab – or anywhere else, for that matter – is doing it?

I want this book: Politics & Prose OR

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