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When Science Becomes Polemic: My Reply to Jerry Coyne's Interview at Skeptiko

On February 14 Alex Tsakiris of Skeptiko interviewed biologist Jerry Coyne. In the course of their discussion my book Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life came up. So did my earlier review of Coyne's Why Evolution is True, in which I had taken Coyne to task for his scant mention of Wallace (the father of modern biogeography), an error of omission that calls the validity of his book into serious question.

Coyne, dismissive of my book and Wallace's contributions, insisted that the famed co-discoverer of natural selection never used biogeography as an argument in support of evolution and claimed that Darwin deserves preeminence in this regard, an assertion I find unsupportable by substantial historical evidence.

There appear to be only two possible reasons for Wallace's conspicuous absence in Coyne's book:

  1. the author is ignorant of Wallace's contributions in biogeography, or

  2. Wallace doesn't serve the author's polemical purposes.

Given Coyne's standing in the biological sciences I can only assume the latter. When science becomes polemic, history suffers. Those interested in specifics can read my follow-up interview with Alex Tsakiris here in addition to my written reply.