The Jerry Coyne retirement

speciationJerry Coyne, an eminent evolutionary geneticist and all around public intellectual, is retiring, and has posted a bittersweet and hopeful farewell letter to his conventional scientific career. For the general public Coyne is probably more famous as a New Atheist, though Coyne is actually a vocal atheist of long standing. His most recent book was on that topic, Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. I’m an atheist, but on the balance I demur form many of his positions in regards to religion and science. More precisely, I am quite willing to defend atheism and dismiss religion, but on philosophical or meta-scientific grounds, not scientific grounds as such.

When it comes to science on the whole I tend to agree with Coyne more often than not. In particular, his attitude toward the dynamics driving evolutionary process. In regards to the science, this section jumped out at me:

What I’m proudest of, I suppose, is the book I wrote with my ex-student Allen Orr, Speciation, published in 2004. It took each of us six years to write, was widely acclaimed and, more important, was influential. I still see that book as my true legacy, for it not only summed up where the field had gone, but also highlighted its important but unsolved questions, serving as a guide for future research.

As readers know I read Speciation in 2005, and it has really influenced my perspective on the broader topic. It’s an ambitious book even if the focus is on the process of speciation, rather like Structure of Evolutionary Theory in spirit, though far more economical in terms of prose and clearer in execution. I don’t know if Speciation is out of date or not, as I don’t study speciation, but I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to understand how an evolutionary geneticist might view the process and concept.

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