On the passing of Mike B. McKeown Razib Khan

In the years that I’ve had this blog I’ve had many correspondents and communications with people who I’ve come to consider friends. Some of these correspondences go back over 10 years now. Some of them are people you would know. But many are not known to you insofar as they do not leave comments in this space, nor do they interact with me on Twitter, etc.

One of these individuals is Mike McKeown. When he began emailing me in the middle 2000s Mike was a tenured professor of biology at Brown[1]​. I was a dilettante blogger and web developer. I’m not sure he “mentored” me as such, but he gave me a lot of encouragement and feedback on my various projects over the years. It was through Mike that I was introduced to Ken Miller[2]​, the biologist who has written against Creationism over the years, as well as religion and science[3]​.

Here’s the last email I received from Mike, on February 13th of 2012:

Congratulations on your lovely daughter.

You probably intellectually understand that you have already done all you can to mold her personality. I had the luck to have this pounded into me when our DZ (XX & XY) twins were showing completely different personalities from the very start. For me it was liberating because ‘IT IS NOT MY FAULT.”

One other thing, reading to her even now will get you and her into the feel of it. Of course you can find kid books you like, especially when she gets a bit bigger you get into various classics. I amused myself by trying to give each character a personality-linked voice, now all three kids can tell just a little bit from a line and they understand the whole context.

Best to all,


I had never ended up meeting Mike in person, though we wondered if we’d ever overlap at a conference when I began grad school. Today I realized that I hadn’t received an email from Mike in years. Five years in fact now that I checked!

There’s a reason. A little Googling immediately yielded the fact that Mike died from Alzheimer’s this last December[4]​. I’m sad that I didn’t know what he was going through, because I did consider him a friend, but such are the wages of a purely cyber-friendship. Presumably over the years emailing became more difficult for Mike.

I put this post up partly to acknowledge all the people I’ve met via email over the years, including those who I’ve never met in person. These relationships matter. I know they matter because I am feeling rather sad right now after finding out about Mike.

Anyway, I’m privileged to have known Mike. When I have time I’ll probably be rereading my emails with him, since I have all of them still.

Addendum: I still haven’t processed Henry Harpending’s passing[5]​. I’ll write about that some day perhaps when I can say something worth sayin