She started to write about this meeting, promoting the idea that there was some sort of conspiracy to overthrow modern evolutionary theory. She managed to raise enough of a stink that the odor reached Science and Nature. [See The Altenberg 16 Make It into Nature.]
Of course, by the time Nature got on to the story it was easy to debunk the conspiracy theory and demonstrate that some of the Altenberg 16 were, how shall I put it? ... not in the mainstream of biological thinking [Biological theory: Postmodern evolution?].
Susan Mazur contacted me at the beginning of this episode and I tried to help her understand the difference between legitimate controversies in science and pseudo-controversies promoted by kooks. For a while I thought she was making progress but this turned out to be an illusion. She soon discovered that there was more fame and glory to be had by associating with the kooks than by siding with good science.
But here's the problem. There really are some important issues in evolutionary biology that need to be worked out. I think the so-called "Modern Synthesis" (hardened version) has to be extended in order to incorporate a more pluralist ic view [We Need to Soften the Modern Synthesis]. In that sense, I agree with some of the participants at the Alternberg meeting. However, they made a big mistake by including other, not-so-legitmate, controversies. That allows many evolutionary biologists to dismiss the entire exercise; as reported by Elizabeth Pennisi, in Science [Modernizing the Modern Synthesis].
That hyperbole has reverberated throughout the evolutionary biology community, putting Pigliucci and the 15 other participants at the forefront of a debate over whether ideas about evolution need updating. The mere mention of the "Altenberg 16," as Mazur dubbed the group, causes some evolutionary biologists to roll their eyes. It's a joke, says Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago in Illinois. "I don't think there's anything that needs fixing." Mazur's attention, Pigliucci admits, "frankly caused me embarrassment."Jerry Coyne was wrong. There are some things that need fixing. Anyone who has read Stephen Jay Gould's The Structure of Evolutionary Theory should know that.
Susan Mazur has now published the book that we all expected. As you can see from the title, the theme is still conspiracy, plus the idea that evolution is in trouble. It would have been great if Mazur had focused on the real problems in evolutionary theory and helped the general public understand that some of the "controversies" are not legitimate.
Alas, that lofty goal is too difficult for her. We'll have to wait until a better science writer picks up the baton.