The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry

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The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry [Paperback]

Suzan Mazur
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 9, 2010
A new theory of evolution begins to emerge in the pages of The Altenberg 16: An Exposé of the Evolution Industry. Written by Suzan Mazur—a print and television journalist whose reports have appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Archaeology, Omni, and many other publications—the book is a front row seat to the thinking of the great evolutionary science minds of our time about the need to reformulate the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. We hear from world renowned scientists such as Richard Lewontin, Lynn Margulis, Niles Eldredge, Richard Dawkins, the "evo-devo" revolutionaries, NASA astrobiologists, and others.
The book grew out of a story Mazur broke online in March 2008—titled "Altenberg! The Woodstock of Evolution?"—about the now famous meeting at Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria in July 2008, where 16 scientists discussed expanding evolutionary thinking beyond outdated hypotheses. (MIT will publish the proceedings in April 2010.) Science magazine noted that Mazur’s reporting "reverberated throughout the evolutionary biology community."
Mazur says she was punished for getting out in front of the story and banned from the symposium but realized the story was bigger than Altenberg (which covered events beginning 500 million years ago) and spoke to scientists who were not invited, including those investigating pre-biotic evolution.
She came to the conclusion that evolutionary science suffers because many in the scientific establishment refuse to acknowledge that the old science has served its purpose and there is disagreement about what the new evolution paradigm is. She thinks the dam is now breaking because the public (who funds science) has become a party to the discourse via the Internet and seeks answers to fundamental questions about evolution that scientists so far can’t definitively answer.

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Editorial Reviews


“Very glad to see the book. I suspect it should have some (very much needed) influence now against the background of the ‘evo-devo revolution’ and the belated recognition of Margulis’s work.”
—Noam Chomsky, MIT Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus

“The invitation-only conference, being held in Altenberg, Austria, ‘promises to be far more transforming for the world’ than the 1969 [Woodstock] music festival, Mazur wrote online in March [2008] for, an independent news publication in New Zealand. That hyperbole has reverberated throughout the evolutionary biology community. . . .”
—Science magazine

“[T]he latest issue of the highly regarded Nature magazine has a cover article about the important but hidden Altenberg meeting on post-Darwinian research and new thoughts about evolution. We ran a piece of Suzan Mazur’s groundbreaking work on this topic back in March and followed up with another in July. Nature even borrows from Mazur’s term ‘evolutionary Woodstock’ to describe the critical meeting. The scientific establishment has been somewhat scared of dealing rationally and openly with new evolutionary ideas because of its fear of the powerful creationist movement. So for the topic to make the cover of Nature is a notable development.”
—Sam Smith, Editor, Progressive Review

“Well, we don’t have to organize human society ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw.’ No. We don’t have to.”
—Richard Lewontin, Professor of Biology, Emeritus, Harvard University

“And what Haldane, Fisher, Sewell Wright, Hardy, Weinberg, et al. did was invent. . . . The Anglophone tradition was taught. I was taught and so were my contemporaries. And so were the younger scientists. Evolution was defined as ‘changes in gene frequencies’ in natural populations. The accumulation of genetic mutations were touted to be enough to change one species to another. . . . No. It wasn’t dishonesty. I think it was wish fulfillment and social momentum. Assumptions, made but not verified, were taught as fact.”
—Lynn Margulis, recipient of the US Presidential Medal for Science

About the Author

Suzan Mazur's interest in evolution began with a flight from Nairobi into Olduvai Gorge to interview the late paleoanthropologist Mary Leakey. Because of ideological struggles, the Kenyan-Tanzanian border was closed, and Leakey was the only reason authorities in Dar es Salaam agreed to give landing clearance. The meeting followed discovery by Leakey and her team of the 3.6 million-year-old hominid footprints at Laetoli. Suzan Mazur's reports have since appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur, Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Her Web site is

Product Details

  • Paperback: 376 pages
  • Publisher: North Atlantic Books (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1556439245
  • ISBN-13: 978-1556439247
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,143,860 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 52 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A glorified blog December 9, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a horribly written and edited book. It is basically a blog that has been printed out in book form. You read phrases repeated verbatim in different chapters. The author is either paranoid or dishonest in selling the idea of an "evolution industry" with dirty secrets she is exposing. That is just sensationalist journalism to make a buck as far as I can tell. The only reason I bought it was to read about my buddies. For that it was good. But the author doesn't understand the deeper concepts they are working on and doesn't know how to draw out of them material to coherently convey the concepts to the reader. To see what really happened at the "Altenberg 16" meeting, read the proceedings, Evolution--the Extended Synthesis. As they say, 'any publicity is better than no publicity', so this book will have been worthwhile if it piqued the interest of even one person to go and study evolution, but it is destructive if its sensationalism stanched the curiosity of even one person from further study.

If you want to read a real "expose" of a scientific field where certain approaches have become like an industrial monopoly, read The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Smolin gives a coherent exposition of the social mechanisms and consequences of string theory pushing out all other approaches to particle physics for funding and faculty positions.

Fortunately, the field of evolution is still a wild-west of opportunity, in my opinion, and only stifled when there are failures of imagination.
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36 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Suzan Mazur excels in the art of yellow journalism, grossly distorting what is often regarded as the current consensus of scientists working in evolutionary biology. In the words of a friend, she is "a tabloid writer who dabbles in science that she doesn't understand", and one who does a grave disservice to the cause of public understanding of science via her writing. "Altenberg Sixteen: An Expose of the Evolution Industry" is a sterling example of her literary craft, and one that, not surprisingly, is poorly edited and written. Readers interested in an excellent introduction to evolutionary biology would be served better if they read Carl Zimmer's "The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution", or his earlier "Evolution", the companion volume to the PBS NOVA miniseries, or Richard Dawkins' "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution". Those interested in an accurate portrayal of the 2008 Altenberg Conference organized by evolutionary biologist and philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci, currently a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, should read instead, his edited volume of the proceedings, "Evolution: The Extended Synthesis", co-edited with his colleague Gerd B. Müller, Professor of Theoretical Biology at the University of Vienna and Chairman of the Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research. Read more ›
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22 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Much ado about nothing November 14, 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you are looking for a big "crisis" this is NOT the book for you.

It follows no format is full of authors own personel views and NOT the scientests.

There is no expose' just mindless chatter.

Save your money.
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22 of 34 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Hits the spot -- if you're a conspiracy buff May 16, 2012
This book will be a hit with those folk who believe that the entire world is controlled by one conspiracy or another -- or perhaps by just one big one. Call the thousands of scientists who work diligently on one aspect or other of evolution theory (they are called biologists or paleontologists or other kinds of life scientists) "the evolution industry," and then distort the present state of knowledge by out-of-context quotes, distortions, or just plain fibs, and you will get the attention of those conspiracy buffs.
Just to give one instance, the author takes the words of the late Lynn Margulis, a distinguished evolutionary biologist, and twists them to appear as if Margulis was saying that evolution as the backbone of biology is collapsing. The author isn't the first person to do that, and when she was alive Margulis was quite vocal about denying she'd said anything of the sort, and discrediting those who claimed she had. Now that she's deceased, others will have to do the same for her.
Creationists have been predicting the demise of evolution for decades, and in fact evolutionary biology (which is essentially synonymous with biology) has made tremendous strides forward. Here are two examples:
In 1990, the Institute for Creation Research -- at the time the leading young-earth creationist organization -- predicted confidently that the 1990s would be "the decade of creationism." Evolution, they predicted, would collapse during this time and by 2000 the entire scientific community would be young-earth creationists.
In 1999, the Discovery Institute inadvertently made public their "Wedge Strategy," which was a 20-year plan to convert the entire world (or at least the intellectuals of the US) to their fundamentalist views in all areas.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting synthesis
this book by Suzan Mazur give us a perfect, clear, 360° scenario of one of the most discussed arguments in science today.
Published 15 months ago by valerio eletti
5.0 out of 5 stars Has the Revolution Started or Do They Not Yet See?
Suzan Mazur is a natural history science reporter based in New Zealand. As such, she is probably as knowledgeable as any single person might be regards the state of current... Read more
Published on January 26, 2012 by NaturalHistoryGuy
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read
Shocking and insightful. Mainly consists of interviews and transcripts. The interview with Lynn Margulis is excellent. Read more
Published on September 13, 2011 by Rational Shopper, Ph.D.
4.0 out of 5 stars The Altenberg 16: An Expose' of the Evolution Industry.
Although I enjoyed the book, I found the title misleading. I went into the reading of this expecting an overview of the meeting held, and a summary of their opinions updating... Read more
Published on July 29, 2010 by Spellman
5.0 out of 5 stars An important contribution to the debate
The book may feel disjointed to some, but for good reason: The theory of evolution itself is disjointed. Read more
Published on June 27, 2010 by Perry Marshall
5.0 out of 5 stars And the winner is Robert Ulanowicz
Suzan Mazur's "The Altenberg 16" describes the evolution industry in crisis, given an apparent emptiness in the neo-Darwinian account. Read more
Published on March 8, 2010 by Stephen P. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars The coming of Postdarwinism?
Update: a useful and courageous expose, but still misled by the baloney peddled by figures still mired in the cult of scientism, and claiming a paradigm shift when they are doing... Read more
Published on February 10, 2010 by John C. Landon
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