Oral history of British science
Wickramasinghe, Chandra (9 of 13). Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum. Life Story Interviews
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Science and Religion
2015-07-28, 2015-07-29, 2015-07-30
British Library, London
Wickramasinghe, Chandra, 1939- (speaker, male)
Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)
Part 9: Further comments on reference made in previous track to perception of especially strong resistance to own and FH's ideas among British astronomers, including view of some British astronomers that collaboration with self damaged FH's career, especially extent to which this collaboration involved a direct challenge to established academic biology (including "closed system Darwinian evolution"). Comments on own and FH's work as challenge not to Darwinian evolution itself, but to "unproven" extrapolation (back in time) to origins of life on Earth; effect of own ethnicity on negative views of FH's collaboration with self. [5:57] Comments on FH's view of claims made by others that collaboration with self had damaged his career (including effect on his chances of being awarded a Nobel Prize), with related story of FH's advice concerning own chances of election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Mentions relations between own decision to publish controversial papers and security of employment. Comments on restrictive/conservative effect on current science of insecurity of employment for young scientists. [11:07] Comments on lack of experience of overt racism in British academic astronomical community; experience of racism as a subtle, general response to own ethnicity in context of intellectual challenge to established positions. [13:11] Brief comments on limited extent of ethnic/gender diversity in community of British academic astronomers. Further comments on/discussion of view that own ethnic background affected response of scientific community to own and FH's work, including lack of willingness to invest in research that would properly test own/FH's arguments. Mentions recent indications of change favouring own work, including attention given to 'discovery of extraterrestrial life' at 2013 meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. [18:34] Comments on extent to which discovery of life on Mars has been "downgraded"; friendship with biologist Gilbert Levin [GL] who worked on 1976 NASA Viking Mars mission (with detailed comments on the findings of GL's experiments on the surface of Mars). [21:19] Comments on views of GL on development of NASA Mars research; reasons for conservative/reticent position taken on reporting of discovery of life on Mars and other bodies, such as comets. [25:58] Comments on writing of articles for 'Journal of Astrobiology and Outreach' highlighting concerns about bias in reporting of research by "astronomical establishment"; possibility that suppression of data on macro-biological observations (UFOs etc.) may affect response to work claiming microbiology in the universe. [29:01] Comments view that evidence for UFO sightings is limited/weak, with related story of conversation with son of military commander of area of US 'Roswell UFO incident' (Jesse Marcel Jr [JMJ]); resignation of astronomer Josef Hynek from US commission investigating UFO sightings in 1950s and 1960s. [33:03] Comments on circumstances of meeting JMJ: a recent conference on extraterrestrial life held in Switzerland; view of delegates at this and similar meetings; own talk on "respectable science of extraterrestrial life" at conference celebrating the work of author Erich von Däniken. [35:24] Detailed comments on work with FH in evolutionary biology, including view that Alfred Russel Wallace has priority in theory of evolution by natural selection [ENS], identification of "great gaps in the logic" of terrestrial theory of ENS, development of view that a bigger system than the Earth (the universe) is needed to overcome the "improbability hurdle" of the origin of life from collections of molecules, identification of comets (with warm water interiors) as locations for the origin of life, spread of life from one planet to another/within galaxies by comet impacts causing "throw back" of living material into space, conception of own galaxy as a connected biosphere. [42:13] Comments on prediction made in book 'Evolution from Space' [EFS]  that terrestrial evolution is dependent on input (from outside Earth) of new "macro" bits of information allowing/directing big steps (such as emergence of multi-celled life, and of mammals - later mentions emergence of homo sapiens) and prediction that viruses may be involved in transmitting this input of "chunks" of new information. [44:22] Detailed comments on recent scientific understanding supporting predictions in EFS, including identification of horizontal gene transfers, comparative analysis of genomes of different species, new estimations of the biomass of viruses on Earth. [48:30] Further comments on own and FH's assessment of the terrestrial theory of ENS. [51:30] Comments on tendency for biologists to ignore own/FH's arguments in EFS and elsewhere; response of Richard Dawkins [RD] to these arguments in his book 'Climbing Mount Improbable' ; FH's view that breakthroughs in science were made in interdisciplinary work (such as his own application of nuclear physics to astrophysics). [54:40] Mentions meeting RD and regarding him as "amiable"; tendency for RD to dismiss own/FH's arguments without proper engagement with them. [55:10] Discussion of reasons why RD's computer generated 'biomorphs' do not overcome problem of improbability of development of new species from copying errors. Mentions collaboration with microbiologist at UCC.
Life story interview with Professor of Astrobiology, Chandra Wickramasinghe