The contentious biologist Lior Pachter has joined the fray, siding with Lysenko.
He accuses the mathematical commentators on Tao’s and Gowers’s blogs of making illiterate pronouncements on biology. As we’ll shortly see, he’s plenty guilty of blasting way past his own spheres of competence, but presently we address the substance of his criticism. Without pontificating on the complex, porous interface between mathematics and biology, we’ll note in passing that mathematicians can make solid contributions at the boundary without actually knowing much biology beyond the high school level. Population dynamicists and phylogenic analysts do this all the time.
But that is completely beside the point, since, as pointed out in Igor Rivin’s comment, the paper in question does not purport to offer a biological contribution! It mathematically models a well-documented phenomenon. Find the model unrealistic? Question the phenomenon’s veracity? That’s what rebuttals and rejoinders are for. What happened at NYJM is the paper equivalent of a summary execution (something I’m not entirely sure Pachter opposes for his ideological opponents). As for the paper’s mathematical interest — it would be ironic for a biologist who complains about ignorant mathematicians invading his field to take issue with that, would it not?
But it gets better. Pachter, you see, also dabbles in psychometry. Or rather, he brazenly dismisses the whole field from first principles. Nevermind that it has been actively studied for over a century, leaving a voluminous trail of scientific literature. Pachter’s got a slick gotcha-argument discrediting the whole field as bunk. He’s in good company with Queen Izabella — except she invokes more advanced tools and hence ends up looking sillier. (Pachter and Laba also share a passion for hounding innocent men out of their jobs, but that’s a topic for another post.)
We leave off with a note to hypocrites everywhere, and especially those fond of Yiddish proverbs:
עס נישט קיין ביינער, וועלן דיר נישט וויי טאן די ציינער