Quotable (#186)

Ed Yong’s microbe book, I Contain Multitudes, is stunningly good. Among hundreds of quotable passages, this (p.84) seems of exceptionally general relevance:

We like our black-and-white narratives, with clear heroes and villains. In the last few years, I’ve seen the viewpoint that “all bacteria must be killed” slowly give ground to “bacteria are our friends and want to help us”, even though the latter is just as wrong as the former. We cannot simply assume that a particular microbe is “good” just because it lives inside us. Even scientists forget this. The very term symbiosis has been twisted so that its original neutral meaning — “living together” — has been infused with positive spin, and almost flaky connotations of cooperation and harmony. But evolution doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t necessarily favor cooperation, even if that’s in everyone’s interests. And it saddles even the most harmonious relationships with conflict.

3 thoughts on “Quotable (#186)

  1. he’s a good good science reporter which is rare these days, in my grad studies I did some work with the CDC down by NYC on patients who were fostering drug-resistant TB largely by only taking some of their meds which was interesting enough but the prof whose project it was the real intriguing part as her work was on how we had co-evolved with various viruses and while the hard/lab sciences on the genetics was just coming along (we still know very little) her fossil-fueled speculations had echoes of a kind of Bateson/Burroughs hybrid.

  2. Thanks! Just picked it up… I agree that this imposition of harmony and cooperation as if the impersonal world were somehow attuned to human aspirations is part of a whole fantasy bribe system that the sciences needs to expunge like a dead cow.

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