Russell Doolittle dies

The eminent biochemist Russell Doolittle died on October 11, 2019, at the age of 88, according to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, which praised Doolittle as "a true pioneer in early gene science," adding, "He led the way to how it is used and understood today." Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University, president of NCSE's board of directors, commented on Twitter (November 9, 2019), "Russ did extraordinary work on molecular evolution and especially on the evolution of the Blood Clotting system. His work was a powerful rebuke to those who used blood clotting as evidence of 'Intelligent Design.'"

Doolittle repeatedly tangled with creationists during his career, including a disastrous televised debate against the Institute for Creation Research's Duane Gish in 1981: Doolittle reportedly was "anguished" for failing the scientific community, while colleagues suggested that the scientific community hadn't aided him in preparing for the debate. More successful were his written criticisms of creationism, such as "Probability and the Origin of Life," published in Scientists Confront Creationism in 1983, and "A Delicate Balance," published in the Boston Review in 1997. In the latter, Doolittle took the "intelligent design" proponent Michael J. Behe to task for misrepresenting both a lecture of his and the state of scientific knowledge on the evolution of blood clotting (on which Doolittle was a leading researcher). Responding to Behe's assertion "no one on earth has the vaguest idea how the coagulation cascade came to be," Doolittle responded, "I beg to differ. In recent years an enormous amount of evidence has been accumulated about the evolution of blood clotting, and it overwhelmingly supports the suggestions made in my graduate essay." Further scientific research, including work from Doolittle's laboratory, clinched the case against Behe's claim that the vertebrate blood-clotting system is "irreducibly complex."

Doolittle was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on January 10, 1931. He attended Wesleyan University, receiving a B.A. in biology in 1952; Trinity College, receiving a M.A. in education in 1957; and Harvard University, receiving a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1962. After a stint at Amherst College and at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden as a postdoctoral fellow, he spent the remainder of his career at the University of California, San Diego. His honors included election to the National Academy of Sciences as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize in 1989, and the National Academy of Sciences John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science in 2006.

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