Jeffrey Medkeff

Jeffrey Medkeff, the Blue Collar Scientist, died a few days ago. I never met him, but I feel that I’ve lost a friend.

Jeff was a regular reader of BoF. You may have seen some of the comments he left here on various articles earlier this year. I apparently gave him a lot of article ideas. He mentioned this blog no fewer than seven times on his own blog in the half year that it was running.

I very much wanted to go to TAM 5.5 in January, because there were a lot of people I wanted to see again and/or meet for the first time. My job (actually, the lack thereof) prevented that. Jeff mentioned on his blog that he went, and I thought “Oh, crap! I could have met the BCS, too! Oh well, I’m sure he’ll be at TAM 6 in June.” I looked forward to that over the next several months. Then at the beginning of June, we heard that he had cancer. Naturally, he didn’t make it to TAM 6. I’m sorry I never got to meet him.

Of the comments he left here, I especially liked one of them. In my first article on The Coral Ridge Hour, I wrote:

The only real connection between evolution and Nazi-ism is that a few people misunderstood evolution, and they misapplied their distorted knowledge to the social sciences. Darwin is not responsible for the misunderstanding and misuse of his theory….

Jeff corrected me, effectively saying “No. Don’t even concede that, because not even that much is true!” Here’s what he wrote in the comments:

I don’t mean to be contentious, but even though it is technically correct, this is too generous to the evolution-denying religious whackos who want to link Darwin and/or evolution to Hitler and Nazism. Let me explain….

By Darwin’s time, it was already understood that species could change with time. This knowledge was put into practice in selective breeding of crops, flowers, livestock, puppy dogs, and so on, which had been done for centuries by Darwin’s time.

Darwin’s great insight, his big innovation and contribution to biology, was showing that nature itself served as a selective breeding engine — that instead of a human breeder making the choices about which organisms got to reproduce, in the wild it was nature that made such “decisions,” whether this was a result of the size and hardness of seeds that birds were eating, or the influence of storms, or what have you.

So yes, these people misunderstood evolution, and applied their misunderstanding in an evil way. But they didn’t misunderstand Darwin — they were, and are today, too ignorant to even know what Darwin was talking about, and what his contribution to science entailed. The Nazis applied the principles of deliberate, human-controlled selective breeding programs to what they thought were the problems of their society. Stupid people who know less than nothing about evolution somehow decided this was related to Charles Darwin.

The point I’m trying to make is that the evolutionary denialists — who are demonstrably (and sickeningly) gleefully happy about Nazism and the killing of six million people because it shows evolution is evil — are actually ignorant at a profoundly more fundamental level than they are usually called out for.

Jeff was an astronomer, yet he showed by this comment that he was far more than that. He understood evolution too, and the history of science, and he was an excellent science communicator. We have all lost an ally.

10 Responses to “Jeffrey Medkeff”

  1. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I read that the other day and was deeply saddened. I was not a frequent BCS blog reader, but every article I read by him I thoroughly enjoyed. He will be missed.

  2. LadyRavana Says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Ron. My sympathies.

    I’d never heard of the guy, but it’s a shame that a voice of reason has been forever silenced.

  3. Sarah Says:

    I never talked to him, but from that comment posted, he was obviously vair intelligent. I hope the best for his family.

  4. Shauna Says:

    I did not know about this blog until now, and it’s such a shame. What an intelligent person! My mom passed from liver cancer a year ago, after being diagnosed for only ONE month (a month earlier they thought she had gallbladder cancer). She, as Jeffrey, was not an alcoholic, nor did she have any of the other conditions usually associated with this form of cancer. The sad thing is, by the time you feel ill, it usually is too late. A routine screening yearly for liver enzyme problems is the only way to know: they routinely screen people who are at risk for this type of cancer, but the general public is not screened. So sad to have another loss to this terrible disease, and so quickly.

  5. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Shauna – that is interesting. I get annual liver panels because of a perscription I have to take for completely unrelated reasons, so I suppose that is another way to find out when you don’t have normal risk factors. The panel is relatively cheap, relatively painless, easy to perform at any doctor’s office, and can catch quite a few different things — I wonder why it’s not recommended more just in general?

    Despite that, I would personally probably prefer to find out about a terminal untreatable cancer very shortly before dying than to know for months or years that the end is near. Bliss through ignorance perhaps?

    Anyway, it’s sad. It will be a triumphant day for science when these sorts of terminal cancers have effective treatments which can promise remission and long lifespans — the allusive “cure for cancer.”

  6. Shauna Says:

    Parrotlover77: Yes, I was being screened due to a prescription as welll for a while (some drugs can be another risk factor), but I intend to get it done now regardless. I think you are right about finding out later rather than earlier, except that the type of cancer my mom had is highly treatable early on, but it is also very fast-growing. The god thing is that my mom suffered for only a very short time. I agree, when science prevails against these diseases, that will be phenomenal. Let’s hope that the “stupids” of this country will stop the ridiculous objections over genetics and stem cell research. When people pull out their arguments against scientific research based on their jebus and the “buybull,” I kindly remind them of how much I would love to still have my mom…and that genetics and stem cell research could save theirs. Usually I get stunned silence, but then there are the stupified morons who look at me and say “Yes, but she’s in heaven now, so you should be happy for her (if there was such a thing, I’m sure she would be there, but how callous!).” Sorry, I’m selfish. I’d just rather have her back here…

  7. LadyRavana Says:

    Shauna: I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. My condolences.

    Right now, I’m watching a special on the Dark Ages on the History channel. I was just thinking that every time we let the Bibul dictate our lives, and let superstition rule us rather than our reason and our wits, it only goes downhill from there. (Black plague anyone?) You’d think we’d have figured that out by now.

    I will admit, unlike most here, I’m not an Athiest, per se. I do have a spiritual side, and spiritual beliefs, (not Christian though) but I also do know there are limits.

  8. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Shauna – I’m a little surprised you don’t get more of the “but think of the babies” excuses. You know, the ones who think scientists are aborting pregnancies specifically to get stem cells. Nevermind that most of the stem cells are going into the garbage from fertility clinics (“zygote killers” that strangely fall below the radar of the pro-lifers) if not used for research.

  9. Jeremy White Says:

    I started reading Jeff’s blog regularly about 4 months before they found the tumors. It’s sad to see him go. He was articulate in the fight against stupidity and I’m sad that he’s gone.

  10. Bing McGhandi Says:

    I stopped by his blog this morning (been keeping an eye out). Didn’t see anything.

    He was really bright. That was so fast. I know that the liver is 1) important, 2) a tough organ to treat for cancer. He left this silly little rock better for his having been here.