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Diseases from Space

diseases from space

Diseases from Space

Hoyle and Wickramsinghe


This is an…interesting…theory.  The idea here is that many diseases and plagues, like leprosy, measles, polio, and tuberculosis, originated in space. In 1979 this was called a “revolutionary new theory, which may well have great influence on modern scientific thought.”  This is actually the sequel to a book called Lifecloud where the authors argued that life on Earth originated in space.

The authors were ridiculed, but in 1994, an article was published in New Scientist that linked the authors’ research to new research, basically confirming what they’d been saying since 1979.  Very interesting indeed!

So, this book is now 30 years old.  It was questionable from the time it was published until 15 years later.  It has now been another 15 years and the book is still on the shelves, though more legitimate in terms of content.  If this theory is still viable, libraries should replace this book with current research in the field.  Since these are the grandfathers of the theory, so to speak, their work would certainly be cited in any new books on the subject.

11 Responses to Diseases from Space

  • Prof W’s a professor at my department.

    We make fun of him here too.

  • As the first publication (for the general public) of the theory, I would actually think it should stay. Do we take The Origin of the Species off the shelves because there are more recent books on evolution?

  • I second Scott’s comment – this book has definite historical interest and citeability. In fact, if it’s in your library and you’re weeding it, I’ll buy it 🙂

  • This is definately a case where academic and public library weeding policies have to differ. Any academic library would need to keep this title as a “primary source.” If this is getting cited in current literature, researchers will be looking for it!

    • You bet! This is exactly the kind of discussion I want about weeding! I also hope people understand the different collection objectives of each kind of library.

  • It’s a vast overstatement to say that Hoyle and Wickramasinghe have been “vindicated,” merely because Cosmic dust contains orgainc matter (which is not the same thing as life). And Wickramasinghe, as demonstrated by his remarks on SARS, for example, is still a crackpot.

  • I’d like to weigh in to say that this is one that would be best kept–as a scientist who has followed this theory, there are a considerable number of studies and surveys that are increasingly showing the validity of this idea. Most libraries are not able to afford the newer books that contain more updated information, which leaves a void in the collection if this title is discarded.

  • Er… the panspermia hypothesis is still controversial at best. A hypothesis for the primarily space-particle-borne introduction of disease? That’s still pretty out-there. I don’t think this deserves the term “theory” just yet.

    That said, Hoyle is a very important person (the guy who coined the term “big bang” – as a putdown, mind) and this is probably worth having in specialized collections and even large public library collections.

  • Latest possible acquisition?

    Review: Comets and the Origin of Life by Janaki Wickramasinghe, Chandra Wickramasinghe and William Napier
    Book information
    Comets and the Origin of Life by Janaki Wickramasinghe, Chandra Wickramasinghe and William Napier
    Published by: World Scientific
    Price: £41/$55
    “STEP by step, the case for an extraterrestrial origin of life has got stronger. But though the case for planetary panspermia – the idea that micro-organisms transfer between planets – is now widely accepted, interstellar panspermia remains controversial.”


    Note: “…now widely accepted…”

  • To say that this has been confirmed in any way is absurd. It’s even more utterly crackpot now than it was then, given our increased understanding of genetics and all that we’ve learned in the intervening decades about the evolution of various infectious diseases. New Scientist is a popular science website of un uneven quality, not a peer-reviewed science journal.

    Credulously referring to this nonsense in conversation would get you laughed out of any modern epidemiology conference.

  • oops, extra “un” in the previous comment