Turner, J. Scott 1951-

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Turner, J. Scott 1951-


Born August 11, 1951, in Worcester, MA; son of Neil E. and Lucille Turner, Jr.; married Debbie Goemans, March 2, 1992; children: Jacqueline Pamela, Emma Victoria. Ethnicity: "White." Education: Attended San Jose State College (now San Jose State University), 1969-70, and Cabrillo College, 1972-74; University of California, Santa Cruz, B.A., 1976; Colorado State University, M.S., 1979, Ph.D., 1982. Politics: Conservative/Republican. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: History, philosophy, bicycling.


Home—Tully, NY. Office—State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, NY 13210; fax: 315-470-6934. E-mail—[email protected]


Physiologist. Duke University, Durham, NC, instructor, 1982-84, research associate, 1984; Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA, visiting assistant professor, 1984-1985; State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, research assistant professor, 1986-87; University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa, research officer, 1988-89; University of Bophuthatswana, Mmabatho, South Africa, lecturer, 1990; State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, assistant professor, 1990-95, associate professor, 1995—.


American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physiological Society; American Geophysical Union, Sigma Xi.


Postdoctoral fellowships from Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, University of Cape Town, 1985-86, and from University of Cape Town and Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, 1987-88.


The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2000.

The Tinkerer's Accomplice: How Design Emerges from Life Itself, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 2007.

Contributor to collections. Contributor to academic journals, including Chronicle of Higher Education, Natural History, Earthwatch, and American Zoologist.


J. Scott Turner is a physiologist whose book The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures challenges traditional theory. Choice reviewer K.A. Campbell called the study "a fascinating new view of the living world." Albert D. Carlson wrote in the Quarterly Review of Biology that as Turner explains "in elegant fashion, physiological adaptation runs both ways. Animals adapt their environment in the structures they build to their own physiological needs." Turner considers termite mounds, hives, webs, spittle nests, galls, burrows, and other constructions, first examining each with regard to its basic principles, then analyzing the structures. Carlson observed that "those physical principles are explained in wonderfully understandable terms without in any way reducing the rigor of their description." Turner proposes that in order to understand organism evolution, the trinity of evolution theory—genotype, phenotype, and environment—must be considered together in a holistic manner. Kurt Schwenk wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "as [Turner] painstakingly builds his argument, one progresses from head-scratching to head-nodding. To work this metamorphosis, Turner brings to bear scientific incisiveness, humor, and a prose style that makes scientific minutiae fun to read…. His thesis is straightforward: if animals manipulate their environment to create external structures serving an essential physiological function, then an organism's phenotype extends into the environmental realm." Turner's examples include the gas-exchange function of termite mounds that ensure the correct proportion of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the nest, and earthworm burrows that are worked to maintain water balance.

The title of the book indicates that it builds on The Extended Phenotype published by Richard Dawkins in 1982. "But the book is far more than a complement to Dawkins," said Schwenk. "It stands apart as a remarkably synthetic piece of scholarship." American Scientist contributor Stephen R. Palumbi wrote that Turner "demonstrates his view with verve and enthusiasm in fascinating chapters on how organisms manipulate the external environment to their advantage." Palumbi said that each chapter is "a hidden lesson in physiology, bio-mechanics, and environmental chemistry…. By the end of the lugworm section, you understand why oxygen concentrations matter, and how organisms take advantage of this. You understand why bubbles of pure oxygen kill beetles. And you know how termite mounds breathe, how terrestrial earthworms survive outside their aquatic habitat, how crickets shout, and how leaf galls grow."

Turner shows how manipulations by an individual or group are fundamentally different from global changes that affect an entire species. Palumbi noted that evolutionary differences have been explored by Dawkins, by George C. Williams in Adaption and Natural Selection, and by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary in The Major Transitions in Evolution. Palumbi clarified that in Turner's final chapter, in which he addresses the Gaia hypothesis, he "brings these issues to a head…. However, this chapter is gently written: He recognizes that this is a controversial subject and must be considered as an intellectual challenge." Palumbi concluded by saying that "like most good teachers, Turner manages to slip a huge range of new information into your head along the way—information that helps change your view of organisms in their world."

Turner once told CA: "I write primarily so I can think about things more freely. Most of my writing is for scientific journals, which impose severe constraints in space, format, and freedom to speculate: scientific writing has been described as being as rigidly constrained as a sonnet. Writing in other formats, like books or essays, enables me to break free from those constraints, which helps me explore my science in a more creative and artistic way.

"I am a scientist first and foremost, and the major influence on my work stems from that. There are three joys that derive from science. One is the joy of discovery. Part of the pleasure of scientific writing comes in the discipline required to convey scientific results and their interpretation with clarity, brevity, and precision. The other is the joy of creativity, in putting together observations and thoughts that have not been put together before, and in seeing the connections that emerge from that. Finally, there is the joy of infecting others with your ideas and thoughts. This is where a more creative and loose approach to scientific writing becomes important, because you must convey your ideas not only to fellow specialists but to others who might think very differently from you. My role models in this are Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Lewis Thomas, and (of course) Charles Darwin.

"I wish I could point to a writing process. I basically sit down and start to write. When I start, I have a vague idea of where I want to go and what I want to say, but often the piece ends up very differently as I sort through the arguments and discussions on paper. I'm not sure I could have been a writer in the days before word processing. My work often undergoes scores of revisions and tentative explorations before I am satisfied with it.

"My subjects are inspired by a fascination with both life and with the sociological and historical processes that are involved in trying to understand it. Part of what I try to do with my work is take scientific questions thought by many to have been long-settled and to take a different look at them, sometimes by deliberately taking a perspective that had been rejected in the past. Part of the progress of science comes from building on the successes of predecessors. But the success of one's predecessors can sometimes also be a straitjacket, constraining one's thinking in certain ways that are not always obvious or apparent. Taking a second look at supposedly discredited ideas can help in breaking out of that intellectual straitjacket and open up new vistas of biology to explore."



American Scientist, May, 2001, Stephen R. Palumbi, "Amazing Tales of Electric Lugworms: Metabolic Physiology Reaches Out," p. 266.

Choice, December, 2000, K.A. Campbell, review of The Extended Organism: The Physiology of Animal-Built Structures, p. 733.

Nature, November 23, 2000, Steven Vogel, review of The Extended Organism, p. 404.

New York Times Book Review, December 10, 2000, Kurt Schwenk, "The Apian Way: From Beehives to Burrows, Animal Building Sheds New Light on Biology," p. 37.

Quarterly Review of Biology, June, 2001, Albert D. Carlson, review of The Extended Organism, p. 270.


J. Scott Turner Home Page,http://www.esf.edu/efb/turner/Turner.htm (January 19, 2008).

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