Michael Levitt (now at Stanford) was born to a Jewish family in South Africa in 1947. His father came from Lithuania; his mother has lived in my Czech homeland. And I tend to think that the influence of the parents' geography on his thinking was nonzero although it is much smaller than the influence of the genes.
In 1968-1972, he was a PhD student in the British Cambridge. Not too many people were coding at that time but he already wrote an essential program to investigate molecular conformations. These are changes to molecules that may be obtained by rotating two parts of a molecule – which are connected by a single bond – around the axis of the bond, in your left and right hand.
These conformations, two-part rotations, are clearly useful to build materials with new properties. This is the kind of an operation that is enough to solve Rubik's cube and molecules of life – including DNA and proteins – may be Rubik-rotated in a much greater number of ways. OK, so he was improving all these models and codes, has earned over 40,000 citations by now (Google Scholar), and his 2013 Nobel prize in chemistry came for the multi-level models of complex systems. He is unquestionably a top ten guy in the field underlying the drug synthesis and related obvious applications of the "bio design", the engineering-style production of molecules with desired properties, an activity that has become important commercially, too.
Fine, he is also a renaissance man within biology. And that is why he has spent a lot of time in 2020 with Covid-19, being one of the high-profile folks opposing the medieval-style hysteria about that cousin of flu. He's made many rational forecasts, some of them worked great (like the forecast of the "final" death tally in China), others missed the marks (like his February underestimate of the "final" U.S. deaths; the virus was simply destined to spread more in the U.S. than in China because China is not a free country, it's that simple, but the precise prediction of "how much freedom will matter" for a given virus may be really hard or impossible – and the exponential growth and the exponential disappearance may be just a micron away, to to say).
At any rate, in December, the first BioDesign Research conference is taking place virtually. It is dedicated to the very field in which Levitt is an essential co-founder. So he was picked as a keynote speaker. You may guess what happened:
My keynote uninvited from https://t.co/KhepqykXW8— Michael Levitt (@MLevitt_NP2013) October 18, 2020
“... too many calls by other speakers threatening to quit if you were there. They all complained about your COVID claims”.
Computational biology & biodesign are based on my work. Time to cancel them & me.
New Dark Age Cometh.
Some mammals who formally belong to the set of other speakers have emitted threats: "either him or me". And because the number of these mammals is higher than the number of Michael Levitts (even though they may still very well be a minority within the set of participants), and because the spineless, despicable organizers only care about the quantity, not quality, they just allowed the screaming, lying, aggressive dishonest mob to decide. The Nobel Prize who co-founded the field just isn't allowed! Everyone is obliged to pay lip service to the lies and hysteria that turn the "creators of the hysteria with degrees" into important celebrities. The fact that Levitt understands all these things more deeply than his critics combined doesn't matter. It's the mob that rules. Levitt has been canceled for not being hysterical. Indeed, the new dark age cometh.
And he was canceled despite the fact that he wanted to talk about computational biology, not Covid.
For years or decades, many irresponsible people in the scholarly institutions were saying "it's OK when I hire yet another subpar 'researcher', e.g. because it's good for the diversity ideology" or "it's good if we accept yet another incompetent student from a privileged group such as the blacks". But it obviously does matter. It has always mattered. Such clearcut deviations from meritocracy have always been devastating for the whole – just the degree of devastation became more obvious when the percentages of the wrong people have reached some tipping points. If you have any conscience and if you have ever admitted anybody because of affirmative action or overwhelmingly political criteria, you should cut one finger or toe of yours for every person whom you helped and who didn't belong there. If you run of fingers and toes, continue with your neck.
Because the outcome was unavoidable. Most academic fields are thoroughly contaminated by mediocre mammals whose overwhelming majority isn't really good at anything but who exploit their high quantity. They hide behind a mob and its mob mentality and bullying. Whether you like it or not, large institutions (and even "companies with employees expected to be inteligent") unavoidably end up with some kind of an internal democracy. When the majority despises the basic rules of the scientific method (or the main principles of the Western civilization) such as the rule that hypotheses and claims and hypotheses must be "allowed to run" whether or not someone is popular within a fanatical, ideologically skewed mob, and it's the individual contributions and not the alignment with the powerful that should count, the whole institution is going to do the same rather soon, too.
The hardest fields such as the quantum mechanics-dependent disciplines of physics (and maybe even the protein design) were resisting for a long time but they have been ruined in this way, too. It's become normal to hire people who are self-evidently incompetent – e.g. "theoretical high-energy physicists who study quantum gravity but they don't even understand Chapter 1 of a string theory textbook" – but who are obeying some fashionable political criteria (e.g. the membership in the privileged groups such as blacks and women, or their being drug addicts with a politically important parent). The results are unavoidable: a new dark age.
It's never too late. If you have some conscience left, and even if you're missing some of your fingers and toes, then start to clean the existentially threatening mess that you have helped to create. I don't expect much from those who have already subjected their neck to a conformation because they have greatly erred more than 10 times.