Earth’s Holy Fool?

Some scientists think that James Lovelock’s Gaia theory is nuts, but the public love it. Could both sides be right?

  1. The inventor James Lovelock was born in England in 1919. Early during the Second World War, armed with a degree in chemistry, he went to work for the British government on a variety of projects on the borderline between the physical and the biological sciences. He had an incredible ability to make gadgets from piles of old junk, often surplus to the military effort, and this continued after the war. His greatest triumph was to invent the electron capture detector, an instrument so accurate that if one spilt a solvent on a rag in Japan, one could detect it in Britain a week later. Naturally, a man with such talents attracted attention. Lovelock went freelance and in the early 1960s he was often in California aiding one of his clients, the American space agency NASA, which was just then trying to detect if there was life on Mars.

    Lovelock approached the problem indirectly, arguing that there was no need to send rockets to the red planet, but this wasn’t necessarily a welcome conclusion ...

The complete text of “Earth’s Holy Fool?” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on

Originally published in Aeon, January 2013

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