Journalist in Residence

Margie Profet's Unfinished Symphony

PI(s): Michael Martin (Independent)
Start Date: 31-Aug-2011
End Date: 16-Nov-2011


Evolutionary biologist Margie Profet made headlines as a young scientific "It Girl" surfing the perilous waters of academe with neither tenure track nor Ph.D.

Almost single-handedly recasting a trio of everyday curses into a trinity of evolutionary blessings, Profet argued that menstruation, morning sickness, and allergies are highly-adapted protective mechanisms.

In a series of papers, she overturned the conventional wisdom with insightful thinking and rigorous defense, winning a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant while Scientific American, The New York Times, and even Time Magazine swooned.

Her theories were only ideas, however, and she drew criticism from prominent quarters. The headlines ultimately faded.

In 2004, Margie Profet vanished. One day she was arranging to meet a Harvard researcher; the next, she was gone. Unmarried, fit, no reports of illness or death have ever surfaced. No out-of-sorts boyfriends or obsessive stalkers. No dangerous pursuits.

No one seems to know what happened to the anti-establishment thinker whose Sheryl Crow looks and beautiful mind made her a media darling. She vanished into thin air, disappeared without a trace.

Now, the scientific establishment she once shunned has come forth, with praise, bewilderment, and sorrow.

And her theories are getting some remarkable new support.

University of Illinois researchers recently reported that allergies lower risk of the brain tumor glioma, for instance. Another team at Harvard has found that allergic conditions such as asthma and eczema confer similar protection.

This project will look at the unusual circumstances surrounding Margie Profet’s life and work, and new findings that may vindicate her controversial take on everyday evolution.


This project would be an article that could form the beginnings of a book. The time at NESCent would allow me the resources to pursue this project.

I've already interviewed a number of scientists and researchers who knew Profet well, and collected the information here:

PREFERRED DATES: Winter 2011-12