Axel Meyer (born August 4, 1960) is an evolutionary biologist and a professor of zoology and evolutionary biology at the Universität Konstanz, Germany.
Meyer is best known for his work on the evolution and adaptive radiation of African cichlid fishes, fish-specific genome duplications, molecular phylogenetics of vertebrates, and the role of ecological and sexual selection in speciation.
Education and previous employment
Meyer attended the gymnasium (high school) Katharineum in Lübeck. He was an undergraduate at the Universität Marburg (1979–1982), and completed his undergraduate thesis at the Universität Kiel and the University of Miami, Florida (1982). He received both his master's and PhD from the Department of Zoology at the University of California Berkeley in 1984 and 1988 respectively. He spent one year as a visiting student in Harvard University's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology (1986–1987).
Meyer was an Alfred P. Sloan Postdoctoral Fellow in Molecular Evolution at University of California Berkeley with Allan C. Wilson, before joining the faculty in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook as an assistant professor. In 1993 he received tenure and was promoted to associate professor. Meyer joined the Universität Konstanz Department of Biology as a full professor in 1997.
Communication of science
Meyer is active in the communication of science to the public. He has written more than 45 articles for major German newspapers including Die Zeit and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. In addition, he contributed a weekly column, Quantensprung, on matters related to science and evolution to the Handelsblatt from 2005–2010. The first 100 articles of Quantensprung were published in 2008 in the book Evolution ist überall.
Awards and recognition
Meyer is an elected member of the Academy of Europe, the Academia Europaea , German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the http://www.ae-info.org/ae/Member/Meyer_AxelEuropean Academy of Sciences and Arts, the European Molecular Biology Organization, and the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften.
He has received numerous awards including the Carus Medal from the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (2009), the EMBO Award for Communication in Life Science (2008), the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship (1996), the Young Investigator Prize from the American Society of Naturalists(1990)., and Hector Science Award 2012. Most recently (2017) he was awarded a Radcliffe Fellowship at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/people/axel-meyer. His scientific work is widely cited by his peers and has been covered by national and international press and media.
In 2003, an investigation was launched by the University of Konstanz after 16 former students and postdocs filed a complaint against Meyer. In 2004, a commission found Axel Meyer guilty of scientific misconduct including: “‘damaging the scientific interests’ of lab members by, for example, placing ‘misleading job advertisements’ and ‘blocking the publication of a lab member's paper for more than 2 years.’" The mental breakdown of a foreign student was also noted as an indicator of the negative atmosphere and pressure imposed by Meyer. According to Science, the internal commission reported that “Meyer claimed ownership of other people's intellectual property by ‘demanding to be co-author on every paper from his group’ even when he hadn't contributed.” The complainants noted at the time that they were met by institutional resistance from the University of Konstanz and any consequences imposed by the University were never reported.
Laziness and dishonesty of students
In 2015, Axel Meyer wrote an article for FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung) describing German university students as lazy and dishonest. Despite a long history of publicly funded post secondary education in Germany, Meyer argued that the tuition-free education system made todays students spoiled and entitled compared to those in the United States – though the US faces increasingly high rates of student debt.
Meyer was compelled to write the piece after his office had been broken into two days before an exam. Upon finding markings around the lock to his office at the University of Konstanz he notified the police who informed him that occasionally students attempt to break into offices to steal exams. Though the police also reported that several offices had been compromised for the purpose of stealing cash and no evidence suggested the culprit was a student. Regardless, Meyer contemplates in his article: "Would students break into the office of a professor to steal the exam topic?" And then goes on to say: "At least I would not be surprised if that were the case." One of his most inflammatory statements colorfully illustrates his view of students: “In jeder Hinsicht wird ihnen der Hintern gepudert und mit viel Fürsorge und Verständnis jede Faulheit und Inkompetenz vergeben“ — which translates to “In every way are their butts carefully powdered and laziness and incompetence is forgiven with care and understanding.”
The rector of the University of Konstanz, Ulrich Rüdiger, apologized personally and described several passages in Meyer's article as "defamatory and insulting,” suggesting possible consequences for Meyer though no official consequences were reported.
In a circular letter of the Rector of the University professors, the rector testified that Meyer had publicly spread several "false factual claims about the conditions at the University of Konstanz.” Meyer apologized for his choice of words but not for his message. Students countered that Meyer himself was not giving his lectures, but rather divvying them up among his PhD students and postdoctoral researchers.