Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Margie Profet's Unfinished Symphony

If you've come here seeking "Margie Profet's Unfinished Symphony," please see the May-June 2012 issue of Psychology Today, which purchased the 3-year-old story and updated it significantly:

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Genius

Margie Profet sent shockwaves through academia by generating solutions to seemingly intractable puzzles of biology. Then she disappeared.


On May 18, Karen Profet -- Margie's mother -- emailed me after I inquired about rumors following the Psychology Today story.   She gave me permission to share this news: 

Dear Mike:

At the time of your email, Margie’s sister and I had already been in Boston for a day and were making reservations to bring her home with us. 

At 6 AM the following morning, we were on a plane to California. 

Margie had called us on Monday, after someone who knew her Googled her name and found from your article that she was being sought by family and former colleagues. She had not known that people were looking for her and deeply regrets giving anyone cause for concern on her account.

At the time we lost track of her, Margie was in severe physical pain. Not wanting to trouble anyone else, she did not disclose the fact to us or to her friends, but moved to a new location in which she thought the pain would soon diminish. Instead, it persisted for many years.   Unable to work because of it and subsequent injuries, she had long lived in poverty, sustained largely by the religion she had come to early in the decade. 

Margie is finally home now, recovering from her long ordeal and hoping to find work in the near future. She is very happy to be reunited with her family, and we are overjoyed to have her back. 

We had a small but lovely celebration yesterday. Margie's brother rose at 3 AM and drove 200 miles to await us at the bottom of the LAX escalator for passengers arriving on United.

After he drove us home, Margie's brother-in-law, five nieces and nephews, and one little grand-nephew joined us for a celebratory lunch.

Another brother-in-law, in L.A. on business from the east coast, came for dinner. Margie also met her new step-Dad.

Margie is extremely grateful to all the people who were kind to her during her years of distress. If you wish to release the definitive (though sparse) news about Margie, you have her permission to do so. As one might expect, she is not open to interviews at the present time.

She and all her family thank you immensely for your help in reuniting us.


Karen Profet


Melodie (Twedt) Hatfield said...

I'm worried to hear about Margie's disappearance. We were great friends in grade school, played together, delivered milk to the kindergarten classes (because we were "gifted" we were chosen to have a school job).

She was the one who told me about "the birds and the bees" and we did a play together with puppets we made, in our gifted program.

She's one of those people that leaves a "forever" impression on you, and I've been trying to find her for the last several years (since my separation, trying to connect with old friends).

In grade school, I remember her having the most amazing mind, her thoughts going in a million (focused) directions simultaneously, and having so much physical energy (and gymnastic skill) that she would literally be doing backflips and cartwheels while we talked and laughed about things. So interesting and fun to be with!

Thanks for your article and I will continue to hope she turns up again and is safe and well.

Dr. Michael Jones said...

This is a beautiful piece on Profet.

It's on a par with the best science writing anywhere, but it's more than that.

It is science writing plus investigative journalism plus human interest.

Barry Kuhle said...

Dear Mike Martin,

Thank you for a wonderfully written piece on the enigmatic Margie Profet.

Her three revolutionary papers have always fascinated me, and now her life, or lack thereof, does as well.

Barry Kuhle

Barry X. Kuhle
Visiting Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
Dickinson College

John Whitcombe said...

Hi Mike,

I read your article about Margie Profet; she was a close friend in high school and an incredibly special person.


Anonymous said...

The description of Ms. Profet's symptoms fits better with schizoaffective disorder than other mental illnesses.

Her desire to improve her "math brain" could have been an attempt to fix the cognitive difficulties she was experiencing.

Isolation is a common symptom in this illness. She may have withdrawn so completely because she realized that her choices could be limited by the actions of others in try to protect her.

If only we did a better job of helping highly intelligent people who happen to have mental illness.

So sad...

Anonymous said...

Sadly, one of the finest articles to appear in the news.

I was piqued because I thought music --and it was in a way. Margie Profet was a composer of original ideas, combining disparate but related ideas into a coherent, insightful whole.

Anonymous said...

Poor woman. So promising, so creative, and so tortured from within.

Russell said...

Thank you for your article about Margie Profet. I knew her well when she was in Munich.

Margie was a beautiful and wonderful person, but eccentric.

I’m glad that I knew her. I just hope she has found some peace, and that no harm has come to her. I appreciate your interest, and hope you can follow up and perhaps discover what has happened to her.

I never knew her to be reckless or careless where her personal safety was concerned, but if she has had some kind of a breakdown who knows what may have become of her.

Harvey Mansfield said...

A very fine story, Mike. Thank you for this.

Greg Lester said...

I just read the Margie Profet piece on Weekly Scientist and I’ve spent the last 20 minutes sending it to friends.




Greg Lester
Director of Science Communications
Fox Chase Cancer Center
Philadelphia, PA 19111

Bruce A. Bennett said...


I just read your article, "Margie Profet's Unfinished Symphony" on Weekly Scientist and just had to tell you, wow, what a well-written story! Journalism at its best.

Nice job.


Bruce A. Bennett
Tech Briefs Media Group

Cynthia Torres said...

Thank you for this thoughtful piece on the remarkable, brilliant, and beautiful Margie Profet. Margie and I were college classmates and friends. She had launched an important academic career filled with promise and discovery. Her disappearance has been a source of immense sadness to her large circle of college friends.

I survived two pregnancies filled with morning sickness thanks to specific practical advice Margie gave me at a college reunion! I will always be grateful to her. She had the most dazling smile, and a beautiful, incomparable mind.

Anonymous said...

So sad that the world, the society, is not prepared to care about "different people"! How I know that!
Hope she has found inside herself the PEACE she deserves.
Thank you for bringing up this incredible article.
E. Pereira / Portugal

George Lake said...

I knew Margie well during her time at the University of Washington. I agree with what is said near the end of the article, she was very innovative but was accepted, even embraced, by the scientific community for all of her innovation and oddness. But, as the last election shows, people love "mavericks" (perhaps in that and Margie's case, not enough) and she was extremely sensitive to the mild criticism that her work (like anything innovative) was bound to draw together with the accolades.

I like that this article takes the optimistic view that she doesn't want to be found, implying that we will someday see her again. But, I can't see her living a backwoods hermetic life. I fear that she is gone and I will forever miss her.

Mike Vangel said...

That's some really good writing (particularly the profet piece).

Scott Wilson said...

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your story about Margie Profet. What an incredible mind--hopefully she’ll be able to work through her issues and get back to working on her groundbreaking theories.


Keep up the good work.

Axiom said...

I really appreciated the opportunity to learn about Margie Profet. Thanks!

Ed Martin said...

Fascinating article.

dorsey said...

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Anonymous said...

Great article, but there is one thing I don't understand: Why is she a 'prodigal' prodigy? Was it time or brainpower that she was wasteful or extravagant with?

George Lake said...

Happy Birthday Margie!

Prodigal son said...

Prodigal prodigy: she had genius and fame in abundance. She was prodigiously brilliant. Some might say she wasted it, but that's a stretch. It sounds more like mental illness to me.

Jane Cawthorne said...

Dear Mr. Martin,

I was reading your piece on Margie Profet. It was excellent.

I used to teach Women’s Studies and often talked to my students about Ms. Profet’s ideas and used her work as an example of how it is possible to re-frame the feminine as positive.

I have always found her work oddly compelling, and although it is not in my area of expertise, it has always stayed with me, almost haunted me.

I was recently informed by a colleague of her unusual disappearance.

More research brought me to your excellent piece, surely one of the best out there about her. It is an intriguing story.

I can’t help wondering if anything more has been learned in the intervening years since you wrote about her.

Thanks for this excellent piece.

Michael P. Owen said...

Last weekend I attended GeekGirlCon in Seattle. During the
convention, I immediately thought who should be a guest at next
year's event: Margie Profet.

I met Margie in the summer of 1996. I was completing my two
undergraduate degrees at the University of Washington. I was very
nervous to enter the new University of Washington Physics and
Astronomy Building, but I took a deep breath and knocked on
Margie's door. I ended up having perhaps the most amazing
30-minute conversation in my life. Margie signed my copy of her
book and gave me a copy of her article from The Quarterly Journal
of Biology.

I was going to start a biochemistry doctorate program at Indiana
University in August. Margie recommended I contact Dr. Eugene
Weinburg, a professor emeritus who had fascinating ideas
regarding iron and bacterial infections.

I had to leave graduate school in January 1997 for very ill
health. I e-mailed Margie when I returned to my home in Spokane,
Washington. She wished me a speedy recovery.

I was able to move to the Seattle area in September 1998. I
contacted Dr. Bruce Ames around that time because Margie's UW
e-mail address was no longer functional. Dr. Ames gave me an
address that worked.

I was able to talk to Margie several times via e-mail from August
1999 to January 2000. The messages she wrote were well written
and full of her wonderful spirit. After January 2000, the e-mail
address no longer worked.

I discovered your blog discussion on Margie this evening. I
nearly collapsed into tears. Margie has been an enormous
inspiration to me.

A diagnostic method I developed for an infectious disease is
about to be published in a major journal. I have worked on the
project since 2004. Thinking of Margie's journey in biology kept
me working on my method in spite of many obstacles I have

I still have my copy of her first book with her signature on my

Thank you for writing about a scientist I considered as a special
friend. You are welcome to contact me.

Best wishes,

Michael P. Owen
Bellevue, WA

Unknown said...

Margie Profet's story is similar to the story of another evolutionary theorist, George Price. The main different, though, is that we know what happened to George Price.

See, "Death of an Altruist: Was the Man Who Found the Selfless Gene too Good for this World?"

Andrea Carla Michaels said...

Just got the wonderful news of Margie's reappearance! If your excellent, haunting, distressing, enlightening article had even one iota to do with that, I thank you a million times over....
She was much loved and respected and missed and I 'm beyond elated she is back with her family and hopefully on the road back to health.

Jeanne Daire said...

Margie was the girl I most admired in High School. I am so happy she is home with he family. Margie, if you read this just know that you made such an impression on so many people that 36 years later you are on our minds.

Best wishes.

Jeanne (Nunnelly) Gardner

Daniel Greenberg said...

Mike: I loved your piece on Margie Profet in Psychology Today.

It was well done and well reported -- as interesting a piece on the nature of science, madness and genius as I’ve read.

Daniel Levine
Levine Greenberg Literary Agency.

Nathaniel Jacks said...

I’m writing from InkWell Management, a literary agency in New York. I recently had the pleasure of reading your exceptional article about Margie Profet.

Have you considered book-writing?

Nat Jacks
InkWell Management
New York, NY 10175

Barry Kuhle said...

I finally got a chance to read your fantastic PT story and this
postscript. You should be super proud, sir. Many a journalist has
written many a fine piece, but how many have identified a mystery,
helped solve it, and in so doing, reunited a family?

Continued success Mike.


Jon Henke said...

Your article on Margie Profet was fascinating and the resulting reunification of Margie with her family was gratifying. Can you give any update as to how Profet is doing?

Or (while respecting her privacy) what happened during those missing years?

I have no particular connection to her or her work.

I'm just a reader who loved the mystery and the outcome you described enough that I want to hear the denouement.

Jim said...

It looks like this page has comments from people who really knew Margie in the past, so I’ll contribute one too. I was close friends with Margie during our first semester in college. I melted down that semester and went back home for a year and a half and then came back, and we lost touch in the process, but our friendship remained an important memory for me and I think for her too, and much later, I think in the late 1990s, we ran into each other in Harvard Yard and it was wonderful to see her. I found out she had gone missing one day last spring when I was avoiding work by idly googling... It was the last thing I expected to find when I googled her name, and I was shocked and frightened by the news. I hoped so much that she’d be found, but being a pessimist in all things, I was pessimistic. I was overjoyed to learn she had been found and is now back with her family and, I hope, recovering from whatever she's been through and getting some ground back under her feet. Margie, if you read these comments, a warm hello from Jim from freshman year. So glad you’re back!

M.P. Owen said...

I cannot begin to thank you for helping bring Margie back into the lives of her friends and family.

The Sophist said...

Arthur J Kyriazis Harvard AB 80/81 I was a biology undergrad classmate of Margie Profet and knew her long before she was famous. I can't really add much to the excellent comments by my very fine classmates already posted here (Andrea Michaels, Cynthia Torres) except to say that Margie was a terrifically nice, sweet person, she knew her science, and I'm pretty certain I was way more interested in getting her to go out with me on a date than in discussing biology with me back in the undergraduate days, to be quite honest. She seemed the quintessential happy, carefree California Girl of which the Beach Boys sang. One would never have thought of her as having anxiety or worry of any kind. She was the opposite of troubled. I envied her carefree and relaxed attitude to life. She seemed so happy. It was a matter of some concern to me that she had not been seen for some time and that she had last been seen by Harvard faculty and students some time ago--I wish sometimes that Harvard would keep a much, much closer eye on its students that it does. Sometimes negligence masquerades as laissez-faire or freedom from interference, and in this case, the institution may have been guilty of the most grievous kind of negligence.

Wan Chi Lau said...

Hi Mike,

Just came upon your August 19, 2012 post announcing that Margie Profet has been found.
Thank you for the update!

I learned about Margie Profet in 1994 and was sadden to learn of her disappearance from the Psychology Today article.
I was watching some TED talks and one of them reminded me of her, so I googled to see if there was any news.

Finding your post made my day!

Psychologist in Alameda said...

I am impressed with your work !! Keep it up!!