Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mankind Has Stopped Evolving


We discussed this topic in class. Here's a physicist named Machio Kaku pontificating about evolution. Kaku is an expert on string theory. I wonder how he'd feel if a typical evolutionary biologist answered a question about string theory?
A curious aspect of the theory of evolution is that everybody thinks he understands it.
                                                                                     Jacques Monod




UPDATE: John Hawks weighs in with Kaku cockup.


[Hat Tip: Pharyngula:Why do physicists think they are masters of all sciences?]

24 comments :

  1. Machio Kaku is on his way to becoming a crank. He seems to believe that, since he is smart at physics, he is smart at everything. I'm sure he can tell us why.

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  2. There's a lot of physicists who think like that!

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  3. Still waiting to see if string theory ever makes the transition from fiction to non-fiction...

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  4. I was a little surprised at how vitriolic PZ's response was. I mean first of all, nowhere in the video does Michio say evolution has stopped; he specifically states the opposite, and he says there is less selective pressure – which is true.

    And I don't have a problem with scientists answering general questions beyond their field. I've read Dawkins' books on evolution, and while I'm not delusional enough to think that makes me an expert, I'm confident that I'm equipped to answer general questions about evolution to fellow layman. Michio doesn't practice science in a vacuum – he's well acquainted with many other disciplines – and while I wouldn't expect him to teach a class or give lectures in something like evolution or climate science, I think it's fine for him to answer general questions to laypersons about fields outside of string theory.

    That said, if any expert in evolution takes umbrage with something specific Michio has said, that's fair game and it can be discussed without resorting to the kind of condescension PZ is lowering himself to.

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  5. When can we offically designate the argument that evolution is simply "the survival of the fittest" as an official logical fallacy?

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  6. I might be misremembering this but I seem to recall Steve Jones making a similar argument.

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  7. Steve Jones made a similar argument a while back.

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  8. Re Anonymous

    The notion that string theory is fiction is a vast overstatement. String theory is a perfectly legitimate branch of mathematics which may or may not have application to physics. At this point in time, it is incorrect to designate string theory as a theory in physics; more correctly, as we sit here today, it is a scientific hypothesis, not a scientific theory.

    Having said that the jury is still out on string theory, it is also quite legitimate to raise the issue that it has been around now for some 25 years and does not seem to have made much progress in proposing testable hypotheses.

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  9. Yes, Steve Jones predicted human evolution a million years into the future. Fool.

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  10. Steve Jones did, indeed, make similar silly comments. He has less of an excuse than a physicist.

    Steve Jones Says Human Evolution Is Over
    Have Humans Stopped Evolving?

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  11. Mike D says,

    That said, if any expert in evolution takes umbrage with something specific Michio has said, that's fair game and it can be discussed without resorting to the kind of condescension PZ is lowering himself to.

    Our physicist friend is making the common mistake of equating "evolution" and "natural selection" so his entire answer is flawed from the get-go. There's a big difference between saying that natural selection may have stopped in humans and saying that evolution has stopped.

    It's impossible to stop evolution unless you can somehow prevent mutations.

    It's also impossible—to all intents and purposes—to prevent both negative and positive selection. In order to postulate that positive selection has come to a halt you have to assume that we have evolved to perfection and no further changes could possibly lead to more fit modern humans.

    That's a pretty stupid assumption, don't you think? We'd rightly make fun of anyone who made such a claim about any other species.

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  12. "It's also impossible—to all intents and purposes—to prevent both negative and positive selection. In order to postulate that positive selection has come to a halt you have to assume that WE HAVE EVOLVED TO PERFECTION and no further changes could possibly lead to more fit modern humans."

    No, it doesn't necessarily imply that humans evolved to perfection...

    ...you are ignoring/hiding the other obvious (possible) solution. And that's the equalization of chances (in regard to survival and reproduction) that modern medicine and technology provides to everyone.

    Kaku is basicaly right, even though he's words are not the right ones. But people that say "human evolution" is accelerated (remember which ones?) are basically wrong.

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  13. Anonymous Thursday, February 17, 2011 6:20:00 PM wrote;
    "Kaku is basicaly right, even though he's words are not the right ones"

    No.

    Poor eye sight is not immediately lethal in our world, so there are now more people carrying alleles that lead to the need for glasses.

    This is evolution too. Stop confusing evolution with some subjective "betterment" idea.

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  14. What has happened in humans is interesting but in no way can it be equated to evolution stopping. Technological and medical advances have removes a lot of the negative selection pressures (disease, diet, climate etc) but it in so doing it has created some new positive selection pressures (those whose high fertility rates might have been extremely disadvantageous to their health in the past - such as females with fragile X - are now able to produce much more offspring that survive and pass on these genes) and allowed things like sexual selection and random drift to increase in importance.

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  15. anonymous says,

    ...you are ignoring/hiding the other obvious (possible) solution. And that's the equalization of chances (in regard to survival and reproduction) that modern medicine and technology provides to everyone.

    Think about what you are saying. You are saying that because of modern medicine the human species is now in a position where there cannot be any genetic "improvement." In other words, we are perfectly fit for our environment.

    Are you really prepared to defend such nonsense?

    Kaku is basicaly right, even though he's words are not the right ones. But people that say "human evolution" is accelerated (remember which ones?) are basically wrong.

    Kaku is fundamentally wrong on so many levels that it's pointless to try a pick out a phrase or two where he may have been close to the truth.

    I'd like to hear what you have to say about the Hawks et al (2007) paper. Let me warn you that this is a serious scientific debate and your contributions have to go beyond kindergarten-level understanding of evolution.

    Recent selection, the new paradigm
    Evolving Humans
    Signals of Positive Selection in Humans?
    Examples of Accelerated Human Evolution
    Are Humans Still Evolving?

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  16. Re Larry Moran

    Our physicist friend is making the common mistake of equating "evolution" and "natural selection" so his entire answer is flawed from the get-go.

    Unfortunately, this is rather common among non-biologists. I have heard Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg equate the two when discussing the situation in Texas. As another non-biologist, I would put it this way. The fact of evolution is common descent, the theory of evolution consists of the mechanisms that drive it, namely mutations, natural selection, and genetic drift.

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  17. "Think about what you are saying. You are saying that because of modern medicine the human species is now in a position where there cannot be any genetic "improvement." In other words, we are perfectly fit for our environment.

    Are you really prepared to defend such nonsense?"

    Yes, I am.
    And again, i'm telling you that you're distorting the idea.
    No one said there's no space for "genetic improvement", just that there is no relation to reproduction success anymore.
    When everyone get the chance to reach sexual maturity, and reproductive success is more or less random (dependent of cultural (non genetic) factors)...
    ...selection is minimal.

    No one is suggesting we are perfectly fit for our environment.

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  18. "I'd like to hear what you have to say about the Hawks et al (2007) paper. Let me warn you that this is a serious scientific debate and your contributions have to go beyond kindergarten-level understanding of evolution."

    I remember reading the article about such a paper, but not the paper.
    If i remember correctly, there were 2 weak points in their argumentation:

    -they were taking about changes in the last few thousand years. This makes it almost irrelevant to what is going on in modern societies. Differential survival was still a major "force".

    -maybe I'm wrong but they were suggesting increased positive selection, not showing it. And they were comparing it with what they THINK must've happened before (data is more then scarce for longer periods of time).

    Since population size exploded in the last few thousand years, while differential survival became more and more weak, it's only natural to observe greater variability for human genes.

    Again, call me a kindergarden if you want, but how can they compare what positive selection they might observe today, with what must've been 2mya?
    And then calling it accelerated evolution...

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  19. The fact of evolution is common descent, the theory of evolution consists of the mechanisms that drive it, namely mutations, natural selection, and genetic drift.

    The fact of evolution is changing allele frequencies in a population across generations. Common descent is implied by the evidence, but at least in principle, it is possible for there to be alternative trees of life. This wouldn't falsify evolution if it were discovered some organisms are not related to us.

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  20. Re AL

    But then each of the disparate trees would result in common descent on that tree. Clearly, if every species currently identified lay on a different tree, then the theory of evolution would be a valueless theory that explained nothing.

    By the way, Ernst Mayr considered common descent as one of the 5 elements of evolution (the others being old earth, extinction, most current species not existing millions of years ago (no cats in the pre-Cambrian), and natural selection/genetic drift.

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  21. SLC:
    By the way, Ernst Mayr considered common descent as one of the 5 elements of evolution (the others being old earth, extinction, most current species not existing millions of years ago (no cats in the pre-Cambrian), and natural selection/genetic drift.

    "Old Earth"? Weird. I can see how the idea of an old Earth and evolution are historically and evidentially interconnected, but why does Mayr think it is an "element" of the any modern version of evolutionary theory? I'd thought it was considered an obvious and important assumption, but not an "element" of the theory itself.

    I haven't read Mayr, where did he say that?

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  22. Re Physeter

    "What Evolution Is," first edition published in 1980, revised edition published in 2000, when Prof. Mayr was a young whippersnapper of 96.

    The concept of an old earth is fundamental to Darwins' theory because of the slow pace of evolution as he conceived it. When Lord Kelvin published his treatise on the age of the earth which he estimated, based on the dissipation of heat from the earths core, could not be more then 100 million years, Darwin remarked that, if Kelvin were correct, his theory of evolution by natural selection would absolutely collapse. As it turned out, the discovery or radioactivity in the first decade of the 20th century provided the mechanism for the replenishment of the earths internal heat and proved Kelvins' computation wrong. Kelvin, like the good scientist he was, admitted that he had been wrong after listening to a lecture on radioactivity.

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  23. SLC,

    I understand all that (check my first post), but why does it have to be a central "element" of the theory itself? I see it as an external assumption. And, nowadays, do you think the idea of an Old Earth is really discussed in evolutionary theory for things other than historical perspective and its contra-position to YEC? Methinks it's not.

    Also, that doesn't sound like a description of Darwin's theory. Darwin knew nothing about genetic drift! Probably Mayr was addressing the early Synthetic Theory (if that's the case, the omission of Mendelian genetics as a central element is odd too). Futuyma lists 16 fundamental principles of the Modern Synthesis. None of them is directly about an Old Earth. But I don't want to criticise Mayr without having actually read the book. Thanks for the ref, I'm adding it to my reading list.

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  24. http://xkcd.com/793/

    The post made me rembmer this comic, and it took me a while to remember to look it up...

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