Sunday, June 05, 2016

Evolution according to "New Scientist"

A recent editorial in the magazine New Scientist caught my eye. The title is "Long Live Evolution" and it offers support for "new ideas" about evolution. The online version is titled Darwin’s beautiful theory must itself be allowed to evolve. The author is not identified; I assume it's one of the editors.

Here's the opening paragraph ...
Nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of population genetics.

Michael Lynch (2007)
Darwin's great theory must itself be allowed to evolve

THE theory of evolution is a splendid thing: an elegant and utterly logical explanation for how natural selection solves the problems of survival and creates the enormous diversity of life we see in the world around us.
There is no such thing as "THE" theory of evolution. Evolutionary theory is complex. It covers several mechanisms (natural selection, random genetic drift) and its core is population genetics—something that was unknown in Darwin's time.

We know that Darwin’s hypothesis of natural selection ... was correct, but we also know that there are more causes of evolution than Darwin realized ...

Douglas Futuyma (2009)
The New Scientists editor is describing the theory of natural selection but he/she even gets that wrong because most of life's diversity is probably NOT due to natural selection.

The irony here is that New Scientist then goes on to say ...
That brings to the fore areas that are not part of the canon of evolutionary theory: epigenetics, for example, which studies how organisms are affected by changes in the ways in which genes are expressed, rather than in the genes themselves.

Attempts to incorporate such elements into evolutionary theory have not always been welcomed, however. That is understandable, given how successful the theory has been without them. Occam’s razor applies: do not add complications unless they are absolutely necessary.

But another motivating factor is undoubtedly the fear that if scientists themselves are seen to suggest that even small details of the theory of evolution could be improved upon, its detractors will seize upon them with avidity. This is a well-founded fear: it happens all the time, with well-funded and highly visible front organisations distorting scientific discussion to create the false impression of disagreement about the basics of evolutionary theory.

It is a fear scientists need to overcome, lest the admirable defence of truth mutates into defensiveness and rigidity. It is one thing to counter reactionaries who reject evolution; it is quite another to be dismissive of or even hostile to scientists who have new ideas to offer.
I recommend that the editors of New Scientist purchase and read any introductory textbook on evolution before they write any more silly editorials. They will learn that "Darwin's great theory" has already been changed beyond anything that Darwin would have recognized. The fact that the editors of a prominent science magazine don't understand evolution is an example of one of the main problems that have led to so much confusion today over recent attempts to extend evolutionary theory.

If science journalists are going to write about whether epigenetics should be part of evolutionary theory then they better do their homework before criticizing prominent evolutionary biologists for being afraid of changing even "small details" of modern evolutionary theory. I suggest they start by reviewing some "small details" like Neutral Theory, random genetic drift, hierarchical theory, species selection, punctuated equilibria, sympatric speciation, group selection, directed mutation, cladistics, kin selection, selfish genes, endosymbiosis, and a host of other aspects of evolution that have been vigorously debated in the scientific literature over the past century.

Maybe after doing their homework they will realize that prominent evolutionary biologists who question epigenetics are not doing it because they fear change ... they're doing it because "epigenetics" has been debated for fifty years and it has little to do with modern evolutionary theory. Maybe the science journalists will realize that proponents of the "extended evolutionary synthesis" are as ignorant of modern evolutionary theory as they were before they did their homework.

The editorial ends with ...
Evolution is true. But it is also a living, breathing idea that must not be allowed to ossify into a dogma of the kind that it has done so much to sweep away.
Ironically, the most common "dogma" is the false idea that evolutionary theory hasn't changed since Darwin's time and the editor of New Scientist is a prime example of this kind of ossification.



16 comments :

  1. "Darwin’s beautiful theory must itself be allowed to evolve.

    Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Can you make it as clear as possible so that people who support you know exactly what you believe in? I have a feeling that professor Gasiorowski gave up on your blog because of your mixed messages about your believes...

    Horseman is still holding in the fort though... At least he is loyal unlike other opportunists and cowards that have gone underground and not taken any chances... you gotta respect that...

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    1. "I recommend that the editors of New Scientist purchase and read any introductory textbook on evolution before they write any more silly editorials. They will learn that "Darwin's great theory" has already been changed beyond anything that Darwin would have recognized."

      I thought this was pretty clear. IDiot.

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    2. "I recommend that the editors of New Scientist purchase and read any introductory textbook on evolution before they write any more silly editorials.

      It looks like more than one person but Larry has seen those evolutionary textbooks.

      Enlighten us Mikkel and give us a link or a title of the book, so that we can go there and change our minds instantly... Let's see...

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    3. Scroll up and see the picture in Larry's post.

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  2. "Neutral Theory, random genetic drift, hierarchical theory, species selection, punctuated equilibria, sympatric speciation, group selection, directed mutation, cladistics, kin selection, selfish genes, endosymbiosis..."

    Are these markers of the diversity of evolutionary theory? As said earlier in the OP, evolutionary theory is population genetics and natural selection as the origin of adaptations. In popularizations, all traits are adaptive.

    Although it is formally acknowledged that neutral (and even nearly-neutral) mutations occur they are more or less irrelevant to adaptation, hence never used as explanations.

    Hierarchical theory, species selection and punctuated equilibria are nefarious schemes by Stephen Jay Gould to pose as a Great Mind by pretending to have devised some novelties in evolutionary theory. And he falsified data in The Mismeasure of Man too!

    Sympatric speciation is merely natural selection driving adaptation to niches. Group selection and directed mutation are either wholly nonexistent or so rare as to be trivial.

    Cladistics does not refute the importance of natural selection.

    Kin selection of course is a stellar example of the power of natural selection.

    Selfish genes, perhaps better tagged as gene selection, is the result of natural selection of genes, the units of selection that Darwin couldn't know about. But if he did he'd be a gene selectionist!

    Endosymbiosis is of course an essential concept to the history of life. But as noted in the OP, evolutionary theory is largely population genetics and how the changes of percentages of genes in populations leads to adaption by the power of natural selection. Endosymbiosis, like neutral theory and random genetic drift, just is not something that matters in everyday evolutionary theory. Darwin didn't know about genes, so the Modern Synthesis, more or less finished by the centenary of the publication of The Origin, has already changed Darwin. The only significant developments since, gene selection, kin selection and sympatric speciation are just that: Developments, not deep conceptual changes.

    There is one possible change in Darwin since, the discovery that sexual selection is a case of natural selection operating on fitness markers.

    Perhaps the problem with the editors of New Scientist is not that they haven't wasted time with learning about failed grandiose would be revisions of the Modern Synthesis by ambitious and unscrupulous failed scientists. The problem appears to be their uncritical receptivity to crackpot "ideas" like epigenetics, ignoring the repeated failure to overthrow the Modern Synthesis.

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    1. Hierarchical theory, species selection and punctuated equilibria are nefarious schemes by Stephen Jay Gould to pose as a Great Mind by pretending to have devised some novelties in evolutionary theory.

      PE was first and foremost the idea of Eldredge, although Gould collaborated on their joint interpretation of the PE pattern. Species selection was first introduced by Stanley. There are two separate traditions of hierarchial theory, one based on Species selection in the way Stanley proposed, one based on Group selection in sensu DS Wilson. Gould didn't really comment on the latter in depth, but he did favor the former.

      Selfish genes, perhaps better tagged as gene selection
      You miss the point. You confuse gene selection, as introduced by Williams and popularized by Dawkins with "selfish genes in sensu stricto", i.e. segments of DNA or RNA that do not have an (or a negative) effect on individual fitness, but thrive because their chemical properties lead to their proliferation within genomes. The classical example are transposons.

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    2. Endosymbiosis, like neutral theory and random genetic drift, just is not something that matters in everyday evolutionary theory.

      I suppose endosymbiosis doesn't matter unless you're interested in unimportant stuff like the origin of all eukaryotic organisms. And neutral theory and drift don't matter unless you're concerned with unimportant stuff like the origin of most inherited genetic changes.

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    3. There isn't any way to test the claim that endosymbiosis led to eukaryotes.

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  3. @ S. Johnson

    "Hierarchical theory, species selection and punctuated equilibria are nefarious schemes by Stephen Jay Gould to pose as a Great Mind by pretending to have devised some novelties in evolutionary theory. And he falsified data in The Mismeasure of Man too!"

    Mixing different issues is usually not helping.

    As Simon Gunkel pointed out the concepts of Hierarchical theory, species selection and punctuated equilibria are not 'nefarious schemes by Stephen Jay Gould'

    I just finished re-reading Stanley's "The New Evolutionary Timetable" and read the paragraph on species selection in Coyne's & Orrs book "Speciation".
    Coyne (who is no 'friend' of Gould) & Orr write:
    "Those who continue to debate the possibility of species selection fail to realize that comparative studies have already settled the issue. What remains is to determine how often this type of selection has shaped evolutionary trends"

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  4. A few interesting points here.
    first once again a big publication agrees that critics of evolution so threaten it that there is a , hmm, self censorship of imagination. Almost a conspiracy to hide things in order not to give the enemy comfort.
    The enemy being the distorters od science. I think he means creayioonists!

    he said evolution was so elegant and logical.
    What is the biological nature of elegance??
    Yes its about logic. i like the term LINE OF REASONING.
    it is based on these lines and persuades people but i say biological origins hypothesis should be based on biological evidence. Not connecting the dots however logical and elegant and desirable against the old dogma.
    I don't see why a creationist could not read into NEW SCIENTIST that they talk amongst themselves in those circles and think the ID/YEC revolution iks affecting evolutionary biology research. Yes. Its different from regular science subjects.
    There is something wrong about the old conclusions on these matters only now, in the right circles, being questioned and very well.

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    1. Robert,

      "first once again a big publication agrees that critics of evolution so threaten it that there is a , hmm, self censorship of imagination. Almost a conspiracy to hide things in order not to give the enemy comfort."

      No, this is a myth. Reread Dr. Moran's post, particularly the last sentence.

      "The attrition of ID/YEC is stressing them."

      ID/YES had had zero impact on evolutionary research or evolutionary theory. ID/YEC is a fairy tale with no evidence whatsoever to support it. It doesn't even have any 'lines of reasoning' to support it. It has no basis in reality.

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    2. There isn't any evolutionary theory and no one is doing any unguided evolutionary research. No one knows how to test the claim that natural selection can produce complex adaptations.

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  5. Population genetics. And so much more. I wonder how many people really realize the complexity of the entire field of evolutionary science?

    The age of the earth and the fact of evolution are established facts about which there ought not be much doubt, unless one has a religiously funded need to believe in supernatural forces and/or an absurdly young age for the Earth.

    If we take the known facts into consideration, no lines of reasoning leads to anything like the absurdities put forth by Mr.Byers.

    The earth is more that 4 billion years old and life itself on the planet is about as old as that. Evidence from all fields of science - even all those of which Mr. Byers doesn't even know exist - converge on an uncontoversible conclusion: Life has been evolving on this planet for a very long time.

    The views of Mr. Byers are incompatible with everyhing we know about the universe, the solar system, the earth, life, and everything under the sun. That is, nothing in the known universe shows any correspondence with the absurdities occupying the mind of M. Roberts. Even monkeys have a better understanding of the world than Mr. Byers.

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    1. Monkeys don't. If so prove it without lines of reasoning.
      Well your saying FACTS have established this and that.
      Yet the writer in NS said it was about logic.
      I agree its about logic or lines of reasoning.
      This is not the same as settled facts. Rather it uses facts/data to make conclusions which are then called facts.
      Yet they are only from lines of reasoning.
      Other lines existing immediately end them as facts. Whatever is right or wrong.
      The age of earth, of age of life existence are not facts.
      A fact should stand on its own. Creationists make a good case most origin conclusions are stand AFTER other conclusions are accepted.
      Indeed origin matters are a problem for making facts. It is about invisible things.
      thats why there is the modern revolution that is so well underway that these articles in these science mags mUST WARN people to keep open minded while manning the trenches.
      in their circles they discuss that this is not happening.
      The attrition of ID/YEC is stressing them.

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  6. It is very telling that no one can link to these alleged evolutionary theories. Why is that, Larry? I say it is because you evos are all big fat liars.

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  7. Darwin understood Punctuated Equilibrium before Eldredge and Gould coined the term.
    Origin of Species, 6th ed, under the only diagram in the book, pages 91, 92, and 95:

    "But I must here remark that I do not suppose that the process ever goes on so regularly as is represented in the diagram, though in itself made somewhat irregular, nor that it goes on continuously; it is far more probable that each form remains for long periods unaltered, and then again undergoes modification. Nor do I suppose that the most divergent varieties are invariably preserved: a medium form may often long endure, and may or may not produce more than one modified descendant; for natural selection will always act according to the nature of the places which are either unoccupied or not perfectly occupied by other beings; and this will depend on infinitely complex relations. ... In our diagram the line of succession is broken at regular intervals by small numbered letters marking the successive forms which have become sufficiently distinct to be recorded as varieties. But these breaks are imaginary, and might have been inserted anywhere, after intervals long enough to allow the accumulation of a considerable amount of divergent variation. ...
    In the diagram, each horizontal line has hitherto been supposed to represent a thousand generations, but each may represent a million or more generations; it may also represent a section of the successive strata of the earth's crust including extinct remains." ___darwin

    On another point, in a letter to Spencer (if I recall), Darwin complained that his own writing wasn't clear and concise. One way he might have done that is to state the exact wording for his theory. I searched his book to come up with:
    Descent with Modification through Natural Selection of Random, Heritable Variations within Unity of Type.

    Darwin covered other mechanisms, as well. He was working on Sexual Selection at the time. He clearly stated Natural Selection is the major, but not the only mechanism for change. Find that in the introduction.

    Before drift, flow, horizontal gene transfer, sexual selection, and any others under debate, those traits emerged through Natural Selection. After the effect of other mechanisms, they all are again subject to Natural Selection.

    I think the worst misunderstanding (lie, really) on Darwin is calling him racist, leading to genocide by eugenics.
    1. Darwin stood against the racists of the day. Read Capt. Fitzroy's letter, quoting Darwin heavily, and cosigned by Darwin.
    2. Galton invented the term Eugenics. And he advocated Mankind, and mixing bloodlines (now genetic lines) from outstanding individuals of distant populations. Neither Darwin nor Galton invented Anti-miscegenation.
    3. The Polygenists were the racist slavers/segregationists; who later became the master race eugenicists, in direct contradiction to Galton. Study his last chapter summary.

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