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Monday, March 17, 2014

Cosmos presents evolution

The second episode of the new Cosmos series is Some of the Things That Molecules Do.

It's about evolution and it's not bad. I have four comments.

A missed opportunity. Natural selection is important and Neil deGrasse Tyson did a pretty good job of explaining it. It wouldn't have taken a big effort to mention that there's more to evolution than natural selection. He could, for example, have pointed out that some breeds of dogs are prone to certain genetic diseases or health problems because some bad mutations were accidentally fixed alone with the good ones. He could have pointed out that our eyes have a blind spot.

The Theory of Evolution is not a fact. Neil deGrasse Tyson said that the theory of evolution is a fact. This is not correct. Evolution is a fact. Evolutionary theory attempts to explain how evolution occurs. Some of the explanations, like natural selection, are facts but many aspects of modern evolutionary theory are still hotly debated in the scientific community.

We don't understand the origin of life. The episode closed with deGrasse Tyson saying the we don't understand how life began and there's nothing wrong with admitting that we don't know something. Excellent!

There are better ways of drawing DNA. I don't like the way DNA is pictured in the first two episodes, especially in the opening sequence. It looks like the bases grow out of the backbone and fuse to form base pairs. They could have drawn a more accurate representation without losing any visual appeal.

I give the episode a B+.


Sean Boyle said...

I have this recorded on my DVR and haven't gotten around to watching it yet. Glad I could read your take on it before I did. Does he make any mention of ideas that aren't over 100 years old (selection-driven evolution)? Bad representations of DNA drive me crazy too.

Robert Byers said...

Didn't watch it but Neil knows squat about evolution.
Saying its a fact is just because they know everyone says its not a fact.
Its stupid to say so without proving it. Its an attempt to invoke authority to dumb kids.
I LOVE THEY HAVE TO DO IT. THey feel threatened and evolution/creation is more important then the cosmos after all.

I don't know the blind spot is not exactly what is needed for sight?! Hm.

Mark said...

Thank you Dr. Moran.

As a high school biology teacher, I've learned more nuance and cutting edge bio from you, PZ, Coyne, Dawkins, et. al., than I did in undergrad and post-grad combined. I am amazed by your stamina. You deal with IDiots and religiotards with the utmost class and precision.


SPARC said...

I don't like the DNA depicted because it looks as if it appears to change from lleft- to right-handed and back rather than being right-handed all the way. Or is it just my eyes?

Joe Felsenstein said...

The DNA model looked quite different from the space-filling chemical models made in chemistry courses. They also had an animation showing DNA synthesis that had a polymerase with a piece that rocked back and forth as it added bases. I didn't notice Okazaki fragments. Plus every time it rocked back and forth it seemed to add 3 to 5 nucleotides. Is that really how DNA synthesis works?

I notice that at Uncommon Descent they are crowing about Cosmos getting a mediocre ratings (3rd in its time slot). Does anyone know what kind of ratings the original Cosmos got? In the U.S, it was on PBS, which generally had lower ratings than the regular commercial networks of its day. However I see that the original Cosmos was the highest-rated PBS show until the Ken Burns series on the Civil War came along.

Diogenes said...

The DNA polymerase looked too much like clockwork and not enough like random molecular dynamics. Science popularization always does that, machine-ifying molecules. Helps the creationists and their mousetrap bullshit.

judmarc said...

I notice that at Uncommon Descent they are crowing about Cosmos getting a mediocre ratings (3rd in its time slot).

Yeah, 'cause who wants kids to be fascinated by the world and universe around them? No good can come of it.

Benoît Leblanc said...

The same thing annoyed me. I guess the important is that it ended up right-handed, unlike what happens in roughly half of Hollywood movies.

Joe Felsenstein said...

I think maybe the flipping back and forth I saw was the formation of Okazaki fragments, etc., and the putting in more than one base at a time was also part of that simulation.

Joe G said...

Natural selection is a fact in that differential reproduction due to heritable happenstance variation occurs. However no one can test if natural selection is a designer mimic. So how important is natural selection and why is it important when it appears to be impotent?

Joe G said...

The OoL is important because only if blind watchmaker type process produced living organisms from inanimate matter would we infer blind watchmaker processes are responsible for all of evolution.

If the OoL = design then the inference is they were designed to evolve and evolved by design.

colnago80 said...

Tyson knows a heck of a lot more about evolution then Booby knows about anything.

Unknown said...

Well, first you would need a designer and examples of the designer's processes for comparison. But, if there is no designer and process to compare natural selection to, then it is an irrelevant test.

Unknown said...

We infer natural processes because it is natural processes that we observe at all scales. It would hardly be parsimonious to assume supernatural processes as the null hypothesis.

Diogenes said...

NS has not been "shown to be impotent." Joe "Security Clearance" Gallien again attempts begging the question.

Diogenes said...

Joe G: "only if blind watchmaker type process produced living organisms from inanimate matter would we infer blind watchmaker processes are responsible for all of evolution."

What an absurd statement! It's like saying we can never prove the rock slide was caused by gravity, until we first explain the physics behind the formation of each and every type of mineral.

Regardless of how minerals formed, we know they respond to gravity. Regardless of how the first cells originated, we know reproduction, RM and NS produce speciation, macroevolution, and increases in information and complexity, because we have observed it happen.

Joe "Security Clearance" Gallien demands that our default hypothesis *always* be "Invisible spooks did it." How'd that work out for germ theory and planetary motion?