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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Myths and misconceptions about evolution???

This is a video produced by TEDed. The "lesson" is by Alex Gendler. I don't know who he is and what his background is. What concerns me is whether this video makes a positive or a negative contribution to the public's understanding of evolution. Personally, I think it's another example of a video that does more harm than good.

What do you think?


  1. Well, it does replace some common misconceptions about evolution with some less trivial misconceptions. If this is aimed at kids, I don't see a lot wrong with it. It doesn't need kin selection though (it's a whole different level of detail compared to the rest of the video) and I always cringe when gene-centric views are put forward without noting that they hinge upon Williams definition of genes. Then again, I suppose it's less of an issue in a 5 minute video than in - say - a bunch of books aimed at adults (and in one case biologists) by Williams main popularizer.
    What I would like to see is something like this aimed at an older audience that gets things right. Any takers?

    1. [...] cringe when gene-centric views are put forward without noting that they hinge upon Williams definition of genes.

      Dawkins does make it clear that he's talking of recombinational units. He might not make it clearly enough, or often enough, but he does make the point.

    2. Yes, but... The main issue with Dawkins treatment of Williams genes is that they are defined by abstract constraints, while Dawkins basically mixes these up with more molecular notions. In Dawkins a sequence of amino acids is not a gene, while according to Williams definition it is. I'm not that happy with Williams calling them genes, because the notion is quite a bit removed from molecular usage of the term. And Dawkins at times speaks of molecular genes as if they were the same thing, making the ideas less clear.

    3. If you mean 'that which segregates and recombines with appreciable frequency', I don't see how a sequence of amino acids qualifies as a 'Williams' allele.

      Certainly I take the point that the word 'gene' itself has the power to confuse, depending on whether you are talking to a geneticist, a molecular biologist, an evolutionary biologist or a developmental biologist. I come from the molecular biology end, but I do think, on my reading of Dawkins, that he makes it clear enough what he means. Many critics (I'm thinking, for example, of Denis Noble) don't seem to appreciate the distinction. But yes, he himself slips very readily between the usages.

    4. I'm not sure what would disqualify the AA sequence of some protein from that definition. Williams gave a clearer definition of "appreciable frequency" in discussing rates of endogenous change and as far as I can tell an equivalent definition of a William gene is given by:
      If there is a discrete trait X, with possible character states x1, x2...xn and the SI of the histogram distribution f1,f2...fn given by H=-Sum(i=1..n) fi log(fi) does not tend to go to H=log(2N) then trait X is a gene in sensu Williams.

      I.e. what matters is that the trat is discrete and that it does not have an endogenous rate of change that would lead to each individual, or each individual chromosome having a different state, eventually.

      It's not a definition tied to anything as specific as DNA. The trait "Is a descendent of Julius Ceasar" has two character states, a low endogenous rate of change and serves as a Williams gene.

      There's a wide range of traits that fulfil that definition and a lot of questions can be restated as population genetics on adequate Williams genes. What's a synapomorphy? - A Williams gene that has high linkage with clade membership (which is also a Williams gene!).

  2. What in particular don't you like about it? Yes, like most popularizations of evolution all the examples seem to be about animals, unfortunately. Is it the over emphasis on selection that bugs you?

    1. "Evolution is organisms adapting to their environment" is supposed to be a misconception but it hinges on the distinction between individual organisms and populations. I think that's too subtle, and, besides, the concept of populations isn't very well explained.

      Yes, I don't like the over-emphasis on adaptation.

      I would have thought that it might be a good idea to give a proper definition of evolution but none was given.

      I don't like the figures showing humans "evolving" from something that looks an awful lot like a modern gorilla.

  3. It was terrible for evolution but great for creationism.

    First they deny evolution is controversial. If you have to say it then thats the evidence its controversial.
    if SCIENTISTS say evolution is true because they are SCIENTISTS. then this superior status must be restrained by whether they are SCIENTISTS in the relevant subjects that give a superior authority about evolution!
    then who says only card carrying scientists, in these subjects, know best? It could be any adult who has put their mind to it. Including SCIENTISTS in subjects unrelated to evolutionary biology. NOW a rocket scientist OPINION matters IF he's studied enough the subject.
    In truth its very few scientists or anyone who have a higher authority in determining what is true about evolution.
    Its just cheap shots at creationism .

    its very unlikely giraffes were selected for long necks by the few with long necks prevailing over the others. if so variety in neck size would rule.
    In reality giraffes are a product of a past rich environment and not a poor one with desperate selectionism going on.

    The whole thing is confusing for kids because it doesn't prove that evolution can happen or did. it presumes it did.
    The kids would just be memorizing this presumption and not understanding its foundations.

    by the way. if only scientists decide these things and not the hundreds of millions who doubt evolution then what does it matter what kids think or why they should think about it at all?
    just obey and don't question. tHats science.