More Recent Comments

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Help fix the Wikipedia article on evolution

The Wikipedia article on evolution [Evolution] is a "Featured article," which means two things: (1) it is one of the best articles Wikipedia has to offer, and (2) it was voted a featured article by Wikipedia editors and that means they will resist any changes.

You will be shocked to learn that the article isn't perfect. It could use some serious updating and revision but my first attempt was reverted by an editor named Efbrazil who has vowed to revert any edits I make unless I can get his approval. So I thought I'd give it a try and you can see the result on the Talk:Evolution pages. My intitial objective is to edit the introductory paragraphs in the lead to eliminate the reference to expression of genes and to introduce the term "allele," which is covered in the main part of the article. Here's the current opening paragraphs of the lead,

In biology, evolution is the change in heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations.[1][2] These characteristics are the expressions of genes, which are passed on from parent to offspring during reproduction. Genetic variation tends to exist within any given population as a result of genetic mutation and recombination.[3] Evolution occurs when evolutionary processes such as natural selection (including sexual selection) and genetic drift act on this variation, resulting in certain characteristics becoming more or less common within a population over successive generations.[4] It is this process of evolution that has given rise to biodiversity at every level of biological organisation.[5][6]

The theory of evolution by natural selection was conceived independently by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace in the mid-19th century and was set out in detail in Darwin's book On the Origin of Species.[7] Evolution by natural selection is established by observable facts about living organisms: (1) more offspring are often produced than can possibly survive; (2) traits vary among individuals with respect to their morphology, physiology, and behaviour; (3) different traits confer different rates of survival and reproduction (differential fitness); and (4) traits can be passed from generation to generation (heritability of fitness).[8] In successive generations, members of a population are therefore more likely to be replaced by the offspring of parents with favourable characteristics for that environment. In the early 20th century, other competing ideas of evolution were refuted as the modern synthesis concluded Darwinian evolution acts on Mendelian genetic variation.[9]

I'm also thinking that we should modify the following sentences that don't seem to be appropriate in a "Featured article,"

According to the now largely abandoned neutral theory of molecular evolution most evolutionary changes are the result of the fixation of neutral mutations by genetic drift.[101] In this model, most genetic changes in a population are thus the result of constant mutation pressure and genetic drift.[102] This form of the neutral theory is now largely abandoned since it does not seem to fit the genetic variation seen in nature.[103][104]

Editor Efbrazil seems to be he only editor willing to discuss these problems and he is hard to convince. If anyone else is interested in improving this Wikipedia article, I invite you to participate in the discussion on the Talk pages.


John Harshman said...

Very odd to hear that the neutral theory has been abandoned. I see that the references (103, 104) do not actually support this claim, so that might be the way to approach this. Marty Kreitman (104) may be partly to blame for his clever, provocative title. But even the abstract shows that he didn't mean what the article claims. In fact, he's talking only about evolution in protein-coding exons.

Larry Moran said...


I'm pretty sure that the editor who inserted this is one of those people who think that the neutralist-selectionist debate was only about coding regions in protein-coding genes. This distorted view was very common among those who thought that the only important part of evolution was due to changes in protein-coding genes.

John Harshman said...


The old confusion between "important" and "prevalent" may be operating here.

Anonymous said...

Could using a few illustrative examples help the discussion with Tim about the need for introducing a minimum of conceptual complexity in the Wikipedia entry

Anonymous said...


Rosie Redfield said...

The different meanings of the term 'expression' might be part of the problem. Traditional Mendelian descriptions of phenotypes often refer to them as the 'expression' of the genetic or genotypic differences, meaning the observable consequences of the differences. But in molecular biology jargon 'expression' refers to the transcription (and sometimes translation) of a protein-coding gene.

Larry Moran said...


That's part of the problem but evolution also encompasses changes in the frequencies of neutral alleles in junk DNA and it's difficult to justify those heritable characteristics as "the expressions of genes."

I any case, the discussion is now irrelevant since I convinced Efbrazil to remove the sentence.

The discussion now is about whether there should be a simplistic description of natural selection in the lead. I tried to remove it but Efbrazil reverted my deletion. I argue that the current description isn't very accurate and it doesn't belong in the lead since it's explained (better) in the main body of the article. I point out that other mechanisms of evolution are not described in the lead and the emphasis on positive natural selection for favourable traits feeds into a distorted view of evolution (simplistic adaptationism) that we should we trying to correct.

Efbrazil threatens to charge me with edit warring if I try and restore the edit he reverted. This is very frustrating - it reveals everything that's wrong with Wikipedia and why knowledgeable scientists often give up trying to fix it. He has appointed himself as the protector of the status quo and refuses to engage in serious scientific debate.