Most readers probably have heard of Michael Egnor, the DI’s pet neurosurgeon. Egnor has been harping on about what he perceives as the lack of utility of evolution – which he, of course, equates with “Darwinism” – in medicine since 2007, and various folks here have commented on what has been termed his “egnorance“.
This is going to annoy him. Jerry Coyne has in the past argued that evolutionary biology “doesn’t have much practical value in medicine” but has now changed his mind based on evidence presented by David Hillis. Dr Egnor could take a lesson from this illustration of evidence leading to a change in stance (hey! ain’t that science?), but I’m guessing his dogmatic assertions will just continue.
Joe Cain and Michael Ruse have edited a volume, Descended from Darwin: Insights into American Evolutionary Studies 1925-1950, that has been published by the American Philosophical Society. Thanks to a grant from the APS, the complete volume is available for free at Cain’s website. Some really interesting papers from a bunch of folks I know well. As Cain notes:
This volume began at a conference, held 22–23 October 2004 at the American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia. The main focus was on evolutionary studies in America before, during, and after the famous “evolutionary synthesis” of the 1930s and 1940s. The synthesis period has been the focus of substantial new research and important new thinking. This volume brings together fifteen specialists to explore these developments and to press further. Questions shaping these essays focus on the following broad themes:
- continuity and breaks across generations
- emerging narratives for the period
- new research opportunities at the APS
- new ideas from the research front
- placing evolutionists in the broader context of biology
- future directions
In addition to fifteen original essays, this volume includes a thoughtful introduction by Michael Ruse.
This conference was made possible by the generous support of the Barra Foundation and given in honour of the late Professor Frederick H. Burkhardt.
This being the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth – and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his masterwork – many folks seem to have the goal of reading Origin for the first time. Generally speaking the first edition of 1859 (or the second of 1860) is taken as the best edition to begin with – in later editions Darwin muddies his ideas in response to critics and it becomes increasingly difficult to clearly delineate what “Darwinism” entails.
David Quammen has produced a very nice edition of Origin that relies on the first edition for its text but supplements it with extracts from The Voyage of the Beagle and Darwin’s Autobiography while simultaneous profusely illustrating it with period illustrations, Darwinalia, and modern photos of species that Darwin refers to. All-in-all this is an excellent way for the Darwin neophyte to experience Origin and get some nice background into Darwin’s life and time. Highly recommended!
Ref: Charles Darwin (2008) On The Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition (David Quammen, ed.) Sterling, 560 pp. [amazon]
February is going to be a busy month for me. Sunday I leave for Oklahoma where I will be giving the lead-off public lecture for their Darwin 2009 Celebration. I will be speaking on the 12th at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History on the topic of “Was There A Darwinian Revolution?” Any Sooner readers should feel free to come along and introduce themselves.
While in Norman, I’ll also be teaching a four-day intensive course on Darwin for the Oklahoma Scholar-Leadership Enrichment Program, the syllabus for which is here. While there will be some lectures, the meat and potatoes of the course will be seminar discussions of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Paley’s Natural Theology, and Darwin’s two major works – Origin and Descent. I’ll also be lecturing in a mate’s class on the topic of professionalization in Victorian science. It will be a busy week.
No sooner that I get back, that I am giving the Darwinian Revolution lecture at a meeting of ASU Sigma Xi (20th) and later that evening addressing the issue of whether evolution and faith can be reconciled at the Arizona Science Museum (starts 5:30 pm).
Thankfully, the teachers workshop I mentioned previously has been shifted to a future date (probably in the Fall). If you are an Arizona middle or high school teacher interested in attending, please feel fee to contact me for further information.
Nick Matzke over at PT has just made me aware that Mike Majerus had passed away after a sudden illness. Those of us who have followed the ID issue will know Majerus from the studies he did of melanism in peppered moths Biston betularia and the empirical work he did to refute the nonsense spouted by the likes on Jonathan Wells and Judith Hooper on Kettlewell’s work on the moths.
His last paper, “Industrial Melanism in the Peppered Moth, Biston betularia: An Excellent Teaching Example of Darwinian Evolution in Action” appeared last month in Evolution: Education and Outreach … you could do worse to honor the researcher that was Mike Majerus than to check it out. The abstract reads (in part):
Some criticisms of the work [of Kettlewell] are shown to be the result of lack of understanding of evolutionary genetics and ecological entomology on the part of the critics. Accusations of data fudging and scientific fraud in the case are found to be vacuous. The conclusion from this analysis of criticisms of the case is that industrial melanism in the peppered moth is still one of the clearest and most easily understood examples of Darwinian evolution in action and that it should be taught as such in biology classes.
I’m quoted in a press release regarding a teacher training workshop (the “Evolution Challenges Workshop”) we’re giving at ASU to help middle and high school teachers teach evolution. Money quotes:
Studies have shown that “16 percent of high school biology teachers are essentially young earth creationists who deny human evolution, with only 28 percent accepting unguided naturalistic evolution of humans,” says John Lynch, a lecturer in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and an Honors Faculty Fellow in Barrett, the Honors College. “While this latter number is higher than the general public’s 13 percent, it is still very low.” …
Lynch believes that at a time where state and local school boards are being pressured by creationist groups to “teach the controversy” over “Darwinism,” teachers and their students need to be clearly aware of the scientific nature of evolutionary biology and how scientists frame and test claims about the evolution of life’s diversity.
“Evolutionary biology is no different than any other scientific field,” Lynch points out. “And modern evolutionary biology - while having its roots in Darwin’s ideas formulated over 150 years ago – is not ‘Darwinism,’ but rather a rich field of inquiry that Darwin himself would perhaps not clearly recognize.”
“We at ASU are committed to helping Arizona’s high school biology teachers develop lessons that clearly show evolutionary biology for what it is – an exciting, engaging, and fascinating field, one that shares all the characteristics of modern scientific inquiry.”
I’ll be leading a section on evolution and common creationist talking points. Yes another thing I’m doing in February! For more on ASU’s Darwinfest, see here.
An interesting looking paper has just appeared online by John Beatty and Eric Cyr Desjardins that looks at the importance of history in determining form. The abstract reads:
In “Spandrels,” Gould and Lewontin criticized what they took to be an all-too-common conviction, namely, that adaptation to current environments determines organic form. They stressed instead the importance of history. In this paper, we elaborate upon their concerns by appealing to other writings in which those issues are treated in greater detail. Gould and Lewontin’s combined emphasis on history was three-fold. First, evolution by natural selection does not start from scratch, but always refashions preexisting forms. Second, preexisting forms are refashioned by the selection of whatever mutational variations happen to arise: the historical order of mutations needs to be taken into account. Third, the order of environments and selection pressures also needs to be taken into account.
Haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but a copy is sitting on my “To Read” pile.
Biology & Philosophy
Ed reports on a putative new species of iguana that has been found on the Galapagos archipelago. Darwin saw two species (one marine and one land). We now have two additional land species, the Barrington land iguana Conolophus pallidus and this new one which is found only Volcan Wolf, the northernmost volcano of Isabela Island.
Paper is in press with PNAS (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0806339106).
Some of you may already have seen this (for example, PZ has mentioned it), but Nature has put together a short PDF document that gives fifteen lines of “evidence for evolution by natural selection” [here]. Here’s the list (stolen from PZ):
- The discovery of Indohyus, an ancestor to whales.
- The discovery of Tiktaalik, an ancestor to tetrapods.
- The origin of feathers revealed in creatures like Epidexipteryx.
- The evolution of patterning mechanisms in teeth.
- he developmental and evolutionary origin of the vertebrate skeleton.
- Speciation driven indirectly by selection in sticklebacks.
- Selection for longer-legged lizards in Caribbean island populations.
- A co-evolutionary arms race between Daphnia and its parasites.
- Non-random dispersal and gene flow in populations of great tits.
- Maintenance of polymorphisms in populations of guppies.
- Contingency in the evolution of pharyngeal jaws in the moray.
- Developmental genes that regulate the shape of beaks in Darwin’s finches.
- Evolution of regulatory genes that specify wing spots in Drosophila.
- Evolution of toxin resistance.
- The concept of evolutionary capacitance: the idea that environmental stress can expose hidden variations that are then subject to selection.
Take a look at the original document (and PZ’s linked postings above). You can also actually download the original articles via the PDF.
I’d like to point out, however, that some of the “gems” don’t actually provide much evidence for natural selection as a mechanism for evolution. They do instead offer strong evidence for the fact of evolution and the pathway through which organisms have traveled over time.
Carl Zimmer is presenting a series of posts by Ken Miller in which Miller takes on DI-flack Casey Luskin’s attempt to claim that he misrepresented research regarding the evolution of clotting proteins when he gave testimony in Kitzmiller v. Dover (way back in 2005).
PZ has a post up discussing some abject stupidity over at WorldNetDaily. Sign #1 of stupidity is that the WND columnist (a lawyer, no less) refers to “Origins [sic] of Species” as being Darwin’s 1859 work which legitimized “a pagan, anti-God worldview rooted in fascism, socialism and eugenics and to propagate these diabolical ideas throughout the world.” PZ notes:
What logically follows from Darwin’s theory is that fit individuals are those that survive and have offspring. There is no presumption that there is only one possible strategy to accomplish that survival: if we maintain a state that helps the weak and sick live and have children, then we have increased their fitness.
Maybe it’s just me, but I read the truth of evolution as saying that we can work to oppose brute nature and make life better for our fellow human beings, or we can surrender and refuse to resist nature’s course. We have a choice. You can be an enabler of greater rates of selection (using arbitrary criteria that may not generate enhanced survival for anything but the select occupants of a totalitarian state!) or you can work for a better life for more.
Over one hundred years ago, Thomas Henry Huxley touched on a similar theme in his wonderful essay Evolution and Ethics, a piece that deserves to be read and thought about more. Huxley wrote:
Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends, not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it. It may seem an audacious proposal thus to pit the microcosm against the macrocosm and to set man to subdue nature to his higher ends; but I venture to think that the great intellectual difference between the ancient times with which we have been occupied and our day, lies in the solid foundation we have acquired for the hope that such an enterprise may meet with a certain measure of success
Wander over and read the whole of Huxley’s piece. It really is a classic of Victorian prose.
(This review appeared in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology in 2005)
As human beings, we like to tell stories–we are story-telling apes. As scientists, however, we tend not to see ourselves as telling stories for, we are led to believe, stories are mere fiction. Yet when faced with answering the question of why or how we became story-telling apes, we are often presented with a series of hypotheses with little empirical evidence to distinguish between them. In many ways, Wiktor Stoczkowski claims that it is because we are storytelling apes, and that because stories often represent cultural accretions, we are having so little success in generating a conclusive narrative about hominization.
(A review from Journal of the History of Biology 2004)
In the years following the publication of Origin of Species, George Romanes developed his theory of physiological selection in which he posited that “physiological peculiarities” lead to hybrid sterility between individuals and thus isolation which would allow natural selection to “promote diversity of character, and thus to evolve species in ramifying branches instead of linear series” (Romanes, 1886, qtd. p. 46). He felt that these physiological peculiarities may involve the reproductive system and in a series of works that received a mixed reception from his contemporaries made his case for this mode of speciation. Over one hundred years later, Donald Forsdyke feels that he has managed, in some degree, to finish Romanes’ work.
(Another review that was published a few years back, in this case in Isis in 2001. Alter’s book is still in print and still worth reading.)
Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was written in a vivid style and, as such, is frequently studied as much as literature as scientific text. Particularly notable is Darwin’s use of analogy and metaphor. In the work under review, Stephen G. Alter focuses on two of Darwin’s literary devices – the metaphor of the tree and the analogy between languages and species – and in so doing demonstrates how both the supporters and opponents of transmutation used ideas and images from linguistics to present their case.
Two quick shots …
Firstly, ASU is planning to install a 2 megawatt roof-top solar grid that will provide over 20% of the power to our campus. The installation is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
That’s enough to run 4,600 computers and reduce carbon emissions by 2,825 tons per year, or the equivalent of taking 530 cars off the road for a year. Long-term plans call for up to 7 megawatts of solar-generating capacity to be built at ASU in Tempe, with additional solar installations at its campuses in downtown Phoenix and other locations.
Secondly, Lawrence Krauss (of The Physics of Star Trek fame) is joining our faculty as a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration where he will lead an initiative to study origins.
To jump start the origins initiative at ASU, Krauss is organizing an origins symposium for April 5-7 with Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Craig Venter, and at least five Nobel laureates in different areas, including Frank Wilczek.
“This sort of symposium will help raise the intellectual energy in the region,” Krauss says. He plans to bring 100-150 “of the best people in the different areas, and have sessions on forefront puzzles, outstanding mysteries in each of these areas; and some of the most active young people as well as senior people, so key discoveries will likely be unveiled.”
In addition to the working symposium, “we’ll have a public symposium, which will, I think, be at a level that is probably unheard of in the world in terms of the quality and public profile of the speakers,” Krauss says.
He envisions other outreach efforts, including a workshop for science writers and journalists to interface with well-known scientists to talk about key origins issues “so that the journalists can better report on topics including evolution.”