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A hopeless muddle

James May, one of the presenters on Top Gear, is trying his hand at providing a little science education. I want to say…please stop. Here he is trying to answer the question, “Are humans still evolving?” In the end he says the right answer — yes they are! — but the path he takes to get there is terrible.

It’s little things that make me wonder if anyone is actually editing his copy. For instance, he helpfully explains that you, the viewer, were produced by your parents having sex. Then he says:

That’s how evolution is driven: by reproduction. But is that still true?

Uh, yes? We haven’t stopped reproducing, so we should be able to stop right there then.

But no, he continues on. He tries to explain evolution, and does manage to verbally describe natural selection correctly as differential survival and reproduction, but it’s illustrated with a pair of goats with telescoping necks. That doesn’t help. He’s describing Darwinian selection and showing it as Lamarckian — it’s a very mixed signal. And as we’ll see, he still seems to be thinking like will and experience drive evolutionary changes.

And do I need to mention that he doesn’t seem aware of processes other than selection in evolution? You need to realize the importance of drift to answer the question of whether evolution is continuing in humans, especially when you’re prone to say glib nonsense like “humans have turned the process of natural selection on its head,” whatever that means.

He also claims along the way that Darwin “tracing this evolutionary process backwards proved that all life came from a common source.” No, he didn’t. A hypothesis is not proof. He found morphological evidence for the relatedness of some groups, but the evidence for common ancestry of all forms wouldn’t really become overwhelming until the molecular evidence linked animals and plants and mushrooms and bacteria together.

By the time he gets around to talking the details of human evolution, we’re mired in a hopeless mess. Apparently, one reason we’re still evolving is that “certain characteristics will improve your chances of breeding” but then he helpfully explains that “its not as if ugly and stupid people don’t get to have children”. So which is it? Is natural selection selecting away for chiseled abs, or whatever he regards as a significant advantage, or isn’t it? And if people he judges as unattractive are having children, that driving force of evolution, then isn’t that undermining his understanding of the process?

And please, if you can’t even get selection straight in your head, please don’t try to explain population structure. He has a weird discursion in which he explains that “the genetic mutations that drive evolution can be most commonly found in a small gene pool” and then somehow tries to argue that we’re “too cosmopolitan,” that the fact that people from all over the world can now intermarry somehow “cuts down on those mutations.” I have no idea what he’s talking about. I suspect he doesn’t either.

Then, as evidence that we have been evolving, he points to big screen TVs as proof that we’re smarter than Stone Age people. Great — we now have a new IQ test. Just measure the dimensions of the individual’s TV. It’ll probably work about as well as regular IQ tests.

He tries to get to specific traits: lack of wisdom teeth is evidence of human evolution, apparently. Never mind that the changes are recent and mixed, and that it’s more likely a plastic response to changes in our diet than a trait that’s been selected for specifically. It’s a very bad example, unless he’s going to argue for selection for people with fewer teeth in their jaws. Do you typically count your date’s molars?

His ultimate proof that humans are evolving is the appearance of lactose tolerance in adults. That is pretty good evidence, I’ll agree…but he messes it up completely.

10,000 years ago, before anybody had had the bright idea of milking a cow, no human could digest the lactose in milk beyond childhood. But now, after a hundred years of drinking cream and milk and squeezy cheese in a can, 99% of people can.

He doesn’t even get the numbers right. North Europeans have a frequency of lactose tolerance of about 90%; in South Europeans it is about 30%, and less than 10% in people of Southeast Asian descent. This is not a largely lactose tolerant world.

And of course, his explanation is screaming nonsense. We are not lactose tolerant because we’ve been drinking milk; we’ve been drinking milk because we’re lactose tolerant. It is not a trait that appeared in the last century.

Why is this guy babbling badly about evolution? Did he have any informed, educated scientists to consult who could tell him not to make such a ghastly botch of it all?

Comments

  1. Louis says

    Top Gear is execrable crap, and as “science and engineering” programming, even just science and engineering boosterism, which the Beeb think it is, it is worse useless, it’s harmful. There are just two problems:

    1) It is obscenely profitable for the BBC so it’s going nowhere.

    2) When the casual bigotry and deliberate stupidity* are removed, some of it is actually quite funny in a self deprecating way. Which annoys me.

    Louis

    * Isn’t it convenient, to paraphrase the words of Stewart Lee, that Clarkson has his controversial opinions at regularly intervals. For money.

  2. george gonzalez says

    Next week, he explains Computer Science:

    The traveling salesman problem? Solved. You just put a tracking app on their smartphone.

    Tail recursion? That’s when you cut off a monkey’s tail and it grows back, it recurs.

    O(n)? That’s when someone asks you how long an algorithm takes to run, you say “O, N’y amount of time”

    P = NP ? That’s human evolution, you start out being able to pee, then later on, not so much pee.

    See, easy.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … a new IQ test. Just measure the dimensions of the individual’s TV.

    I must be even dumber than I thought, ‘cuz I don’t have any tv at all…

  4. M'thew says

    Oh, it’s James May again.

    Still better than Jeremy Clarkson in QI, but the clowny trinity of Top Gear should all retire and learn to shut up.

  5. woggler says

    I used to find Top Gear quite funny. Nowadays, less so. Is this evidence that I’m evolving?

  6. Sastra says

    Why is this guy babbling badly about evolution? Did he have any informed, educated scientists to consult who could tell him not to make such a ghastly botch of it all?

    He’s babbling badly about evolution because, like most people, he thinks that truth is going to be intuitive. This is what the theory of evolution — and science in general — looks like when it’s run through the filter of “common sense.” A muddle.

    Is it hopeless? I don’t know; meaning, I don’t know if he’s correctable. May is trying to understand a rather difficult concept by using analogies to everyday life … and then he is picking the wrong ones. Since he is closer than average — he at least accepts the scientific consensus of experts that evolution did indeed happen — he’s right enough for everyday wear. He can merge into an educated culture and get by. My guess is that most people who “believe in evolution” have this approach.

    But he’s obviously not right enough to explain it to others. Sheesh. That video was arrogance. The first rule is know what you’re talking about. Well, maybe not the first rule, but it’s got to be up there. This is science. You WILL be critiqued. How May responds will say a lot about how much he cares about the topic vs. how much he just likes hearing himself pontificate to an audience.

    Drawing mental connections between things which are superficially similar is the grand method of faith and theology. And it appears that May is coming up with some of the same supernatural-style assumptions about the top-down role of Mind. Not unsurprising. In science you have to fight against lazy intuitions — and doing that is hard.

  7. Doug Hudson says

    I’ll have to tell my lactose intolerant friends that they are part of the 1%. They’ll be thrilled!

  8. ryancunningham says

    There are so many intuitive selection pressures operating on humans that the general public tends not to think about. Popularizing this notion isn’t hard.

    Whenever this subject comes up, I point out that all causes of infant and childhood mortality are very strong selection pressures. Infections. Premature births. Delivery complications. Disease. Developmental problems. In the “First World”, these are terrifying dangers. In developing countries, they’re catastrophes. We haven’t escaped nature, red in tooth and claw. Not even close. Despite all our technological advances, it still takes all the running we can do to keep in the same place.

    Even the strongest advocates of the “we’ve stopped evolving” myth seem to turn on a dime when I make this point. There’s no excuse for May’s hopeless muddle. This is a very easy misconception to dispel.

  9. kieran says

    I only have one wisdom tooth which doesn’t look like it’s moving anywhere…does that mean I’m more evolved? or is a result of my hypodontia, in my case it’s genetic and follows the paternal line.

  10. teejaykay says

    I’ll come clean and say that I enjoy segments of Top Gear (Star in Our Reasonably Priced Car? Screw that segment). It’s not a motoring show, it’s a parody of one that tickles my funny bone. It’s three middle aged men behaving like school kids, and yeah, it goes over the top more than a little too often. I’m guilty of enjoying the show, ever since my wife (then just a friend) introduced me to the show.

    This of course doesn’t excuse the way May is wrong. It’s precisely like Sastra said:

    May is trying to understand a rather difficult concept by using analogies to everyday life … and then he is picking the wrong ones. Since he is closer than average — he at least accepts the scientific consensus of experts that evolution did indeed happen — he’s right enough for everyday wear. He can merge into an educated culture and get by. My guess is that most people who “believe in evolution” have this approach.

    Doesn’t change the fact that he’s wrong, obviously, and I hope it’s been pointed out to him. I suppose this is how urban myths start — anyone remember how people are told carrots give you great eyesight, when it was only a ruse to stop Nazi Germany from figuring out that the Britons had developed a radar system?

  11. burgundy says

    Every time I have encountered the idea that “we have turned the process of natural selection on its head,” what the person saying this means is that we have things like social safety nets so poor people (who are presumably poor because of low intelligence or character flaws) are still able to reproduce (or, gasp!, actually outbreed the richer, smarter people). The nice way of parsing this is that they think “natural selection” means selecting for objectively superior traits, rather than fitness as defined by the particular environment. The more accurate way is to add that they are also classist and often racist fucks.

  12. chigau (違う) says

    The SO never grew wisdom teeth.
    Mine tried to kill me.
    Which of us is ‘more evolved’?

  13. says

    #9′ Doug Hudson

    I’ll have to tell my lactose intolerant friends that they are part of the 1%. They’ll be thrilled!

    Sorry. World-wide frequency of lactose intolerance in adults is actually about 70%. They’re part of the mundane majority.

  14. says

    Okay – this just shows you how bad things have gotten and how I spend too much time involved in American politics that I am just happy that he go the answer right and don’t really care how he got there.

  15. David Marjanović says

    anyone remember how people are told carrots give you great eyesight, when it was only a ruse to stop Nazi Germany from figuring out that the Britons had developed a radar system?

    …Reference, please. I thought it was just an overreaching conclusion from the fact that they contain lots of β-carotene, which is what we make rhodopsin from.

    Which of us is ‘more evolved’?

    Well, I can tell you which of you has the derived condition.

  16. Prios says

    “the genetic mutations that drive evolution can be most commonly found in a small gene pool…[being] too cosmopolitan…cuts down on those mutations”

    I’m pretty sure what May’s talking about here is a warped interpretation of the bottleneck effect and/or the fact that genetic drift is more obvious in small, isolated populations. I suspect the reasoning goes like this:

    1) something something SMALL ISOLATED POPULATION something something (this is one half of May’s understanding of genetic drift and/or bottleneck effect)
    2) something something CHANGES HAPPEN IN POPULATION! something something (this is the other half)
    3) CHANGE = MUTATION!
    4) THEREFORE SMALL POPULATION –> MUTATION

    And there you have it. We need small population because small population makes mutation happen. Jim not know how it make mutation happen. It science thing. But Jim know it happen because Jim heard thing about how small population make genetic thing.

  17. Doug Hudson says

    PZ@16,

    Heh, my friends make me aware of that every time I boast about my superior lactose tolerant genetics while eating ice cream in front of them.*

    Although they had the last laugh, because now that I’m pre-diabetic, I can’t eat regular ice cream either.

    *I don’t really do this. Although some gentle ribbing about my mutant superpower may have occurred.

  18. Rey Fox says

    Eric: If by “answer right”, you mean that humans evolved and are evolving and weren’t poofed into existence 6000 years ago, then yes, I guess he got it. But he gets pretty much everything else wrong. And the trouble with evolution is that it seems to be a magnet for every poorly-informed blowhard to get up on a soapbox and dress up their social engineering talk with science. It makes real education harder either way.

  19. ealloc says

    For anyone interested in the evolution of lactose tolerance, Nature News recently had an article about the scientific progress so far: http://www.nature.com/news/archaeology-the-milk-revolution-1.13471

    According to the article, the peoples who eventually developed lactose tolerance had already been eating a lot of fermented milk (cheese and yogurt), which has much less lactose.

    What I found surprising is the advantage this gave them: “In a 2004 study, researchers estimated that people with the mutation would have produced up to 19% more fertile offspring than those who lacked it. The researchers called that degree of selection “among the strongest yet seen for any gene in the genome””. That’s some really strong selection!

    The evidence suggests this allowed lactose-tolerant middle-eastern peoples to simply move in and wipe out the indigenous hunter gatherers in Europe, rather than spread the lactase gene to them.

  20. Tethys says

    PZ

    I think there is a word missing from this sentence.

    And as we’ll see, he still seems to be thinking [traits] like will and experience drive evolutionary changes.

    I have a small tv that is hooked up to a VCR and a DVD player, which has not been used in over a year.

    I only had one wisdom tooth that erupted at age 25 and was removed.

    I’m pretty sure neither of those facts has any bearing on my evolvedness* or relative intelligence.

    *I realize this is not actually a word, but I can’t come up with the correct term at the moment.

  21. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    Urgh. I hate the wisdom tooth argument. There is very often unpleasant racial commentary bound up in people saying that it’s “more advanced” to not have wisdom teeth. [TW for racism]

    Advanced? No, because evolution doesn’t work that way. Evidence that you’re descended from someone who had a random mutation that didn’t prevent them from reproducing and may have had benefits after dietary changes? Sure.

    (And third molar agenesis is a hell of a lot more common in Asians and North American Indians than anyone else on the planet, so I have no idea why white supremacists think this is a sign of their own superiority. Oy.)

  22. pschoeckel says

    I’m not disagreeing with you that James May is gets it wrong. My problem is that I have no science background, so if I watched the show I wouldn’t know what’s true or not. I enjoy learning about evolutionary biology, but the only place I get information is here and WEIT, and I’m the kind of person who would go out of my way to watch a show that was informative and entertaining and come out of it thinking I’d learned something. On the plus side, If I do see the show I’ll be able to spot what’s not true.

    My question is, since he got it wrong as many people do, why don’t you (the collective you in the scientific community sense) put out something that’s accurate? Or maybe it’s out there someplace and I missed it. I’d watch it, as I’m sure a lot of people would. Not all of us are scientists, but we still like to learn.

  23. Amphiox says

    My question is, since he got it wrong as many people do, why don’t you (the collective you in the scientific community sense) put out something that’s accurate?

    That’s what this post is.

    There are IIRC quite a few other similar explanations by people who know their evolutionary theory out there, in a variety of formats. One simply has to go look.

  24. says

    You’re just damn lucky it wasn’t Clarkson doing the video, then it would have been wrong and coma-inducing.

  25. nich says

    @22:

    For anyone interested in the evolution of lactose tolerance, Nature News recently had an article…

    For a second there I thought that said NATURAL News and did a double spit take. I’d rather receive a prostate exam from a mutant crab than read Mike Adams vomit paragraphs about teh TROO origin of lactose intolerance.

  26. says

    Pschoeckel @27, evolution is one of the biggest things in science, up there with Copernican cosmology, Newtonian motion, Relativity, and Turing machines. As such, you can hardly throw a stone without finding someone discussing it somewhere. I’d bet that any popular science magazine will have had at least one article discussing basic evolution as an introduction to something deeper just this year alone.

    Trouble is, it’s a big theory, and it’s hard to distill down to basics while keeping it accurate. Though scientists usually do a better job than May, which just goes to show that you shouldn’t count on general journalists to give an accurate account of anything complicated.

  27. johnharshman says

    “the genetic mutations that drive evolution can be most commonly found in a small gene pool” and then somehow tries to argue that we’re “too cosmopolitan,” that the fact that people from all over the world can now intermarry somehow “cuts down on those mutations.”

    I think Prios has it almost right. I think it’s a garbled understanding of punctuated equilibria and of Ernst Mayr’s ideas about speciation behind that, and a misunderstanding of just how little those ideas are current in evolutionary biology.

  28. pschoeckel says

    Amphiox & NelC, It’s true that there is tons of information out there, and fairly easy to find. Unfortunately, I don’t always know what its good or bad science unless I read a review or if it’s recommended buy a trusted source. Time constraints are also an issue due to my day job and prior commitments, as I’m sure it is with most people. Reading blogs or watching videos probably leaves me believing many things that aren’t necessarily true and then I’m off babbling incorrectly about evolution, a la James May.
    I’m still working my way through the basics, but I’d rather be right about a few things than mostly wrong about a lot of things.

  29. says

    Pschoeckel @34, I hear you. I’m not a scientist myself, and I’m never going to understand half as much as, say, PZ does about evolution, so I’m in the same boat. But it’s the only boat with any integrity, so I’m resigned* to reading around, reading reviews, explaining it to my rubber duckie in the bath to see where the holes in my understanding are, and so on.

    It’s really the same as with any sphere of knowledge, you do have to check what you’re getting, and accept the responsibility of checking differing sources with each other and with what you know of reality, and rejecting those that fail that test. Whether it’s finding a good garage or a good source of info on science, it’s much the same.


    *I say “resigned”, but I enjoy it most of the time.

  30. eveningperson says

    I recall James May on Have I Got News For You once a few years ago. The subject of sea level rise as a result of climate change came up, and he managed to slip in a comment that the water in his glass did not rise as the ice melted.

    I assumed at the time it was deliberate denier misinformation, but perhaps he really is just ignorant of science.

  31. says

    Your frustration is too lengthy to be amusing, it becomes a bit disturbing pretty quickly, PZ. The problem is you misunderstand the entire premise, which isn’t, as you might possibly phrase it, “Does the gene pool representing the human species still present changing differential frequencies of alleles due to natural selection reflecting adaptation to the environment?” The question May is trying to answer is more straightforward and subtle, requiring more a far-ranging, if muddled, response. That question is, “Is the human race still changing in physical form as it did before we were human?” a far more debatable and interesting hypothesis.

    “We are not lactose tolerant because we’ve been drinking milk; we’ve been drinking milk because we’re lactose tolerant.”

    That’s a rather contradictory and teleological way of arguing about evolution, PZ, surely you must be able to admit that. Of course we (as a species displaying large frequency of the lactose tolerance allele) are lactose tolerant because we’ve been drinking milk (enabling us to have more babies who are also capable of drinking milk.) And people who drink milk aren’t always tolerant of it, so that obviously isn’t the only reason we drink it.

    Just because you can misconstrue a teleology doesn’t mean you’re interpreting it correctly. It actually works the other way around. This is particularly important to understand when trying to discuss evolution, and even more so when trying to discuss evolution with people who don’t already understand it.

  32. zetopan says

    It would be wise to avoid assuming that Top Gear reports anything factual.
    Unfortunately much of their audience is incapable of distinguishing between
    entertainment and documentary. Top Gear faked the breakdown of a Tesla
    car that they “tested” because it was in the script. When caught they had a
    lot of really lame excuses, including that they are merely “entertainment”.

    “The company [Tesla] said it became aware of the staging of the scene when its
    UK director of sales and marketing saw two scripts before the car had even been
    driven. One of the scripts concluded with virtually the same pay-off line used by
    Clarkson. ‘It’s just a shame that in the real world it absolutely doesn’t work,’ it
    read. Tesla also challenged Top Gear ‘about another script which called for the
    Roadster to be filmed being pushing into the hangar having run out of charge’.”

    http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/30/was-top-gears-test-of-tesla-roadster-misleading/
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1371334/Top-Gear-sued-Tesla-Motors-rigged-electric-car-test.html

    All three of the presenters on that program appear to be professional jackasses.
    “… Richard Hammond – jokingly – described Mexicans as ‘lazy, feckless, flatulent
    [and] overweight’. Clarkson had suggested the ambassador would be too busy
    sleeping to complain.”

    The Top Gear program is very popular and it makes the BBC a lot of money. This
    is apparently why they have a license for duplicity and xenophobia, among their
    other stupidities.

  33. says

    Just want to point out that while May is a presenter on Top Gear, this clip is not from that programme, but one called Things You Need To Know, in which he whizzes around some big ideas in the space of half-an-hour. As far as I know, Clarkeson and Hammond don’t have anything to do with it, but it’s probably the same production company.

  34. says

    “We are not lactose tolerant because we’ve been drinking milk; we’ve been drinking milk because we’re lactose tolerant.”

    That’s a rather contradictory and teleological way of arguing about evolution, PZ, surely you must be able to admit that. Of course we (as a species displaying large frequency of the lactose tolerance allele) are lactose tolerant because we’ve been drinking milk (enabling us to have more babies who are also capable of drinking milk.) And people who drink milk aren’t always tolerant of it, so that obviously isn’t the only reason we drink it.

    You’ve got to be kidding me. You really don’t understand evolution at all, since you’re the one who has it exactly backwards.

    Drinking milk does not make one lactose tolerant. Being born with an allele that prolongs expression of lactase makes one lactose tolerant. And being born with an allele that prolongs expression of lactase provides a selective advantage in a culture that has adopted storage of milk as an energy resource.

    Spare me the haughty lecture on a topic in which you have very little clue.

  35. PDX_Greg says

    Damn you, PZ, damn you! How dare you casr sarcasm on the relationship between high IQs and TV sizes!

    Yes, I am aware of the fact that there is more likely a slight inverse relationship than any kind of direct one, particularly for kids being raised by TVs. However, it is a longstanding goal of mine to fill a particularly suitable patch of wall in our family room with a fairly large flat panel TV, and the last thing I need is some actual science professor to come along and debunk the semi-citable evidence supporting my goal — a celebrity stating, albeit weakly, a correlated link between large TVs and higher IQs, with a British accent. After the damage you have inflicted on my cause, my wife will never be convinced.

    Funny thing is, I hate TV, have no good reception, and don’t get cable or satellite. But, Netflix. Thanks to you, I will likely have to watch the last chapters of Walter White’s story unfold on an ancient CRT and just take their word for it that the product is clear blue. Wait! It just struck me that Walter’s a chemist and you’re a biologist … and suddenly it is clear to me that you’re clearly waging some petty inter-disciplinary scientific war against the chemists at my expense. Well, you won this round, Mr M, but should you intervene with my plan to construct a power generating nuclear fusion reactor in my basement as soon as I get my hands on enough graphene, I’m afraid I will be unable to contain my wrath.

  36. says

    “Drinking milk does not make one lactose tolerant.”

    No, but subsisting on milk does make one lactose tolerant, when the ‘one’ is a species rather than an individual organism. When you start using “we” loosely and switching between the two, your thinking gets fuzzier than you want it to, and the theists notice it even if you don’t.

    “And being born with an allele that prolongs expression of lactase provides a selective advantage in a culture that has adopted storage of milk as an energy resource.”

    You seem to be suggesting that a whole culture would do that before any individuals in that culture can tolerate drinking milk as an energy source. That can’t be right, can it? Why would they do that?

    I’m telling you, PZ, insulting me isn’t going to help you deal with people who don’t understand evolution already, but listening to me will. Either way, I certainly appreciate your taking the time to respond.

    Thanks for your time. Hope it helps.

  37. F [is for failure to emerge] says

    I don’t supposed this bodes well for one of the Top Gear Jackasses™ doing this “how to build a planet” thing on television this week (or month… something…). Not that I expected much from the advertising.

  38. says

    Fuck off, maxdevlin. You’re a pretentious ignoramus.

    What it means is that initial phases would have appeared in cattle- and goat-raising cultures, where the primary purpose of the herd was meat. Secondarily being able to ingest milk is a bonus that gives an advantage.

    But why am I talking to you? You think you already know it all. You and James May.

  39. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    but subsisting on milk does make one lactose tolerant, when the ‘one’ is a species rather than an individual

    Zing, you missed PZ’s point as it flew over your head. If the lactase enzyme shuts down after infancy, no amount of species drinking milk will reactivate the production of the enzyme. What is needed is a mutation where the lactase enzyme doesn’t shut down after infancy, and then can spread through the population if the population drinks milk. What you claim/imply is Lackmerian, where an individual can adapt during its lifetime, and that adaptation is spread to future generations.

  40. johnharshman says

    I wonder if the invention of cheese and yogurt had anything to do with setting up an environment under which ability to digest lactose became advantageous. They make dairy accessible to the lactose-intolerant but still provide extra benefits to the lactose-tolerant.

    It’s always possible that maxdevlin has a point. I would only be able to rule that out conclusively if I had any idea what he was trying to say.

  41. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I should clarify, but I’ve been waiting my whole life for “Cheese, friend” to be a suitable reply to any question.
    Cheese is the storable form of milk. The bacterial cultures that convert milk into cheese also convert a large portion of the lactose into galactose and glucose, both of which are readily metabolized by the bacterium, any mitochondrion handy, or in your goddamned liver. Cheese has much less lactose than milk products, and since its rotten already, doesn’t go bad all that easily. I don’t know if lactose-intolerance is the reason that many people in subsaharan prefer sour milk, but I’ve seen enough of it guzzled to have my suspicions.

  42. johnharshman says

    There’s also kümiss, or whatever else you want to call fermented milk. Same deal. One might also mention keeping animals for blood, as the Masai do. But that wouldn’t have the effect of easing into lactose.

  43. says

    Allow me to explain where ya’ll are consistently going wrong:

    ” If the lactase enzyme shuts down after infancy, no amount of species drinking milk will reactivate the production of the enzyme. ”

    I do not suggest that is the case when I say that we are lactose tolerant because we drink milk. Just because you can misconstrue the teleology doesn’t make it false. Our species (we) is (contains a large number of individuals who are) lactose tolerant because we (our species) have in the past survived at least partially on milk. The presence of milk (or cheese) does not cause the mutation of the allele. It causes the propagation of the allele throughout the gene pool to near fixation. So its presence in a preponderance of individuals of our species is “because” we drink milk, as much as the other way around. Choosing to misinterpret rather than correctly interpret a teleology, as PZ and all the people trying so desperately to hate on me while carefully refusing to calmly consider my very real points are doing, is not the signal of intelligence you have been taught to assume it is.

    Thanks for your time. Hope it helps.

    [Oh, it does. Bye. –pzm]

  44. David Marjanović says

    The evidence suggests this allowed lactose-tolerant middle-eastern peoples to simply move in and wipe out the indigenous hunter gatherers in Europe

    Not wipe out, just swamp. They’ve made a sizable genetic contribution to present-day Europeans, as meso- and neolithic DNA shows.

    I think it’s a garbled understanding of punctuated equilibria and of Ernst Mayr’s ideas about speciation behind that, and a misunderstanding of just how little those ideas are current in evolutionary biology.

    Punk eek is real, it’s documented pretty well in the fossil record. It’s just not the only thing that happens (or is documented in the fossil record).

    Sure thing!

    Thank you! I’ve forwarded them to my mom! :-)

    You seem to be suggesting that a whole culture would do that before any individuals in that culture can tolerate drinking milk as an energy source. That can’t be right, can it? Why would they do that?

    You could have followed the link in comment 22.

    Instead, you got yourself banned. *painful facepalm*

    That’s sad!

    What it means is that initial phases would have appeared in cattle- and goat-raising cultures, where the primary purpose of the herd was meat.

    You, too, seem not to have followed that link…

    I wonder if the invention of cheese and yogurt had anything to do with setting up an environment under which ability to digest lactose became advantageous.

    …and you neither. (Spoiler: it provides evidence that what you suggest really happened.)

    Choosing to misinterpret rather than correctly interpret a teleology, as PZ and all the people trying so desperately to hate on me while carefully refusing to calmly consider my very real points are doing, is not the signal of intelligence you have been taught to assume it is.

    Dude, seriously, you need to learn to express yourself a lot better.

  45. johnharshman says

    David M.:

    Punk eek is real, it’s documented pretty well in the fossil record. It’s just not the only thing that happens (or is documented in the fossil record).

    I’ll grant that morphological stasis has been documented, though not as much as it ought to be. And punctuation has been documented, though even less than stasis. But how can you say that the central idea of PE has been documented, which is that punctuation is coincident with speciation? I see two major problems. The biggest is that you can’t really recognize or distinguish biological species in the fossil record. Cryptic species are hard enough to distinguish today, and many species that aren’t cryptic based on living individuals are as good as cryptic when considering features likely to be preserved. Another though lesser problem is the inadequacy of geographic sampling. (Temporal sampling too, but not as much.)