Category Archive: Evolution

Feb 14 2014

The state of modern evolutionary theory may not be what you think it is

Selectionist, neutral and nearly neutral theories. a | Selectionist theory: early neo-Darwinian theories assumed that all mutations would affect fitness and, therefore, would be advantageous or deleterious, but not neutral. b | Neutral theory: the neutral theory considered that, for most proteins, neutral mutations exceeded those that were advantageous, but that differences in the relative proportions of neutral sites would influence the rate of molecular evolution (that is, more neutral sites would produce a faster overall rate of change). c | Nearly neutral theory: the fate of mutations with only slight positive or negative effect on fitness will depend on how population size affects the outcome.

I was rather surprised yesterday to see so much negative reaction to my statement that there’s more to evolution than selection, and that random, not selective, changes dominate our history. It was in the context of what should be taught in our public schools, and I almost bought the line that we can only teach …

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Feb 13 2014

Both wrong

South Carolina State Sen. Mike Fair is doing his usual creationist thing and trying to block the teaching of evolution in public schools. He’s wrong. He’s an idiot. But then I read the clause in the state science standards that he’s opposing. Conceptual Understanding: Biological evolution occurs primarily when natural selection acts on the genetic …

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Jan 02 2014

Evolution is still evolving in the United States


I brought up that 2012 Gallup poll on evolution that showed we’ve been in the doldrums on educating the public about the subject — poll after poll for decades has shown that only about 50% of the American public accept the science. The latest Pew poll for 2013 has a slight surprised for us: that …

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Dec 31 2013

The lesser evil is still evil

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain. -Shakespeare Every time I see another atheist praising Pope Francis, I think of that quote from Hamlet. It could be worse, they say; at least he seems to have a conscience, he nods to the outcasts now and then, he may even be a tad more …

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Dec 27 2013

Frugal to the point of vacuity


What does it take to get Carl Zimmer to review your research in the New York Times? I suppose it helps to be at Harvard. It also helps to have a combination of subjects — evolution and the human brain — that Zimmer has written about in the past. It helps to have a paper …

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Dec 12 2013

Proud to be a mutant, then

Chris Mooney has done it again: he has rationalized a piece of the conventional wisdom to support the status quo and to make it harder to break the creationist habit. He has an article on Mother Jones titled Seven Evolutionary Reasons People Deny Evolution, and I gakked at every word, from the linkbait in the …

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Dec 07 2013

The reification of the gene

Razib Khan poked me on twitter yesterday on the topic of David Dobbs’ controversial article, which I’ve already discussed (I liked it). I’m in the minority here; Jerry Coyne has two rebuttals, and Richard Dawkins himself has replied. There has also been a lot of pushback in the comments here. I think they all miss …

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Dec 03 2013

Higher order thinking

The one thing you must read today is David Dobbs’ Die, Selfish Gene, Die. It’s good to see genetic accommodation getting more attention, but I’m already seeing pushback from people who don’t quite get the concept, and think it’s some kind of Lamarckian heresy. It’s maybe a bit much to ask that the gene-centric view …

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Dec 02 2013

Now you too can pretend you were at Skepticon this year

Here’s my talk on the Cambrian from Skepticon 6. Oh, hey, I just realized I could post the content of that text-heavy slide I flashed, showing the sources I used. So here you go: Web reviews from Donald Prothero, Nick Matzke, Larry Moran. Briggs, D.E.G.; Fortey, R.A. (1989). The early radiation and relationships of the …

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Nov 09 2013

The curiously limited argument from convergent evolution raises an ugly tentacle/fin again


I am not a fan of the convergent evolution argument for humanoid aliens. I can well believe that it’s likely that intelligent aliens exist out there in the universe, but I’m not even going to try to predict what they look like: there are too many alternative paths that are possible. But for some reason, …

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