Evolution and fossils


Donald Prothero asked me to pass along this request for feedback. He wrote an excellent book on evolution (with illustrations by the inimitable Carl Buell) that beautifully complements the theory with the details of common descent. If you’ve read it — I’m working on my copy now — let him know what you think!

EVOLUTION AND FOSSILS

Last night’s Nova program did an outstanding job, given the nature of
their show and the time limits imposed by their format. But we still have a
long way to go to convey to the general public just how strong the fossil
evidence for evolution has become. Those few animations of fossils in the
Nova special and website were OK, but most of the public (especially those
with creationist leanings) distrusts animations, so we need to show them
actual fossils that are relatively easy for a non-paleontologist to
interpret. We need to make the case over and over again that there are
hundreds of nice transitional sequences in the fossil record, from the micro
to the macro scale, to overcome the creationists’ systematic campaign of
lies and distortions about fossils. Their mantra is “There are no
transitional fossils,” and as Josef Goebbels once said, a lie repeated often
enough becomes the truth. We need to counteract this propaganda, and the
nice specials about dinosaurs (with little or no evolutionary content) are
not enough.

As readers of this website know, Carl Buell and I just put together a
book on the topic, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll)
(Columbia Univ. Press, available on their website or on Amazon.com. I’m
flattered by the nice comments about Carl Buell’s art in our recent book
(webpost on Pharyngula.org, Oct. 18). Carl did an amazing job putting
together beautiful restorations of extinct critters, as well as many new
versions of phylograms and family trees of extinct animals to show just how
many transitional fossils the creationists must deny. We tried as much as
possible to bring in the most up-to-date information about transitional
forms, especially the more recent discoveries that only the specialists know
about. We even managed to scoop the scientific literature–we have an image
of a transitional giraffid fossil with a neck intermediate in length between
a modern giraffe and primitive short-necked giraffid. Nikos Solounias
graciously sent it to me, even though his article is still in press.

Now that the book is out, I’d appreciate any feedback from the readers of
Pharyngula.org about what you liked or didn’t like, and what you would
recommend in the way of changes. I’m about ready to revise it slightly for
the second printing, so timely reviews would be very helpful.

Dr. Donald R. Prothero
Lecturer in Geobiology
California Institute of Technology

Comments

  1. Ross Nixon says

    The length of a giraffe neck is evidence for natural selection in an existing feature. Don’t put it up as an example of evolution. Evolution implies increasing complexity and functionality.

  2. David Wilford says

    Since we’re already getting denialist spam in the comments, I might as well plug this again, as it’s the best show on trasitional fossils and how they support Darwin’s theory of evolution I’ve had the pleasure to view:

    NOVA: The Missing Link – (PBS)

  3. Tulse says

    Ross, any genetically-moderated change in a species due to selection pressure is evolution. The notion that the only “real” evolution involves added features or “information”, or the idea that there is some sort of distinction between “microevolution” and “macroevolution”, is a misunderstanding that is supported and actively promulgated by the creationists/IDers. The general process by which a giraffe neck becomes longer is, in principle, the same general process by which some fish came to live on land.

  4. BobC says

    Their mantra is “There are no transitional fossils,”

    Actually their mantra is “thinking is a sin”. The flat-earthers can’t be cured and it’s crazy to pretend there’s any hope for them.

  5. says

    Evolution implies increasing complexity and functionality.

    And ‘Nixon’ implies a narcissistic, paranoid liar. Your point is?

    What you think ‘evolution’ implies is irrelevant, Rossie.

  6. says

    I’m only about 20-30 pages into the book. So far, I’m really enjoying it (but I haven’t even gotten to the fossils yet).

  7. Sven DiMilo says

    the idea that there is some sort of distinction between “microevolution” and “macroevolution”, is a misunderstanding that is supported and actively promulgated by the creationists/IDers

    yeah, them and Steve Gould.
    And Larry Moran.

  8. says

    I’m trying to make my mind up about Gould; I suppose I have to read some of his books soon. It’s hard to take a guy seriously when the only excerpt you’ve read is that one where he remarks on how back in the Cambrian, we got new phyla and stuff, whereas now we merely get new species.

  9. says

    I’m trying to make my mind up about Gould; I suppose I have to read some of his books soon. It’s hard to take a guy seriously when the only excerpt you’ve read is that one where he remarks on how back in the Cambrian, we got new phyla and stuff, whereas now we merely get new species.

  10. pdiff says

    Dr. Prothero has written a wonderful book that presents itself as the perfect counterpart to the Discovery Institute’s upcoming attack on high school curricula, Explore Evolution (See http://arstechnica.com/articles/culture/intelligent-design-rebranding.ars ). I hope highschools around the US will adopt Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why it Matters. While most here would find it is probably under their level, I think it’s a great introduction for those new to the topic. It was a breath of fresh air for me to see one of the good guys front and center.

  11. says

    Those few animations of fossils in the Nova special and website were OK, but most of the public (especially those with creationist leanings) distrusts animations, so we need to show them actual fossils that are relatively easy for a non-paleontologist to interpret./

    Except there aren’t any … which is why the program didn’t show any. Did that thought ever occur to you PZ? Even the celebrated Lucy isn’t so celebrated anymore after the Israeli researchers got done with her.
    http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1176152801536&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

    http://afdave.wordpress.com

  12. Tulse says

    Sven, I’m no expert, but I think you’re misreading Gould. He doesn’t argue that there aren’t small changes, just that speciation often involves a collection of small changes that occur very rapidly. And it seems to me that punctuated equilibrium is a) an empirical question, and b) not really a question of either/or, but of relative frequency of occurrence.

  13. tom says

    I got the book as soon as PZ posted about it. Seems like a good one stop shop for the evolution controversy. Prothero writes well and lucidly. I do have two comments though. Eventually you get to a certain age where you would chose a thicker heavier book in exchange for larger print. Second, though it is a fact filled summation of what you need to know in dealing with the IDiots, I have the feeling that a detachable handle making it a more effective club would be more useful in getting your point across rather than the ideas containd therein cause they ain’t listening.

  14. says

    As Dawkins has pointed out, any serious person who believes in a model of punctuated equilibrium is still also a believer in gradual, Darwinistic evolution–it’s just that gradual changes by tiny degrees may sometimes move quickly (in terms of geological time) and sometimes slowly. It’s still gradualism.

  15. says

    As Dawkins has pointed out, any serious person who believes in a model of punctuated equilibrium is still also a believer in gradual, Darwinistic evolution–it’s just that gradual changes by tiny degrees may sometimes move quickly (in terms of geological time) and sometimes slowly. It’s still gradualism.

  16. zwa says

    The length of a giraffe neck is evidence for natural selection in an existing feature. Don’t put it up as an example of evolution. Evolution implies increasing complexity and functionality.

    Yes, all you cevilution proponentsists should be looking for the transition between modern giraffes and the no-necked giraffe.

  17. says

    I’ve been planning on reading that book (after I’ve cleared the currently huge pile in my reading-list. Maybe over the winter.

  18. kurtdenke says

    I’m about 3/4 of the way through the book and have lots of comments to offer; I don’t want to put a huge, huge post on here, though. Is there an e-mail address where we can send comments? I can be reached at kurtdenke (AT) gmail.com

  19. says

    I am so looking forward to this book that I’m turning blue. I tried going through amazon.ca, but I’d have to wait till December to get it. Uh-uh. Chapters/Indigo doesn’t even have the book in their system, so no-go there. It’s coming from amazon.com and thus through customs, so it may be five or six years or so…

  20. octopod says

    Oh man, that’s too weird. It always just throws me for a loop when my Real Life intersects with my Online Life unexpectedly If you’re reading this, hi Don, it’s Val! I didn’t know you knew PZ Myers at all, let alone well enough that you’d ask him to plug your book. :)

    Dave Hawkins, was that something you were quoting and forgot to respond to, or was it what you actually meant to say and accidentally formatted as a quote? ‘Cause if that was your actual response, how does that discovery in any way make Lucy less remarkable? I mean, it just moves A. afarensis to a different hominin branch…oh, I get it. Anthropocentrism. Right. :-p

  21. Sven DiMilo says

    When I mention Gould espousing a qualitative difference between micro- and macro-evolution, I am not referring to punctuated equilibrium. Gould strongly advocates some opaque (to me) concept of Species Sorting. We’ve been going round and round about this over at Larry Moran’s Sandwalk blog recently, and one of Larry’s essays is from where I pluck the following quote (my emphasis):

    We do not advance some special theory for long times and large transitions, fundamentally opposed to the processes of microevolution. Rather, we maintain that nature is organized hierarchically and that no smooth continuum leads across levels. We may attain a unified theory of process, but the processes work differently at different levels and we cannot extrapolate from one level to encompass all events at the next. I believe, in fact, that … speciation by splitting guarantees that macroevolution must be studied at its own level. … [S]election among species–not an extrapolation of changes in gene frequencies within populations–may be the motor of macroevolutionary trends. If macroevolution is, as I believe, mainly a story of the differential success of certain kinds of species and, if most species change little in the phyletic mode during the course of their existence, then microevolutionary change within populations is not the stuff (by extrapolation) of major transformations.

    Stephen Jay Gould (1980) “G.G. Simpson, Paleontology, and the Modern Synthesis” reprinted in THE EVOLUTIONARY SYTHESIS, E. Mayr and W.R. Provine eds. (1998).

  22. mothra says

    Some people never do home work. Look at the fossil history of the Giraffidae, and I would love to see a live Sivatherium– but it was possibly one of early man’s first extirpated species.

    About transitional forms: an important point, so obvious as to never be brought up when dealing cretionists but should be is that EVERY species, except the last one in any given lineage that has since become extinct, is a transition form.

  23. David Marjanović, OM says

    It’s hard to take a guy seriously when the only excerpt you’ve read is that one where he remarks on how back in the Cambrian, we got new phyla and stuff, whereas now we merely get new species.

    Every genius makes one huge embarrassing mistake in their life. As in Einstein not wanting to accept quantum uncertainty.

    I highly recommend Gould’s book Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. Its German title retranslates as “Illusion Progress”, and that’s what it is about: about the lack of progress in evolution (no matter how defined), the very thing that a certain drive-by troll up there believes is part of the definition of evolution.

    Punk eek isn’t all that bad either (although a claim can probably be made that Gould overhyped it — comment 18 is right). It fits most of the few cases of speciation that are observed in the fossil record.

  24. David Marjanović, OM says

    It’s hard to take a guy seriously when the only excerpt you’ve read is that one where he remarks on how back in the Cambrian, we got new phyla and stuff, whereas now we merely get new species.

    Every genius makes one huge embarrassing mistake in their life. As in Einstein not wanting to accept quantum uncertainty.

    I highly recommend Gould’s book Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin. Its German title retranslates as “Illusion Progress”, and that’s what it is about: about the lack of progress in evolution (no matter how defined), the very thing that a certain drive-by troll up there believes is part of the definition of evolution.

    Punk eek isn’t all that bad either (although a claim can probably be made that Gould overhyped it — comment 18 is right). It fits most of the few cases of speciation that are observed in the fossil record.

  25. AlanWCan says

    Some troll said: “Evolution implies increasing complexity and functionality…that about sums up a great deal of the misunderstanding about evolution by people who get all their science knowledge from the side of a cornflakes packet I’m afraid. No, it doesn’t imply anything of the sort. The Victorians kinda thought like that, mostly based on Aristotle and partly because it allowed them to place themselves at the top of the heap. Hate to break it to you but that figure of the line of hominid evolution starting with a little chimp thing and ending up with what looks like Chris Kristofferson is not actually a reliable reference source.
    Natural selection produces organisms that are well adapted to their particular niche (or rather weeds out those that aren’t well adapted). So, if more complex is advantageous, sure evolution will produce increased complexity. On the other hand, you should realise that there are many many bacteria still around, and their line of descent goes way back. They’re way less complex than a fly, but still the product of millions of years of evolution. Evolution can lead to a decrease in complexity too if that’s what best fits the environment. Buchnera are a genera of bcteria that have systematically lost amino acid coding genes and become obligate intracellular parasites of insects, and this seems to have occurred some time in the last 10,000 years. That’s a quick example of evolution producing reduced complexity for you. There are others.
    Get out of your mammal-centric self and look around you.

  26. Sven DiMilo says

    Just read the Prothero article linked in comment #24–thanks Dan. The last few paragraphs are about this special macroevolutionary concept of Species Sorting; he seems solidly in the Gouldian camp:

    If species sorting is real, then the
    processes operating on the level of species (macroevolutionary processes) are not necessarily the
    same as those operating on the level of individuals and populations (microevolutionary processes). In other words, macroevolution may not just be microevolution scaled up.

    I still don’t get it. It’s all a what-if thought experiment as far as I can tell…and it’s not just because I “come from a reductionist viewpoint that cannot see species as entities, even after all the evidence that has accumulated.” (He’s got some balls saying that about Ernst Mayr, IMO.)

  27. says

    What I understand of punctuated equilibrium—which I largely got from reading Dawkins—is that yes, it’s interesting, and yes, it’s almost certainly true, but it’s a new detail in gradual, Darwinian evolution, not a major overthrow of…well, of anything at all. I get the feeling that non-punk-eek biologists like Dawkins got irritated because some people behaved as though it were a major revolution that put their traditional Darwinist ideas to shame, when it’s really just another piece of the puzzle.

    If this is a major misunderstanding, then (barring major misreading on my part) Dawkins is wrong, I suppose; feel free to clarify.

  28. says

    What I understand of punctuated equilibrium—which I largely got from reading Dawkins—is that yes, it’s interesting, and yes, it’s almost certainly true, but it’s a new detail in gradual, Darwinian evolution, not a major overthrow of…well, of anything at all. I get the feeling that non-punk-eek biologists like Dawkins got irritated because some people behaved as though it were a major revolution that put their traditional Darwinist ideas to shame, when it’s really just another piece of the puzzle.

    If this is a major misunderstanding, then (barring major misreading on my part) Dawkins is wrong, I suppose; feel free to clarify.

  29. David Marjanović, OM says

    Species as entities? Under which species concept?

    If this is a major misunderstanding, then (barring major misreading on my part) Dawkins is wrong, I suppose; feel free to clarify.

    No, no, you’re right. It’s just a reasonably big part of the paleontological part of the puzzle.

  30. David Marjanović, OM says

    Species as entities? Under which species concept?

    If this is a major misunderstanding, then (barring major misreading on my part) Dawkins is wrong, I suppose; feel free to clarify.

    No, no, you’re right. It’s just a reasonably big part of the paleontological part of the puzzle.

  31. David Marjanović, OM says

    Wow, so not only are you Not A Kook, you are also not a drive-by troll! Apologies all around.

    Now let me repeat: evolution is just descent with modification by mutation, selection, and drift. Mutation is random; selection is not random — it is determined by the enviroment. Some environments select for increased complexity. Some select for decreased complexity. Some select for constant complexity.

    There is a minimum simplicity for life, and life started near this minimum. Since then, life has diversified immensely in all directions — but it cannot go beyond the minimum. So, the maximum complexity reached by life has moved very far, while the minimum has moved hardly if at all.

    Most of life is still near the minimum. Clearly, environments that select for increased complexity — however you want to measure that — are rare. They are most likely rarer than environments that select for decreased complexity: the latter applies to all parasites, for example.

    No biologist uses the word “devolution”. No biologist has probably used that word since at least the 1950s.

    Even Darwin himself already wrote in the margin of a book “Say never higher or lower”.

  32. David Marjanović, OM says

    Wow, so not only are you Not A Kook, you are also not a drive-by troll! Apologies all around.

    Now let me repeat: evolution is just descent with modification by mutation, selection, and drift. Mutation is random; selection is not random — it is determined by the enviroment. Some environments select for increased complexity. Some select for decreased complexity. Some select for constant complexity.

    There is a minimum simplicity for life, and life started near this minimum. Since then, life has diversified immensely in all directions — but it cannot go beyond the minimum. So, the maximum complexity reached by life has moved very far, while the minimum has moved hardly if at all.

    Most of life is still near the minimum. Clearly, environments that select for increased complexity — however you want to measure that — are rare. They are most likely rarer than environments that select for decreased complexity: the latter applies to all parasites, for example.

    No biologist uses the word “devolution”. No biologist has probably used that word since at least the 1950s.

    Even Darwin himself already wrote in the margin of a book “Say never higher or lower”.

  33. arachnophilia says

    i recommended vertebrate paleontology and evolution by robert l. caroll to a creationist who wanted to see examples of transitional fossils. to my amazement, she actually went and procured a copy. and read it.

    and somehow failed to gather the obvious connections the series of skeletal diagrams should have made clear to just about anyone.

    you’re not going to convince these people. not even by showing them every fossil in the world, arranged in a nice little tree. they just don’t get it, because they don’t want to.

  34. David Marjanović, OM says

    Erm, should have been “minimum complexity” or “maximum simplicity”.

  35. David Marjanović, OM says

    Erm, should have been “minimum complexity” or “maximum simplicity”.

  36. Dustin says

    If you check this New Scientist article … you will see evidence that things have gotten more simple over time.

    I don’t see evidence for that at all. What I do see, however, is an article talking about how relying on morphology and not much else didn’t get us the right answers, molecular biology and phylogenetics does get us a good tree of life, and you’re somehow talking about “devolution”.

    Really, though, this just underscores what I’ve been saying for a while. If you don’t accept evolution, it’s because you don’t understand it. And, lo, here comes Ross Nixon talking about evolution in teleological terms. There isn’t any “higher” or “lower”, and the complexity of an organism wouldn’t have anything to do with it if there were. There’s just “adapted”.

  37. David Marjanović, OM says

    And then I had a look at the New Scientist article.

    While nobody disagrees that there has been a general trend towards complexity – humans are indisputably more complicated than amoebas –

    Oh boy. Ross, you are in good company with your ignorance.

    relying on morphology and not much else didn’t get us the right answers

    To be honest, that approach has never been seriously tried, as far as I know. The data matrices I’ve seen all have very small numbers of characters, species, and characters per species; no wonder not much good comes out of that.

  38. David Marjanović, OM says

    And then I had a look at the New Scientist article.

    While nobody disagrees that there has been a general trend towards complexity – humans are indisputably more complicated than amoebas –

    Oh boy. Ross, you are in good company with your ignorance.

    relying on morphology and not much else didn’t get us the right answers

    To be honest, that approach has never been seriously tried, as far as I know. The data matrices I’ve seen all have very small numbers of characters, species, and characters per species; no wonder not much good comes out of that.

  39. says

    David: I don’t see how that even could be wrong, but Heathen Dan asserted that the view of punctuated equilibrium I got from Dawkins was necessarily false—I’d be curious to hear him back that assertion up.

    Ross: In that article I see them say that While nobody disagrees that there has been a general trend towards complexity – humans are indisputably more complicated than amoebas – recent findings suggest that some of our very early ancestors were far more sophisticated than we have given them credit for. (Emphasis added, of course.)

  40. says

    David: I don’t see how that even could be wrong, but Heathen Dan asserted that the view of punctuated equilibrium I got from Dawkins was necessarily false—I’d be curious to hear him back that assertion up.

    Ross: In that article I see them say that While nobody disagrees that there has been a general trend towards complexity – humans are indisputably more complicated than amoebas – recent findings suggest that some of our very early ancestors were far more sophisticated than we have given them credit for. (Emphasis added, of course.)

  41. Dustin says

    To be honest, that approach has never been seriously tried, as far as I know.

    Well, not lately, but I was under the impression that was how it was mostly done before the advent of genetics. Here’s the New Scientist again (for whatever it’s worth):

    In the past, the tree of life was constructed on the basis of similarity of morphological features.

  42. SteveM says

    What I understand of punctuated equilibrium–which I largely got from reading Dawkins–is that yes, it’s interesting, and yes, it’s almost certainly true, but it’s a new detail in gradual, Darwinian evolution, not a major overthrow of…well, of anything at all.

    What I understand of “punk eek”, largely from reading Gould, was that his “rivalry” with Dawkins was not about evolution or “Dawinism”, but only about the rate of evolution. That Dawkins’ “gradualism” was basically small changes occuring at a relatively constant, slow, rate. Gould felt that rate of change was very uneven, that long periods of stability would prevent much change from surviving; that it was only during times of some kind of stress that change would be survive and produce speciation. Gould, I thought, was pretty explicit that he and Dawkins only disagreed over the rate of change not about the validity of evolution by natural selection. At the time the Gould/Dawkins disagreement was being exploited by creationists as “huge problems” in Darwin’s theory, when it was really nothing of the sort.

  43. Sven DiMilo says

    Maybe we could all agree not to get our science from some hack freelancer’s by-the-word crap in New Scientist? That article is just the umpteenth example of lousy press-release-style science-writing. Everything’s Revolutionary! Brand New! Not How We Used To Think At All!!!
    As just one example, has anyone ever doubted that echinoderms had ancestors (hint: motile ancestors) with central nervous systems? I mean, I took Invert Zoo back when pseudocoelomates were still treated as a clade, and it seemed uncontroversial then.
    “Devolution,” jeez. Maybe you should go over to Uncommon Descent and agree with those idiots about “front-loading.”

  44. says

    #1: The length of a giraffe neck is evidence for natural selection in an existing feature. Don’t put it up as an example of evolution. Evolution implies increasing complexity and functionality.

    Bwahaha! Hilarious! This guy’s a riot!

    The length of a giraffe neck is evidence for natural selection in an existing feature.

    Obviously, since that’s how natural selection works.

    Evolution implies increasing complexity and functionality.

    What? Where did this come from? How does evolution imply increasing complexity?

    The increasing length of a giraffe neck *is* a perfect example of actual evolution (not made up creationist- straw-man evilution). You can’t go changing the accepted definitions of terms and expect to get anything but derisive laughter in response.

    Not only that, but in this case, a long neck is new. It’s an altered version of an existing structure, but it is adapted to an entirely different kind of use (the neck in most mammals is not long and is not used for reaching leaves high up in trees). It’s similar to the Panda’s “thumb” – and existing structure in the wrist that changes across time as it adapted to a new purpose. But the earlier evolutionary change that led to the loss of the actual “thumb” (i.e. reduced complexity) was just as much evolution as the new features that came later.

  45. octopod says

    Marjanović @ 29: I tend to agree about the overhyping. I never really understood, despite my research advisor’s attempt to explain it to me, why punk eek is such a big deal. I mean, it’s immensely useful in understanding the fossil record, certainly, but it has nothing notable to say about evolution. It’s just a fact of biogeography. Although admittedly Don’s reaction to my saying that was something along the lines of “Well, that’s what you learn NOW! It was new at the time!”, but I guess I can only talk about what I’ve learned myself…

  46. octopod says

    Oh, and Ross — hell yes, absolutely, read Gould’s Full House if you’ve any interest at all in the question of “increasing complexity”. One of the most important things he ever said, if you don’t mind the baseball chatter.

  47. AlanWCan says

    Sven DiMilo. Thanks! I was just about to say that. New Scientist, Scientific American, or the inflight magazine on Delta Airlines are not what we’re talking about when we say “the scientific literature.”

  48. David Marjanović, OM says

    Well, not lately, but I was under the impression that was how it was mostly done before the advent of genetics.

    Yes. That doesn’t count as “seriously”. “Seriously” means using a computer to find the most parsimonious tree that explains the distribution of the states of several hundred characters on dozens of taxa. Below three times as many characters as taxa, don’t bother publishing.

    Of course, making a dataset for a serious molecular phylogenetic analysis takes a few weeks, sequencing and alignment included. Making one for a serious morphological analysis is a Ph.D. thesis.

    One of the most important things he ever said, if you don’t mind the baseball chatter.

    As I like saying, after reading Full House, I understand evolution, but I still don’t understand baseball. :-)

  49. David Marjanović, OM says

    Well, not lately, but I was under the impression that was how it was mostly done before the advent of genetics.

    Yes. That doesn’t count as “seriously”. “Seriously” means using a computer to find the most parsimonious tree that explains the distribution of the states of several hundred characters on dozens of taxa. Below three times as many characters as taxa, don’t bother publishing.

    Of course, making a dataset for a serious molecular phylogenetic analysis takes a few weeks, sequencing and alignment included. Making one for a serious morphological analysis is a Ph.D. thesis.

    One of the most important things he ever said, if you don’t mind the baseball chatter.

    As I like saying, after reading Full House, I understand evolution, but I still don’t understand baseball. :-)

  50. Jud says

    Sven (#31) said of this “macro vs micro” thing, “I just don’t get it.”

    After reading Larry Moran’s essay and some of the quotes there, I think perhaps I do get part of it. Either I am ignorant enough not to lose the forest in the trees, or else I’m just ignorant. :-) Here’s my take:

    What Larry, et al., call “micro” evolution is subject to familiar laws involving various types of selection and genetic drift. But the history of species – the “macro” level – admits a tremendous amount of contingency, such as changing biogeography over time, asteroid impacts, etc. The question then becomes whether there is something more than contingency – something subject to familiar types of evolutionary laws, e.g., some form of group or species selection – responsible for differential survival at the species level and above.

    Folks who are more comfortable with including contingency in the concept of evolution in the first place, even at the “micro” level (and why not – mutation is contingent, though much more repeatable and suitable for lab experimentation than asteroid impacts), would naturally have a hard time seeing why anything more than an accumulation of “micro” is necessary to achieve “macro.”

  51. Josh says

    Sven DiMilo. Thanks! I was just about to say that. New Scientist, Scientific American, or the inflight magazine on Delta Airlines are not what we’re talking about when we say “the scientific literature.”

    THANK YOU! Now, if we could just get people to stop posting links to f-ing wikipedia entries as though they are research sources, we might make some progress. Probably not, but maybe.

  52. Sven DiMilo says

    Well, it’s not just contingency, I think. What Gould et al. were/are positing is some ineluctable property of a species that does not also belong to the populations that constitute that species. The question I can’t get answered (to my satisfaction) is: “like what?”
    They talk about things like the “propensity to speciate” or “proneness to extinction” at the species level, as if those properties cannot be reduced to or caused by attributes of populations or organisms. *shrug*

  53. foxfire says

    I’m reading it now! I bought it because of the good review it received (in Nature or Science, I forget which journal).

    My bookmark is on page 203 (last chapter page end on page 359)and I LOVE THIS BOOK!)

    Things I like:
    -Prothero’s thorough understanding of Creationist/ID BS and the clear explanation and demolishment of said BS. Even dirt isn’t dumb enough to misunderstand the main points.
    -New understanding of how Paleontology works in today’s world (“biostratigraphy” Who knew? Cool!)
    -Excellent references (my “I want” list grows)
    -Readability- love the humor! Makes leaning fun!
    -Integration of Evolutionaly biology with Paleontology/Geology – “Consilience” in the E.O.Wilson sense of the term.
    – Great illustrations and pictures to aid understanding
    -Considering what you get, great bang for the buck!

    DID I SAY I LOVE THIS BOOK?

    Things I don’t like:
    -I probably won’t be able to get my husband to read it because he “doesn’t understand science”. If nagged into reading it, he will balk at the first technical term that is not explained somewhere in the book, in an easy to find manner. (Oh the crosses we technical women must bear ;-)
    -Lack of a glossary. Dawkins added a glossary in the 25th anniversary edition of “The Extended Phenotype”. That simple glossary (I had no clue what haploid or diploid meant)set me off on a wonderful journey to learn more…

    This book is probably the best I’ve read on explaining the evidence for evolution, explaining the science vs IDC “war”, and being a darn good read to learn stuff I didn’t know.

    DID I SAY I LOVE THIS BOOK?

  54. itchy says

    Sven, to me it all reads like:

    Physicist: All chemistry is just physics on a larger scale.

    Chemist: No, you couldn’t possibly see what I can see by looking from your level. Biology, however, is just chemistry on a larger scale.

    Biologist: No, you couldn’t possibly see what I can see …

    Even in Moran’s essay, he states:

    In the real world–the one inhabited by rational human beings–the difference between macroevolution and microevolution is basically a difference in emphasis and level. Some evolutionary biologists are interested in species, trends, and the big picture of evolution, while others are more interested in the mechanics of the underlying mechanisms.

    To me, that’s all there is to it. Having read all that, it appears to me that macroevolution IS just a higher-level way of looking at the mechanism of microevolution, as chemistry depends on physical mechanics.

    Moran’s phrase that “microevolution is not sufficient to explain macroevolution” is misleading. Does he mean you can’t see the big picture by looking only at the details, or does he mean there’s a ghost lurking there that cannot be validated by the details?

    He cannot mean the latter, but that’s what anti-evolutionists gleefully shout whenever they hear the two terms pitted against one another.