Is it time to put natural selection in its place?
Jello Biafra once famously wrote that "If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve.
" But while it likely comes as no surprise to specialists working in the field or to those who've been following developments in evolutionary biology closely, there's an emerging view among experts that Darwin's view of natural selection as the primary driver of speciation and evolutionary change may be incorrect or at least drastically overstated. It's long been understood that non-adaptive evolutionary mechanisms like "genetic drift
" and random mutation also play non-trivial roles in evolutionary processes, but a recent study
(link to abstract with full-text PDF available) casts new doubts on the primary role of natural selection, finding that "Neutral models, in which genetic change arises through random variation without fitness differences have proven remarkably successful in describing observed patterns of biodiversity." [more inside]
posted by saulgoodman
on Mar 28, 2013 -
"In an effort to outwit raccoons, are we pushing their brain development and perhaps even sending them down a new evolutionary path? Using high-definition, infrared cameras that turn pitch dark into daylight ... Raccoon Nation
] achieves something that has never been done before: it intimately follows a family of urban raccoons over the course of six months as the young – under the watchful eye of their mother – grow, develop, and begin to find their way in the complex world of a big city." "Raccoon populations have grown twenty-fold in North American cities over the last seventy years. And as this documentary will show, city life is changing raccoons in remarkable ways." (45:08 min. video)
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear
on Oct 13, 2012 -
is a veteran American cartoonist best known for his delightful comic-book guides to science and history, many of which have previews online. Chief among them is his long-running Cartoon History of the Universe
(later The Cartoon History of the Modern World
), a sprawling multi-volume opus documenting everything from the Big Bang to the Bush administration. Published over the course of three decades, it takes a truly global view -- its time-traveling Professor thoroughly explores not only familiar topics like Rome and World War II but the oft-neglected stories of Asia and Africa, blending caricature and myth with careful scholarship (cited by fun illustrated bibliographies
) and tackling even the most obscure events with intelligence and wit
. This savvy satire carried over to Gonick's Zinn
chronicle The Cartoon History of the United States
, along with a bevy of Cartoon Guides
to other topics, including Genetics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, The Environment
, and (yes!) Sex
. Gonick has also maintained a few sideprojects, such as a webcomic look at Chinese invention
, assorted math comics
), the Muse magazine
mainstay Kokopelli & Co.
(featuring the shenanigans of his "New Muses"
), and more
. See also these lengthy interview snippets
, linked previously
. Want more? Amazon links to the complete oeuvre inside! [more inside]
posted by Rhaomi
on Jun 6, 2011 -
Big dust up
about kin selection. Biologists E.O. Wilson, Martin Nowak, and Corina Tarnita publish a paper attacking kin selection, the idea that the reproductive success of a gene is influenced not only by its effects on its carrier, but also by its effects on related individuals (kin) carrying the same gene. 130 some odd other biologists respond
Richard Dawkins weighs in
. Some talking bears offer a summary
posted by AceRock
on Apr 17, 2011 -
Swimming around in a mixture of language and matter, humans occupy a particular evolutionary niche mediated by something we call 'consciousness'. To Professor Nicholas Humphrey we're made up of "soul dust
": "a kind of theatre... an entertainment which we put on for ourselves inside our own heads." But just as that theatre is directed by the relationship between language and matter, it is also undermined by it
. It all depends how you think it.
posted by 0bvious
on Feb 4, 2011 -
Carl Zimmer on the duck's incredibly long, corkscrew-shaped, ballistic penis.
My tale is rich with deep scientific significance, resplendent with surprising insights into how evolution works, far beyond the banalities of “survival of the fittest,” off in a realm of life where sexual selection and sexual conflict work like a pair sculptors drunk on absinthe, transforming biology into forms unimaginable. But this story is also accompanied with video. High-definition, slow-motion duck sex video. And I would imagine that the sight of spiral-shaped penises inflating in less than a third of second might be considered in some quarters to be not exactly safe for work. It’s certainly not appropriate for ducklings.
[As Carl says, video links are possibly NSFW.] [more inside]
posted by chorltonmeateater
on Dec 23, 2009 -
The Village Dog Project
is an ongoing
research project to document genetic diversity in pariah dogs. These dogs haven't been subject to breed pressure, and may be able to help researchers learn more
about the transition from wolf to dog. (via
posted by Pants!
on Jun 23, 2009 -
Why is the penis shaped like that? [T]he human penis is actually an impressive “tool” in the truest sense of the word, one manufactured by nature over hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution. You may be surprised to discover just how highly specialized a tool it is. Furthermore, you’d be amazed at what its appearance can tell us about the nature of our sexuality.
posted by hippybear
on May 5, 2009 -
Why would an evolutionary biologist study words? It turns out there is an astonishing parallel
between the evolution of words in a lexicon and the evolution of genes in an organism. The word two
, for example, has been around much longer than most, and will likely be with us for millennia, whereas the comparatively rare and recent word dirty
has undergone many mutations, and will probably be extinct in a few hundred years. Professor Mark Pagel
, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK, tells us why on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's program As It Happens
. Pull slider to 16:00 to start the seven minute interview
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium
on Mar 7, 2009 -
Music is a human universal, but why did we evolve a desire to create, perform, and enjoy it? From a biological standpoint, does it contribute to survival or, more likely, mate selection and reproduction?
posted by rocket88
on Feb 13, 2009 -
The Orienting Stone.
"A snowy white stone that gives shape to the universe: as it happens, we all carry within our skulls the vestige of such a thing, a kind of existentially reversed qibla
(this one perspectival, the other metaphysical) that gives us our sense of being at the center of things, the sense that we are upright at the origin point of a three-dimensional space..." [Via]
posted by homunculus
on Dec 3, 2008 -
"We were looking for pretty animals that have eyes, are coloured, or glow in the dark; instead, the most interesting find was the organism that was blind, brainless, and completely covered in mud." Some of the oldest fossil records may need to be reconsidered: Dr. Mikhail Matz of the University of Texas has discovered Gromia Sphaerica
, a species of protist
, making tracks
.... [more inside]
posted by Kronos_to_Earth
on Nov 22, 2008 -
How We Evolve:
"A growing number of scientists argue that human culture itself has become the foremost agent of biological change, making us — for the past 10,000 years or so — the inadvertent architects of our own future selves." [more inside]
posted by homunculus
on Oct 9, 2008 -