New Scientist: Evolution: 24 myths and misconceptions

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I found this list of 24 common misconceptions and creationist myths by PvM Panda’s Thumb where it was reposted from Michael Le Page at New Scientist. I highly recommend both for anyone interested in good science. Shared misconceptions: Everythi... Read More

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A wonderful resource–it is now in my bookmarks.

dpr

But the average American is a slug and doesn’t read New Scientist. You have to put this on the plate in front of them before they’ll even look at it. That’s what the DI/ID people are doing, PR, selling their nonsense to the masses so that science will be by acclamation, not evidence. People couldn’t give a damn about evidence if it rocks their boat of superstition and ignorance.

This is an excellent compilation of misconceptions. It focuses attention on just the kinds of misconceptions that not only identify ID/Creationist perpetrators, but also the kinds of misconceptions that fall prey to exploitation by many other pseudo-scientists as well.

Back in November of 2007 the administrator of Panda’s Thumb put up my list of pseudo-science tactics.

Together these two lists could go a long way toward helping people identify pseudo-science fraud of a number of types, not just ID/Creationism.

There is much that can be learned from misconceptions. The ones that are common among the ID/Creationists have a characteristic evolutionary development in the minds of these sectarians. In order for them to hang onto their sectarian dogma, they have to get the science wrong in certain ways in order to make it appear that that the cachet of science supports their dogma.

On the other hand, there is a certain risk in letting on what you know about the misconceptions and tactics of pseudo-science advocates. These charlatans are inherently crooked, and they learn from what you reveal and start accusing you of the same things. We see that with some of the trolls here on Panda’s Thumb.

One of the better approaches to dealing with them is to ask them to explain their science (in other words, resist the urge to explain it for them). Either they will avoid explaining anything, or they will spout gibberish. Either way, they are nailed because someone who really knows the science is usually willing to explain in ways that can be understood by novices. Then real scientists can judge the resulting explanations. It’s a kind of peer-review lite.

I think this is an excellent post, well worth bookmarking. I might consider subscribing the New Scientist. Many of the key points of the evolutionary theory were explained, shortly, but still in a way amenable to a layman like me.

I have a couple of questions.

Wisdom teeth are another vestigial remnant. A smaller, weaker jaw allowed our ancestors to grow larger brains, but left less room for molars.

Is it the current understanding that the jaw had to become smaller in order to let the brain grow larger?

Who is this Michael Le Page?

I will also make a couple of comments

As a result, most changes in the DNA of complex organisms over time are due to drift rather than selection, which is why biologists focus on sequences that are similar, or conserved, when they compare genomes. Natural selection will preserve sequences with vital functions, but the rest of the genome will change because of drift.

I find this a very interesting point.

We have five fingers because our amphibian ancestors had five digits, not because five is necessarily the optimal number of fingers for the human hand.

Many cultures, e.g. egyptians, thought that the optimal number would be seven (not for fingers, but otherwise).

However, natural selection is simply a description of what happens in the living world. It does not tell us how we should behave.

Pity. The theory of evolution is clearly incomplete.

Regards

Eric

Eric Finn:

I think this is an excellent post, well worth bookmarking. I might consider subscribing the New Scientist. Many of the key points of the evolutionary theory were explained, shortly, but still in a way amenable to a layman like me.

You wear sincerity like a cheap suit from the very bottom of the Bargain Basement.

Wisdom teeth are another vestigial remnant. A smaller, weaker jaw allowed our ancestors to grow larger brains, but left less room for molars.

Is it the current understanding that the jaw had to become smaller in order to let the brain grow larger?

Who is this Michael Le Page?

Current understanding suggests that wisdom teeth persist because a) because humans have been eating progressively softer, relatively grit-free foods throughout the millenia, our jaws have, as a result, become smaller, which leads to b) rather than letting people with extra molars live and die in agony, other people help surgically remove these extra teeth.

As a result, most changes in the DNA of complex organisms over time are due to drift rather than selection, which is why biologists focus on sequences that are similar, or conserved, when they compare genomes. Natural selection will preserve sequences with vital functions, but the rest of the genome will change because of drift.

I find this a very interesting point.

If you actually read the passage, rather than just skim it for quotemining material, you would have realized that genetic drift has a bigger role in shaping genomes than previously thought.

We have five fingers because our amphibian ancestors had five digits, not because five is necessarily the optimal number of fingers for the human hand.

Many cultures, e.g. egyptians, thought that the optimal number would be seven (not for fingers, but otherwise).

This is an irrelevant non sequitor, and it’s wrong, to boot. No matter what love affair with which numbers the various cultures have had, the idea that five fingers per hand was/is universal, to the point where the vast majority of cultures throughout the world regard those people born with fewer or more than five fingers per hand as being extraordinarily unsightly, if not supernatural bringers of ill omen.

However, natural selection is simply a description of what happens in the living world. It does not tell us how we should behave.

Pity. The theory of evolution is clearly incomplete.

And this is the reason why I regard you as an insincere idiot. The Theory of Evolution is a descriptive science that describes how “descent with modification” formed the structures of living and extinct organisms AND how “descent with modification” formed the diversities of life on this planet, past and present.

To suggest that because The Theory of Evolution is incomplete because it does not proscribe behavior, like the way the Bible is supposed to proscribe behavior is the pinnacle of arrogant idiocy.

The only reason why the Theory of Evolution could be seen as “incomplete” is because we humans do not know everything there is and was to Life on this planet.

Eric Finn:

However, natural selection is simply a description of what happens in the living world. It does not tell us how we should behave.

Pity. The theory of evolution is clearly incomplete.

It’s not a pity, it’s science. If a theory claimed to be “complete”, it wouldn’t be scientific.

Dan:

Eric Finn:

However, natural selection is simply a description of what happens in the living world. It does not tell us how we should behave.

Pity. The theory of evolution is clearly incomplete.

It’s not a pity, it’s science. If a theory claimed to be “complete”, it wouldn’t be scientific.

Hence one of the numerous reason why both Creationism and its avatar, Intelligent Design “theory,” are considered to be spurious pseudoscience.

Eric, if you want to read more about the weak jaw-large brain issue, this story is a good starting point:

http://www.newscientist.com/article[…]r-brain.html

Thanks, Michael

Seems like our intelligence is partly due to muscular dystrophy. A simple mutation in a gene that is selectively expressed in the bite muscle led to a population that is capable of tracking down all kinds of weird things. Fascinating stuff this is.

Regards

Eric

The one claim that hasn’t been addressed (unless I’ve missed something), and the one most frequently used by YECs nowadays is that on information i.e. that mutations always lead to a loss of information, not a gain. If I had pound for every time I’ve heard a YEC come of with that one !

A good article though. At least scientists are aware of what YECism is now and are attempting to deal with the issue, rather than ignoring it and hoping it will just go away. It wont.

Yes, really excellent piece, and the concise FAQ style much better as an intro to evolution than yesterday’s rather turgid summary in the popular science series published by the UK’s Independent newspaper. I hope it gets widely cited in public media, schools etc.

I see that the error in the print version of Item 5 - where it referred to 25,000 generations since the split between human and chimpanzee lineages - has been corrected. But at least 300,000 probably nearer the mark since average generation times were likely to be less than 20 years for most of our hominid ancestors. Depending of course on your view of the likely last point of contact between the lineages, I think the latest DNA evidence suggests a period of hybridisation before the final split around 5m yrs ago..

I see that the tokenistic illustration showing human evolution seems to show a woman as the end result, rather than the usual man. Nice change, but for once I’d like to see one that doesn’t end with a white person! Why not, say, a pygmy? Excellent article, nonetheless.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on April 17, 2008 12:26 PM.

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