The January Issue of Scientific American

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The title of the full issue is “The Evolution of Evolution.” I haven’t read very much yet, but some of the articles that caught my eye are

“Testing Natural Selection with Genetics,” by H. Allen Orr, an appraisal of natural selection as a major cause of evolution.

“The Latest Face of Evolution in the Classroom,” by Glenn Branch and Eugenie C. Scott, a description of how creationist strategies have evolved as the environment changed.

“The Evolution of Hiccups and Hernias,” by Neil Shubin, a depressing look at what kludges we are.

“Evolution of the Mind: 4 Fallacies of Psychology,” by David J. Buller, a skeptical examination of “pop” evolutionary psychology.

“Putting Evolution to Work in the Everyday World,” by David P. Mindell, a description of how evolutionary principles are used in, for example, medicine and disease control.

And more.

*I was going to leave it at that (and apologize to Woody Allen).

44 Comments

Sigh. I misremembered the Woody Allen quotation. It is

I took a speed reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia. [My italics]

On a similar note, check out the recent special issue of the medical journal The Lancet on Darwin.

Dear Matt,

I hope to buy my copy of it soon (Or if I can’t, I may ask a high school classmate of mine - who is an editor there - to get me a copy.). Looks as though the Uncommon Dissent crowd have been their usual hysterical selves reacting to Glenn and Genie’s article:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/inte[…]es/#comments

Of course one of the biggest whiners is none other than my “pal” Bill Dembski. In another Uncommon Dissent thread that’s been created today, he’s complained to Wikipedia for being mistreated:

http://www.uncommondescent.com/cult[…]kipedia-but/

Seems like he’s getting his just desserts. May I suggest to those who post regularly at Wikipedia to bring up his 2007 antics regarding his “loan” of the Harvard University cell animation video that was produced by XVIVO, and maybe his blatant - but ultimately unsuccessful - effort at censorship against one of my Amazon.com reviews.

Appreciatively yours,

John

Of course one of the biggest whiners is none other than my “pal” Bill Dembski.

What were you expecting from them if not whining? Research?

Last month over at UD, Bill solemnly “announced” that he was relinquishing his ties to it so he could spend more time devoted to his “research”

However, as you’ve noted, he’s not even doing that:

Karen S. said:

Of course one of the biggest whiners is none other than my “pal” Bill Dembski.

What were you expecting from them if not whining? Research?

You see, that for an ID creationist like Bill Dembski, whining IS research.

This will be a great Christmas present for Bobby and Egnor and others who love to claim that selection is not the driving force of evolution, or that evolution is not important in modern medicine, or that creationists aren’t trying to force their views into public school classrooms, etc.

I saw Neil Shubin’s Inner Fish book and flipped through it a bit in the store recently. One thing that stuck out at me was the explanation of hernias.

Stupid fish anatomy!

I just acquired a copy and read - much to my delight - an editorial statement from the editors (Pg. 42), urging that evolution ought to be taught as a practical tool for understanding everything from drug resistance to the price of fish bought for food. On the magazine’s cover is a note proclaiming that it is a “SPECIAL ISSUE on the Most Powerful Idea in Science”.

Just downloaded my electronic copy for $4.95

That’s p 32.

John Kwok said:

I just acquired a copy and read - much to my delight - an editorial statement from the editors (Pg. 42), urging that evolution ought to be taught as a practical tool for understanding everything from drug resistance to the price of fish bought for food. On the magazine’s cover is a note proclaiming that it is a “SPECIAL ISSUE on the Most Powerful Idea in Science”.

Thanks for the heads up!

I will certainly be buying this particular issue for myself. And perhaps copies for a few of my friends who have an interest in such things.

My father-in-law subscribes to it and I read the entire thing over Christmas - it was great! I’ll be buying a copy for my library.

Living in a state where we must fight anti-science education legislation every year, this issue of Scientific American is very gratifying. Given our opponent’s understanding of science and their willingness to learn, its being wrapped around a short section of chain-link corner post pipe should prove most useful. This issue tweaked some old neurons. So, do you remember the other SA issue dedicated to evolution? Vol. 239:3 September 1978. It was introduced by Ernst Mayer. Other authors included Francisco Ayala, Richard E. Dickerson, J. William Schopf, James W. Valentine, Robert M. May, John Maynard Smith, Sherwood L. Washburn and Richard C. Lewontin. Its a worthy reread. Then and now - just stunning progress. Happy new year! May it be filled with discovery! David

Dear David,

Thanks for your reminder:

David Grow said:

Living in a state where we must fight anti-science education legislation every year, this issue of Scientific American is very gratifying. Given our opponent’s understanding of science and their willingness to learn, its being wrapped around a short section of chain-link corner post pipe should prove most useful. This issue tweaked some old neurons. So, do you remember the other SA issue dedicated to evolution? Vol. 239:3 September 1978. It was introduced by Ernst Mayer. Other authors included Francisco Ayala, Richard E. Dickerson, J. William Schopf, James W. Valentine, Robert M. May, John Maynard Smith, Sherwood L. Washburn and Richard C. Lewontin. Its a worthy reread. Then and now - just stunning progress. Happy new year! May it be filled with discovery! David

In some respects I regard that as a far more impressive overview of evolution than the current issue, since that article included contributions from some of the foremost evolutionary biologists of our time, whose work is still quite relevant today: Francisco Ayala, James W. Valentine (who founded the field of evolutionary paleoecology), Robert M. May, John Maynard Smith and Richard C. Lewontin.

Have a happy new year!

Regards,

John

P. S. @PvM belated thanks for spotting my error.

TOne of the advantages of working in certain jobs for the USPS is getting to read all kinds of great journals and mags for free, and often before they hit the newsstand. I saw this right after Xmas, and it was awesome. :) I was even lucky enough to see it early in my shift so I could read it on my breaks before work ended. Made me sick to put it in the recycling bin (no forwarding address!), although what really does me in is tossing Science and Nature. That hurts!

I recently posted an article at http://clintondoubtsdarwin.com that takes a close look at time in Western Civilization. I found time a product of human activity describable by cultural continuity and cultural change. In that context Mr. Darwin’s notion that nature grants the time necessary for natural selection is without empirical support—which embarrasses his theory. Simply putting “clinton doubts darwin” in the search function in Yahoo, Google, or Internet Explorer will get to the article. It’s content will not comfort the editors of Scientific American.

Charles A. Clinton said:

I recently posted an article at http://clintondoubtsdarwin.com that takes a close look at time in Western Civilization. I found time a product of human activity describable by cultural continuity and cultural change. In that context Mr. Darwin’s notion that nature grants the time necessary for natural selection is without empirical support—which embarrasses his theory. Simply putting “clinton doubts darwin” in the search function in Yahoo, Google, or Internet Explorer will get to the article. It’s content will not comfort the editors of Scientific American.

oh my god…

Another three-line “refutation” of not only Darwin, but of all physics. Hilarious.

“Time is an illusion. Lunch time doubly so.” – Ford Prefect.

There. That asssertion didn’t take a 79Mb (!) .pdf download.

I expect as much from those who worship at Darwin’s tomb. But if you wish to bury Doubting Darwin: Considering Time And Natural Selection you might address the issue raised in it. Namely that time is a product of human activity and not, as Darwin wrote, granted by nature and directly related to natural selection. Darwin’s independent variable, time, is in trouble here and no amount of evasion disguises that point.

Cordially

Charles A. Clinton

PvM said:

oh my god…

My reaction was: “Huh?” That’s not a question. I’m not EVEN gonna ask this guy for an explanation. I might get one.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

Nobody on the side of science worships Darwin. The anti-evolutionists come much closer to that than any science supporter, when they attribute way more power to one scientist than any one scientist actually has, especially one from 1 or 2 centuries ago.

Henry

I expect as much from those who worship at Darwin’s tomb

Well, there you go, wrong on science when it comes to physics and biology.

Namely that time is a product of human activity

Are there actually people out there capable of taking that claim seriously?

Henry

Henry J said:

Are there actually people out there capable of taking that claim seriously?

Sure. Doctor Gene Ray.

I recall many moons ago listening to a prof who proclaimed that it was an assumption to believe that time was linear and measurable in discrete units. At the time I thought this was insightful, later I realized that it was silly. “Is it linear or nonlinear? Does the concept of nonlinear time even make sense? Can’t we measure time accurately and make use of it in all manner of ways?” Could we even bake a cake if we rejected those “assumptions”?

We may not have a clear definition of what exactly time is, but all humans have an operational understanding of it. Primitive tribes may not have quite the same grasp of it that technological societies do, but even then they can say something happened yesterday or last winter, or simply say “it happened to our forefathers” and so lump up all the distant past. Animals of course have little abstract concept of time, but they have little abstract concept of distance, either – a horse in a race isn’t clocking itself over how many kilometers it runs, it just runs, it’s the jockey that’s keeping track.

Time and distance measurement are human inventions, but time and distance are not, unless one assumes the laws of Nature would be different if we weren’t around to measure them. And if anyone wants to pull that rabbit out of a hat, I can then reach into the hat and pull out any other rabbit I like as well.

I suppose we could get into relativistic physics and talk about time varying in different frames of reference, but the prof above was clearly not concerned with that issue.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

Hey Chuck:

Hate to disappoint you, but contemporary evolutionary theory - the Modern Synthesis - which includes Darwin’s Theory of Evolution via Natural Selection - does consider time (so, incidentally, did both Darwin and Wallace, who had independently discovered Natural Selection):

Charles A. Clinton said:

I expect as much from those who worship at Darwin’s tomb. But if you wish to bury Doubting Darwin: Considering Time And Natural Selection you might address the issue raised in it. Namely that time is a product of human activity and not, as Darwin wrote, granted by nature and directly related to natural selection. Darwin’s independent variable, time, is in trouble here and no amount of evasion disguises that point.

Cordially

Charles A. Clinton

Enjoy your membership in the Dishonesty Institute IDiot Borg Collective.

Live Long and Prosper (as a DI IDiot Borg drone),

John Kwok

iml8 replied to comment from Henry J | January 5, 2009 1:26 PM | Reply | Edit

Henry J said:

Are there actually people out there capable of taking that claim seriously?

Sure. Doctor Gene Ray.

I recall many moons ago listening to a prof who proclaimed that it was an assumption to believe that time was linear and measurable in discrete units.

But it wasn’t a question of linear or measurable; the quoted line was that it was a product of human activity. That sounds like he “thinks” that prior to humanity, time didn’t work like it does now.

Henry

Henry J said:

But it wasn’t a question of linear or measurable; the quoted line was that it was a product of human activity. That sounds like he “thinks” that prior to humanity, time didn’t work like it does now.

I was just recalling that I’d heard something vaguely along such lines before – I think it’s the sort of commentary now associated with the “postmodernist” academics. It’s the sort of thing that sounds vaguely plausible until a bit of thought is applied to figure out the implications. Of course anyone who simply says that the basic workings of the Universe would be different if we weren’t around is operating on a distinctly different plane:

I saw a man upon the stair

A little man who wasn’t there.

He’s not there again today.

Gee I wish he’d go away.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

iml8 said:

Henry J said:

But it wasn’t a question of linear or measurable; the quoted line was that it was a product of human activity. That sounds like he “thinks” that prior to humanity, time didn’t work like it does now.

I was just recalling that I’d heard something vaguely along such lines before – I think it’s the sort of commentary now associated with the “postmodernist” academics.

[off-topic rant]

Postmodernism has been ill served by its misappropriation from the fields of literary and cultural criticism into, well, any other field (except perhaps architecture and design…I don’t know much about those fields, but I suspect they’re not using the term “postmodern” in the same way). As a lit professor, it irks me a little that postmodernism has such a bad rep; within its intended scope, it’s a useful - indeed, occasionally even elegant - tool. Seeing people bash “postmodernism” is a bit like seeing someone decry microscopes as horrible because some dumbass bludgeoned a guy to death with one (okay, more like a globe-spanning horde that keeps bludgeoning thousands of people with microscopes, but still…).

See, the thing about postmodernism (and the tangentially related concept of poststructuralism) is that it’s a specific theoretical and critical reaction to a set of philosophical propositions (i.e. modernism) that was becoming increasingly constrictive and stifling. It is, in essence, militant skepticism squared (in the sense that it requires one to question every underlying assumption regarding the relationship between structure, language, and meaning, including the need to question such assumptions).

Of course it isn’t going to provide answers; it’s going to provide questions. That’s the whole damn point!

Once you’ve found a meaningful question, you don’t use postmodern principles to find the answer, because postmodernism isn’t a cohesive philosophy as much as it is a reactionary perspective.

[/off-topic rant]

That being said, anyone who tries to claim that “time is a human construct” isn’t being a postmodernist, he’s being an idiot.

Unless he’s talking about time as a device in literature.…

neo-anti-luddite said:

It is, in essence, militant skepticism squared (in the sense that it requires one to question every underlying assumption regarding the relationship between structure, language, and meaning, including the need to question such assumptions).

Where it got its bad rep was in skepticism about basic physical realities – Dawkins’ little tale about postmodernists claiming the sciences as no more than a modern mythology: “No, ancient mythologies said the moon was a heavenly chariot, we know it’s not, and have landed people on the Moon to prove it.”

The prof I was referring to was trying to be clever and proclaim modern notions of time were a mere assumption. “No, its the way things demonstrably are, just because primitive societies didn’t worry about it much doesn’t change the realities much.”

But the prof had merely misplaced a card or two from the deck. Our visitor here clearly does not have a deck.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

Of course, if they didn’t have time before we invented it, then the question would be: “Geez, then how did they keep everything from happening at once?!”

This reminds of the old CALVIN & HOBBES comic where Calvin asks his dad why the old photos in the family album were black and white. Dad replies: “Actually, the whole world was black and white then. They hadn’t invented color yet.”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

Hi

The comments posted are interesting, but none show any knowledge of the article posted. This is not a constructive dialogue: if the article is in error, that error deserves exposure. But this is not the case in the comments addressing what I have written.

Cordially

Charles A. Clinton

iml8 said:

neo-anti-luddite said:

It is, in essence, militant skepticism squared (in the sense that it requires one to question every underlying assumption regarding the relationship between structure, language, and meaning, including the need to question such assumptions).

Where it got its bad rep was in skepticism about basic physical realities – Dawkins’ little tale about postmodernists claiming the sciences as no more than a modern mythology: “No, ancient mythologies said the moon was a heavenly chariot, we know it’s not, and have landed people on the Moon to prove it.”

And that would be a classic example of people forgetting the need to question the need to question…or perhaps a classic example of why we need to keep microscopes out of the hands of dumbasses. ;)

iml8 said:

The prof I was referring to was trying to be clever and proclaim modern notions of time were a mere assumption. “No, its the way things demonstrably are, just because primitive societies didn’t worry about it much doesn’t change the realities much.”

But the prof had merely misplaced a card or two from the deck. Our visitor here clearly does not have a deck.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

Yeah, but decks are also a product of human activity, so there you go.…

I think Steve Fuller (who I actually kinda like in an odd sort of way) is something of the model of a disreputable postmodernist.

neo-anti-luddite said:

And that would be a classic example of people forgetting the need to question the need to question…or perhaps a classic example of why we need to keep microscopes out of the hands of dumbasses. ;)

“Question the questioning”, I like that. Ever hear of “pseudoskepticism”? It’s the ploy, sometimes seen among Darwin-bashers, of pretending to be an impartial skeptic: “I don’t have a dog in the fight!”

Sure you don’t: “So why are you blasting away at the white dog and ignoring the black one completely?”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

Charles A. Clinton said:

Hi

The comments posted are interesting, but none show any knowledge of the article posted. This is not a constructive dialogue: if the article is in error, that error deserves exposure. But this is not the case in the comments addressing what I have written.

Cordially

Charles A. Clinton

I don’t need to read your article to point out a least one error on your part. As others have mentioned, you state that:

Charles A. Clinton said:

But if you wish to bury Doubting Darwin: Considering Time And Natural Selection you might address the issue raised in it. Namely that time is a product of human activity and not, as Darwin wrote, granted by nature and directly related to natural selection.

First off, you have it entirely backwards: time is not “directly related to natural selection”; natural selection is directly related to time. But even that isn’t entirely accurate, since natural selection is actually related to species’ lifespans and breeding cycles. Where it takes humans about 2500 years to go through 100 generations’ worth of shaping through natural selection, it will take e. coli something like 4 days to go through the same number of generations’ worth of natural selection (which is one of the big reasons why we have problems with antibiotic-resistant microbes). And not that you mentioned it in your posts, but natural selection isn’t the only force at work in driving evolutionary change.

Second, “time” in the broadest sense, owes absolutely nothing to human activity. Once again, you have it entirely backwards: human activity is a product of time.

Here’s a little thought experiment for you: in the field of physics, one measures acceleration in [unit of distance]/[unit of time]2. Therefore, if time is truly a product of human activity rather than an aspect of the universe itself, nothing could have accellerated before humans existed.

Do you claim that this is true? And if you do not, how can you reconcile it with your claim regarding time and human activity?

Ah, sigh: “He’s still there again today. Gee I wish he’d go away.”

You’re not seriously trying to reason with this guy, are you?

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

iml8 said:

I think Steve Fuller (who I actually kinda like in an odd sort of way) is something of the model of a disreputable postmodernist.

Fuller seems like more of a constructivist than a postmodernist to me (which is yet another critical theory that is rife with unwarranted abuse…kinda like a guy who bludgeons someone to death with a centrifuge.…). I guess the lesson here is that in the Academy, the Humanities are populated by a bunch of intellectual thugs.

I weep for my discipline.…

iml8 said:

Ever hear of “pseudoskepticism”? It’s the ploy, sometimes seen among Darwin-bashers, of pretending to be an impartial skeptic: “I don’t have a dog in the fight!”

Sure you don’t: “So why are you blasting away at the white dog and ignoring the black one completely?”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

I’ve never heard of it, but I’ve certainly seen it in action. I’ve been reading the Thumb for a number of years now.

I’m going to appropriate that term, by the way. I hope you don’t mind.…

iml8 said:

Ah, sigh: “He’s still there again today. Gee I wish he’d go away.”

You’re not seriously trying to reason with this guy, are you?

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

Nah, I’m just waiting for my next class to start. Speaking of which, I’d better go. It doesn’t look good if the prof is late on the first day.

Maybe I should just tell my students that time is a product of human activity, so obviously they weren’t working had enough.…

neo-anti-luddite said:

I’m going to appropriate that term, by the way. I hope you don’t mind.…

“Pseudoskepticism”? It’s not mine – sociologist Marcello Truzzi, one of the founders of CSICOP, came up with it. He is credited with: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net

Hi

Somewhere in these comments I was called to task for a misquote. The call was absolutely correct and the mistake is mine. The quote in question comes from a letter Darwin sent to J. D. Hooker on 23 November 1856. The letter is contained in “The Correspondence Of Charles Darwin.” Frederick Burkhardt and Sidney Smith, editors. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1990. Page 282. The quote reads “…the power of selection stands in the most direct relation to time and in the state of nature can only be excessively slow.” The question is the credibility of basing natural selection on Darwin’s conception of time as granted by nature.

Scientific American has published two Special Editions on Time (Sept. 2002 and June 2006). One essay “That Mysterious Flow” was contained in both editions. A memorable line from that essay reads “…neither scientists nor philosophers really know what time is and why it exists.” The article I’ve put on the web strongly suggests there is no need for ambiguity.

I am going to put the abstract from the article in this comment. It explains where I’m coming from. Perhaps it will make some difference in this discussion.

ABSTRACT

This paper evaluates comments by Charles Darwin that nature granted time of long duration, time which was necessary for the workings of natural selection. Western Civilization’s writings on and attributes associated with it (nature, structure, shape, measure, duration, etc) do not demonstrate time as nature’s product. Rather, historical sources subscribed to the presence of time and attributes produced by human activity. This activity is described here in terms of cultural continuity and cultural change. Examples from three historical periods support this proposition. After Macedonian and Roman conquests in Antiquity, known agents of acculturation fused philosophical speculations, conventions, and religious beliefs from different civilizations to create a variety of different concepts of time and attributes. Following Christianity’s ascension in Rome’s Empire, Christian reinterpretations of Pagan beliefs accepted the presence of time and its attributes, but replaced Pagan content with expressions of Christian faith. In post-Renaissance Europe, Christian denominations held to a Christian concept of time, albeit with altered attributes, while natural philosophers accepted the presence of time and reinterpreted it and its attributes by replacing some Christian content with increasingly secular convictions,some of which were accepted as ecclesiastical doctrine. Given evidence that the presence of time and attributes associated with it are products of human activity (ie, cultural continuity and cultural change), and absent any demonstration to the contrary, doubting Darwin may be warranted. END

I think that any reasonable reader of the essay would conclude that before time can be used as either an independent variable or an interdependent variable as an explanation not verifiable by human observation (and some within that observation), some credible explanation of time must be given. The research abstracted above found none and neither did two Special Editions of Scientific American. Should any of the commentators contributing to this discussion have such a credible explanation, I’d love to read about it.

Cordially

Charles A. Clinton

So your whole point is that because humanity’s understanding of the nature of time has changed over time, time itself is a product of human activity? That’s it?

Ooooooooooookaaaaaaaay.

You know, humanity’s understanding of the Earth has changed over time, too. I guess that means the Earth is another one of those “products of human activity”.…

Barring anything more substantial than this pathetic excuse for intellectual vaporware, I’m done with Chuck.

If time is real and exists in nature, there is no need to respond to your article as it is a load of horseshit.

If time is purely a product of human activity, as you claim, then there is no need to respond to your article as it has not been written yet, and never will be. :P

I think that any reasonable reader of the essay would conclude that before time can be used as either an independent variable or an interdependent variable as an explanation not verifiable by human observation (and some within that observation), some credible explanation of time must be given.

This guy just claimed that calenders and clocks are useless.

Henry J said:

I think that any reasonable reader of the essay would conclude that before time can be used as either an independent variable or an interdependent variable as an explanation not verifiable by human observation (and some within that observation), some credible explanation of time must be given.

This guy just claimed that calenders and clocks are useless.

Well if you’re too stupid to learn how to read them, I guess they ARE useless for you. Apparently the explanation is that Chuckie is just such a dumbass he can’t even tell time!

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