How often do biologists talk about this evolution stuff, anyway?

Creationists like to say that evolution's influence is dying and that it is of little importance to doing biology. They take advantage of the layperson's lack of familiarity with the scientific literature to argue that evolution has little relevance, or that Dobzhansky's aphorism that "nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution" is false. Anyone who actually reads the biological literature, though, will come away with exactly the opposite impression: the journals are full of references to evolution, even in disciplines and journals that don't have "evolution" in their title. The concept is central; it's as ubiquitous as references to "genes".

To demonstrate, I've carried out a quick exercise, similar to one I've done before. The latest copy of one of the major journals in my field, Developmental Biology, just arrived in my mailbox. It's a top-notch journal, affiliated with our biggest organization, the Society for Developmental Biology. It's not evolutionary biology directly, but there has been an increasing awareness of the significance of evolution to our field, so it's a good representative of an expanding, hot field which is experiencing some synergy with other disciplines.

What I did was to quickly skim through each of the 21 articles in Volume 274, Issue 2, of Developmental Biology, and ask myself how much each article depended upon or discussed the topic of evolution. I categorized and color-coded each one by the following criteria:

Blue articles are explicit in their discussion of evolution, proposing evolutionary connections or even testing evolutionary hypotheses. The evolutionary aspect may not be the major point of the paper, but it is discussed.
Green articles treat evolution as implicit; they may work with molecules homologous between different species, but they don't specifically address evolutionary ideas. This is not to say that they have a lesser commitment to evolution, but more that they take it for granted.
Gray articles don't say anything one way or the other about evolutionary relationships. Most often these are papers that are tightly focused on analysis of data from a single species. It's entirely possible to imagine a creationist writing these, but of course there is no implication that the authors deny evolution.
Black articles would be ones that directly discuss Intelligent Design or other anti-evolutionary ideas about science. This is a hypothetical category; none were found.

Here is my classification of each of those articles, with a brief justification for why I put each in its particular category.

Continue reading "How often do biologists talk about this evolution stuff, anyway?" (on Pharyngula)