Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Evolutionary errors

Evolution is the most-supported theory we know. Yet science itself is harmed by the casual use of poorly worded, inaccurate phrasings that many scientists, teachers, and reporters seem to prefer when discussing evolution. Take the article, " Global warming fuels speedy evolution", for example.

"Some species are attempting to adapt", the article says. Oh really? Not! The phrasing implies that a species can choose its genetic changes. That's not what evolution is all about. Evolution is about genetic variations occurring naturally in a species, with a few of those variations giving the individual members of the species a better chance of survival. It's "in the genes"; neither the individual members nor the species as a whole directs this in any fashion.

The article goes on, "... human-induced changes to climate and landscapes give species few other options". Arrgh! The use of the word "options" makes it sound, again, like the members of a species have some sort of control over their genes. Wrong. Because of human-induced changes to the environment, some of the variations in a species may be better suited to the new environment (let's not get into a Malthusian birth rate discussion here).

Adaptation in a species (not "by" a species) is really the end result -- what we see as a trend. It's not a being-induced or being-controlled process. Yet a University of Sydney professor says that species can "do three things ... go extinct, move, or adapt". This poorly phrased comment seems to imply that a species has a conscious choice in deciding to adapt somehow. If you pressed the prof, he'd probably agree that a species cannot by natural means choose to adapt nor choose what that adaptation might be. Neither do they choose to go extinct. Genetic manipulation by humans is not "by natural means".

This type of loose, inaccurate phrasing is all too common by scientists and teachers. Evolution is for real, but let's remember that evolution happens due to natural genetic variations, some of which benefit the "different" member of that species. More importantly, remember that those changes are not "chosen" by any species. It would really help if scientists, teachers, and reporters would clean up their act and stop implying otherwise.

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