Category Archives: Darwin

NASA’s new organism, the meaning of life, and Darwin’s Second Theory

ResearchBlogging.orgIn his highly readable book, One Long Argument, Ernst Mayr breaks down the body of thought often referred to as “Darwin’s Theory” into five separate and distinct theories, the second of which being “common descent.” Darwin’s second evolutionary theory (second by Mayr’s count, not Darwin’s) is really a hypothesis that could be worded this way:

All life on earth descended from a single, original, primordial form that arose eons ago.

The evidence in favor of this hypothesis is strong, but the test of the hypothesis … the means of disproving it, which is, after all, the point of stating it to begin with … is difficult to define, but like pornography to a judge, one would know it when one sees it.
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Darwin and Wallace 1858

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Darwin and Wallace, chillin’
Let’s talk about Darwin and Wallace’s joint presentation on Natural Selection in 1858.

It is not usually the case that I write a blog post for a carnival. I usually just write for the blog, then now and then sit down and figure out which posts should go to with carnivals. That is not the case with this post.

Some time ago I thought, while writing a Peer Reviewed Research post, that it would be interesting to write up older papers, classics, or more recent papers that were of great interest for one reason or another but maybe a few years old. Just around that time, this idea of a classic carnival … a carnival of classic science papers … came around (details here and here), and I thought that was a very cool idea.

I have a plan to write a couple of different series of posts, one with Bob Trivers’ papers (see this for a taste), which will come along very easily, as I have taught a course based primarily on his work. Another would be on papers regarding Race and Racism. Again, this would draw heavily on my course on Race and Gender. A third stream of posts may come from the Bioanthropology tutorial I taught at Harvard. That was some years ago, so even the ‘current’ papers from that effort may now be classics (Tim Caro’s work with hyenas springs instantly to mind). Thinking about that approach led me to consider the first paper I usually assigned in that tutorial, and in fact, ‘the’ first paper in the field of evolutionary biology (perhaps, depending on your perspective).

That paper, I thought, is what this post should be about. Darwin and Wallace’s first composite paper on Natural Selection.

The only question remains: How many other people are going to do the same thing? Probably scads of them. So, I’ll have to make this a little different…..

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MSNBC: Time to retire Buchanan (an open letter)

Dear MSNBC,

I know it is appropriate to have a range of opinions among the talking heads representing a news agency, and MSNBC certainly does have a range. Pat Buchanan, regular commentator on two or three MSNBC news shows, probably serves at the most conservative individual in the MSNBC panoply.

But he has to go now.
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Why didn’t Darwin discover Mendel’s laws?

ResearchBlogging.orgPerhaps we are all subject to falling into the trap of what I call the Hydraulic Theory of Everything. If you eat more you will be bigger, if you eat less you will be smaller. Emotional states are the continuously varying outcome of different levels of a set of hormones, forming “happy” or “stressy” or “angry” cocktails. Your brain is a vessel into which life pours various elixirs. Too much of one thing, and there will not be enough room for something else. Even political arguments are hydraulic. The ‘balanced’ middle view between two arguments is like the mixture of contrasting primary colors on a pallet.
Continue reading Why didn’t Darwin discover Mendel’s laws?