Frustrating Year for Evolution

That’s what the most recent DpSU from Frank Sherwin says: 2011 Another Frustrating Year for Evolution

Why does he think that last year was ‘frustrating’ for evolution? It’s based, it seems, off the selection provided in the 2011 Editors’ choice article in Nature from back in December. As Sherwin says:

Of the nine stories, only one addressed evolution—a paleoanthropology article by Fred Spoor entitled “Malapa and the genus Homo.” Nature reported that scientists uncovered “a newly discovered hominin species, Australopithecus sediba” and “the same [research] group has now published five reports detailing additional fossils and further analyses.”

Here’s a list of all nine, for some context:

  • Epidemiology: How common is autism?
  • Organic chemistry: Overcoming catalytic bias
  • Complex systems: Unzipping Zipf’s law
  • Cosmology: A monster in the early Universe
  • Palaeoanthropology: Malapa and the genus Homo
  • Precision measurement: A search for electrons that do the twist
  • Behavioural neuroscience: Fruity aphrodisiacs
  • Stem cells: The dark side of induced pluripotency
  • Forum ageing: Longevity hits a roadblock

If it comes down to it, they would probably be complaining if there were more evolution stories in that list. It’s really a case of the stories all being from different disciplines.

Also, the palaeoanthropology story isn’t directly evolution – it’s not about the mechanisms, more findings in the context of evolution. And the same is true, to a lesser degree, about all the other biology stories (the stem cells for example, and especially the neuroscience one). And the Cosmology story, while not at all ‘evolution’, would most likely be labelled as ‘evolutionary’ by the creationists at the ICR, if it came up. Why has Sherwin picked up on the A. sediba story? Because we’ve encountered it from the ICR before:

ICR News reported in 2010 that A. sediba was an out-of-place fossil that had primitive feet and supposedly 1.9 million-year-old residual brain tissue. Both of these facts show that the creature was not human or a human transition and that it couldn’t be very old if it still had intact organic tissue—which would’ve decayed after only thousands of years.

The cite for that is an old DpSU, A New Evolutionary Link? Australopithecus sediba Has All the Wrong Signs. It falls to the same problems as the ‘why are there still monkeys?’ argument – namely, what we would consider an earlier link in the ‘ladder to man’ (or whatever) isn’t going to just die out. Here’s an old post from me on the subject of A. sediba, btw.

Sherwin finishes:

The rest of the editors’ choices for 2011 included a supermassive black hole, alkene metathesis reaction, autism, and other scientific stories.

But isn’t evolution supposed to be an all-encompassing theory that—if omitted—makes science null and void? Is this story on A. sediba the best on evolution out of the whole of 2011?

It would seem the editors had to shoehorn in an evolution story among the science contributions even though it was unconvincing and had a number of serious scientific problems.

There is this year, but it’s likely that 2012’s discoveries will not help evolution any better.

This story was not billed as ‘the evolution story’. As I’ve already said, there are many others that also have an evolutionary context to them – it is Sherwin that is doing the shoehorning here.

6 thoughts on “Frustrating Year for Evolution

  1. Brian is an MD, so perhaps he can explain to me why every other medical journal article isn’t just further research into whether cell theory is valid or not. I mean, it’s a pretty important theory in medicine, with many common drugs – such as antibiotics – being contingent upon it.

    Oh, that’s right, it’s because cell theory has such a preponderance of evidence behind it that the basic science behind it has been so settled it isn’t necessary to reiterate all the evidence for it every time you mention it. That people can now write about bigger and better things instead of just reaffirming it…

    Of course, I draw absolutely no parallels with evolution and this ICR post. None at all.

  2. But isn’t evolution supposed to be an all-encompassing theory that—if omitted—makes science null and void?

    WTF? Siriusly? If the “evolution of life” is omitted (or erroneous), maths, particle physics, cosmology, chemistry, all have to pack up and go home too?

    Don’t get me wrong – evolution is important, both as a scientific theory in its own right and as one of the historical battlegrounds between morality and reality but it ain’t that fundamental.

    “ICR News reported in 2010 that A. sediba was an out-of-place fossil that had primitive feet… Both of these facts show that the creature was not human or a human transition…”. LIAR.
    You also imply that if A. sediba is considered by honest scientists not to be a direct ancestor of Homo sapiens, then evolution is false. What a pathetic argument.
    I suspect that if there had been MORE evolution stories from 2011 chosen by the editor of Nature, people like you would have complained about ‘indoctrination’.
    Do you actually believe your rather juvenile ‘spin’ in this article, Mr Sherwin?
    “Is it any wonder they conveniently bypass sophisticated bio-chemical challenges of spontaneous abiogenesis by simply saying it was “something like a cell right from the start”? Problem solved!” (very interesting article)
    “Most biologists think there must have been something like a cell right from the start, to contain the replicator and keep its component parts together.”
    “Jack Szostak of Harvard University has shown that the same clay that produces RNA chains also encourages the formation of membrane-bound sacs rather like cells that enclose cells. He has grown “proto-cells” that can carry RNA and even divide without modern cellular machinery”.


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