A lot on my plate this morning, but if you’ve not seen these already from yesterday, check out Respectful Insolence, where Orac has a post on using chemical castration as a treatment for autism. Just when you think things couldn’t get any crazier…
PZ also has a post drawing your attention to a statement in this week’s Science magazine: Medicine needs evolution.
The citation of “Evolution in Action” as Science’s 2005 breakthrough of the year confirms that evolution is the vibrant foundation for all biology. Its contributions to understanding infectious disease and genetics are widely recognized, but its full potential for use in medicine has yet to be realized. Some insights have immediate clinical applications, but most are fundamental, as is the case in other basic sciences. Simply put, training in evolutionary thinking can help both biomedical researchers and clinicians ask useful questions that they might not otherwise pose.
The statement was written in part by Randolph Nesse, an author of the book Why we get sick: the new science of Darwinian medicine. I’ve written before about working on getting doctors involved in the fight to teach good science and voice support for evolution, since medicine is really where the rubber hits the road as far as usefulness of the discoveries and theory of evolutionary biology. The authors make some suggestions:
What actions would bring the full power of evolutionary biology to bear on human disease? We suggest three. First, include questions about evolution in medical licensing examinations; this will motivate curriculum committees to incorporate relevant basic science education. Second, ensure evolutionary expertise in agencies that fund biomedical research. Third, incorporate evolution into every relevant high school, undergraduate, and graduate course. These three changes will help clinicians and biomedical researchers understand that both the human body and its pathogens are not perfectly designed machines but evolving biological systems shaped by selection under the constraints of tradeoffs that produce specific compromises and vulnerabilities. Powerful insights from evolutionary biology generate new questions whose answers will help improve human health.
As was brought up in my previous discussion of physicians and evolution, there are a sizable fraction that are creationists or ID supporters. I don’t know that Neese et al.’s suggestions would reduce that fraction or not, but it certainly couldn’t hurt to show more clearly how evolution permeates so many facets of medicine, instead of having it just as an intro topic you need to study as an undergraduate to get into medical school in the first place.