Pharyngula

New York Times gives evolution a day

The NY Times has pulled out all the stops today and has dedicated their entire science section to the subject of evolution. They’ve got pieces by some of the best science journalists around, like Carl Zimmer, Cornelia Dean (although in this case, it’s a lot of nattering on about how the soul fits into evolution—not recommended), and Natalie Angier, and they’ve also drafted a few scientists. There’s a video of Sean Carroll summarizing evo-devo, and perhaps the most interesting article of them all is by Douglas Erwin, in which he speculates about whether the new ideas percolating throughout the science community (especially by those noisy developmental biologists) are precursors to a new revolution in our thinking about evolution. He’s non-committal so far, which is fair.

Does all this add up to a new modern synthesis? There is certainly no consensus among evolutionary biologists, but development, ecology, genetics and paleontology all provide new perspectives on how evolution operates, and how we should study it. None of these concerns provide a scintilla of hope for creationists, as scientific investigations are already providing new insights into these issues. The foundations for a paradigm shift may be in place, but it may be some time before we see whether a truly novel perspective develops or these tensions are accommodated within an expanded modern synthesis.

Or both! I expect that what will happen is that the deficiencies in the neo-Darwinian synthesis (which lacks any explanation for the evolution of form and pattern, for instance) will be gradually filled in with clear linkages to the evolution of genes, and despite the fact that it will be a bigger, bolder, stronger synthesis, everyone will say we knew it all along anyway. There will not be a threshold moment where everyone says “Wow! I am suddenly enlightened!” — there will just come a time when everyone acknowledges that all those papers from 40 years ago were pretty darned important, after all.

Comments

  1. #1 Phoenix Woman
    June 26, 2007

    Yannow, has any of the Sulzbergers looked at the boffo sales being done by Hitchens’, Harris’ and Dawkins’ books and realized that they could sell a ton of papers with a front-page review of these books by an actual scientist? Or a series of front-page articles stating up front that evolution is a fact?

    The Strib just recently had an editorial by Brian Lambert calling for an end to the “balance” game in favor of simply stating the truth. If the Strib can do it, the Times can, too.

  2. #2 MarkW
    June 26, 2007

    Indeed. As I understand it, advertising generates more revenue than sales for any magazine.

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    June 26, 2007

    …Which, of course, makes discussion about evolution a horrible catch-22. If we discuss some of the issues in the finer points, and talk about changing and expanding certain parts of it to fit new knowledge, then creationists quote-mine and say that we don’t know what we’re talking about, that we keep changing our minds, and that we can’t explain anything with evolution. If we keep those debates out of the public eye for that very reason, then they can say that we’re dogmatic religionists who don’t obviously change our minds to fit new evidence in the same way that we accuse them of thinking.

    Nah.

    No matter what we do, the cre_ti_nists with both quote-mine the living shit out of anything (Bible included) and whine that we’re dogmatic religionists.

    Look at Mats above: instead of reading the post on segmentation genes, he comes, says we’re dogmatic religionists, and disappears back into the Dungeon Dimensions.

  4. #4 David Marjanovi?
    June 26, 2007

    …Which, of course, makes discussion about evolution a horrible catch-22. If we discuss some of the issues in the finer points, and talk about changing and expanding certain parts of it to fit new knowledge, then creationists quote-mine and say that we don’t know what we’re talking about, that we keep changing our minds, and that we can’t explain anything with evolution. If we keep those debates out of the public eye for that very reason, then they can say that we’re dogmatic religionists who don’t obviously change our minds to fit new evidence in the same way that we accuse them of thinking.

    Nah.

    No matter what we do, the cre_ti_nists with both quote-mine the living shit out of anything (Bible included) and whine that we’re dogmatic religionists.

    Look at Mats above: instead of reading the post on segmentation genes, he comes, says we’re dogmatic religionists, and disappears back into the Dungeon Dimensions.

  5. #5 Andrew Wade
    June 26, 2007

    No matter what we do, the cre_ti_nists with both quote-mine the living shit out of anything (Bible included) and whine that we’re dogmatic religionists.

    Aye. And they’ll be listening to their propagandists rather than us anyway. We can’t compete with Creationism when it comes to offering simple and infallible “truths”, and we shouldn’t try.

    The creationists who will be listening to us will likely be oddballs who will have already rejected the anti-intellectual cool-aid of their fundamentalist bretheren. They will likely be able to tolerate a fair bit of ambiguity, what they’ll need is answers to their questions (such as talkorigins provides).

  6. #6 grendelkhan
    June 26, 2007

    A shiny nickel to the first person who discovers a creationist quote-mining “[the neo-Darwinian synthesis] lacks any explanation for the evolution of form and pattern”.

  7. #7 matt
    June 26, 2007

    -Is Darwin due for an upgrade? There are growing calls among some evolutionary biologists for just such a revision, although they differ about what form this might take.-
    This is sort of odd. It’s like comparing the theory of evolution with something like buying a new wardrobe or upgrading an old building.
    Do scientists actually want a revision to science just for the sake of a revision?

  8. #8 Keith Douglas
    June 26, 2007

    I’m glad that the NYT is doing this, but I suspect most of the fundies don’t read newspapers, especially not a “liberal” paper like the Times.

  9. #9 Torbj÷rn Larsson, OM
    June 26, 2007

    Scott,

    While I understand why this is an emotional question for you, I am amazed and distraught by your choice of language in your latest comment.

    I hope what you meant to say was that it will be a FRAKIN’ REVOLUTION!

    ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frak )

    In any case, I think you may be right. I remember PZ’s post about inducing a change in phenotype in butterflies in front of our eyes. If that is an example of what you are discussing, it is much more exciting and up-in-your-face than the textbooks I used to fall asleep over… I mean, what we studied in biology class. IIRC they didn’t exactly overflow with descriptions of evolution.

  10. #10 zeekster
    June 27, 2007

    @ Keith Douglas (#29)

    I’m glad that the NYT is doing this, but I suspect most of the fundies don’t read newspapers, especially not a “liberal” paper like the Times.

    You’re right. They read the very dangerous World Magazine. My ex-boyfriend’s Fundamentalist Christian family was homeschooled and raised on those lies.

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