The Scientific Activist

Today, the Interacademy Panel on International Issues (IAP), an organization of 92 scientific academies from around the globe, released a statement endorsing the importance of teaching evolution as a fundamental scientific principle. The IAP emphasizes the following uncontested evolutionary facts:

  1. In a universe that has evolved towards its present configuration for some 11 to 15 billion years, our Earth formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.
  2. Since its formation, the Earth – its geology and its environments – has changed under the effect of numerous physical and chemical forces and continues to do so.
  3. Life appeared on Earth at least 2.5 billion years ago. The evolution, soon after, of photosynthetic organisms enabled, from at least 2 billion years ago, the slow transformation of the atmosphere to one containing substantial quantities of oxygen. In addition to the release of the oxygen that we breathe, the process of photosynthesis is the ultimate source of fixed energy and food upon which human life on the planet depends.
  4. Since its first appearance on Earth, life has taken many forms, all of which continue to evolve, in ways which palaeontology and the modern biological and biochemical sciences are describing and independently confirming with increasing precision. Commonalities in the structure of the genetic code of all organisms living today, including humans, clearly indicate their common primordial origin.

Most importantly, the statement stresses the need to teach science as a means of describing nature through a process of inquiry, fundamentally built upon the formulation of testable and refutable hypothesis. That’s an important message, and one that isn’t followed nearly as much as it should be.

But, seriously though, am I really supposed to think this is a big story? Apparently the BBC does, but then again, it also confused a guy coming in for a job interview with the internet expert it was supposed to be interviewing on live television. Oops.

Off course the world’s preeminent scientific organizations should be pushing the teaching of evolution, and they should be doing a lot more than just putting out weak press releases. It’s no wonder that intelligent design, despite its complete lack of anything even resembling scientific validity, has made such an impact, since its proponents have been so proactive and so much more media savvy than the scientific community.

Instead of just drafting a statement, the IAP’s resources could be better put to use by directly engaging the public on the issue or by putting together useful resources for the scientific and educational communities.

Evolution is such a fascinating (and fundamental) area of science that could really be communicated to the public much more effectively. Especially with such exciting things happening as the recent discovery of fossilized remains of Gansus yumenensis, an important missing link in the evolution of modern birds, you’d think the world’s scientific community could do better.


  1. #1 Rob Knop
    June 22, 2006

    In a universe that has evolved towards its present configuration for some 11 to 15 billion years, our Earth formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago.

    Dude, we can do way better than that nowadays. The current figure is 13.7+-0.2 billion years (I think it’s +-0.2)…. Of course, that’s a lower limit, in the sense that we really have no clue what happened “before” the epoch of inflation, but we know that from then until now, it’s been 13.7 billion years.

    Even if you want to throw out the CMB results, we’ve got a 13ish billion year lower limit based on the age of the oldest globular clusters.


  2. #2 Vini
    July 7, 2006

    hehehehee, estive por aki. the book’s on the table!

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