Re: Jonathan Wells' Icons of Evolution

From: bivalve (
Date: Fri Apr 13 2001 - 18:30:59 EDT

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    The recent news item on textbook errors especially referred to middle school textbooks, for which the claims of the publishers are the only evidence for a scientific review process. Local textbook review committees are not always useful. Richard Feinman described his experiences, having volunteered for the local school district. Many committee members did not even open the books, as shown by their ranking of a sample book consisting of the cover and blank pages, not that other texts were necessarily that good.

    In addition to the questionable nature of some of his examples, Wells' approach has two other problems. Including a list of disproven claims in non-evolutionary textbooks would go a long way towards suggestign sincerity of interest in correcting texts. Secondly, reasonably up to date textbooks will also have many lines of evidence for evolution that are correct to the best of our knowledge.

    I try to point out errors in the texts to my classes; most reflect new knowledge, but some have significantly problematic philosophical assertions. In fact, I just encountered a statement exaggerating the role of natural selection, though the correction won't please Wells-things are more random than the text claims, rather than "intelligently designed" in his sense. The claim that something "necessitates some expenditure of time and energy and therefore must entail some compensating benefits" is not fully true. Perhaps it is evolutionary baggage, either having evolved under different conditions and no longer useful or else linked to a useful feature and not beneficial of itself. It could also just be a random pattern with no particular justification. As long as the expenditure is not so great as to be significantly detrimental, it may persist.

    As another example, I plan to try a sociobiological analysis of sociobiology for my vertebrate class this semester. By discrediting the motives of other professions, sociobiologists may increase their own appeal to prospective mates. This may come about by inducing rejection of competitors or by generating a favorable impression based on apparent forthrightness. Therefore, sociobiology is merely an evolutionary strategy and not motivated by academic interest, desire to improve our understanding of ourselves, or other non-evolutionary motive. Hopefully they are learning that science is a learning process as well as the importance of reading critically.

    I think the archives will have more detailed information on the peppered moths. Additional problems of the critique include the fact that the moths clearly did change (i.e., evolved) and that the antievolutionary use of the critique is based on a book review that the author of the book (restudying the peppered moth example) thought misrepresentative.

        Dr. David Campbell
        "Old Seashells"
        Biology Department
        Saint Mary's College of Maryland
        18952 E. Fisher Road
        St. Mary's City, MD 20686-3001 USA, 301 862-0372 Fax: 301 862-0996
    "Mollusks murmured 'Morning!'. And salmon chanted 'Evening!'."-Frank Muir, Oh My Word!

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