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New model backs “controversial” evolution idea

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From Andrew Masterson at Cosmos:

In 1972 the eminent palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould and his colleague Niles Eldredge proposed an idea about the way evolution worked and, in so doing, sparked a fight of almighty proportions.

No, it was not really an “almighty” row. It was a vulgar, vicious row between tenured Darwinists and an early group of evidence-seekers who were soon whipped into shape to support the party line.

New modelling revealed by Michael Landis and Joshua Schraiber of Temple University in Pennsylvania, US, however, adds considerable extra weight to their case.

They had better watch their step if they want to remain employed.

Gould and Eldredge sought to explain so-called gaps in the palaeontological record – missing fossils assumed to represent transitional phases between ancient species and the modern ones into which they evolved – by suggesting they were an illusion.

Evolution, they proposed, wasn’t a gradual process, marked by the slow accumulation of new characteristics. Rather, they said, “the history of evolution is not one of stately unfolding, but a story of homeostatic equilibria, disturbed only ‘rarely’ … by rapid and episodic events of speciation.” More.

None of this makes any sense, of course: How can things that cannot be demonstrated by slow methodical means happen to be demonstrated by rapid, non-methodical ones?

The ensuing pre-cocktails controversy is elite tennis without menace. We are told,

The reactions of professors Dawkins and Dennett remain unknown, but might be memorable.

Nope. Why should Dawkins and Dennett care? They are entrenched. The real story is elsewhere and in any event the guns are facing the wrong way…

See also: Journal Nature: Stuck with a battle it dare not fight, even for the soul of science

Seversky, thanks for the quotes. Some interesting, and potentially internally inconsistent, thoughts coming from Darwin in those quotes. Eric Anderson
The reductionist bottom-up reverse engineering research approach takes the scientists on a long and winding road that leads to ‘surprising’ and ‘unexpected’ discoveries, while the Big Data keeps piling up on the clouds. Biology research is by far the most fascinating field of serious science these days. Because it’s a WYSIWYG deal. Unfortunately some otherwise interesting papers may contain irrelevant text with archaic pseudoscientific hogwash which makes the whole paper look like low grade bovine excreta. The evo-devo folks struggle to find a serious case that may satisfy the conditions described @1090 in the thread “A third way of evolution?” to no avail. Complex complexity. The more we know, the more we have to learn Dionisio
Seversky @ 1: Thanks for sharing those quotes by Darwin. They help provide context. What is your take on the Cambrian event (one of Darwin's major concerns)? Truth Will Set You Free
But I must here remark that I do not suppose that the process ever goes on so regularly as is represented in the diagram, though in itself made somewhat irregular, nor that it goes on continuously; it is far more probable that each form remains for long periods unaltered, and then again undergoes modification. (Darwin, Ch. 4, "Natural Selection," pp. 152)
"It is a more important consideration ... that the period during which each species underwent modification, though long as measured by years, was probably short in comparison with that during which it remained without undergoing any change." (Darwin, Ch. 10, "On the imperfection of the geological record," p. 428)
"... natural selection will generally act very slowly, only at long intervals of time, and only on a few of the inhabitants of the same region. I further believe that these slow, intermittent results accord well with what geology tells us of the rate and manner at which the inhabitants of the world have changed." (Darwin, Ch. 4, "Natural Selection," pp. 140-141)

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