A friend wrote to say that this headline is “a complete head-scratcher”:
One of Darwin’s evolution theories finally proved
Scientists have proved one of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution for the first time — nearly 140 years after his death. Researchers discovered mammal subspecies play a more important role in evolution than previously thought. Her research could now be used to predict which species conservationists should focus on protecting. – St John’s College, University of Cambridge
Huh? We had been given to understand that Darwin’s theories were as dead certain as math. Jonathan Wells, who has a beagle’s nose for Darwin hype, offers some thoughts on this example:
According to Science Daily, “One of Darwin’s evolution theories finally proved.” The report quotes University of Cambridge PhD student Laura van Holstein, who said her research “proves that sub-species play a critical role in long-term evolutionary dynamics and in future evolution of species. And they always have, which is what Darwin suspected when he was defining what a species actually was.”
Yet the scientific paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society does not claim proof, only a correlation of (at best) 0.31. And Darwin did not define “what a species actually was.” According to evolutionary biologist James Mallet, Darwin “spent only a little space discussing what he meant by species. Perhaps, as a naturalist, he thought that the existence and nature of species would be self-evident to his readers. Even in later editions of the Origin, to which he added a glossary, there is no formal definition of species.”
The closest Darwin came to defining species was this sentence from the Origin of Species (1859): “[T]he only distinction between species and well-marked varieties is, that the latter are known, or believed, to be connected at the present day by intermediate gradations, whereas species were formerly thus connected.” But this definition assumes the truth of Darwin’s theory (namely, that modern species were in the past connected by intermediate gradations). As a definition of species, it is an example of the fallacy of begging the question.
The ScienceDaily report, like so much other reporting on evolution, is hype.
Well, if it’s just hype, it won’t feel out of place, will it?