Readers may recall that New Scientist published an article some days ago on 13 ways we need to “rethink the theory of nature.”
Their Number 8 rethink is … Change can be quick
Most of the article is paywalled but here’s the gist of #8:
MANY people think evolution is something that takes millions of years, making it imperceptible on human timescales. They have it upside down, says Michael Kinnison at the University of Maine. He and others have shown that organisms can evolve extremely rapidly in response to changes in their environment. However, evolution often reverses direction, making it appear slow over long stretches of time.
The famous finches of the Galapagos islands, which inspired Charles Darwinʼs thinking about evolution, provide a prime example of this. A single founder species reached the islands around 2 million years ago and gave rise to at least 14 different species, some with large beaks for feeding on big seeds, and some with much smaller beaks for other foods. – Michael LePageMichael Le Page , Colin Barras , Richard Webb , Kate Douglas and Carrie Arnold, “Evolution is evolving: 13 ways we must rethink the theory of nature” at New Scientist (September 23. 2020)
Two things: If the swift changes in Darwin’s finches, as they are called, are the outcome of tossing seas of hybridization rather than evolution in any particular direction, it’s worth asking whether their shifts should be considered a form of evolution at all. Not an issue, just a question.
Second, does anyone remember Darwin’s claim:
It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, wherever and whenever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.
Yes, that “daily, hourly” thing seems quaint to us too. It probably even seems quaint over at New Scientist, given the stuff they’re saying now.
(Reformed) New Scientist 7: Niche construction can shape evolution. To say that “Traditionally, biologists thought of niche construction purely as a consequence of natural selection. However, that argument doesnʼt always work” is to say that neoDarwinism is not THE theory of evolution. Just in: Richard Dawkins has left the building. And New Scientist has become a more interesting publication.
(Reformed) New Scientist 6: Lamarck is out of the doghouse! At New Scientist: “Today, there is evidence of Lamarckian evolution – of a sort… ‘It reorients how we think about the adaptive process,’ he says.”
(Reformed) New Scientist 5: Species don’t really EXIST? Then what was On the Origin of Species about? Never mind.
(Reformed) New Scientist 4: There is more to inheritance than just genes. At New Scientist: “Subsequent studies in plants and animals suggest that epigenetic inheritance is more common than anyone had expected. Whatʼs more, compared with genetic inheritance, it has some big advantages. Environments can change rapidly and dramatically, but genetic mutations are random, so often require generations to take hold.” Just think, within a few years, genetics might start to make some sense. You’ve got to hand it to the New Scientist gang; when they rethink, they really do.
(Reformed) New Scientist 3: The selfish gene is no longer cool. At New Scientist: “Some researchers think the solution lies in an idea called cultural group selection. Forget shared genes, they argue: selection can favour cooperative groups if the people within them share enough culture. ” Darwin has left the building and returned to his estate.
(Reformed) New Scientist 2: Evolution shows intelligence. At New Scientist: “‘Maybe, evolution is less about out competing others and more to do with co-creating knowledge,’ says Watson.” That really is a radical idea. Radical yes, but it really is a good idea. We find it hard to improve on. The only thing we can think of is, keep the “intelligent” part in your description of nature and add “design.”
(Reformed) New Scientist 1 on the genome: Not destiny. Sure but then what about the famous twin studies that were supposed to prove so much about human nature? No? Then it’s probably best for the New Scientists to just get out of the “gene for that” hell while they can.
At New Scientist: We must rethink the (Darwinian) theory of nature. If by “our greatest theory of nature,” the writers mean textbook Darwinism, well the new concepts they list are destroying it. What becomes of “natural selection acting on random mutation” if a variety of means of evolution are “natural,” mutations are not necessarily random, genes aren’t selfish and don’t come only from parents, and the fittest don’t necessarily survive? Just for a start…