See here (“Single jaw find shows three “species” to be one”), for example, and here (Science journalist discovers she is part Neanderthal). Oh and, Vince Torley notes “No debate about macroevolution? Surely you’re joking, Professor Coyne!”
Surely, he isn’t joking. Darwin’s tenured flock have got on fine for many years without ever taking seriously the mess the whole concept is in.
They can hardly take it seriouly anyway because it is central to the most influential academic book, Dawin;’s On the Origin of Species, which supposedly enshrines the single greatest idea anyone ever had, the foundation of their discipline.
What’s mere plodding science compared to all that. And yet the concept is just one big mess right now. So big a mess that suppressing dissent is easier.
Meanwhile, from New Republic:
“I look at the term species as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other,” Charles Darwin wrote in The Origin of Species in 1859. Nevertheless, his theory of evolution helped biologists in the twentieth century land on what seemed like a firmer definition: A species was not simply a group of animals that looked alike, but rather a population whose members could reproduce only with each other. This was called the “biological species” concept. Over time, the thinking went, populations became divided by geographical or other barriers and evolved separately from each other, never to reunite. “The origin of species is therefore simply the evolution of some difference—any difference at all—that prevents the production of fertile hybrids between populations under natural conditions,” Wilson wrote.
There were always problems with that definition, though.
One of them was hybridization.
As genetic testing has become more common, biologists have found increasing evidence of hybridization among distinct species. Bobcat and lynx are hybridizing in Canada. The clymene dolphin is entirely a hybrid of two other dolphin species. Scientists have theorized that climate change may be the cause of some hybridization, as animals migrate outside of their traditional ranges and encounter new species. The “pizzly bear,” for example, is a cross between a polar bear and a grizzly bear. But the polar bear and grizzly bear genomes show that the two species have exchanged genes throughout history. So have grizzly bears and black bears. Even human beings aren’t quite as distinct as we once thought. The genomes of European and East Asian peoples contain genetic material from long-extinct Neanderthals, indicating that hybridization has played a role in our own development as Homo sapiens.
But the “speciation” paper mill just ground on and on, as anyone paying attention will attest. All the way through the destruction of the Darwin’s finches idol.
And so now?
Scientists had hoped that DNA testing would yield clear definitions for animal species. Instead, it’s revealed just how impossible such precise determinations are. And yet few would suggest jettisoning the concept of a species altogether: It is, as E.O. Wilson wrote, too fundamental to human ideas of nature. The difference would be recognizing that a species is a human construction rather than a biological reality—a shift in perspective that would, if anything, give conservationists more flexibility to pursue their goals. “The Endangered Species Act is tied to typology, where it should be more oriented toward process,” Wayne said. More.
So, with the Tree of Life felled (that’s admitted too, here), the concept of species becomes a talking point of lobbies, like “victimization” or “safe spaces”?
Okay, fine if that’s how it is. But don’t come back later and pretend it is science, in the usual sense. Not if there is anyone around who has been following the story, that is.
Note: Wasn’t New Republic the mag that bounced Leon Wieseltier? He had a good sense of the big picture in these matters, and might have spared them the soppy ending to an otherwise informative article, that focuses on “saving” the hybrid red wolf.
Of course, maybe that would be a problem in these times?
See also: Evolution: The fossils speak, but hardly with one voice
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