A reader draws attention to a recent media release from U South Australia positing that future drones will resemble 300 million-year-old dragonflies:
A team of PhD students led by UniSA Professor of Sensor Systems, Javaan Chahl, spent part of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown designing and testing key parts of a dragonfly-inspired drone that might match the insect’s extraordinary skills in hovering, cruising and aerobatics…
Describing the dragonfly as the “apex insect flyer,” Prof Chahl says numerous engineering lessons can be learned from its mastery in the air.
“Dragonflies are supremely efficient in all areas of flying. They need to be. After emerging from under water until their death (up to six months), male dragonflies are involved in perpetual, dangerous combat against male rivals. Mating requires an aerial pursuit of females and they are constantly avoiding predators. Their flying abilities have evolved over millions of years to ensure they survive,” Prof Chahl says.
“They can turn quickly at high speeds and take off while carrying more than three times their own body weight. They are also one of nature’s most effective predators, targeting, chasing and capturing their prey with a 95 per cent success rate.” …
“Their long abdomen, which makes up about 35 per cent of their body weight, has also evolved to serve many purposes. It houses the digestive tract, is involved in reproduction, and it helps with balance, stability and manoeuvrability. The abdomen plays a crucial role in their flying ability.”University of South Australia, “Future drones likely to resemble 300-million-year-old flying machine” at ScienceDaily
The paper is open access.
The reader notes that the release would read just as meaningfully if the text was shortened to “Their flying abilities ensure they survive,” Prof Chahl says.” and “Their long abdomen, which makes up about 35 per cent of their body weight, serves many purposes”.
Our philosopher and photographer friend Laszlo Bencze had a look at it and writes to say,
I have written about this issue myself several times. It’s so annoying. But the purpose of dropping these meaningless nods to evolution into articles is to dress them up as highly scientific.
Unfortunately, I think it works. If you say, “Most people prefer vanilla ice cream,” you’ve just made a trivial claim of no great significance. But if you say, “People have evolved to prefer vanilla ice cream,” well now you’ve made an insightful and fascinating statement backed by years of scientific research, no doubt about it. I’m sure that’s how most people respond to these evolution genuflections.
I know I certainly did. How could anyone make these claims unless they were backed up with rigorous studies? There had to be reams of papers, PhD theses, articles in Nature magazine for every such mention.
When I learned in 1983 from an article by Tom Bethell, published in Harper’s Magazine that there were no such studies, no not even one, I was shocked. Also I was angry at having been lied to for years. Those nods to evolution are not trivial. They are harmful in creating an aura of respectability about evolution that has no right to be there.
If an editor removed the genuflections, you can bet that the authors would be outraged and would pillory that unfortunate who would never again possess any scientific credibility. As hollow as it is, these evolution words puff up writers allowing them to believe that they are themselves, “highly scientific.” You can’t divest an author of such profound power without severe repercussions.
Well, if they can’t have the cattle, they are going to insist on the Big Hat, right?
Bethell noted the same tendency in Darwinian language in 2005:
That phrase–”it was selected for”–is regarded as a sufficient explanation for . . . everything. The same mundane phrase is given as the explanation for everything under the sun. How did the bats get sonar? “It arose by an accidental mutation of the genes and was selected for. Next question?” How did the eye develop? “Piecemeal. There was a random mutation and it conferred an advantage so it was selected for. Then the same thing happened over and over again. Next question?” How did the camel get its hump? “Random mutations conferred some advantage and so they were selected for. Next question?”Tom Bethell, “Don’t Fear The Designer” at National Review (December 1, 2005)
We should write more parodies of that stuff, really. Anyone have friends at the Babylon Bee.
Presumably the ancient dragonfly was something like this: