“What Darwin Never Knew” on PBS’s NOVA, Dec. 29th

9 thoughts on ““What Darwin Never Knew” on PBS’s NOVA, Dec. 29th

  1. As a high school biology teacher, I can say it hits all the right notes, including up-to-date information on genes and body pattern formation. Insightful, entertaining, educational without being overly technical, overall a great program!

  2. K McCarthy may feel this program hit all the right notes, but that may be why she teaches high school biology. I almost fell out of my chair when they discussed theory of recapitulation. (For you high school biology teachers that was the part where they spoke about “gills” on the human embryo). This theory was disproven in the 1870’s. No biologist believes recapitulation anymore. Yet the producers gave it a great deal of credit.
    The program also gave the impression that human genetic code is only 1% different than apes. It was never made clear that it means 1% of the 2% encoding protiens. The other 98% of DNA we are fairly clueless on. I’m not sure if 1% of truth, told 2% of the time would qualify as honesty. However, I am 98% sure it was misleading.

  3. I was more than a little shocked to hear the term “begs the question” misused twice(!) in this program. NOVA should present sound philosophy and sound English as well as sound science. (“Beg the question” is the logical fallacy of an argument assuming the truth of its own conclusion.) Quite recently, sloppy speakers/thinkers/writers have started to use it in place of “raises” the question or “suggests” the question. NOVA’s writers who know the science deserve help from editors who know the language. So do we audience members.

  4. Pingback: 2009 in review « The Dispersal of Darwin

  5. The Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection was conceived NOT by Darwin alone, as Sean Carroll repeatedly and emphatically states in this show, but more or less simultaneously by TWO “indefatigable naturalists”, Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin. They both realized that:
    1. Natural populations produce more progeny than needed for replacement.
    2. Plants and animals show natural variation: some are better adapted than others.
    3. Better adapted types will survive and reproduce better than the less well adapted.
    4. This will result in evolutionary changes.

    The conclusions of BOTH Wallace and Darwin were announced at a special meeting of the Linnean Society in London (neither Wallace nor Darwin being present). Their findings were reported by Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker, with the following introduction that made it perfectly clear that Wallace and Darwin deserved EQUAL credit:

    “MY DEAR SIR,—The accompanying papers, which we have the honour of communicating to the Linnean Society, and which all related to the same subject, viz. the Laws which affect the Production of Varieties, Races, and Species, contain the results of the investigations of two indefatigable naturalists, Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Wallace. The gentlemen having, independently and unknown to one another, conceived the same very ingenious theory to account for the appearance and perpetuation of varieties and of specific forms on our planet,…….”

    Both Darwin and Wallace behaved impeccably over this issue, each one wanting to ensure that the other got appropriate credit. Wallace even went overboard a bit, in calling one of his books “Darwinism”! But many evolutionary biologists, teachers, and especially the media, have behaved shamefully in giving all the credit to Darwin.

    NOVA: Your penance is to do a follow-up series on Wallace.

  6. It seems that we are now at the top of the food chain and the only worries we face besides an asteroid, gamma rays, Jihadists or Al Gore are poor nutrition and disease. We have reached the apex of our being. I Love this place.

  7. Much ado about “switches”. How do they “evolve” Does the switch appear before the thing it turns on, or after. How does it know there’s something there to turn on in the first place, and vice versa. Too, the bit of code that makes a switch – how many letters is it, and how does natural selection choose just a bit of a switch and does it do so before, or after the bit that it turns on exists? And Tiktaalik, the New, new, missing link between fish and terapods… well, new evidence is in, track ways, footed ones, found at a date said to preceed Tiktaalik by about 10 million years.

  8. Grzegorz Niedzwiedzki, Piotr Szrek, Katarzyna Narkiewicz, Marek Narkiewicz & Per E. Ahlberg
    Nature, 463, 43-48 (7 January 2010) | doi:10.1038/nature08623

    Abstract: The fossil record of the earliest tetrapods (vertebrates with limbs rather than paired fins) consists of body fossils and trackways. The earliest body fossils of tetrapods date to the Late Devonian period (late Frasnian stage) and are preceded by transitional elpistostegids such as Panderichthys and Tiktaalik that still have paired fins. Claims of tetrapod trackways predating these body fossils have remained controversial with regard to both age and the identity of the track makers. Here we present well preserved and securely dated tetrapod tracks from Polish marine tidal flat sediments of early Middle Devonian (Eifelian stage) age that are approximately 18 million years older than the earliest tetrapod body fossils and 10 million years earlier than the oldest elpistostegids. They force a radical reassessment of the timing, ecology and environmental setting of the fish tetrapod transition, as well as the completeness of the body fossil record.

  9. Concering Wallance on Natural Selection, or “What I never heard in Public School”….

    But Wallace would break with Darwin over the source of the human intellect. While Darwin thought man and animal different in degree not kind, Wallace felt that the special attributes of the human mind, its facility for abstract reasoning, mathematics, music, even wit and humor was inexplicable by Darwin’s own principle of utility, namely, the idea that no attribute in any species would arise and be maintained unless it afforded it a functional advantage in its struggle for survival. Admitting that none of these most human of traits promoted survival, Wallace instead suggested that these qualities were explicable only through some “Overruling Intelligence.” Darwin and his disciples have been horrified ever since.

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