Don’t press rewind if you like your thumbs.

Accidental Origins article

My brother was an accident. My mother rationalized it (“We were planning on having you! …We just didn’t plan on having you exactly when we did…”) but my brother was still massively offended.

Turns out we’re all accidents. Well, at least when it comes to how we are as a species.

I found the Accidental Origins article in New Scientist (linked to above) while idling in an airport bookstore and grabbed it up as a potentially relevant article. And then I lost it in my impossibly messy room. And then I found it 7 weeks later.

Turns out it is relevant, and even though the class is over, I think it’s worth posting. It’s a grabbing article that disects speciation (def: the evolution of a biological species) and what causes it.

The punch line of the whole article is that Darwin made a boo-boo. The name of his most famous book is Origin of Species, however, he doesn’t once actually analyze the origins or triggers of all the different types of species!

Sure, I’m sure you’re thinking “yes he did, natural selection, duh”. Wrong. In this article, Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist from the UK, says, “It isn’t the accumulation of events [of natural selection] that causes speciation, it’s single, rare events falling out of the sky, so to speak. Speciation becomes an arbitrary, happy accident when one of these events happens to you.”

Happy accidents! Holy moly. This means, as Stephan Gould puts it, that “if you were able to rewind history and replay the evolution of life on Earth, it would turn out differently everytime.” Yikes. I just became very grateful for all of those accidents. I like having opposable thumbs and two eyes.

They’re not saying Darwin got it wrong; they agree that “once one species has split into two, natural selection will presumably adapt each to the particular experiences it experiences. The point is that this adaptation follows as a consequence of speciation, rather than contributing as a cause.”

How in the world did they come to this conclusion? They analyzed a nauseatingly large amout of statistics on how long species took to divide into two; possible to do only since the development of loads of DNA data on everything from bees to hawks to shrubs (thank you Eric Lander).

So why are there so many of types of beetles and not humans? They believe beetles are more “accident-prone” than we are.

I’ve always considered myself accident-prone. This article sharply puts that into perspective. Whew. Check out the article, it’s an easy read.

Hey Darwin: you need a new title.

– Maggie D.

~ by insomniac on May 4, 2010.

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