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Book Review/Science in the Media

Truth or Consequences? Engaging the “Truth” of Evolution

  • Kevin Padian
  • Published: March 31, 2009
  • DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000077

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Time to stop misrepresentation

Posted by ShiHuang on 27 May 2009 at 16:17 GMT

Padian said: "So it is a bit surprising that there is not more in his book on the methods we use to study these major features of evolution, notably the importance of constructing phylogenetic trees (which show patterns of lineage branching) to test hypotheses about macroevolutionary processes."

In fact this is not surprising at all given the book's purpose, which is to explain to laymen why evolution theory, which means NeoDarwinism at least to a reader of this book, is true. Of course, the modern evolution theory consists of two opposite sub-theories, NeoDarwinism/natural selection and the neutral theory. NeoDarwinism or natural selection is largely irrelevant to molecular evolution, or, more precisely, contradicted by molecular data. As a result, a theory based on the negation of NeoDarwinism or natural selection, the neutral theory, is used to explain molecular evolution, in particular the molecular clock.

But the only theory the book ever talks about is NeoDarwinism or natural selection. So it makes sense for the book to avoid as much as possible the topic of molecular evolution. There are very few sentences that mention molecular evolution. And these in fact mislead the readers into believing that NeoDarwinism is supported rather than contradicted by facts of molecular evolution. Here is what Coyne wrote: "Evolution theory predicts, and data support, the notion that as species diverge from their common ancestors, their DNA sequence change in roughly a straight-line fashion with time. We can use this "molecular clock", calibrated with fossil ancestors of living species, to estimate the divergence time of species that have poor fossil record." Does Coyne really expect the lay readers to know that the `evolution theory' here means the neutral theory, which is never mentioned in the book and must negate the key idea of Darwin? If the lay readers, after reading this, then believe incorrectly that NeoDarwinism predicts the molecular clock, is it the readers' fault or the author's?

Coyne had openly said: "In science's pecking order, evolutionary biology lurks somewhere near the bottom, far closer to phrenology than to physics." But there can be no justification in any kind of science to misrepresent contradicting facts as supporting evidence.

It is clear that NeoDarwinism is true for some aspects of microevolution. It is equally clear to anyone familiar with the primary literature that it cannot explain all the relevant facts of evolution or is contradicted by numerous facts. A complete theory of evolution must include and grant the proven virtues of NeoDarwinism and must explain all relevant facts including those that contradict NeoDarwinism. By not informing readers of the incomplete nature of the existing theories, the author is actively reducing the population of thinkers who may participate in the search for the complete truth.

No competing interests declared.