Author Topic: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting  (Read 657 times)

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Offline screwtape

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5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« on: April 22, 2013, 11:46:46 AM »
http://www.science20.com/between_death_and_data/top_5_most_irritating_terms_evolution_reporting-109498

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Evolution is misunderstood by millions.  And, it has to be said, a lot of the time, this problem isn't helped by the way things are reported on the TV or in the news.


These are the 5 most common terms that, when I hear them used, I die a little. Though their effect is subtle, all of these terms perpetrate common myths about the way evolution works. The sooner they become extinct, the better!

1. Survival of the Fittest
Now, this term is something that often gets used synonymously with natural selection. In fact, it wasn't actually coined by Darwin himself; it was first used by Herbert Spencer, though Darwin later came to use it extensively.

The problem with the phrase "survival of the fittest", in my view, is that it rather misrepresents the way that selection really works. This is because it isn't really the survival of the fittest organism that drives evolution. It's the death of the least fit organism.

I can see how "survival of the fittest" appealed to victorian sensibilities! Instead of implying a brutal, red-in-tooth-and-claw vision of nature, it implies a striving towards self improvement. Which is, it has to be said, appealing. Unfortunately, it's neither borne out by theory nor facts.
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Offline DR HANS SCHWANTZ

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2013, 12:20:34 PM »
I believe in any study of a concept you really have to work hard to understand the subject before you have any chance to comment on the subject.

It seems in our fast paced world today, many assume they know the subject matter whatever it may be (this assumes no formal study in the subject just a cursory brush with the subject and usually told from others not knowledgeable themselves in the subject), based on their own intrinsic views and knowledge base and leave it at that.

When pressed though, in a real discussion where you are graded on whether you understand the subject matter or not, many people are surprised how little they really did not know about the subject. 

Evolution, as any body of complex knowledge requires, must include a fair effort to read and research its subject matter to understand it.

Thank goodness for those willing to find this knowledge the Internet offers a wealth of free knowledge if you are careful in sifting through all the data.
I am not asking what is truth, even though I seek it, I will know when truth is in front of me, when it is internally consistent, coherent with knowledge, congruent with like experience, useful for helping me organize my thinking, this is all I can ask in seeking the truth.

Online Graybeard

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2013, 01:09:31 PM »
Survival of the fittestWiki
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Darwin first used Spencer's new phrase "survival of the fittest" as a synonym for natural selection in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869.[2][3] Darwin meant it as a metaphor for "better adapted for immediate, local environment", not the common inference of "in the best physical shape".[4] Hence, it is not a scientific description.[5]

[...] A more accurate characterization of evolution would be "survival of the fit enough".[7]
RELIGION, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable. Ambrose Bierce

Offline Mrjason

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #3 on: April 23, 2013, 04:31:23 AM »
its "the fittest" that confuses people. It should be the fittest for purpose in the particular environ.
That doesn't really roll of the tongue though.

I read a good example of this some where. Can't remember where though :(

Anyway;

"Being a 7 stone flat footed asthmatic wouldn't serve you very well on the plains of Serengeti but it could save your life in the army recruiting offices of 1917 Europe"

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2013, 04:58:09 AM »
I always say that I am the "fittest" person I know. 

When people then gaze in bewilderment at the wobbly old flubba-dubba that I am, I clarify "fit for my purpose of being a couch-potato".   8)
Just because you've always done it that way doesn't mean it's not incredibly stupid.
Why is it so hard for believers to answer a direct question?

Offline Tonus

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2013, 09:37:02 AM »
The term "selection" tends to confuse people as well, because they approach it from the wrong end.  There is this assumption that an organism --or even "evolution" itself, as if it was some active force-- deliberately selects traits that will be favorable to its survival, but that's not what natural selection is.  Terms like "the organism evolved to fit its environment" is easily construed as an active, conscious approach instead of what it really means.

That kind of confusion is used to strong effect by apologists; it's one of the misunderstandings that kept me from realizing just how firmly established evolutionary theory really was.  Well, along with the misunderstanding of the term "theory" in science.  That might be the most irritating term of all, in the way that it is used.

Offline jdawg70

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2013, 01:55:46 PM »
That kind of confusion is used to strong effect by apologists; it's one of the misunderstandings that kept me from realizing just how firmly established evolutionary theory really was.  Well, along with the misunderstanding of the term "theory" in science.  That might be the most irritating term of all, in the way that it is used.
I think it's more concerning that there is a prevalent misunderstanding of 'science' itself.  Far too many people seem to think that science is telescopes, multimeters, Erlenmeyer flasks, and lab coats.  That is, they conflate the tools that can be brought to bear in scientific experiments with science itself.

Offline nogodsforme

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #7 on: May 17, 2013, 04:31:51 PM »
^^^Exactly. Science is a process, a way of doing things systematically and carefully.

People do things scientifically all the time, even though they are not scientists. Whether it is tinkering with a pie crust recipe, or tinkering with a car engine--the solution will be a real world one, not a supernatural one. That is true no matter what the person "believes".

Anytime someone approaches a problem, thinks of a solution, tries it out and then adds what they found out to their knowledge, they are using aspects of the scientific method.
Extraordinary claims of the bible don't even have ordinary evidence.

Kids aren't paying attention most of the time in science classes so it seems silly to get worked up over ID being taught in schools.

Offline kin hell

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #8 on: May 17, 2013, 09:31:28 PM »

When pressed though, in a real discussion where you are graded on whether you understand the subject matter or not, many people are surprised how little they really did not know about the subject. 



Dunning Kruger  hard at work DR H, we are all somewhat susceptible to this warp I think[1]  ;)
 1. but I don't know enough to be certain of my thinks(sic)
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all edits are for spelling or grammar unless specified otherwise

Offline screwtape

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Re: 5 most irritating terms in evolution reporting
« Reply #9 on: May 18, 2013, 04:17:28 PM »
When pressed though, in a real discussion where you are graded on whether you understand the subject matter or not, many people are surprised how little they really did not know about the subject. 

The illusion of knowledge.  It is one of the six mental illusions discussed in the fantastic book "The Invisible Gorilla".  I highly recommend it.

Kin is correct in saying it is connected to Dunning Kruger.  In my opinion, Hanlon's razor is more powerful than Occam's.


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