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What is Evolution

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  What is evolution, and what sort of explanation does it provide for the diversity of life on our planet? Those are important questions, but especially so for the United States, where so few people understand what evolution is and so many simply reject it outright, generally because of their religious convictions. Summary Title : Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea Author : Carl Zimmer Publisher : Harpercollins ISBN : 0060199067 Pro : ã Basic history of Darwin covered in depth   ã Current uses of evolution discussed  and explained ã Nature of evolutionary theory explained clearly   Con : ã Chapter on religion needed more   Description : ã History and science and evolution covered   ã Multiple other resources can go with the book    ã Many chapters on specific topics in evolution  and science Book Review In an effort to dispel misconceptions and provide the public with a better understanding of evolution, PBS created a week-long television series covering the great scope of evolution from its early development under Darwin down through contemporary debates. Along with this series HarperCollins has published a companion volume written by science journalist Carl Zimmer. There are many complexities to the theory of evolution, and those complexities have only grown as the theory has been refined and developed over time. Nevertheless, it is possible to make evolutionary theory understandable to the average person, and Zimmer succeeds  at that remarkably well. This may look simply like a “coffee table book” like so many “companion volumes,” but it really contains a wealth of information.  Zimmer begins, appropriately enough, with Charles Darwin and the very early development of his theories. The description of Darwin’s intellectual progress, both during his time on the Beagle and in the years after he returned home, is very engaging. But what is especially good is Zimmer’s discussion of Darwin’s doubts. Throughout the years he worked on his ideas, Darwin was afraid of alienating his mentors, his family, and British society. How he worked through those fears, and why he eventually published, make for a fascinating story. But of course the book isn’t only about Darwin, it is also about the science of evolutionary theory which has progressed quite a bit since Darwin’s day. To that end, Zimmer explores the many ways in which evolution is known to work and how modern science has become dependent upon it as an organizing principle. One of the most effective sections in this regard is the one dealing with disease. By casting more light onto the nature of parasites, bacteria and viruses, the power of evolution is more easily demonstrated. Modern medical science would be unthinkable without the assumption of evolution. Just as important is the fact that the evolution of disease-causing agents is one of the easiest ways for people to understand how evolution works: “The coevolution between parasites and hosts has not faded into history’s fog. It continues every day, and we humans are a subject of one of the newest experiments in host-parasite coevolution. We are trying to artificially improve our defense against bacteria with antibiotics, and it’s becoming abundantly clear that we’re in danger of losing this arms race.”   Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, by Carl Zimmer  After all, it isn’t hard for most people to grasp the idea that if they don’t take enough medicine to kill all of a strain of bacteria, the ones left behind are the ones which were least susceptible to the medicine. If they reproduce, their offspring will have greater resistance to medicine, resulting in a strain of bacteria which is stronger and harder to kill. More than a lesson in science, this is a very real medical problem because resistant strains of diseases are appearing all over the world as microbes work to catch up in the medical arms race. But whereas we usually hear about how it works against us, sometimes we evolve and this works in our favor. For example, Stephen O’Brien, a virologist at the  National Cancer Institute, has done research which indicates that the Black Death in Europe may have put enough selective pressure on Europeans to spread a genetic mutation which today confers immunity against AIDS.


Jul 22, 2017


Jul 22, 2017
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