Friday, September 09, 2005

Science, NYT and Pharyngula

Yesterday I came across a short piece in NYT on brain evolution, discussing some new results published in Science - short version is that there is evidence for evolution in allele frequency in the recent past (10-100 kyrs) of genes ASPM and Microcephalin which control brain development, including some size control. The genes may also control other things in the body, it is not certain any adaptive pressure is from their brain development function, nor is allele functionality unique, but the timing and pattern of spread is intriguing.

I quickly peeked at Pharyngula, and sure enough discussion and a pointer.

A good reminder why I need to keep my Science subscription (I'll get to the other one soon as I have time to read it, early Deep Impact results are out).

So, what's the point. Well, the naive implications will get a lot of people's knickers in a twist and lead to some stupid inferences drawn. But, what is the real point? Well, first evolution is ongoing. (And, remember, it is not progressive - there is a priori not necessary that "smarter" brains are selected for, what is selected for is enhanced probability of inheriting that allele). This is spun as being controversial - it is not - the mere fact that humans are "civilised" does not remove the very existence of selection, it may change what is selected for.

Secondly the story contained the following quote: "...reluctance to acknowledge that selection could occur in a trait as controversial as brain function". Huh? In so far as brain function is adaptive, and changes in brain function affect survival and ability to produce offspring, brain function is selective. This is a tautology. Not a matter of controversy.


PS: right on schedule - the Pharyngula comments say that Andrew Sullivan made the stupid inference already.
How predictable.

Good news is that The Daily Show will do a whole week "Evolution Schmevolution" special feature next week, including special guest stars! Get your video tapes (or digital electronic recorders for those more with it) set up now. Should be good.


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