Darwin died in 1882, but more than any other scientist, seems to live on in the science news. Here are some recent examples. The question is: do any of these articles really have anything to do with the theory that made him famous? Or is some other dynamic at work that keeps him in the forefront?
Darwinian funding: Science magazine (11 November 2011: Vol. 334 no. 6057 pp. 753-754, doi: 10.1126/science.334.6057.753) lamented how the bad economy is affecting funding at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In “Darwinism vs. Social Engineering at NIH,” Jocelyn Kaiser wrote about the competition between labs. “As National Cancer Institute Director Harold Varmus recently put it, NIH is weighing some type of ‘social engineering’ rather than simply letting ‘Darwinian forces’ cull weaker labs and shrink the number of mouths NIH feeds.” It sounds like a metaphor of the battle between Intelligent Design and Survival of the Fittest, but surely she did not mean that medical labs are products of random, undirected mechanisms. [News Flash: Darwinism is not a force.]
Darwinian robots: New Scientist committed a colossal non-sequitur in its short article, “Darwin trumps self-obsession in robotics.” The point is that creating robots in our own image is doomed to fail. A new generation of rebel roboticists, the editorial claims, is thinking that robots should be soft and squishy, “inspired by the theory that intelligence emerges from the body.” Here was the ending non-sequitur: “Crucially, the next generation of robots will not be designed as if by gods – in our image – but by using the principles revealed by Darwin. Once again, evolution has dealt a blow to the idea that humans were created special.”
Darwinian emotions: The only one of these three articles that related specifically to Darwin’s theory was an update on his theory of emotions posted by the BBC News. The Darwin Correspondence Project is trying to recreate his experiment nearly 150 years later, reporter Stephanie Hegarty wrote, “to test his results, and draw attention to his contribution to psychology.” Hegarty gave him a pass: “It was somewhat unscientific by modern standards, with no control group and a very small sample, but it was revolutionary for its time.”
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