The word evolution gets used and misused often.  Strictly speaking, neo-Darwinian evolution demands that mutations and natural selection operate with no foresight or oversight, no purpose or direction, no impetus toward a desired outcome.  In actual practice, scientists and reporters play fast and loose with the term, making it into a designer substitute.

Here are some quick samples of how the word evolution gets used and misused in the popular press:

  • Yeast:  Science Daily spoke of an “evolutionary force that led to multicellularity,” but the data referred only to living yeast cells that seem to operate better in clumps than alone.
  • Rats:  PhysOrg spoke of rats that “have evolved liver enzymes to metabolize large amounts” of plant toxins.
  • Giant insects:  National Geographic puzzled over how insects grew so large during the Carboniferous.  It wasn’t higher oxygen; in fact, no theory won the day, but reporter Ker Than was certain that after the giant dragonflies (as big as seagulls) had their day on the evolutionary stage, “adults would have evolved to require more oxygen” and would have died out as oxygen levels dropped.
  • Mitochondria:  The powerhouses of the cell that house ATP synthase are surely some of the most complex regions in any cell, but to some reporters, it’s no problem for Darwin. “They are thought to have evolved more than a billion years ago from primitive bacterium which was engulfed by an early eukaryotic cell resulting in endosymbiotic relationships between the host cell and the newly formed organelle,” Science Daily tells us.  “During evolution the vast majority of the mitochondrial genetic material left the organelle and got integrated into the nucleus of the host cell.”
  • Man but a worm:  PhysOrg used the E-word repeatedly in a short article titled “From worm to man,“ speaking of “our distant evolutionary cousins” the flatworms, the “evolutionary origin of mammalian kidneys,” two main “branches on the evolutionary tree of life,” and the “the evolution of certain attributes” in various animals.

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