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Darwin Awards and scientific literacy

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Editor, Index-Tribune:

As much as I enjoy the “Can you believe that?” nature and humor of the Darwin Awards, I was more than a little dismayed by the description of evolution in the article titled, “Sonoma Valley Darwin Awards 2013” published in the Jan. 3 edition of the Index-Tribune.

Yes, Charles Darwin is associated with the theory of evolution, as stated, but the following two paragraphs managed to reinforce numerous misconceptions that make science educators cringe.

“All life evolves from simpler and more primitive life forms to more complex and sophisticated life forms.” FALSE. For starters, bacteria are still around and doing just fine.

“At one point on the evolutionary scale, the fittest were almost always those with the greatest physical strength or the best physical defenses.” FALSE. Though “survival of the fittest” is often associated with natural selection, “survival of the fit enough” is much more accurate. Fitness is all about passing on genes to the next generation and sometimes being small or nondescript may have its advantages.

“But over time the primacy of the brain overtook body strength and now humans are at the top of the evolutionary ladder.” FALSE. Evolution is not a grand progressive ladder with humans at the top. Evolution produces a tree, not a ladder – and we are just one of many leaves on that tree. And even if humans do “burn that ladder,” those bacteria mentioned earlier will probably still do just fine.

So please have fun with the Darwin Awards, but please don’t do so at the expense of scientific literacy. Next time, check out an outstanding and easily accessible on-line resource – “Understanding Evolution” at evolution.berkeley.edu – to better understand what evolution is, how it works, how it factors into your life. Plus the site provides an excellent listing and clarification of common misconceptions about evolution.

Judy Scotchmoor

Science educator, Sonoma Valley

  • Chris Scott

    Standing ovation !

  • Phineas Worthington

    And don’t forget, throughout Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” he regularly reminds the reader of the wonders of God behind it all. Darwin was an ardent believer. Hard fact to reconcile with the modern dichotomy of religionists who are opposed to the theory of evolution on faith and so many secular advocates of evolution rejecting God altogether. Its a curious thing.