Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Judging Magazine Covers

Concerning that new issue of New Scientist appearing on newsstands, the one with cover art suggesting Darwin was wrong -- it's worth reading a little inside the magazine:

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth, we await a third revolution that will see biology changed and strengthened. None of this should give succour to creationists, whose blinkered universe is doubtless already buzzing with the news that "New Scientist has announced Darwin was wrong". Expect to find excerpts ripped out of context and presented as evidence that biologists are deserting the theory of evolution en masse. They are not. [emphasis mine]
In this case, "Darwin was wrong" is attention-grabbing shorthand for the narrower and rather prosaic claim that Darwin's "tree of life" metaphor has limited explanatory reach in the light of subsequent biological research.

So it is with metaphors, and so it is with the work of even the most distinguished scientists. The science Darwin pioneered has surpassed his insights in many particulars, but after a century and a half, the true marvel is in how well his ideas have held up.

Larry Moran has a very good write-up (or two) of the controversy involved in the magazine cover, but through this and all similar kerfuffles to come, it's worthwhile to keep in mind that Charles Darwin left a mix of solid foundations and dead ends. Which is only to say he was a great scientist, not an infallible authority.

(via Pharyngula)

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