01/08/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: Prometheus Books. 346 page illustrated indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: $18.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-441-8.
check out website: www.prometheusbooks.com
Of all our scientific knowledge, the one thing that clearly isn’t a theory is evolution. We see examples of it all around us all the time. Author Cameron Smith points out that his previous book, written with Charles Sullivan, ‘The Top Ten Myths About Evolution’, points out what people have gotten wrong. With ‘The Fact Of Evolution’, Smith points out what is right about evolution so you have the necessary information at your fingertips to outwit the creationists although as pointed out in the notes in the back of the book, this isn’t difficult when it comes to the likes of Sarah Palin not recognising fruit-fly research was used in understanding medical disorders like those her son has.
From the start, Smith points out that evolution is the collective term for replication, variation and selection to ensure the next generation is born with significant difference for adaptation and a further generation is selected to propagate further. I’m not sure if the middle option applies to all species when a particular niche is found like with crocodiles and tortoises who haven’t evolved any further. I might have to eat my words on that because Smith makes a good case that every creature has slight differences from the other although reptiles haven’t change much over the millennia.
Of wry amusement is that we British accept the concept of evolution better than Smith’s fellow Americans which does raise odd question marks on the quality of education across the pond. I should point out that both our countries have different approaches to education but it is a worrying aspect for what must be an educated country.
Anyway, let’s hit on the nitty-gritty. If you ever wondered what amino acids are used to build your body, the twenty-one listed in the chart on page 56 is an education in itself. I can’t recall seeing a diagram like this before and it might give some clarity to the letter combinations representing the amino acids that are used in the DNA matrix, especially when Smith gives an example of the Prestin Gene on pages 233-234. An equally good table is showing the six things most likely to put constraint on variation.
One thing Smith does get wrong is in our genre where he thinks a mad scientist can grow a fly’s head and arms over night. This doesn’t match any of ‘The Fly’ films and neither was it a mutation. It isn’t like that there aren’t better examples out there. I do disagree with him in that, even in the real world, there are mutations that are more than just ‘a difference’. Something I wish Smith had covered was how the same particular mutation could happen in more than one prodigy at the same time. Thinking about it, I think they probably do only we’re not aware of it until we see it propagating.
By the by, were you aware that Darwin didn’t actually coin the term, ‘survival of the fittest’ but actually Herbert Spencer?
Something I wish Smith had explored more is how and why do the creationists see science as being a ‘domain of religion’? From my perspective, I suspect this is more to do with their mindset but it’s a viable ammunition against them that science observes reality and isn’t a religion.
In the penultimate chapter, Smith focuses more on our understanding of genes across different species and a symbiosis or sharing species as small as stomach bacteria we have in our own guts. In some respects, I wish Smith had explored this a bit more as to when and which species evolved to accept such a sharing.
Some comparisons are made between modern Man and Neanderthals probably never interbred although there is a 4% sharing of DNA. I would have thought the Neanderthal genes would have been vastly diluted over the generations. I have wondered myself whether the occasional so-called ‘beetle brow’ isn’t necessarily a genetic throwback that surfaces from time to time in humans.
I’ve made this point with other factual books that if they are written to be targeted at the mass audience then having pages of notes at the back of the book must be resolved and either linked in on the actual page they are referring to or even removed altogether. Maybe I’m just too alert and spotting and cross-checking the numbers (I will look ahead and ignore ones that are just book references) but I can see readers finding this a drag and to some extent tiring going back and forth all the time.
A little secret. Rather than having to check each footnote, just keep an eye on the numbers and the ones with the bigger text.
I should point out that this book is not a light read but a couple chapters a day will ensure you absorb all the information and you will have a firmer grasp of evolution upon completion and enable you to talk well on the subject.
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