Freethinking for Dummies

Skepticism, secular humanism, social issues

The BBC Puts Its Foot In Its Mouth. What Next; Bat Boy?

In an article on the BBC website on August 23, titled Space is the final frontier for evolution, the heading stated:

“Charles Darwin may have been wrong when he argued that competition was the major driving force of evolution.”

This is something I’d expect to read on the Fox News or Answers In Genesis sites, not the BBC site.

The article references a study by PhD student Sarda Sahney and colleagues at the University of Bristol. The study finds that;

really big evolutionary changes happen when animals move into empty areas of living space, not occupied by other animals.

For example, when birds evolved the ability to fly, that opened up a vast range of new possibilities not available to other animals. Suddenly the skies were quite literally the limit, triggering a new evolutionary burst.

Similarly, the extinction of the dinosaurs left areas of living space wide open, giving mammals their lucky break.”

This concept challenges the idea that competition for resources in crowded habitats is the major driving force of evolution and concludes that competition did not play too large a role in the pattern of evolution

The article does offer a alternative explanation for the findings:

Professor Stephen Stearns, an evolutionary biologist at Yale University, US, told BBC News he “found the patterns interesting, but the interpretation problematic”.

He explained: “To give one example, if the reptiles had not been competitively superior to the mammals during the Mesozoic (era), then why did the mammals only expand after the large reptiles went extinct at the end of the Mesozoic?”

“And in general, what is the impetus to occupy new portions of ecological space if not to avoid competition with the species in the space already occupied?””

I have to strongly agree with Professor Stearns. Just because there was more space available doesn’t mean that natural selection was not in play, it more likely means that the species that did survive thrived in greater numbers than they otherwise might have. The increase in space and corresponding resources, while allowing more of a species to proliferate, doesn’t diminish the role of natural selection in the least; it just changes the outcome of its effects.

It is really sad to see an organization as respected as the BBC participating in sensational journalism by making unfounded claims, especially about something as easy to fact check at natural selection.

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August 25, 2010 - Posted by | Science | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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