December 5, 2019 | David F. Coppedge

“Evolutionary” – A Useless Adjective

Take the word “evolutionary” out of most science articles. It serves no purpose but to twist data and mislead readers.

What has Darwin done for you lately? Probably very little, and possibly a lot of harm. Science writers and researchers have a bad habit of inserting “evolutionary” into their writing. It’s not history; it’s evolutionary history. She’s not a biologist; she’s an evolutionary biologist. It’s not paleontology, it’s evolutionary paleontology. Enough already! Show some actual value that evolution has contributed to the writing, or else delete the word.

New evolutionary insights into the early development of songbirds (Science Daily). People want insights, but why “evolutionary insights”? The sophoxymoronic phrase is a contradiction in terms. If it’s evolutionary, it’s not insight. If it’s insight, it’s not evolutionary, otherwise it would be blind and unguided insight, which is not insight at all. The work was done by “evolutionary biologists.” Why not just biologists? They talked about germline restricted chromosomes (GRCs) in birds, which are important for preventing “somatic cells from possible negative effects.” So why must they desire to speculate about the “evolutionary history” of GRCs? The moment they insert the useless word, the perhapsimaybecouldness index rises as the scientific value falls.

Divers of the past: Plesiosaur research reveals rapid increase of blood cell size (Phys.org). Plesiosaurs appear in the fossil record as capable swimmers and hunters in a variety of forms, without ancestors. Looking for an evolutionary tale to spin, German researchers from Duisburg-Essen University analyzed thin sections of bone from plesiosaurs and think they found slight increases in blood cell size over time. They say,

From an evolutionary perspective, this change is obviously still useful. Today`s whales, seals and penguins also have unusually large red blood cells, but their close relatives on land and in freshwater do not. “This supports our assumption that this is a significant adaption of warm-blooded marine life,” says Kai Caspar.

From a “biological perspective” is adequate. Better, “from a design perspective.” Evolution had nothing to do with it. The data are too ambiguous, for one thing, and Caspar did not rule out other, more plausible reasons for the inferred cell diameters than the Stuff Happens Law. He certainly did not trace chance mutations that might have gotten selected blindly. That would clearly be difficult or impossible. The word “evolutionary,” therefore, serves no purpose. It’s distracting and misleading.

How the earliest mammals thrived alongside dinosaurs (Nature, News Feature). This article basically undermines an old Darwinian tale, which alleged that mammals were unimportant, small things seeking safety under the feet of dinosaurs. Wrong! At first appearance, they already possessed a variety of specialized abilities in a wide variety of habitats, successfully living alongside dinosaurs. And yet the e-word evolution saturates this article.

The fossils have revealed that early mammals were ecologically diverse and experimenting in gliding, swimming, burrowing and climbing. The discoveries are also starting to reveal the evolutionary origins of many of the key traits of mammals — such as lactation, large brains and superbly keen senses.

Why must the article speculate the “evolutionary origins” of the traits instead of, simply, their origins? Those traits are irreducibly complex mechanisms, engineered for success. Notice how opposite this quote is from the expectations of Darwinian evolution, and yet the scientist attributes it to the Stuff Happens Law:

Much of the constellation of features we think of as defining mammals — complex teeth, excellent senses, lactation, small litter size — might actually have evolved before true mammals, and quite quickly. “More and more it looks like it all came out in a very short burst of evolutionary experimentation,” Luo says. By the time mammal-like creatures were roaming around in the Mesozoic, he says, “the lineage has already acquired its modern look and modern biological adaptations”.

“Evolutionary experimentation” is another one of those sophoxymoronic phrases that make no sense. Get rid of it. The article drones on, speaking of evolutionary trees, and evolutionary histories that, from the standpoint of the actual data, contradict evolution.

Your turn. Find the word “evolutionary” in these articles and clean out the useless, speculative fluff. Practice makes perfect.

Humans co-evolved with immune-related diseases—and it’s still happening (Medical Xpress).

Researchers show how feathers propel birds through air and history (Phys.org).

Striking variation in mechanisms that drive sex selection in frogs (Science Daily).

What survives, thrives and dominates over a thousand generations? The answer might be even more complex than thought (Harvard University via Phys.org)

The rise of the greedy-brained ape (Nature, book review).

Now that you’re getting good at this, do your part to help clean up science media of this useless word.

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