April 25, 2022 | David F. Coppedge

Raven Tells Darwin “Nevermore”

Was there ever a more useless jargon generator
than Darwinian evolution?


Here is your assignment for today: Take the following question and answer:

Q: How did crows and ravens evolve to be so successful around the world?
A: They evolved to be successful because evolution made them successful.

Now, expand this vacuous, meaningless, tautologous, circular, useless explanation into a scientific paper 7,000 words long with 109 references. Add as much jargon as you can. Include some graphs and charts. For extra cred, show some computer models. Could you do it if you had to?

Don’t fret yourself over such a worthless assignment, because six guys from Washington University in St. Louis already showed how to pull it off. One has to wonder if this is one of those fake research papers generated by AI programs that journal editors worry about, because beneath piles of fluff, the thinking is so shallow it beggars belief. Here’s the essence of their “explanation” boiled down to simple statements:

  • Evolution makes some animals global and some animals local.
  • Evolution makes some animals big except when it makes them small.
  • Evolution makes some animals smart except when it makes them dumb.
  • Evolution works quickly except when it works slowly.
  • Air, dirt, and rain (i.e., the environment) creates brains, beaks and strong muscles by “selection pressure.”
  • Traits explain evolution, and evolution explains traits.
  • These are all just suggestions, but they might generate “understanding.”

Go ahead and see in their open-access paper if there is any idea more profound than these.

Source: Garcia-Porta et al., “Niche expansion and adaptive divergence in the global radiation of crows and ravens,” Nature Communications 13, Article number: 2086 (21 April 2022).

The Abstract introduces the reader into this massive snow job of Jargonwocky masquerading as science:

The processes that allow some lineages to diversify rapidly at a global scale remain poorly understood. Although earlier studies emphasized the importance of dispersal, global expansions expose populations to novel environments and may also require adaptation and diversification across new niches. In this study, we investigated the contributions of these processes to the global radiation of crows and ravens (genus Corvus). Combining a new phylogeny with comprehensive phenotypic and climatic data, we show that Corvus experienced a massive expansion of the climatic niche that was coupled with a substantial increase in the rates of species and phenotypic diversification. The initiation of these processes coincided with the evolution of traits that promoted dispersal and niche expansion. Our findings suggest that rapid global radiations may be better understood as processes in which high dispersal abilities synergise with traits that, like cognition, facilitate persistence in new environments.

Note the high perhapsimaybecouldness index and the use of notions like “processes” that can “synergize” with evolution. Ten times they state that their research “suggests” a certain notion. In other words, they’re making it all up. It’s just their imagination.

Misdirection Is Not Understanding

Everyone has probably noticed that crows and ravens are found almost everywhere. With their black feathers and raucous voices, corvids are found in our back yards and in most national parks. A global map in the paper shows how widespread and diverse are the habitats in which they live and thrive. That part of the paper contains useful information. Scientists know crows are intelligent birds and good flyers. The question to be faced is, were they designed this way, or did blind natural “processes” give them these abilities to succeed far and wide?

The authors use the e-word evolution and its derivatives over 100 times in their paper, but they never show how evolution did it. Presumably, out of the vast majority of harmful mutations, a few rare lucky mutations were “selected” to create major innovations for the birds: like big brains, strong muscles, or other traits that other birds never got that kept them from being able to be world travelers. When did those occur? Where in the genes are they located? The authors don’t say. They just assume that evolution did it by “processes that … remain poorly understood.” So how much understanding did their paper provide? Consider these sentences that try to provide understanding:

  • Current understanding suggests that global radiations are facilitated by exceptional dispersal abilities.
  • [O]ur findings suggest that the global radiation of crows and ravens cannot merely be understood as the result of dispersal and (non-adaptive) allopatric speciation, but also of considerable adaptive divergence driven by ecological factors.
  • The remarkable key adaptations behind the outstanding dispersal ability of Corvus and its capacity to tolerate new environmental conditions and invade new ecological niches are also insufficiently understood. Our results suggest a number of potential candidates: elongated wings, bigger bodies, and larger relative brains…. We note that the rapid radiation of Corvus was preceded by the evolution of all three of these traits (Fig. 6), and therefore conclude that it is plausible that they may have triggered the rapid diversification of the clade.
  • Beyond the specifics of this case study, our findings more generally suggest that rapid global radiations can be better understood as processes in which dispersal synergises with traits that, like cognition, facilitate survival in suboptimal habitats and ultimately promote the expansion of ecological niches.

These statements, as impressive and erudite as they appear to the naive, reduce to the Answer quoted at the start of this article: Crows and ravens “evolved to be successful because evolution made them successful.” This becomes obvious when you deconstruct the jargon words (adaptation, speciation, diversification, radiation, etc.) to reveal they are mere synonyms for evolution. They evolved (diversified, adapted, radiated, obtained traits) because they evolved. No “understanding” is provided. Crows evolved to be successful because evolution made them successful. They evolved because they evolved.

Playing Charades at the Darwin Party

As usual, their university (Washington University at St. Louis) portrayed this excuse for “research” as a glorious triumph of scientific progress. In the WUSTL press release dated 21 April 2022, reporter Marta Wegorzewska showed pictures of two of the suspects impersonating scientists with smiles on their faces for the camera. Lead author Joan Garcia-Porta with arms akimbo boasts of the newfound “understanding” of evolution he has brought to the world:

Garcia-Porta said: “Thanks to these amazing birds, we now understand a bit more the processes by which animals rapidly expand across the planet and how this geographic expansion translates to the production of new species with new morphologies.”

But the only explanation is evolution! The only process is evolution. He assumes what he needs to demonstrate. Earlier, the press release says this explicitly:

Crows and ravens experienced high rates of trait evolution and speciation as they adapted to the many different environments they encountered during their rapid expansion across the planet. In fact, they had the highest rates [of evolution] compared with any other member of the family Corvidae.

Arrival in a new environment exposed them to new selective pressures. Their ability to live in the cold Arctic after moving from a tropical rainforest, for example, likely required very different strategies and traits.

How did those “strategies” and “traits” arise? By evolution! They evolved because they evolved.

If this were a law of nature, every bird and every animal would be as cosmopolitan as the Corvids. But of course, they are not. How are those cases to be explained? By the same theory: those evolved, too. Evolution, our modern ToE (theory of everything), explains everything, even opposites. No scientific rigor is required. Just stating it as a “suggestion” suffices as an explanation that’s good enough for one of Nature‘s peer-reviewed journals.

Neil Thomas calls such terms “airy nothings” and “notional terms.” Natural selection, an “empirically unattested sub-variant of chance” [i.e., the SHL] he says, generates “empty signifiers” and “agentless acts” that only pretend to explain.

By assuming that “evolution” did everything, they explained nothing. Call it diversification, adaptation, or process, it’s all the same: Darwinian evolution by blind, uncaring processes of mutation and selection: the old “Stuff Happens Law” (SHL). It’s fast except when it’s slow. It works except when it doesn’t. The climate has creative power to design big brains and strong wings, except when it makes birds with opposite traits.

This is the notion that has taken over the world. You, too, can get a PhD in the SHL and smile for the camera. The world will praise you for your deep understanding of nature. You will suffer no persecution or censorship as you party with the other Darwinians proudly displaying your D-Merit Badge.

If these pretenders were consistent, they would have to conclude that “understanding” is a myth. They don’t believe in understanding. Understanding is supernatural; it presupposes concepts that are true, necessary, timeless and morally good. Such things cannot emerge by the SHL, nor can they evolve. But without them, the authors’ communications reduce to mindless shrieks of “Caw! Caw!”


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