Saturday, October 05, 2019

Survival of the fittest?


by Joan Ede

Evolution by Steve Jones (2017).
Hard-cover: Ladybird Books, London. 56 pages. £7.99.

Prof Steve Jones is an author and TV presenter. He is also one of the world's top six experts on snails, he says that the other five agree.
This beautiful 56-page book is an easy read. One of a series of Penguin Ladybird Expert books for adults, it consists of some 25 short, stand-alone arguments, each followed by facing illustrations.
So much more evidence has been accumulated since 1859, when Charles Darwin published On The Origin of Species. His book gave irrefutable proof of how all life was created over our world's billions of years history.
In the 1960s I was told that the key to understanding evolution was Darwin's theory of Natural Selection and that Darwin meant by this that life forms that were best adapted to their environment survived at the expense of the rest.
Jones' book takes a more holistic, all-embracing view. The environment to which survivors adapt is highly complex, including:

1. the effect of human livestock breeding programmes;
2. the effect of species' sexual bullying, cheating and lying;
3. chance events such as the record speed notched up by a French destroyer crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1929 and carrying malaria-infected mosquitoes from Africa to Brazil;
4. the luck of one genetic variation being slightly more advantageous that another.

Jones' writing style is concise but loaded with hints of arguments in fields remote from biology that illustrate his biological arguments, and he often resorts to academic words that are accurate but multi-syllabic. Stalin managed to convey his arguments in the words of the worker. Stalin did not need to under-line his arguments with clever hints at how brilliant he was – Professor Jones apparently does need to.
Well, what do you expect from a bourgeois scientist? I just skimmed over them and had a good read.

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