Review of WEIT in Science

February 6, 2009 • 7:12 am

Massimo Pigliucci has reviewed WEIT in the latest issue of Science, a review you can find here.  It’s a thoughtful, fair and–I’m glad to say–a positive review.  But that issue of Science is also devoted to speciation, my own area of interest, and contains half a dozen good articles on the origin of species, both overviews and research articles.  If you’re an evolutionary biologist, you’ll want to peruse this issue.

Massimo’s review also singles out for special praise one of the illustrations  (the human, chimp, and A. afarensis given below) produced by the intrepid artist responsible for the book’s illustrations:  Kalliopi Monoyios, whom I’d recommend to anyone needing a good scientific illustrator. Her webpage is here.


Human, Australopithecus, and chimpanzee.


2 thoughts on “Review of WEIT in Science

  1. Dr. Coyne,

    I am more than halfway through the book and am enjoying it very much.

    I do have a couple of minor criticisms / questions about the book, mainly about your choice of wording. There are a couple of places where I feel you might actually be providing quotemine fodder for dishonest people.

    For instance, on page 166, when you state that we really only have those two studies that show that females choose males with better genes, but it remains the prevalent belief in spite of other tests which don’t show this. I’m especially troubled by the sentence, “This belief, in the face of relatively sparse evidence, may partly reflect a preference of evolutionists for strict Darwinian explanations…”

    I just fear that this could play into their hands. Perhaps future editions of the book could explain this a little bit better?

    Anyway, I am not very good at critiquing or reviewing things, so please take this in the right spirit. I really really am enjoying the book very much.

    Also enjoyed your botfly story on Radio Lab. You seem to be popping up everywhere!

  2. Dr Coyne – I’m enjoying, and I hope learning from, your book. (I’m a technologist rather than a scientist.) Somewhat off-topic for this thread, but I hope not unacceptable – I have a question about something that you write in WEIT chapter 2 – p.25 of the OUP edition. You write:
    “Old rocks are often dated using uranium-238 (U238), found in the common mineral zircon. U238 has a half-life of around 700 million years. Carbon-14, with a half-life of 5,730 years, is used for much younger rocks, or even human artifacts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.”
    Carbon-containing artifacts, of course, but ‘younger rocks’? I thought that the practical limit for radio-carbon dating was about 60,000 years – making it useful only for the youngest rocks indeed, and then only ones which have organic matter still recoverable from them. I’m not a geologist – does this happen often? I’m concerned that your mention of radiocarbon dating in the same breath as other radioisotopic dating methods will reinforce the apparent lay creationist misapprehension that radiocarbon dating is the usual, nay only, method of dating geological strata!

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