Change we can believe in

March 1, 2009 • 11:13 am

by Greg Mayer

The now iconic images of President Obama created by Shepard Fairey last year have been widely imitated. It was perhaps inevitable that Darwin should be included among those so honored.Darwin in Obama-style poster

Created by Mike Rosulek, he is selling t-shirts and posters of this, and several other designs, with proceeds to benefit the National Center for Science Education, a most worthy recipient.  I might quibble with “very gradual”, which might evoke memories of the old punctuated equilibrium debate.  Darwin was certainly a gradualist, but as understood by Darwin, and succunctly characterized in chapter 1 of WEIT, gradualism is not incompatible with highly varying rates of change across time and among lineages.  The best summary of Darwin’s views on the subject is a paper by Frank Rhodes entitled ‘Gradualism, punctuated equilibrium and the Origin of Species published in Nature (305:269-272) in 1983.

(hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

13 thoughts on “Change we can believe in

  1. Way to go Dr. Mayer! Nice segue to WEIT.

    Unfortunately, not all of us have access to Rhodes’ paper in Nature.

    To read this story in full you will need to login or make a payment

  2. Yes, Nature’s content is by subscription. I avoid when possible links to such sites, but Nature at least provides an abstract and references without a subscription, and the alternative would have been to provide just the citation. Plus, Nature’s found in most libraries (not just college libraries), and visiting the library is a good thing. GCM

  3. I feel like you’re equivocating on “gradual” here.

    It doesn’t necessarily mean “slow”, it also means “progressing in degrees”. (And I don’t think it implies constant speedism in any way.) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with calling evolution “very gradual” in the latter sense, unless you’re promoting hopeful monsters.

  4. I second anon’s post at #3, and also it should be pointed out that your more accurate version makes a shitty t-shirt logo.
    It’s all about the marketing baby.

  5. anonymous, I also think that all speeds of evolution are acceptable (in context). Slow changes that take thousands or millions of years is part of it and I also feel that punctuated equilibrium can also happen (my definition is sped up but still geological timeframes). We can see very quick change examples by looking at each year’s flu viruses or resistant bacteria. If changes are random, and in all directions, and they get naturally selected, then anything can eventually arise, just not all at once. A ‘hopeful monster’ is an oxymoron. Goldschmidt was flat out wrong and Gould was wrong to attempt to resurrect his theories in any form.

  6. I need to clarify:

    I see sped up evolution as microevolution with many steps, not as macroevolution. Those are selected out.

  7. Did Gould ever try to advocate for macro mutation? I have only read Gould hefty tome and his popular works, so I am not a Gould scholar on any level, but I he emphatically denied ever advocating for hopeful monsters.

    Although, in a certain sense, I can almost agree with the idea of macro-mutation. Not in the sense of multiple coordinated phenotypic trait changes, but in the sense of rare mutations of large genetic effect being an important driver of evolution. So, all those SNP’s may not be that important, but that one retro-viral insertion in just the right place might make all the difference (or insert other large scale genetic change). Maybe, remember, I’m just speculating here folks.

    But, evolution which is severely limited by the low supply of beneficial phenotypic variation looks mighty different from the traditional Darwinian view, so I think it is important to make the distinction.

  8. Pingback: iBiome
  9. Gould went through a phase when he tried to resurrect a particular version of the “hopeful monster”, based on his understanding of regulatory genes, etc. It wasn’t “saltationism” as traditionally understood (i.e. macromutation), but Gould chose to call it that.

    He wrote a number of papers in the early eighties that argued for a redefinition of the modern synthesis; one that included punctuated styles of speciation like those based on this kind of saltationism.

  10. Here is a quote from Gould:

    “As a Darwinian, I wish to defend Goldschmidt’s postulate that macroevolution is not simply microevolution extrapolated, and that major structural transitions can occur rapidly without a smooth series of intermediate stages. . . . In his infamous book of 1940, Goldschmidt specifically invokes rate genes as a potential maker of hopeful monsters: ‘This basis is furnished by the existence of mutants producing monstrosities of the required type and the knowledge of embryonic determination, which permits a small rate change in early embryonic processes to produce a large effect embodying considerable parts of the organism.’ In my own, strongly biased opinion, the problem of reconciling evident discontinuity in macroevolution with Darwinism is largely solved by the observation that small changes early in embryology accumulate through growth to yield profound differences among adults.” (Gould, 1977, 24, 30)

    It sounds like he said it to me.

Leave a Reply