On June 28, Stephen Buryani published an article in the Guardian called “Do we need a new theory of evolution?” His answer was a definite “yes,” implying that new discoveries had rendered modern evolutionary theory obsolete, needing replacement by something else.
The article was a train wreck, full of claims that were long known, distortions of the importance of what “new” things were claimed, and outright mistakes. I wrote a critique on this site, and then Brian and Deborah Charlesworth and I wrote a letter to the Guardian that was published. Doug Futuyma wrote an excellent critique that wasn’t published, and Brian Charlesworth noted some of the more egregious errors: Doug’s letter and those errors went into a separate post.
Now Jon Perry, a science education consultant who makes nice videos about evolution (see them at his website “Genetics & Evolution Stated Casually“) has produced a very good 15-minute video critique of Buranyi’s article, which I’ve posted below.
You can see at the outset how the Guardian article confused and misled the layperson about evolution: a teacher panicked when she saw the article and wrote Perry to see if the textbook description of modern evolutionary ideas really were “wrong”. No, the textbooks weren’t wrong, and Perry shows why.
Perry takes a few examples touted by Buranyi as baffling—the evolution of the eye, the wing and feathers, for example—and uses published evidence (which he shows) to show that we do understand how these features may have evolved. Buryani didn’t do his homework; Perry did.
Perry also explains what the “Modern Evolutionary Synthesis” is, describing how it began and where you can find its origins. He also mentions the Templeton Foundation as a funder of the movement to show the moribund nature of evolution, and I get a mention in connection with Templeton at 9:00 (“I do mean to get all Jerry Coyne-y on you all, but the funding source of an organization can influence its message, so this really is a fact worth noting—and for some reason, the Guardian article neglected to do so.” (I’m not sure what “getting all Jerry Coyne-y” means, but I hope it’s not an insult!)
Finally, Perry describes the “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis” (EES), which is the gentler name for the “Evolution is Dead” movement. He takes up one area of the EES, “plasticity”, and shows that Buryani gets some of it right and some of it wrong, including the claim that it’s ignored in modern evolution texts (it’s not; it’s part of “evolutionary orthodoxy”).
Do watch the video; it’s excellent and Perry simply demolishes Buryani’s article. It’s a video rebuttal, and I wish the Guardian could mention it somehow.
23 thoughts on “New video attacks the Guardian’s claim that evolutionary biology is obsolete”
In the 6th paragraph I assume you mean “a fact worth noting” rather than “a fact worth nothing.”
I cannot believe (and yet somehow, I’d be more surprised if it hadn’t been included) that “The Eye” argument made it into the original article. How is that still a thing?
I get that it’s hard to counter such a well evidenced theory as evolutionary biology—so originality of argument isn’t to be expected—but at a certain point, it begins to feel like a joke—a genuine “I don’t mean this in the hyperbolic sense’” joke.
“don‘t mean to get all Jerry Coynian on you all, but …“ 🙂
I think Perry’s “Jerry Coyne-y” remark was a short version of “This isn’t the time or place to go down a side road to discuss Jerry Coyne’s valid complaints about Templeton.”
It might be just me, but perhaps by “getting all Jerry Coyne-y”, Perry is referring to the fact that PCCE allows layman comments like this: ” In a nutshell, this Guardian clickbait article is Templeton Foundation’$ Di$tended Evolutionary $ynthe$i$ presented in a tidy package for creationists to add to their portfolios of doubt”.
Thanks for posting this video.
I think the “Jerry Coyne-y” phrase refers to the admirable pedantry with which you criticize publications that really should know better than to pander to religious apologists.
Wonderful critique. This should help. Especially with school teachers teaching biology without appropriate background.
I love the “Stated Clearly” videos, and, more importantly, my kids like them. The evolution of whales in that series, for one reason or other, is the greatest hit with them, rivalling- and often beating- fast supercars or TicToc funnies.
That was fantastic. I’ve never seen this video site, and now I’m going to spend a lot of time there!
Being “Jerry Coyne-y” can only be a compliment, and I’m hoping it becomes a meme of sorts.
Nah. If they ever start saying, “Never go full Coyne, man, never,” then you’ll know you’ve crossed over to insultville. Until then, it’s all good. 🙂
Agreed, if someone told me I was going ‘Jerry Coyne-y’ I would take that as a compliment.
However I’m not 100% sure (more like 87%) it was meant as such. It probably was, but it might be not.
This is an excellent educational video. The existence of such channels and videos is one of the main reasons that YouTube is the only “social media” I use all the time…unless you count WordPress as social media.
I’m sure the Jerry Coyne-y comment refers to Jerry’s well-known efforts to make people aware of Templeton’s shennanigans.
Thanks for sharing this! I’m glad you liked it.
About the “Jerry Coyne-y” reference. While I hate to explain a joke, here it is:
You’re hated by Templeton grant awardees. All of them know of you even if they pretend they don’t. They complain your polemics go too far, and sure, maybe there’s more room for nuance, but everyone knows the core of your concern is rock solid.
How could I bark at Templeton without a salute to the O.G.?
More room for nuance? Ha! Mencken should have a shot at that hot mess of an organization. And what is an O.G.?
Here’s the nuance: A funding agency exists that is willing to take on unusual projects. This could be a good thing. Unfortunately, that money comes with a lot of baggage. Can we find a way to help grantees deal with that baggage appropriately?
The Foundation is not going away and it represents a HUGE pile of money. That money can either be turned into honest research or a steaming heap of woo-woo. How should we proceed?
I’d love to have you on the channel as a guest to talk about this. My hope is that we could really take an honest look at the risks of accepting Templeton money, and contrast this with the benefits, taking into account that when money is used for good research, it’s also keep away from bad researchers.
Change of topic: O.G. is Original Gangster. You are, if not the first, by far the most effective voice against the Foundation. You put your neck out there to warn us all from the start. We have all just witnessed one of many examples proving your concerns are valid.
“What would Ben Bolker Do” was a meme among ecologist. “What would JC do” could take its place
No man is an island, except Coyne-y, isle be bound. I’m all Donne now, so see you later
Good piece. This illustrates the danger of publishing the original flawed article. It scares the lay public into thinking that there’s something wrong with the modern synthesis and—just as importantly—that there is something rotten about the entire scientific enterprise. Science is on trial and we need to defend it!
And, yes indeed, the Templeton Foundation has an ulterior motive.
I hope if and when Jerry takes a swing at Templeton on Stated Clearly, the ethics is considered when it comes to fronting for an organization based on a lie about nature and so consequently on tearing down science. The S.C. video indeed exemplifies how it is problematic even if you can argue that it is a gray area.
I agree that issue would be an important one to consider.
Most people who actually do study science and such, do notice that science is incredibly misrepresented constantly by the mainstream media, leading layman to get the entirely wrong idea and not understand the subject or concept at all (this is on purpose, not by mistake). Most of the idiotic claims you see floating out there, such as “evolution is just a theory” and “if we evolved off monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” etc all originate from the media itself originally as well.
The mainstream media are not the education department, or a science department etc. They are literally part of a business all about clicks, views etc, naturally their industry rewards constantly writing stuff to make the average person want to read or click etc.
They don’t just do this with science, they do it with most other subjects as well, it turns out that misrepresenting something to sound absurd, ends up resulting in more views and clicks and thus more money for themselves.
According to mainstream media nutters, various things like evolution, continental drift, earth being billions of years old, radiometric dating etc have all been “debunked”, which various mainstream media have been claiming this for at least the past 30 years or so. And you wonder why there are so many idiots floating around in society, the media are mostly responsible.
Sorry, but can you give extensive evidence that the mainstream media have claimed that evolution, the age of the Earth, and continental drift are “debunked”? You’re talking about creationists, not the MSM.
Please provide NYT, Washington Post and other MSM evidence for your claims, which I highly doubt.