Evolution | Hidden from view | Economist.com — This new development discovered by DNA analysis is all over the news. This particular breakdown in the Economist is the best summary I’ve read so far.

AS WITH other fields of human endeavour, science has its myths. One of the best known goes like this. Once upon a time, the world was dominated by dinosaurs. Mammals were tiny, nocturnal and crept around minding their own business. Then one day a big, bad asteroid came along and wiped out all the dinosaurs. The mammals shouted “Yippee”, leapt out of their burrows and took over. In the end, therefore, Homo sapiens rather than Tyrannosaurus rex became top animal.

Like all the best myths, there is some truth in it. But not the whole truth, as a paper in this week’s Nature helps to make clear. The myth is based on fossil evidence, but these days genetics can trace the path of evolution, too. Olaf Bininda-Emonds of the Technical University of Munich and his colleagues have done that with the mammals. What they have discovered is that most mammal groups alive today came into existence long before the asteroid arrived 65m years ago. The idea that the absence of dinosaurs created a huge evolutionary spurt that led to man is therefore not quite precisely the truth.



  1. Misanthropic Scott says:

    Minor correction: Dinosaur species still outnumber mammal species two to one!

    Birds are dinosaurs in the same way that humans are mammals. We are descended from mammals and are therefore also mammals. Birds are descended from dinosaurs and are therefore still dinosaurs. The taxa (from taxonomy) is called dinosauria. Our own is mammalia.

  2. PleaseJustShootMeeeee says:

    Dunno, were dinosaurs suicidal?

    I continuously want to die.

    Life’s been that way for 30+ years. WTF… ?!!!!!!!!?!!?!?!!?!!!?!?!?!?!!?

  3. Mike says:

    Well, thanks to science and medicine, Humans seem determined to not have to play this evolution game anymore. If we really bought into the whole benefit of natural selection, we wouldn’t be doing everything we can to prevent harmful genetically heritable traits from keeping people from living long, happy lives, so they can keep passing them on to even more generations.

  4. noname says:

    I am confused, is the IRAQ WAR just natural selection or is GW really a very clever evolution game master, out to enrich the gene pool with only Neocon genes?

  5. TJGeezer says:

    GW doesn’t even understand evolution, far less think of it as the best interpretation so far of the existing data. He’s about power, money and making daddy cry.

  6. Jennifer says:

    “If we really bought into the whole benefit of natural selection, we wouldn’t be doing everything we can to prevent harmful genetically heritable traits from keeping people from living long, happy lives, so they can keep passing them on to even more generations.

    Actually, our group-survival social benefit scheme is the essence of natural selection at work. It ensures a variety of genes and a place for even the “weaker,” which, contrary to popular belief, is a benefit to human survival. Selection is about what is ‘fit’ at the moment, which canvary greatly, thus a species with a great variety of genes as the best chances- and what seems ‘fit’ to you or I might not matter to mother nature. (ie, who would have though sickle cell was a positive?)

  7. Jim W. says:

    So does this mean that Dinosaurs and Man did coexist?

  8. Awake says:

    They are all wrong… dinosaurs never existed… never ever ever.
    The rocks shaped like bones that are so called “fossils” have actually been put here by the devil, in order to confuse us and lead us astray.
    I heard that clearly stated by a fundamentalist Christian preacher on late night TV, so it must be true. He also states that only white people are true humans… but let’s not go there…
    Consider that the next time you want to give some ‘man of god’ any credibility.

    If you give the Great Spaghetti Monster a jar of peanut butter, what do you get?
    Life if you are an evolutionist… Thai food if you are a creationist.

  9. noname says:

    #9, your wrong.

    The best time to kick someone is when they are down, and GW is down.

  10. tkane says:

    This just further proves that science is a self-correcting *process*. It is a tool to be used in the discovery of truth, but it is hardly the only tool, nor is it a religion, intended to displace the need for spiritual guidance. As long as we’re careful of where the lines should be drawn, the limitations of these tools, misunderstandings won’t have to occur.

    By the way – ever have peanut butter with your spaghetti? It’s pretty good, as long as there’s plenty of sauce on it.

  11. Misanthropic Scott says:

    #7 – Jim W.

    Yes and no. Get rid of the past tense. It means that dinosaurs and humans DO coexist. But, the large dinosaurs that people are talking about, pretty much all but the maniraptors (birds), did go extinct 65 MYA. Since humans are a very new species, 1-200,000 years old, we did not live at the time of T-Rex, Sauropods, and the rest of the big ones.

    Though, we did kill off the 1,000 pound elephant birds on Madagascar and the 500 pound Moas on New Zealand.

    Hey, here’s a good bit of trivia:

    What is the largest animal that ever lived?
    What is the largest carnivore that ever lived?

    Answer to both, the blue whale, still alive today. (Many people assume it’s some form of dinosaur.) But, blue whales at 100 tons win. And, last I checked the krill they eat (shrimp-like creatures) are NOT plants.

    #3 (Mike) & #6 (Jennifer),

    Evolution (speciation) does not seem to happen in the midst of large stable populations, such as ours. Theory could change on this. But, speciation seems to occur in small or isolated groups. Perhaps after The Great Human Die-Off, we could do some evolving, if we don’t go completely extinct. Don’t worry though, the Die-Off has to be coming soon.

    We’re past peak oil (still our major food transport fuel), past peak grain production, and far past peak fisheries output. This last despite continuously improving fishing techniques, we’re still catching fewer fish than in the 1980s. About a billion people rely on fish for the bulk of their protein, so this is significant.

    People are made of food. We’re making less food; we’re making more people. This will not continue for long.

  12. Humans arent evolving because we don’t allow natural selection to work any more.

    We need to allow and encourage stupid people to remove themselves from the gene pool. 😉

  13. Misanthropic Scott says:

    #13 – Natural Selection Man,

    You’ve got it backwards. Don’t allow smart people to breed. Vonnegut had it right. Humans have exactly the wrong size brain. If it was larger, we might be smart enough to avoid getting into the trouble we do. If it was smaller, we wouldn’t be able to. I say breed stupid and thumbless. That would reduce the problems of humanity!!

  14. noname says:

    #14, Please lead the way, lets start with your offspring.

  15. Misanthropic Scott says:

    #15 – noname,

    Already did. I have no offspring and will not have any. But, A for effort on that jab.

  16. shaine says:

    #11 Science is a good thing, but saying that it’s a “self correcting process” lowers its credibility. If we say something is a scientific fact, it carries a lot of weight. Are we now to begin saying that something is “a scientific fact, as far as we know”?

  17. natefrog says:

    Was going to say “+1” for #13, but cannot in good faith say that without also giving a +1 for #14 & #15…

    I’ll just add: You have to have a license to own a pet, but not to have a child….

  18. Misanthropic Scott says:

    #17 – shaine & #11 – tkane,

    Science corrects when new data challenge existing theory. We use theory now rather than law (as in Newton’s Laws of Motion) because it recognizes our more humble approach to science. We are constantly striving to get closer to the truth, perhaps the curve is asymptotic and will never reach full truth. Who knows?

    That said, this finding does not challenge any scientific theory one iota. We thought that mammals began to take over right after the big dinos died. That doesn’t seem to have happened. We’re just filling in data though. This is about timelines and taxonomy. It’s interesting stuff because of the complexity and the large times involved. But, it’s not Earth shattering.

    Theories like evolution (our decent from other animals) and natural selection (the mechanism by which evolution is non-random and directed toward survival, not complexity, just survival) are thoroughly and completely in tact. Nothing in this news changes our scientific theories. These theories are what you might call scientific fact.

    Evolution, Natural Selection, General Relativity, and Quantum Theory for a few examples, are among our most tried and proven scientific theories. Each has held up to incredible scrutiny. Still, we know that General Relativity and Quantum Theory break down at the point where the two collide. So we search for a more advanced theory that will contain and expand upon the two, in the same way that General Relativity contains and expands upon Newton’s Laws of Motion.

  19. Timbo says:

    Anything in science is disprovable at any time, regardless of how much past scrutiny it has been given. Does that constitute “Truth”? Not really. And it certainly doesn’t cover much territory. We still have to lean on our beliefs to ‘fill in the cracks’.

    That’s where organizations like the “Discovery Channel” come in. They use cartoons & talking heads to show “Truth Through Science”. And it is the Discovery Channel that is now wrong about dinosaurs and mammals. They need to quickly change their videos to match the current Truth Through Science. I mean, the kiddies doing their science class reports must not see any contradictions and have their Humanist faith shaken.

  20. Misanthropic Scott says:

    #20 – Timbo,

    I’m not completely sure of your position based on the above. I don’t see why kids can’t learn that humans continue to learn. More importantly though, your comment, “We still have to lean on our beliefs to ‘fill in the cracks’.” is summed up by the phrase “god of the gaps”.

    The god of the gaps philosophy is fine for people unable to admit that people don’t know everything. I’m OK with not knowing everything personally. But, if you need the god of the gaps to help you through, that’s fine. Just be aware that your god will continue to shrink as science fills in the gaps.

    The incredibly shrinking god concern is the reason that some religious leaders reject god of the gaps and keep religion separate from science. Some scientists do likewise to avoid any conflict between religion and science. Stephen Jay Gould was the most prominent among the scientists that felt this way. Personally, I’m with Dawkins on the subject. But, I can respect Gould’s position.


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