I found this semester’s second Revolutions talk about Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution more interesting than the first talk on it. This second talk looked at the Darwinian Revolution and how it has been misinterpreted in modern times to mean several things that Charles Darwin’s original theory did not state. The most telling example of how Darwin’s revolutionary theories on evolution and natural selection are misunderstood is the image of the apes turning into a man as he walks along in a straight line. This image is very misleading to audiences because it depicts evolution as simply ladder-like rather than a complex process of branching out and evolving over tens of thousands of years. This image also reinforces typological thinking of Darwin’s scholarly work; it misrepresents evolution as a process of only one kind, certain species can only evolve into certain animals. This image also depicts evolution as moving towards a goal, as if evolution is a goal-oriented process with a clear end. Evolution does not have a clear end, no scientist or evolutionary biologist knows for certain how the evolutionary process will “end”.
I found this talk about the Darwinian revolution much more engaging than the first one because it gave me a new perspective of Darwin’s work in today’s society. I understood his discoveries as being complex and not completely set in stone, but popular images and other media can misrepresent what Darwin actually studied and discovered. The first talk about Darwin did not give me any new revelations, the speaker, Janet Browne, basically discussed Darwin in a way that I have heard several times before in my biology classes in high school and college. Another misrepresentation of evolutionary science that Judy Stone discusses in her talk is the ascendance of the “gene” in typological thinking in the public mind. Headlines like “Schizophrenia Gene Discovery Sheds Light on Possible Cause” misrepresents the science behind genes. For the most part, individual genes do not affect bodily systems enough to cause diseases like Schizophrenia; genes work in extremely complex tandem with other genes to cause hereditary and other diseases. Environmental factors can also be influential in the onset of disease. One last misrepresentation that Judy Stone discusses is that in the study of fruit flies, any fly without a visible mutation are referred to as “wild type”, there is no such thing as a specific “wild type” in nature. There is no perfectly “wild” fruit fly, no two fruit flies have the same genome, so declaring certain flies as wild types carries no valid connotation.
This talk was very interesting and I will not look at popular representations of evolution and of Charles Darwin the same. His works are so critical to our understanding of how humans came to be, but many people in today’s society may have a partially skewed idea of what evolution really is because of popular media’s misinterpretation of Darwin’s key ideas.