Resource on evolutionary concepts for science writers?

If I were to put together a respectful, short, easy to follow resource of major evolutionary concepts that science writers could consult whenever they wrote a piece involving evolutionary aspects, would they use it? Would my friends in the science writer world promote it, refer colleagues to it, send authors who get things wrong […]

Overselling segmentation.

This story appeared on Science Daily, based on a press release from CNRS in France:

Segmentation Is the Secret Behind the Extraordinary Diversification of Animals

ScienceDaily (July 27, 2010) — Segmentation, the repetition of identical anatomical units, seems to be the secret behind the diversity and longevity of the largest and most common animal […]

Platypus and the problem with primitive.

The concept of “primitive” is one that is very often misunderstood. Properly defined, “primitive” means “more like a particular ancestor”, refers only to individual characteristics (not whole species or lineages), and is contrasted with “derived” (not “advanced” or “more evolved”). I have covered this and other misunderstandings of evolutionary concepts in various articles and […]

Primitive frogs and phylogenetic fallacies.

As I have explained in various blog posts and in this paper, it is a fallacy to assume that any one character found in a so-called “primitive” species alive today was also found in the ancestral species. All living species are modern species, and “primitive” vs. “derived” refers to characters, not whole species.

Anyway, […]

Major misconceptions about evolution.

Jonathan Eisen has pointed out some rather significant misinterpretation of evolutionary relationships in a recent New York Times article. Of course, misconceptions about evolutionary trees, the evolution of complex organs, the mechanism of natural selection, and even the nature of the terms “fact” and “theory” are rampant.

I have tried to tackle these in […]


From the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology comes a press release describing a paper in Nature about bacterial evolution…

Bacteria Expect the Unexpected Organisms ensure the survival of their species by genetically adapting to the environment. If environmental conditions change too rapidly, the extinction of a species may be the consequence. A strategy […]

Phylogenetic fallacies: "early branching equals primitive".

Evolutionary trees, or “phylogenies”, are a major part of modern evolutionary science. They depict hypotheses regarding the relationships among taxa, and are therefore important in reconstructions of the historical path of evolution (Gregory 2008a,b). Various approaches can be taken to formulating phylogenetic hypotheses, including analyses based on morphological, fossil, and/or molecular data. These methods […]

What’s wrong with this figure? (Round three).

In the process of finishing up a paper, I came across this figure (Gilbert 2007).

Figure 1. Drosophila species assemblies, showing assembly sizes and coverage of these by D. melanogaster genome DNA (top and middle lines, in megabases, left ordinate), and counts of chromosome segments inverted relative to Dmel (bottom line, right ordinate). Species […]

What’s wrong with this figure? (Round two)

Once again, it’s time to play What’s wrong with this figure?



Stebbing, A.R.D. 2006. Genetic parsimony: a factor in the evolution of complexity, order and emergence. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 88: 295-308.