The hottest cultural controversy of 2005 was the Intelligent Design challenge to the theory of evolution, being played out in classrooms and courtrooms across America. The crux of the argument made by proponents of Intelligent Design is that the theory of evolution is in serious trouble. They claim that the evidence for evolution is weak, the gaps in the theory are huge, and that these flaws should be taught to students. In this brilliant synthesis of scientific data and theory, Occidental College geologist, paleontologist, and evolutionary theorist Dr. Donald Prothero will present the best evidence we have that evolution happened, why Darwins theory still matters, and what the real controversies are in evolutionary biology.
Dr. Donald Prothero teaches Physical and Historical Geology, Sedimentary Geology, and Paleontology. His specialties are mammalian paleontology and magnetic stratigraphy of the Cenozoic. His current research focuses on the dating of the climatic changes that occurred between 30 and 40 million years ago, using the technique of magnetic stratigraphy. He is the author of “Evolution of the Earth,” “Bringing Fossils to Life,” “After the Dinosaurs,” “Horns, Tusks, and Flippers: The Evolution of Hoofed Mammals,” and the textbook “Sedimentary Geology.”
Richard H. Thaler, Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, is the father of Behavioral Economics. In preparation for a new book he asked EDGE contributors to answer this question:
The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?
As of today, there are 61 responses which make for fascinating reading on how science has corrected itself and our views of nature.
The contributors include Neil Shubin, Garrett Lisi, Peter Schwartz, David Deutsch, Haim Harari, Alun Anderson, Irene Pepperberg, John Holland, Derek Lowe, Charles Simonyi, Nathan Myhrvold, Lawrence Krauss, Steven Strogatz, Cesar Hidalgo, Eric Topol, Christian Keysers, Simona Morini, Ross Anderson, James Croak, Rob Kurzban, Lewis Wolpert, Howard Gardner, Ed Regis, Robert Trivers, Frank Tipler, Joan Chaio, Jeremy Bernstein, Matthew Ritchie, Clay Shirky, Roger Schank, Gary Klein, Gregory Cochran, Eric Weinstein , Geoffrey Carr, James O’Donnell, Lane Greene, Jonathan Haidt, Juan Enriquez, Scott Atran, Rupert Sheldrake, Emanuel Derman, Charles Seife, Milford H. Wolpoff, Robert Shapiro, Judith Harris, Jordan Pollack, Sue Blackmore, Nicholas G. Carr, Lee Smolin, Marti Hearst, Gino Segre, Carl Zimmer, Gregory Paul, Alison Gopnik, George Dyson, Mark Pagel, Timothy Taylor, David Berreby, Zenon Pylyshyn, Michael Shermer, and George Lakoff.
Topics (with comments on both bad and correct science or beliefs) include: plate tectonics, cosmic inflation, prions, quantum entanglement, the force of gravity, the great chain of being, bird intelligence, the four humours of human physiology, luminiferous aether, bad air disease theory, Peripatetic Mechanics of Aristotle, stress theory of ulcers, intelligent design/creationism, the age of the Earth, cell regeneration, spontaneous generation of life, vitalism, unifunctional components of the brain, security by obscurity, whales as fishes, group selection, unilinear cultural evolution, static universe, Lamarckism, nature/nurture, the existence of a vacuum, the human brain vs. the heart, and more…
Bonus: Thaler on his field Behavioural Economics:
At TEDGlobal 2010, author Matt Ridley shows how, throughout history, the engine of human progress has been the meeting and mating of ideas to make new ideas. It’s not important how clever individuals are, he says; what really matters is how smart the collective brain is.
Ridley recently released his new book called The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves which seems to combine economics with evolutionary biology along the lines of Michael Shermer’s The Mind of the Market: Compassionate Apes, Competitive Humans, and Other Tales from Evolutionary Economics.
Update 20100721: a talk by Ridley @ Google:
In this clear-sighted book, Matt Ridley demonstrates that the world is getting better, and at an accelerating rate: food, income and lifespan are up; disease, child mortality and violence are down?all across the globe. Necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing down; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the internet and the mobile phone are enriching people’s lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for 200 years.
This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the stone age to the internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the unlikely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that, thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the twenty-first century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity greatly improved.