Jerry Coyne has a post up which critiques an extremely breathless review of a new book, Epigenetics Revolution. Overall I agree with the thrust of Coyne’s take. Epigenetics is real, and probably important, but it doesn’t imply that there’s a revolution and that everything that has come before needs to be thrown out. But I was struck by one of Coyne’s asides:
…This study has segued into the new field of “evo devo,” which tries to understand the evolutionary basis of developmental genetics. “Evo devo” itself has, of course, led to its own important discoveries, like the presence and conservation of homeobox genes, the use of the same genes over and over again in forming similar but non-homologous traits (e.g., PAX6 in the formation of fly eyes and vertebrate eyes), and the linear arrangement of genes in some organisms (e.g., Drosophila) that correspond to the linear arrangement of body parts they affect.
I just listened to a discussion between John Horgan and Madhusree Mukerjee, and the conversation ended on a moderately down note as Mukerjee seemed pessimistic about the prospects for the world’s poor. Where do these people get the idea that things are getting worse? I recall the same sentiment from Massimo Pigliucci. These are people with advanced degrees in science (Mukerjee has a doctorate in physics from University of Chicago, and Pigliucci has multiple advanced degrees), but they seem totally immune to the empirical trendlines of our age.
Here is China’s life expectancy over the past 50 years:
And below are a series of vital statistics for the world which are “looking up.” I’m not arguing here that things will inevitability get better, I’m arguing to at least acknowledge that things have noticeably gotten better.
Over the past 5 years Matthew Harris has been doing some interesting research into feather morphogenesis, and he has produced some must watch videos. His work on quantitative modeling of development via the activator-inhibitor system is, I believe, a necessary precursor in fruitfully talking about the evolutionary context of feathers. To my mind the videos are essential for anyone who isn’t fluent in molecular developmental biology (like me), so we can have the big picture in mind when digging through the essential details.