discontinued the Rationally Speaking column
in August of 2005 and replaced it with a much more
All of the below articles will remain available
on our site. Click on the Join Discussion links
to go directly to the discussion forum where we
discussed each article.
Dr. Massimo Pigliucci is an Associate
Professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville,
where he teaches ecology and evolutionary biology. His
research is on the evolution of genotype-environment
interactions, i.e. on questions of nature vs. nurture.
Massimo's Rationally Speaking e-column articles are
hosted on BookTalk to provoke thought and discussion
and do not necessarily reflect the views of BookTalk.
Click on the "Join Discussion"
links to comment. Information on his books by Massimo
Pigiucci can be found at the bottom of this page.
Denying Evolution aims at taking a fresh look
at the evolutioncreation controversy. It
presents a truly "balanced" treatment,
not in the sense of treating creationism as a
legitimate scientific theory (it demonstrably
is not), but in the sense of dividing the blame
for the controversy equally between creationists
and scientiststhe former for subscribing
to various forms of anti-intellectualism, the
latter for discounting science education and presenting
science as scientism to the public and the media.
The central part of the book focuses on a series
of creationist fallacies (aimed at showing errors
of thought, not at deriding) and of mistakes by
scientists and science educators. The last part
of the book discusses long-term solutions to the
problem, from better science teaching at all levels
to the necessity of widespread understanding of
how the brain works and why people have difficulties
with critical thinking.
For more than two decades the concept of phenotypic
plasticity has allowed researchers to go beyond
the nature-nurture dichotomy to gain deeper insights
into how organisms are shaped by the interaction
of genetic and ecological factors. Phenotypic
Plasticity: Beyond Nature and Nurture is the first
work to synthesize the burgeoning area of plasticity
studies, providing a conceptual overview as well
as a technical treatment of its major components.
Phenotypic plasticity integrates the insights
of ecological genetics, developmental biology,
and evolutionary theory. Plasticity research asks
foundational questions about how living organisms
are capable of variation in their genetic makeup
and in their responses to environmental factors.
For instance, how do novel adaptive phenotypes
originate? How do organisms detect and respond
to stressful environments? What is the balance
between genetic or natural constraints (such as
gravity) and natural selection? The author begins
by defining phenotypic plasticity and detailing
its history, including important experiments and
methods of statistical and graphical analysis.
He then provides extended examples of the molecular
basis of plasticity, the plasticity of development, the ecology of plastic responses, and the role
of costs and constraints in the evolution of plasticity.
A brief epilogue looks at how plasticity studies
shed light on the nature/nurture debate in the
Engaging, compelling, witty essays that put in
perspective some of the most fascinating scientific
and pseudo-scientific claims of the 20th century.
Includes discussions of: atheism, straw-man arguments,
creationism, debating creationists and theists,
evolutionary biology, Christian apologetics, critiques
of modern science, the search for extraterrestial
life, the search for the origins of life, chaos
theory, and much more.
Understanding the process of adaptive evolution
of phenotypes is a fundamental problem in evolutionary
biology. It has been approached from the point
of view of population and quantitative genetics,
optimality theory, or developmental biology. In
the last decade, there has been an explosion of
research on phenotypic plasticity (the environmentally
induced production of different phenotypes by
a single genotype) as well as on the molecular
details of development, reflecting the increased
recognition of their importance in shaping phenotypic
evolution. However, the "hardening"
of the neodarwinian synthesis in the '40s led
to the largely independent investigation of genetic,
developmental nad environmental bases of phenotypic
expression. As a result, these different perspectives
have not been integrated into a satisfying cohesive
view of phenotypic evolution. Phenotypic Evolution
explicitly recognizes organisms as complex genetic-epigenetic
systems developing in response to changing internal
and external environments. The book can serve
as a text for graduate-level courses and seminars
on phenotypic evolution or evolutionary developmental
biology, and as a supplemental text for evolutionary
biology. The extensive references provide links
to a wide variety of studies examining the diversity
of phenotypes. The book will also be of interest
to organismal biologists in general, including
ecologists, developmental biologists, and systematists.
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