Monday, September 13, 2004

Back over at Reason

Reason Hit and Run poster "J" noted my comment and posted a link to a PDF paper on using shrike predation to measure the adaptive function of the spikes on the heads of "Horny Toads"

This prompted me to reply:

That paper is pretty nifty and yes I did mean "Texas Horned Lizard." Evolutionary biology is one of the most difficult fields. It's very easy to get sloppy. This was a very clever idea using shrike predation to measure adaptation. I especially like the first sentence.

'Many descriptions of evolutionary adaptations are criticized as "just-so stories" '

I remember back in college I worked as an undergraduate in a neurophysiology lab. We used the giant nerves in the claws of blue crabs to study changes in potentiation in the nerve cell membrane. It was incredibly exacting work that had to be done in a vibration dampened Faraday cage.

One day my professor was reading the school newspaper and he snorted in derision and threw down the paper. I ask him what was wrong and he said (I'm paraphrasing), "Those morons over in sociology think they've got some great new study. It takes me six months to build a profile of single nerve in a controlled environment and they think they can get a handle on human behavior with a couple of questionnaires. They find what they want to."

Huge swaths of the soft sciences in psychology sociology and the like are in my opinion "just so stories." Yet it is these sciences that have the most impact on our political discourse and through that our daily lives.