Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Sorry folks, I got sick right after my presentation, so no updates. I will try to update and return emails tomorrow when I am (hopefully) feeling better.

If you're looking for a sci-tech fix, try reading Carl Zimmer's blog - he's a fairly well known science writer - and picking up the mistakes in the science. Here's a couple of quick ones.

"...It seems that if a pokey pathogen has even a slight rise in its rate of new infections, there�s an opportunity for rapid evolution. A few lineages of the pathogens will have the opportunity to infect a chain of people, and that will offer the chance for it to evolve into a fast-spreading strain".

This is a pure mathematical fallacy. In biological terms, any infection has many factors which impact it's 'rate of new infections'. For instance, the simplest one is that the virus might be self-limiting (like Ebola appears to be) - it might kill people faster than it can effectively spread. This is why we don't see many kinds of combinatorial explosions outside of simulation, in the real world - there are huge number of limiting factors.

True combinatorial explosions are mostly confined to situations of massively distributed positive feedback with very few endogenous limiting factors, like 'chain reactions' in physical systems, or autocatalysis in chemical ones. If you don't get what I'm saying, treat Zimmer's sentence as math and you will.

"...a report of some unintended evolution ...in Alberta, the hunters have shot the biggest rams with the biggest horns... But the researchers found that the hunters have altered the gene pool in the process. Genes that help produce big horns and big bodies are vanishing from the population. Meanwhile, rams that produce smaller horns and grow to smaller sizes were favored. The horns have shrunk 25 percent as a result".

Wrong - this hasn't 'altered the gene pool' anymore than my dog dying alters the gene pool of all possible dogs. It's not evolution.

It's artificial selection. I'm not playing semantic games; in fact, there's a really big difference - the genetic algorithm (if we want to call it that) works on mutation/recombination, selection, and inheritance. This is simply a case of selection and inheritance. The mechanisms that create novelty in evolution aren't at work in this example.

It will be an example of evolution if and when this population of rams is exposed to enough selection pressure to discover a new variation that helps it adapt. Such an adaptation might be, for example, horns that have survival vaue to the rams, but no economic value to hunters.

Interesting read nonetheless - thought provoking. Also begs the question: what exactly is it about Corante that kind of irritates me?

-- umair // 7:18 AM //




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