Saturday, April 28, 2012

Steven Jay Gould was wrong

As always at the beginning of the week, this blog presents something in a lighter vein. However, this week we depart from the restricted world of phylogenetic networks and delve into the deeper waters of evolutionary processes.

In 1980 Steven Jay Gould published a chapter in a book about junk food (Phyletic size decrease in Hershey bars. Pages 178-179 in: C.J. Rubin, D. Rollert, J. Farago, R. Stark, J. Etra, eds. Junk Food. Dial Press/James Wade, New York), in which he tried to convince his readers that Cope's Rule of phyletic size increase applies to biological organisms but not to manufactured objects. He did this by analyzing the evolutionary history of Hershey bars, a chocolate confection well known to most Americans (but not to all that many others, at least in 1980).

I thought then, and I still think now, that Gould was wrong. I can think of several manufactured objects that show a size increase during their evolutionary history. Eventually, I decided that I could stand it no longer, and in 2000 I wrote about this in the Australian Systematic Botany Society Newsletter. I chose to write about the Evolutionary History of Mazda Motor Cars, because this manufactured object is not edible and is not well known to most Americans. I have linked to a PDF copy [1.6 MB] of the paper, because I figure that most of you have never heard of the ASBS Newsletter, and have therefore never read the article. You should.

1 comment:

  1. And what if you take into account the complexity of newer designed objects instead of their absolute size.
    Consider the hundreds of bits of technology installed in modern entry level American cars compared with those 20 years ago. It's astounding!
    (And Hershey bars have an economic restraint as well: standard Hershey tries to fit the same price window of 'That extra $x won't hurt' so the popular size goes up and down depending on the financial well-being of the most common customers at a specific location.)