Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease by Sharon Moalem & Jonathan Prince

Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease by Sharon Moalem & Jonathan Prince

Author:Sharon Moalem & Jonathan Prince [Moalem, Sharon & Prince, Jonathan]
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
Tags: General, Science, Medical, Health & Fitness, Research, Diseases, Life Sciences, Evolution, Human evolution, Natural selection, Survival - physiology, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Genetic aspects, Variation (Genetics), Adaptation (Biology), Disease susceptibility, Disease susceptibility - Genetic aspects
ISBN: 9780060889654
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2007-01-25T05:00:00+00:00

JEAN-BAPTISTE LAMARCK WAS a French thinker and student of nature who popularized some of the current thinking about evolution and heredity in 1809 with the publication of his book Zoological Philosophy. In popular accounts of the history of evolutionary theory, Lamarck is built up into a somewhat foolish scientist who advances a series of wrongheaded theories about evolution and eventually “loses” an intellectual war with Charles Darwin.

According to the popular story, Lamarck was the chief proponent of a theory of inherited acquired traits. The essence of that theory is the idea that traits acquired by a parent during his or her lifetime could then be passed on to his or her off spring. It’s suggested, for example, that Lamarck believed that giraffes’ long necks were the result of each generation’s straining its neck ever farther to reach leaves on higher branches. Or that a blacksmith’s son would be born with stronger arms because his father developed those muscles hammering against his anvil. According to the myth about Lamarck, Darwin came along and proved Lamarck all wrong, debunking the notion that traits acquired in the lifetime of a parent could be passed to its off spring.

In fact, very little of this story is true. The truth is Lamarck was more of a philosopher than a scientist. And his book was more of a layman’s description of current evolutionary thinking designed for a general audience than a treatise of scientific analysis. Lamarck did promote the concept of “inherited acquired traits,” but he also promoted the concept of evolution—and he didn’t come up with either one, nor did he pretend to. At the time, the notion of inherited acquired characteristics was widely held, including by Darwin. Darwin even praised Lamarck in Origin of the Species for helping to popularize the idea of evolution.

Unfortunately for him, poor Jean-Baptiste became the victim of a schoolbook version of the theory he didn’t develop. Somewhere along the line a science writer (whose name is lost to history) acquired the notion that Lamarck was responsible for the idea of inherited acquired traits, and generations of successive science writers have inherited that idea and passed it on. In other words, somebody blamed the theory on Lamarck, and lots of other people have repeated it, right up to today. Textbooks still tell of silly-sounding Lamarckian researchers attempting to prove their theories by cutting off the tails of generation after generation of mice, waiting in vain for a generation to be born without tails.

Here’s the funny thing—the theory of inherited acquired traits that’s responsible for Lamarck’s general disregard? It isn’t exactly right, but it may not be exactly wrong.


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