Evolution: A Quest for Change

Contributed by Mark Jedrzejczak


Ever since Morgan Freeman’s success on the Science network’s program, “Through the Wormhole” the actor has been much sought out for his iconic narrative voice and style. We are proud to present the first episode of his* most recent documentary series on the topic of macroevolution, “Evolution: A Quest for Change”.

(* well, someone that sound like him, anyway.)

The title reflects a little tongue-in-cheek on the part of the producers, since evolution is not really a quest, since quests involve a mission with an end goal. Instead, evolution is more like a knight going doing a bunch of random missions and after some time, he starts to choose those missions that get him the most princesses. Similarly, evolution is a process driven by the nonrandom selection of heritable traits that impart the best fitness. This ends up changing the gene frequencies in a population over time. On a macroscopic level, this is characterized by the evolution of a species’ gene pool as a whole, often leading to divergence and speciation. The process of macroevolution is responsible for the existence of all the organisms that ever were and will be inhabiting our pale-blue dot, planet Earth.

This documentary presents the topic of large-scale evolution, the main mechanisms that drive macro evolution, and what evidence exists for the process. At the same time, the documentary helps highlight the importance of scientific literacy, critical thinking, and smart science teaching, especially for today’s youth. Research done by Hayat Hokayem and Saouma BouJaoude (2008) on college student’s perception of evolution underscores the importance of understanding the student’s perspectives on the theory of evolution. In addition, their research suggests that accepting and working with an individual’s “cultural milieu” or worldview is the most effective method of conveying scientific ideas. An instructor simply handing a student a stack of scientific information is not good enough, especially when the latter starts reading the information with a set of presuppositions. These biases should to be understood and used as building blocks, and should not be seen as pieces that instructors need to be tear down.

A more effective way of teaching is to build upon student’s misconceptions…and also not to even use the word misconception. One study by April Cordero Maskiewicz and Jennifer Evarts Lineback (2013) advocates using students’ incorrect ideas about science as a resource for refining teaching strategies.

This documentary addresses a few of these “misconceptions”, especially a couple that were highlighted in the Maskiewicz and Lineback study. These were that ‘natural selection is trying to give what the organisms need.’ The video clearly discusses that evolution and the process of natural section have no goal or “finish line.” Another incorrect idea, taken from the “MiTEP List of Common Geoscience Misconceptions Organized by the Earth Science Literacy Principles”, that biases new students in the field of evolutionary biology, is the “young Earth” model, and this too is addressed in the video.

For more information, see:

Age of the Earth. U.S. Geological Survey. 1997. Archived from the original on 23     December 2005. Retrieved 2006-01-10.

Oberthür, T, Davis, DW, Blenkinsop, TG, Hoehndorf, A (2002). Precise U–Pb mineral ages, Rb–Sr and Sm–Nd systematics for the Great Dyke, Zimbabwe—constraints on late Archean events in the Zimbabwe craton and Limpopo belt. Precambrian Research 113 (3-4): 293–306.

Carlin, J. L. (2011) Mutations Are the Raw Materials of Evolution. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):10.

H Su, L-J Qu, K He, Z Zhang, J Wang, Z Chen and H Gu. (2003) The Great Wall of China: a physical barrier to gene flow? Heredity. 90, 212–219.

Liman, R., Sheehy, B. & Schultz, J. (2008) Genetic Drift and Effective Population Size. Nature Education 1(3):3.

Macroevolution. Understanding Evolution. 2014. University of California Museum of Paleontology.

Hokayem, H. and BouJaoude, S. (2008), College students’ perceptions of the theory of evolution. J. Res. Sci. Teach., 45: 395–419.

April Cordero Maskiewicz and Jennifer Evarts Lineback Misconceptions Are “So Yesterday!” CBE Life Sci Educ September 4, 2013 12:352-356.

MiTEP List of Common Geoscience Misconceptions Organized by the Earth Science Literacy Principles. http://mitep.mspnet.org/media/data/MiTEP_List_of_Common_Geoscience_Misconceptions.pdf?media_000000007297.pdf