Archive for natural selection

Does Influenza Evolve in Multiple Tenses?

Posted in Ecological resilience, Evolution, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2010 by rgwallace

The past may possess a power greater than prologue. Anyone with a social networking account knows that. All of a sudden you find yourself daily interacting with people long thought boxed away. People mature, yes, but sensibilities remain largely intact and an old year, fine wine or vinegar, pours back up into the bottle.

“The past,” as William Faulkner diagnosed it, “is never dead. It’s not even the past.” Living in multiple tenses, in what we characterized in the previous post as Louis Althusser’s ‘historical present’, can be exhilarating or exhausting depending on the day.

That kind of time travel may be influenza’s bread-and-butter. Strains of the bug may retain, and strategically exploit, the capacity to evolve molecular characteristics of bygone eras.

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Do Pathogens Time Travel?

Posted in Evolution, HIV, Influenza with tags , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2010 by rgwallace

Evolution arises out of grave failure. Natural selection requires large and variable populations comprised for the most part of organisms whose designs fail to match their present circumstances. Any design matched right is in the meantime still subject to chance destruction occurring across spatiotemporal scales.

So strict engineering optimization is embodied in no organismal design, contra religiosos and radical adaptationists alike. Nor does it reside in the process of selection: every species eventually dies out–by maladaptation, stochastic extirpation, or an external force (say, a large meteorite in yo’ face).

And yet biological life began early on Earth and continues on four billion years later, and will do so in one form or another after the present climate collapses or we nuke ourselves senseless.

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Heart of Modeling

Posted in Evolution with tags , , , , , , , on September 15, 2009 by rgwallace

Joseph-CampbellGreed is often mistaken for humanity’s heart of darkness. Look instead to the rationalization that transforms the most rapacious pillaging into an act of benevolence. A one-ton bomb dropped on a peasant wedding party is dissembled into regret without responsibility or, baser yet, a tough love offered with warning enough its victims, until then on their happiest day, ignored at their own risk.

Massacring the poorest–by the pen or the sword–is abstracted into an industrial deduction no rough facts can peel back. In its desperate flight free, what evidence flutters out from between the secret policeman’s gloves serves in this framework as its own denunciation: the editor who publishes it loses his job, the journalist her access, and the whistleblower his freedom. Barbarism, backed by Ivy League pedigrees and the strategic brick of cash, can excuse itself with the right mix of red tape and inert banality.

The shock for some will be that even evolutionary biology plays its part. Set aside its more blatant frauds writing how the dead were inherently dumber than those who designed the bomb that killed them. As if even true it was alibi enough. In their unrequited loyalties the likes of Phil Rushton and Charles Murray speak as if they are somehow affiliated with the physics that went into the ordnance. No Einsteins these, the hangers-on refute themselves as soon as they open their mouths.

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