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Science

Should We Just Call Dog Breeds a Different Species? 497

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the well-technically-but dept.
Jamie found an amusing bit this morning on Scientific American where the author proposes that dog breeds are different species. Now some of you might recoil when you hear this suggestion, but if you read the article to see why he makes this suggestion I suspect you'll crack a smile and appreciate the elegance of the solution.
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Should We Just Call Dog Breeds a Different Species?

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  • Dogism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) <obsessivemathsfreak.eircom@net> on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:23AM (#28083005) Homepage Journal

    You know what's funny? Dogs know dogs. They can be big, small, tall, round, thin, with or without tails, brown, red, white, spotted, yellow, shaggy, short haired, long legged, squat, etc, etc, etc. There is a massive amount of variation on display within the dog family.

    But despite it all, dogs know dogs. Upon seeing another, they'll wag their tails or bark for a rotweiller the same as they would for a terrier. They'll all roam about in their little packs, somehow instinctively knowing they they naturally should.

    And yet, if I have a man with different skin colour, or even simply different clothing, other men will consider his life worth less than even the smallest dog.

    Makes you think.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      And yet, if I have a man with different skin colour, or even simply different clothing, other men will consider his life worth less than even the smallest dog.

      Bah, I'd fuck a nice asian girl any day. What's your point?

    • Re:Dogism (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:37AM (#28083233) Homepage
      Reminds of a day spent on a waterfront last year, when I observed that though pigeons and seagulls would frolic in the same stretch of promenade, they didn't seem to acknowledge the existence of the other species. When I said to my friend, "Do you think birds can be racist?", she just looked at me funny.
      • Re:Dogism (Score:5, Interesting)

        by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:57AM (#28083501) Homepage Journal

        Birds are racist. Conure flocks will exclude similar animals whose only real difference is a different-colored head.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You know what's funny? Dogs know dogs. They can be big, small, tall, round, thin, with or without tails, brown, red, white, spotted, yellow, shaggy, short haired, long legged, squat, etc, etc, etc. There is a massive amount of variation on display within the dog family.

      But despite it all, dogs know dogs. Upon seeing another, they'll wag their tails or bark for a rotweiller the same as they would for a terrier. They'll all roam about in their little packs, somehow instinctively knowing they they naturally should.

      And yet, if I have a man with different skin colour, or even simply different clothing, other men will consider his life worth less than even the smallest dog.

      Makes you think.

      Is it just too late at night, or does that sound like the start of the Lassie 2012 presidential election campaign? If you won, it'd be very bad news -- four dog years is barely seven months and the next campaign'd be kicking off -- we'd never have any time free of election adverts!

    • Re:Dogism (Score:4, Interesting)

      by garcia (6573) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:45AM (#28083337) Homepage

      While I see what you're trying to say, you neglect to point out that dogs have a hierarchy just like any other social group. Yeah, it sucks and humans should be above that but it's there with the dogs you use as an example.

    • by am 2k (217885)

      One reason probably is that dogs use smell to identify someone. The looks don't matter that much to them.

    • We should start chasing more tail I guess.

    • by McDutchie (151611)
      What things look like is not nearly as important for dogs as what they smell like. I assume different breeds of dogs all still smell like dogs.
    • by Smidge204 (605297)

      But despite it all, dogs know dogs. Upon seeing another, they'll wag their tails or bark for a rotweiller the same as they would for a terrier.

      Own dogs much?

      They fight, too. Even when far away from their homes or if there's no food or anything around to seemingly fight over. They can still break out in nasty, bloody fights. They'll do it just to establish dominance.

      If two dogs get along on first meeting it's likely because they've been so thoroughly domesticated and behaviorally trained. Much like a more so

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      other men will consider his life worth less than even the smallest dog.

      Well, speaking as a misanthropic dog lover, the lives of other men *are* worth less than the smallest dog. Dogs are so much better at people, it's not even close.

    • Re:Dogism (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Retron (577778) on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:22AM (#28083821)

      You know what's funny? Dogs know dogs

      What's even funnier is that dogs know wolves.

      I'm lucky enough to volunteer at a wolf centre in southern England. At this time of year they're moulting like crazy and it's easy to pull of clumps of underfur from them.

      The fun starts if you give some to a dog owner and ask them to show it to their dogs.

      The last time I did that it made my friend's 4 dogs go nuts - one went very wide-eyed, another tried clambering over the guy to get it and the third begged for some. I've seen other reactions including frenzied barking and fear from other dogs.

      So it seems that despite most dogs never getting to see a wolf (at least here in the UK, we shot our last wolf in the late 1700s), they still know full well what one is.

      As an aside, dogs are amazingly different from wolves despite being 99.8% the same DNA wise. Only one season a year and permanent puppyhood - domestic dogs don't become adults, we've bred that out of them somehow. Wolves, on the other hand, change noticeably around 3 years of age. Dogs are also much, much better at picking up signals from people - and unlike wolves, they're always eager to please if bought up properly. A wolf'll only do something if it feels like it, or if it'll get something out of it!

      And an amusing anecdote to finish - we used to take our wolves out to county shows, as they're socialied and enjoyed meeting people. One morning at the Kent show we let the wolves into their mobile enclosure and they watched intently as some Rottweilers came over, along with their (big-mouthed) owners. The blokes were going on about how their dogs could "have" our wolves easily, yet both dogs cowered away when Duma, one of our soppier wolves with people, casually gazed at them, raised her lip soundlessly, showing impressive fangs. Those Rottweilers knew better than to come any closer, much to the chagrin of their owners!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by phoenix.bam! (642635)

        I saw a great segment on I think Discovery Channel about wolves vs dogs.

        First, a piece of meat was tied to a length of rope and placed in a cage. Both the dog and the wolf ( on the outside of the cage, of course) were able to pull the meat out using the length of the rope.

        Next, a piece of meat was tied to the rope, but the rope was then tied to the center of the cage, so no matter how hard the rope was pulled the meat would not move.

        After a few tugs the dog ran over to the humans and looked to them for hel

    • Re:Dogism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by erroneus (253617) on Monday May 25, 2009 @12:07PM (#28084337) Homepage

      More often than not, skin color is NOT the factor it once was. It is behavior that really drives the wedges among people. Go to countries outside of the U.S. and you do not see that problem. And even within the U.S., when you meat a black man who wears "common clothes" (a polo/golf shirt and slacks, for example) and the reaction will be a lot different from the same man wearing ghetto-wear or "athletic attire." Why is that? Could it be we associate a particular style of dress and behavior with drugs, gangs, violence and the like?

      Take that a few steps in either direction and you will find it holds true most of the time. Ultimately, we are talking about the difference between friendly and unfriendly. Dogs behave quite similarly. Some dogs WILL attack other dogs. They WILL attack or kill each other over food. Even in family units it can be observed that, depending on the individual dog, a sire will kill his puppies if so inclined and given the opportunity. (It was a harsh reality that my brother had to face after his two little white jack russell terriers bred... the daddy dog became extremely aggressive and was constantly attacking the puppies... they got rid of him after he killed one.)

      It's nice that you paint this rosy picture of dogs. But it's not completely true or accurate. It's not the whole picture.

  • News for nerds (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:26AM (#28083041)

    Humorous take fails to be humorous.

    • by StCredZero (169093) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:54AM (#28083453)

      When we observe Ring Species we are clearly catching mother nature red-handed in the act of speciation.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring_species [wikipedia.org]

      These things are freaky:

                      A--B--C--D--E--F--G--A

      Members of a ring species can interbreed with their immediate neighbors, but not with distant neighbors halfway around the ring. (So in my diagrom, A can interbreed with B and G, but not C, D, E, or F. Sometimes the ring develops a break, and becomes a line:

                      A--B--C--D--E--F--G

      Then to have a speciation event, all you need is another break in the line:

                      A--B--C

                      E--F--G

      There are ring species comprised of small creatures who only live in a small range of elevation around the side of a mountain, so their habitat literally looks like a small ring. Two well timed avalanches could be enough.

      • by TrumpetPower! (190615) <ben@trumpetpower.com> on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:11AM (#28083679) Homepage

        It gets even better.

        You cannot produce viable offspring with a chimpanzee. Neither could your great-great-great-grandparents produce viable offspring with that chimpanzee’s great-great-great-grandparents. But, go back enough generations, and your nth-great-grandparents gave birth to an individual whose far-distant offspring was that chimpanzee. Pick any other two organisms, and the same holds — it’s just that you have to go a little farther back in time to find the last common ancestor between, say, a squid and a butterfly.

        We are all members of a single ring species that encompasses all of life on Earth. It’s just that the ring is separated by time, rather than geography or physiology.

        And now you know the nutshell definition of the Theory of Evolution.

        Cheers,

        b&

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          Except there is no (solid) evidence of that ever happening. We have a lot of variations within species, but we still haven't found any evidence of that n'th great grandpa that was father to both human and chimp lines.

          The point of the article was to make up a classification and apply it to dogs, so that they can suddenly stick that in the face of creationists and say "Nyah! Told you so! Haha loser!!!111eleven". It still doesn't fix the problem.

          In fact, it points out a further problem with using fossil reco

  • by peragrin (659227) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:27AM (#28083051)

    between race and species was species can't interbreed and produce viable offspring. So while small dogs and large dogs may be able to be divided, the line gets a lot fuzzier after that. So many years of cross breeding and inbreeding I don't think you can separate them beyond that.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by wjh31 (1372867)
      thats generally a good definition of species, however it can break down.
      consider: 'species' A can breed with 'species' B, so are the same species, B can breed with C, so are the same species, so A and C are the same species via B, although A and C may not actually be able to breed. im fairly sure examples exist, but i cant cite any off the top of my head
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sique (173459)

      This criterion works only with livings which actually interbreed. It won't work for parthenogenetic livings or for livings like bacteria.

      And even within sexual species it is problematic. Take dandelion (yes, this yellow flower) for example.

      According to your definition of a species there are hundreds of thousands of species within the "dandelion" (taraxacum) genus.

      Dandelion comes in three general types: A diploid one (with two sets of chromosoms), a triploid (with three sets of chromosoms) and a tetraploid o

  • by Hatta (162192)

    Dogs aren't even a separate species from wolves. Further subdividing them is just silly.

    • FTFA: Amazingly, right now Chihuahuas are still considered C. lupus familiaris, a subspecies of wolf. And calling a Chihuahua a wolf is like calling someone at the Discovery Institute a scientist.

      Dogs aren't even a separate species from wolves. Further subdividing them is just silly.

      Yup, completely silly. When I think of a yappy little chihuahua, I think "Osht son, that wolf wants to eet meh!! RUNS!!!!!1111eleven" and definitely don't think about how much I'd like to kick the yappy fucking football >.<"

      That was sarcasm btw; just throwing that out there in case someone misses it.

      • by Hatta (162192) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:53AM (#28083441) Journal

        Canis lupis is just a remarkably diverse species. Calling chihuahuas and wolves a different species is like calling Gary Coleman and Bao Xishun a different species. That is, completely ridiculous.

        Arguing over where the line is between species is pretty dumb anyway. Nature is not divided into nice neat categories like that.

    • by Wonko the Sane (25252) * on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:50AM (#28083407) Journal

      Back in the 1800s there was this idea that all living things could be grouped into a neat, consistent classification system [wikipedia.org]. As it turns out, reality isn't tidily organized like a giant clock.

      There is a popular myth that it would be possible to list all taxonomic ranks. In reality there is an indeterminate number of ranks, as a taxonomist may invent a new rank at will, at any time, if he or she feels this is necessary. In doing so, there are some restrictions, which will vary with the Nomenclature Code which applies.

      The problem, then, is whether to quantify the whole ring as a single species (despite the fact that not all individuals can interbreed) or to classify each population as a distinct species (despite the fact that it can interbreed with its near neighbours). Ring species illustrate that the species concept is not as clear-cut as it is often thought to be.

  • by williamhb (758070) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:28AM (#28083089) Journal

    1) Creationists claim the science doesn't provide thorough enough proof of evolution
    2) Evolutionary biologists should fudge their results to re-define something as being proof
    3) ???
    4) Profit
    Something makes me think this scheme would just give creationists a big stick labelled "evolutionists fudge their results; it's all a load of cobblers" to beat the biologists with.

    • by Jedi Alec (258881) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:32AM (#28083161)

      1) Creationists claim the science doesn't provide thorough enough proof of evolution
      2) Evolutionary biologists should fudge their results to re-define something as being proof
      3) ???
      4) Profit
      Something makes me think this scheme would just give creationists a big stick labelled "evolutionists fudge their results; it's all a load of cobblers" to beat the biologists with.

      If a Slashdot reader has evolved to the point where he has no sense of humour whatsoever and is therefore incapable of mating with female humans, does that make said Slashdot reader a new species?

      Something to ponder tonight.

    • No, if we apply the rules for distinguishing different species to dogs, then it turns out that we have different species of dogs. There is no fudging.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maxume (22995)

      People that don't want to believe in evolution are hopeless anyway. What this does is move the discussion away from the details of biological classification towards facts that are more interesting when discussing evolution.

      The fact that we are rather different creatures from mice is notable, but a discussion of evolution doesn't depend on the factors we choose to use to make the distinction, it works just as well to consider organisms and populations that are or are not capable of reproducing without ascrib

  • Intelligent Design (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rshol (746340) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:29AM (#28083103)
    Just remember if you argue that dog breeds are different species, especially the case of the mastiff and chihuahua, or the teacup yorkie and newfoundland, these different species are verifiably the result of intelligent design. Selection was involved, but not natural selection.
    • But the designer is Man. So does that mean that Man is God?
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Opportunist (166417)

        Sure, and I take that first commandment very serious. I'd hate to have other Gods besides me.

        So every time those Jehova's Witnesses come by to talk about God, I'm delighted, I love talking about myself!

    • Just remember if you argue that dog breeds are different species, especially the case of the mastiff and chihuahua, or the teacup yorkie and newfoundland, these different species are verifiably the result of intelligent design. Selection was involved, but not natural selection.

      Human intelligence evolved naturally through natural selection. It is natural for humans to apply their intelligence, as this gives them survival benefits in the wild.

      As well, to say that humans "designed" the evolutionary traits of various breeds of dogs is a bit of a stretch. It's more accurate to say that humans selected the most desirable traits and bred for them. You cross-breed until something unexpected happens, and if it's desirable, you figure out how to repeat the unexpected result, until it br

  • by Ma8thew (861741) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:31AM (#28083135)
    Biologists already define a separate species as when two individuals cannot mate, be it due to genetics or mechanical or behavioural difficulties. The problem with dog breeds is that a Chihuahua can mate with a terrier, and a terrier can mate with a gun dog, and a gun dog can mate with the largest of dogs. Where would the author draw the line between species? There are a lot of cases like this in nature, and it is basically an arbitrary decision as to whether speciation has occurred. The whole premise of this article is essentially flawed, as it suggests that biologists have not already thought about these difficulties, when in fact this is basic pre-university biology.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jedi Alec (258881)

      Bah, I've seen the offspring of a 4 kilo terrier and a 35 kilo labrador.

      Sure, the little bugger needed to get on the couch to get his groove on, but he still made it ;-)

      Puppies were the same size as dad after only a few weeks, didn't make him any less proud though...

    • by debrain (29228) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:48AM (#28083381) Journal

      Defining species based on whether animals can breed is not a perfect definition. Fin and Blue whales have been known to breed, to form hybrid species, for example.

  • No, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bruce McBruce (791094) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:31AM (#28083143)
    I just knew this article would include some comparison of Chihuahuas to some breed of large dog (in this case, Mastiffs). So I'm going to go ahead and make a similar comparison of a 600-pound caucasian female to a 110-pound asian male. The male may have just as much trouble with the process as does the Chihuahua, but we'll still call the result be a human. Similarly, we'll call the spawn of a Chihuahua and a Mastiff a dog. Because it looks like a dog and it barks.
    • by iamhigh (1252742)
      But can you see where the author was going? You know, not all things are black and white and some are even meant to be taken "with a grain of salt". The point was that we have seen evidence of evolution, but we just haven't see it to the point where a new species is created yet. How much longer before a chihuahua can't breed with *any* other dog currently listed as the same species? Won't it happen eventually?
      • How much longer before a chihuahua can't breed with *any* other dog currently listed as the same species? Won't it happen eventually?

        Domestic turkeys can't breed without human intervention - but they CAN breed with the help of humans, same as chihuahuas can (and have) been bred with large dogs when given a "helping hand" or "a leg up".

        There's no such thing as a "pure-bred dog" - every single so-called "pure breed" is a mutt. The kennel clubs perpetuate the myth of "pure blood lines" because there's $$$ and ego in doing so. It's not like you can't get a phony "pure-bred" registration for a dog - as an experiment, people even registered CATS as "pure-bred dogs." Time magazine published an expose on this a couple of decades ago - your "breeding papers" would be better used to toilet-train the puppy than as any sort of guarantee of anything. And no, nothing has changed in the intervening years ... it's still a crock of horse manure that promotes cruelty to animals, puppy mills, reinforcement of bad genes, etc.

  • by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Monday May 25, 2009 @10:32AM (#28083159) Homepage

    Whenever someone tells me they have a dog, I ask them what make it is. Try it, the reaction is brilliant.

  • Darwinism depends on the splitting of one species into two, which then diverge and split and diverge and split, over and over again, to produce the branching-tree pattern required by Darwinâ(TM)s theory. And this sort of speciation has never been observed.

    This article as written just so this guy can say, we have seen speciation, look at Dog breeds, and seemingly (in his mind have some sort of retort to Creationists). It wont work.

    If somehow the recognized breeds existed only as fossils, palaeontologis

  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:06AM (#28083603) Homepage
    Why is it rejecting a socially progressive idea is called "recoiling" while rejecting a socially conservative idea is referred to as a "knee jerk reaction"?
  • Humans (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dracos (107777) on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:09AM (#28083639)

    The author mentions that the varying dog breeds would be thought of as separate species if found in the fossil record, and that's probably true. There are paleontologists who argue about whether a certain small T. Rex fossil is a dwarf species or a juvenile. The hairs to be split can be quite thin.

    Given that, would the morphological differences between human populations constitute splitting Home Sapiens into separate species? I think not.

    The only thing this proposal will do is give the creationist/ID idiots another straw man argument: "scientists change things to justify their point of view!" The truth is, those morons are going to cling to their dogma not matter how much evidence piles up against it. We've seen it before: the Earth is flat; the Sun revolves around the Earth; Earth is 6000 years old; et cetera.

    Speciation is such a slow process that we can only see it in the simplest of organisms, such as algae or bacteria. But that's not good enough for them. They apparently want to see two chimps mate and produce a human (which is absurd), and proves that they refuse to understand the subject matter.

  • Trolls (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 25, 2009 @11:10AM (#28083661)

    Perhaps serious scientists should stick with doing science, rather than refuting creationists and others with ideological agendas to push. Cause when you feed the trolls, the word gets around and you draw larger and larger numbers to be fed. Or in other words, one gets the impression that the refuters have an agenda of their own to push. Like the fine article, when one gets around to reading it, leaves behind.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jonaskoelker (922170)

      Perhaps serious scientists should stick with doing science, rather than refuting creationists and others with ideological agendas to push. Cause when you feed the trolls, the word gets around and you draw larger and larger numbers to be fed.

      That's an interesting strategy.

      What if the trolls can do other things besides just make noise? What if they can get on your (future?) kids' school board and decide that your kids should be taught intelligent design and/or creationism as science?

      Do you think it's a good education? Do you think it's a good way to spend tax money? Do you want your kids' time spent on this?

      I think you're getting too used to Internet trolls and have forgotten how real-world trolls can make changes to society that you do not w

  • Brilliant analogy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thirty-seven (568076) on Monday May 25, 2009 @12:10PM (#28084379)
    From the article:

    The claim [that the sort of speciation characterized by the repeated splitting of one species into two has never been observed] makes me think of the trial where a man was charged with biting off another man's ear in a bar fight. ... An eyewitness to the fracas took the stand. The defense attorney asked, "Did you actually see with your own eyes my client bite off the ear in question?" The witness said, "No." The attorney pounced: "So how can you be so sure that the defendant actually bit off the ear?" To which the witness replied, "I saw him spit it out." We have the fossils, the intermediate forms, the comparative anatomy, the genomic homologies - we've seen what evolution spits out.

    I think that's a great analogy.

  • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Monday May 25, 2009 @12:50PM (#28084867)

    Of course this guy is just poking fun at creationists, but mislabelling dogs as species would really help. For that matter it wouldn't help if they really were separate species.

    1) Dog breeds may be a recent thing but nobody say them evolve either - it happended over a time longer than a human lifetime. If you're of a mind to deny these things then "I didn't see it with my own eyes" argument applies just as well here. Maybe God created Chihuahas and Great Danes. I slighty smarter creationist might complain that the selection pressure on most breeds was artificial.

    2) Much more to the point, there are genuine species all around us at every conceivable stage of speciation. Heading towards branching, during branching, immediately after branching, long after branching, etc.

    The best answer to a creationist who says "if it's true, why don't we see it?" is to ask "what is it you'd expect to see that isn't in fact all around you right now?!!". Anyone expecting to see Tigers bifuracte into furbys and unicorns in their own lifetime isn't worth trying to argue with, but anyone who realizes the timescale of evolution should realize that's not the case. The length of a human lifetime is so ridiculously short compared to the evolutionary timescales that we're essentially looking at snapshot of a movie.

    Think of it this way: earth is 4.5 x 10^9 years old. If you had a feature length 2 hr movie of the whole of earth's history shot at 60 frames per second, then the movie would have 432,000 frames, and each frame would still encompass over 10,000 years of history! (4.5 billion / 432,000). And yet these creationists are expecting to see a whole movie playing in their 100 year lifetime...

    So, realizing that our brief lifetime has doomed us to only be observing a snapshot of anything happening on an evolutionary timescale, the real question isn't why arn't we seeing it happen (trivial answer: your lifetime is too short, but rather if this is the movie of evolution we're caught in a still frame of, then what would you expect to see in this still frame? The answer of course is that you'd expect to see species caught at every stage of branching/speciation, which is exactly what we do see.

    1) Species accumulating genetic change, living in subpolulations, apparently heading for branching: too many to list, but including things like forest/plains elephants, dogs(!), humans (assuming the races don't in the future start interbreeding indiscriminately). Even things like lions/tigers can still interbreed so (whatever arbitrary labels you want to slap on them) are really pre-branch rather than post-branch, even if we understand the amount of interbreeding in the wild to be close to zero (although it does occur).

    2) Species that are essentially at the point of branching right now. A classic example might be horses/donkeys, which can still kind of interbreed, but not quite (their offspring, a mule, is sterile). Given that branching is more of a process than event (it's something that happens to populations, not individuals) there are many more less spectacular examples - I'd probably include some of those (technically) pre-brancing examples in this class.

    3) Species that are post-branch (can no longer interbreed, but are still genetically very close) : any species withing the same biological genus, familiy, etc. One's that branched more long ago are more genetically different corresponding to biological order, class, etc. For a specific example, how about oursellves and chimps still with 98% shared DNA and only a few million years after having branched from a common ancestor.

    So the still frame we're living in sure fits the bill - we see everying around us that we'd expect to see if species are created by branching from each other. OTOH if the creationists are right, and species are created by God then the number of species that exist along every conceivable degree of genetic difference (as opposed to isolated individual creations) is rather embarassing!

    Of course these discussions are endl

  • TFA is far too bold (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MaXintosh (159753) on Monday May 25, 2009 @02:07PM (#28085765)
    TFA is laughably naÃve. They should be a different species? Oh, if only species were so cut and dry. People talk about species as if we're talking about the same thing, but the `distance` between polar bears and brown bears - considered different species - isn't as great as that between Reindeer and Caribou - considered the same species.

    The dirty little secret of biology - and I'm going to get kicked out of the biologist club for this - is that we've got no ****ing clue what a species is. Oh, sure, we go around naming them all the time, but we don't actually know what we're doing yet. One list counts up to 23 different way to recognize species (known as species concepts). Some of these are mutually exclusive! The author seems to like the Reproductive isolation species concept. But under that concept, the mallard on the east coast is a different species from the mallard on the west coast. But when does the mallard cease to be east and west? What about all those ducks in between? While there's no doubt that the east coast and west coast are functionally isolated, the point at which that ceases to be is very hazy.

    What about montane species? I'm thinking of Dall sheep, in particular. Geneflow (interbreeding) between sheep of non-ajoining mountain ranges is incredibly low, effectively zero. But I don't know anyone who'd make the argument that they're separate species.

    So then maybe the author wants to argue that they're separate morphotypes, and should be species on that account. What about isopods, where they have a greater diversity of form within species. Let's face it, every dog looks vaguely dog-ish. The same can't be said for some isopods, or species of insects!

    The truth is what is, and isn't, a species is currently nebulous, fuzzy, and wishy-washy. It may be that species, as an idea, don't exist. That wouldn't surprise me.
  • Bad science (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Improv (2467) <pgunn@dachte.org> on Monday May 25, 2009 @02:22PM (#28085957) Homepage Journal

    The definitions and frameworks we draw in science should not be based on utility in political struggles outside the scope of science. It is fine to struggle against those who are ignorant of and activist against science, but we should consider that a separate activity from the practice of science.

    We don't want the process of science to be even slightly defined as an opposition to some movement - allowing ourselves that would be to weaken what science-as-an-institution is trying to do.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein

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