|Abstract||he landscape of every career contains a few crevasses, and usually a more extensive valley or two—for every Ruth's bat a Buckner's legs; for every lopsided victory at Agincourt, a bloodbath at Antietam. Darwin's Origin of Species contains some wonderful insights and magnificent lines, but this masterpiece also includes a few notable clunkers. Darwin experienced most embarrassment from the following passage, curtailed and largely expunged from later editions of his book: In North America the black bear was seen by Hearne swimming for hours with widely open mouth, thus catching, like a whale, insects in the water. Even in so extreme a case as this, if the supply of insects were constant, and if better adapted competitors did not already exist in the country, I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale. Why did Darwin become so chagrined about this passage? His hypothetical tale may be pure speculation and conjecture, but the scenario is not entirely absurd. Darwin's discomfort arose, I think, from his failure to follow a scientific norm of a more sociocultural nature. Scientific conclusions supposedly rest upon facts and information. Speculation is not entirely taboo, and may sometimes be necessary faute de mieux . But when scientists propose truly novel and comprehensive theories—as Darwin tried to do in advancing natural selection as the primary mechanism of evolution—they need particularly good support, and invented hypothetical cases just don't supply sufficient confidence for crucial conclusions.|
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