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Monday, July 09, 2007

Darwinism and academic culture: "Have evolved" as synonym for "exist"

Recently, I was blogging on the grammar of speculation: grammatical uses that help speculation disguise itself as fact - in particular the use of "would have" (scroll down to second point, regarding "would have") where one dare not say "did." Now a friend writes to note the use of "have evolved" as a synonym for "exist."

He refers to an abstract of a Nature paper just out this month, which announces:
Multiple mechanisms have evolved that contribute to this exquisite
specificity, including the structure of the catalytic site, local and distal interactions

He asked the author:
You use the phrase "have evolved". Is this phrase used interchangably with the word "exist" or have you specific evidence related to the evolutionary origin of these pathways?

The author's answer:
In the context of this abstract "exist" would be interchangable although we do believe that these pathways have evolved over time.

My friend suspected as much. "Have evolved" was not demonstrated in the paper, and perhaps not anywhere else either. It is a statement of faith.

In general, be suspicious of terminology that is more complex than necessary. There lie propaganda or euphemism. In this case, for instance, "exist" describes what was actually observed, and "have evolved" is a disguised statement of faith. Read George Orwell's Politics and the English Language.

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