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New “Long Story” on Bacterial Evolution Is Here!

David Klinghoffer

The latest entry in the “Long Story Short” series is about as needed, and amusing, as it could be. In just under 13 minutes, the video examines a mythic piece of evidence for Darwinian evolution’s creative power. We debuted it last night on YouTube, and you can find it below. It is “Antibiotic Resistance & Bacterial Evolution: What’s the Real Story?”

The real story is conveyed with charm, humor, clarity, and rigor. Watch for the jokes at the bottom of the screen. Some of them go by a little fast and you have to pause the video to read them. It’s worth it.

Evolution’s “BIG IDEA”

I am grateful for these videos in part because my younger daughter is taking high school biology. The class uses the Glencoe Biology textbook. It’s a beautiful book and Chapter 15 covers Evolution. On the second page, they serve up what the textbook calls the BIG IDEA: “The theory of evolution is supported by natural selection and explains the diversity of life.” This idea is framed without qualification, which is typical of how evolution is presented to students and to the general public: Darwinian theory explains ALL of the diversity of life.

As evidence for the theory, under the section heading Adaptation, the textbook, of course, includes the heading “Antimicrobial resistance.” Students read: 

Species of bacteria that originally were killed by penicillin and other antibiotics have developed drug resistance. For almost every antibiotic, at least one species of resistant bacteria exists. One unintended consequence of the continued development of antibiotics is that some diseases, which were once thought to be contained, such as tuberculosis, have re-emerged in more harmful forms.

And that is all true. But is it a piece of evidence for how unguided evolution “explains the diversity of life”?  Not a bit. As animator and author “Long Story” puts it in his video, the claim is an example of evolutionary “equivocation”: “The use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth.” Bacteria “evolve” by getting broken in various ways. But, says Long Story, Darwin sought to explain the “origin of species.” The title of his great book is not, How Pre-existing Organisms Break Themselves.

The video is great, and congratulations to Long Story. Consider sharing it with your kid’s biology teacher, and with your young person herself. Also look for previous entries on other evolutionary icons: homology and whale evolution.