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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Stated Clearly: Mutations

By Phil Plait
How do mutations help us evolve? Probably not like this. Science has actual answers. Credit: Stated Clearly

A common characteristic of people who attack science is that they mischaracterize it. In one sense they have to; another common characteristic is that they have some sort of belief system that goes against the overwhelming scientific evidence, therefore  (mistakenly) trying to kick the legs out from under science is one of their only available tactics.

So they spread misinformation about whatever topic against which they aim: The Earth isn’t warming, they claim, or vaccines cause autism. This sort of thing works for people who are predisposed to believe the person making the claims, or if they have anti-science sympathies. On the part of science, arguing against them can be difficult and even counterproductive.

Don’t get me wrong; I think it needs to be done, but it’s also important to have good, solid references out there that explain the basic scientific principles being attacked. We don’t need to attack the attackers, necessarily, but instead provide the accurate information in a fun way to the people who might need most to listen to them.

That’s why I really like the site Stated Clearly. They are creating a series of short, easy-to-understand videos about the mechanisms of evolution in a way that makes them easy to grasp. They also are targeting topics that are typically mischaracterized by, for example, young Earth creationists who don’t “believe” in evolution.*

The latest video talks about “point mutations,” simple genetic code errors that lead to changes in biology:

I like how they get the basics explained while still focusing on the topics so commonly attacked by vocal creationists. My favorite bit starts at 2:54, where they describe a remarkable experiment about a beneficial mutation in salmonella. They quote Michael Behe in it, which is a stroke of genius; Behe is a creationist (though he might prefer the term “advocate of Intelligent Design,” which is the same thing) and so might be more sympathetically viewed by other creationists.

Stated Clearly has done videos on many other topics, such as natural selection, evolution, and the origin of life. These would be very useful to biology teachers out there for classroom use, I would think.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention that Stated Clearly needs your help to fund more videos. They have a Patreon account, for example. I also love their T-shirt design (I have one myself).

Science is perhaps the single most successful tool for understanding the Universe we’ve ever invented, a process that uses inquiry, experimentation, observation, and critical thinking to edge ever closer to the truth. But science is a tool, and can do nothing on its own. It needs us to advocate for it. The folks at Stated Clearly are doing just that.

* Why the scare quotes around “belief”? Because science is not a faith-based system; it works whether you believe in it or not. Of course, most people use the term more colloquially, meaning “accepting the truth of.” I’m OK with that but prefer not to use it that way.

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