Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Nigerian Junk Mail and Darwinian Storytelling

New Scientist assumes that evolution explains cat behaviour.

Joel Kontinen

The spam e-mails that most of us are all too familiar with can at times be if not compelling then at least dramatic. They almost always feature a tragic accident or a fatal illness and heaps of money that the sender wants to give you. Or something like that.

It appears that this genre has a close relative in popular science magazines. These also feature death and catastrophes (such as the meteorite impact that supposedly killed off the dinosaurs), but instead of money they boast of new innovations that came into being as if by magic without any logical reason.

Recently, an article in New Scientist asserted: “Cats owe their success as pets to the fact that they have evolved an ability to interact with us in a way that we find appealing.”

How does the writer know that cats have the ability to evolve a particular trait? The obvious answer is that he doesn’t, but he simply assumes that since evolution is true, evolution must have done it.

It seems that Darwinian storytelling has to appeal to something closely related to magic in attempting to explaining features we see in nature.


Bradshaw, John. 2013. More than a feline: the true nature of cats. New Scientist 2934, 44-47. (17 September).