Just-So Stories in Ecology and Evolution

The Contemplative Mammoth

"Just-so stories" are named after Rudyard Kipling's 1902 book of animal fables. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.  “Just-so stories” are named after Rudyard Kipling’s 1902 book of animal fables. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Sloth-moth symbiosis. Dinosaur-devestating asteroid impacts. Girl’s preference for pink. Are these fact, or fiction?

Sometimes, what we think we know about the natural world is based more on story-telling than the scientific method. Calling something a “just-so story” in science is almost universally intended as a criticism. The term is a reference to Rudyard Kipling’s collection of children’s fables that playfully use species traits as a framework for teaching kids important life lessons. “How the Rhinoceros Got His Skin,” “How the Leopard Got His Spots,” and “How the Camel Got His Hump” offer moral, rather than scientific, explanations for evolution. They’re entertaining, but not factually accurate (hence the pejorative).

In science, just-so stories are compelling because they’re simple, elegant, intuitive, and fun to tell. Ecology and evolution seem to be especially susceptible to just-so narratives, as researchers struggle to attribute the patterns…

View original post 708 more words

This entry was published on April 8, 2014 at 10:26 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: