Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Higgs Comments on Dodo Anti-defamation

Higgs enjoyed Randy Olson's "A Flock of Dodos" but he thought the intelligent design expose didn't do enough to help dispell unfair stereotypes about dodos.

Higgs Comments on Dodo Anti-defamation

FF: This evening(thursday) I’ll be participating in a panel discussion at Villanova University. The topic is Randy Olson’s film “A Flock of Dodos”, which explores the roots of the intelligent design movement.

Higgs and I watched it together the other night and both gave it high marks for journalistic integrity. But Higgs had one quibble with the film. He felt it perpetuated a prejudice against dodo birds.

Higgs: I enjoyed the film “A Flock of Dodos” very much. The filmmaker did an excellent job of taking ID proponents to task for repeating false information. But I didn’t think the film did enough to dispel one of the most common misconceptions about evolution. Many people wrongly assume that animals go extinct because they are incapable of evolving, or they’re primitive, obsolete or stupid. This is not the case at all: Most of the organisms thriving on the planet don’t even have brains.

Dodos have become synonymous with these unfortunate stereotypes. But the truth is they didn’t die out because they were dumb or incapable of adaptation. They were, like many wild animals, not compatible with humans and domestic animals.  

Dodo birds lived on an island in the Indian Ocean where they had no predators and therefore didn’t need to fly. They did fine until humans moved into their territory. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but some humans reported that the dodos were not to their culinary liking. I suspect cats would not feel the same way. From their pictures they look plump and delicious.  

Indeed, the suspicion has rightly fallen on domestic animals that arrived with the humans. If a population of feral cats suddenly appeared on the island, it would have been impossible for the dodo birds to adapt faster than the cats could eat them. What would you people expect them to do? Something similar happened in New Zealand to huge flightless birds called moas. But it was the people who ate them up.  

The point is that the dodos were no dodos any more than any animal that’s gone extinct or been endangered by human expansion and the concomitant expansion of feral cats. We are very good predators. I suggest we give dodo birds a new name as a gesture of posthumous respect. Thank you for letting me express my views. - Higgs

 

 

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at fflam@phillynews.com. Reach Planet of the at fflam@phillynews.com.

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