Deep Time: Cladistics, The Revolution in Evolution

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9780007291540: Deep Time: Cladistics, The Revolution in Evolution

In Deep Time, Henry Gee, assistant editor of Nature, shows us that everything we think we know about evolution is wrong. For a long time, popular scientists have told us that by looking at a fossilised bone we could tell whether it belonged to our ancestors or not. This is not true. In Deep Time, Henry Gee, introduces for the first time in the popular science market a new way of thinking that has revolutionised the way that scientists are approaching the past - Cladistics. Cladistics ignores story-telling and authority and proposes a method based on shared characteristics, rather than ancestry and descent. As a result of using this new method Henry Gee is able to show us the wealth of new ideas that is radically altering our notions of the past: Dinosaurs with feathers; why fish developed fingers; what it means to be human.

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Review:

For centuries biological scientists have been using the Linnean system of classification, organising hierarchies of life forms by their perceived similarities and differences. In the late 20th century, some scientists started using an alternative system called "cladistics", which bases taxonomic classifications on ecological relationships. Under the first system, all algae fall into a single large category, which is then subdivided into various genera and species; under the second, green algae are grouped with plants, chromophyte algae with waterborne fungi, and so forth to account for the environments in which they live. Under the first system, dogs and wolves and coyotes are separated; under the second, they are united, for, the thinking goes, similarities of behaviour and provenience are more important than mere lines of evolutionary descent, which can only be guessed at.

The debate over cladistics has largely been confined to seminar rooms and laboratories. Henry Gee brings it to the general public in this spirited look at how the science of palaeontology, that grand tour of what Gee calls Deep Time, is conducted. Replacing old family trees with "cladograms", Gee challenges long-accepted notions about the past (for example, the classification of Archaeopteryx, which walks like a duck and quacks like a duck but is accounted for as a dinosaur) and argues for a return to rigour in testing hypotheses. His book, although about difficult issues, is immediately accessible, and readers seeking to learn something about cladistics--which Gee believes is "a revolution in thought as profound as that of Darwinian evolution by natural selection"--are off to a fine start in these pages. --Gregory McNamee

Review:

This book will surprise, outrage and delight you – and make you think.'
Jared Diamond

'Gee takes the reader inside contemporary palaeontology, from the excitement of a fossil dig with Maeve Leakey to the thousands of carefully stored and catalogued specimens at the Natural History Museum.'
New Scientist

'As Gee's brilliant analysis shows, viewed afresh, evolution proves a more interesting and exciting – if more complex – story than we ever thought.' Scotsman

’ A classic piece of reportage… Gee deserve high praise for these stimulating additions to the popular science canon.’ Independent

’Henry Gee’s fascinating book explains how a relatively new method of classifying life revolutionises our picture of the world… In the process of setting out his argument Gee gives us a fascinating introduction to Palaeontological biology.’ A C Grayling, Literary Review

’In Deep Time, Henry Gee eloquently and entertainingly explains exactly why this revolution in evolution is both interesting and important to our understanding of the past.’ Herald

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