Anything But Social Darwinism

i-62441fcfb6318d55d076629ead2c0d34-darbuzz.jpgOn The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson deconstructs “social Darwinism” in order to “raise some questions about the usefulness of [the term] and the way it has been applied.” The concept has little to do with Charles Darwin, but it has often been misapplied to his idea of natural selection. Instead, social Darwinism springs from the sociology of Herbert Spencer, the man who coined the term “survival of the fittest” and believed the poor should be left alone and not aided by the government. From there, things get even murkier–in the 20th century the term “social Darwinist” was applied not only to the laissez-faire Spencer, but also to the imperialist Teddy Roosevelt, the eugenicist Adolf Hitler, and a selection of other disparate individuals. As Johnson writes, social Darwinism “is a mere amalgamation of tenuously related ideas that do not form a unified structure,” a theory that has been retroactively concocted and applied. Take some time to read through the series, which Razib Khan on Gene Expression calls “blogging as scholarship at its best.”

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… And a Helmholtz Coil in a Pear Tree

i-568cf52d6368878da906f24198670c90-12dbuzz.jpgOn the first day of Christmas, one might gift his or her true love with a certain bird in a certain fruit tree…unless one’s true love is geology. On Highly Allocthonous, Chris Rowan runs down a seasonal list of twelve geologic features, forms, and phenomena that interest him more than drummers drumming or lords a-leaping, concluding on the traditional twelfth day of Christmas—January 5—with folds a-plunging. From reversing streams and melting glaciers to the flipping of Earth’s magnetic poles, Chris probes our planet from pole to pole, serving up a rich holiday feast of geologic goodness in tasty individual morsels. Lucky for Chris, the magnanimous ScienceBlogs staff has decided to fulfill one of his wishes this year—just as soon as we figure out how to wrap those nine fractionating isotopes.

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Copenhagen, Claus & Christ

i-056faeb5a8565bc75ca2aae370a825f8-santabuzz.jpgThe climate summit in Copenhagen came to a tenuous conclusion on Friday, as five nations pulled a non-binding “agreement” from thin air. This agreement recognizes the threat of rising temperatures and pledges financial aid for developing countries, but sets no emission guidelines and is not legally enforcible anyway. On Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk fears what global warming will do to Santa’s Workshop, writing that the major players at Copenhagen were “afraid to do hard things,” and content to “pretend to do something” instead. Meanwhile, Greg Laden on his blog points out that Copenhagen provided another chance for global warming denialists to miss the forest for the snow-covered trees. Seguing back toward the North Pole, Revere celebrates an otherwise secular family’s faith in Santa Claus on Effect Measure, writing that Christmas is “warm and pleasant at a dark time of year,” and an opportunity to buy gifts for “loved ones and friends to make them happy.” And on Aarvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist considers the legacy and future of Christmas carols, after singing about Christ himself in an “increasingly vague and all-encompassing” Swedish Church.

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Living This Way

i-0e04765eca436db089c33d7650d20208-natbuzz.jpgWhen it comes to human nature, everyone’s an expert—so let’s argue about it, shall we? On Cognitive Daily, Dave Munger reviews an investigation into the truly fairer sex which suggests that “men are more tolerant of their friends’ failings than women.” Not convinced? Then counter your intuition on The Frontal Cortex, where Jonah Lehrer writes “nothing destroys a luxury brand like a sale.” Consider the possibility of pulling yourself up by the bootstraps on Laelaps, where Brain Switek discusses Louis Leakey’s “fuzzy” postulation that “the invention of stone tools allowed humans to domesticate themselves and accelerate evolution.” Go on and question the innateness of Good and Evil with Razib Khan on Gene Expression, in light of the finding that eighteen-month-olds don’t hesitate to lend strangers a helping hand. Finally, if you missed it, see David Sloan Wilson’s fascinating series about group selection on Evolution for Everyone, where he speculates that our ancestors used their rock-throwing prowess to “suppress bullying and other domineering behaviors within-groups.” Now write up some comments and let us know where we got it all wrong.

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