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I am stuck on a Homework Question. It says:

Evaluate the following statement: “Natural selection works like a copy editor; it works only with what is already present in a population.” (Note: Copy editors check written material before it is set into type, to correct errors in spelling, grammar, usage, and style.)

I thick that Natural Selection is not like a Copy editor because:

Natural Selection has no set direction, which means it does not decide on anything. A weak organism might be able to survive by luck. While a copy editor knows the mistakes and eliminates them instantly.

Can I get some help on this. Thanks!

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  • $\begingroup$ If I had to compare natural selection to a job in the publishing industry, I'd say it's more like a commissioning editor -- that is, the guy who decides what to accept and what to throw in the garbage bin. $\endgroup$ Mar 13, 2014 at 2:17
  • $\begingroup$ Thats good but its not answering the question. Is natural selection like a copy editor or not? $\endgroup$ Mar 13, 2014 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ It not my question. Its part of my Homework. $\endgroup$ Mar 13, 2014 at 2:24
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    $\begingroup$ Since this is a homework question, regardless of wheteher its a good one or not, you're supposed to give some indication that you have tried to answer it on your own. Maybe you should list how you think it is similar and how you think it is different. $\endgroup$
    – stords
    Mar 13, 2014 at 2:30

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Is natural selection like a copy editor?

Is a railway car like a weasel?

Honestly, I don't think that's a very good question. The only reasonable answer is, put briefly, "In some ways it is, and in some ways it isn't."

It also doesn't really help that the "statement" the homework exercise asks you to to evaluate is actually two statements, and they're not really equivalent. (Real copy editors don't just "work only with what is already present," at least not in the same sense as natural selection does.) Sorry if that seems unhelpful, but that's how I see it.


OK, let me expand on that a bit:

Evolution, in the Darwinian sense, can be broadly described as the interaction of three processes: inheritance, mutation and selection.

Of those three processes, mutation is the one that produces novel innovation, by occasionally producing new alleles that did not exist in the parent population. It is, however, a blind innovator — the novel genotypes produced by mutation are essentially random, and no more likely to be advantageous to the organisms carrying them than one would expect by change (i.e. not very likely at all).

Selection, whether natural or artificial, is what happens when the organisms carrying the diverse genomes produced by mutation end up competing for survival and reproductive opportunities against each other and against their environment. It acts on the diversity generated and replenished by mutation, favoring those mutations that happen to confer a survival advantage.

Finally, inheritance ensures that the beneficial alleles generated by mutation and filtered by selection get passed on to successive generations, allowing them to spread in the population and to be further modified by successive mutations. In a sense, inheritance and mutation can be seen as opposite sides of the same coin: the more faithfully genes are inherited, the less mutations there are. Yet both are necessary for evolution; an organism that never mutates obviously could not evolve, but neither could one that mutated so much that all of its genes were totally scrambled in each generation.

Of course, this whole process is stochastic in nature — even the best adapted individual may die without offspring due to simple bad luck, just as even a maladapted individual may get lucky and prosper. But over generations, there is nonetheless a statistical tendency for individuals carrying certain alleles, or combinations of them, to be more fecund than others, and those will be the alleles that will eventually come to dominate the population (assuming they're not it turn displaced by even more successful mutants).

Thus, I would personally say that, of these three components of evolution, (natural) selection indeed "works only with what is already present in a population." However, it's not really like a copy editor, since it does not seek to "correct errors" in the genome; it's more akin to a slush reader, who just sorts the incoming texts into ones to keep and ones to throw away.

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