Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Conservation and Cloning

While browsing the Internet recently, I stumbled upon this article. According to the article, scientists could be able to clone the Woolly Mammoth back to life within the next three years. This has led me to start thinking about something.

It is plainly obvious that genetic engineering and cloning technology is now accelerating in complexity at a rapid pace. Meanwhile, it is commonly-accepted that humans' activities have caused the extinction of numerous species in the past, and might cause many more species to become extinct in the future.

Therefore, I propose that zoologists and geneticists all over the world should start a global DNA-collecting effort. We should try to sequence the genomes of many extinct species, as well as endangered species that might be in danger of becoming extinct in the near future. We should try to clone species that have become extinct as a result of human interference (such as the thylacine, the dodo, and the passenger pigeon), and if endangered species (such as the tiger) become extinct in the future, we should try to clone them, as well.

It is widely-recognized that humans are irresponsibly destroying the environment, and that this may have dire consequences if we don't change our behavior. In the worst-case scenario, almost all substantially-sized animals on Earth might become extinct within the next 500 years. If we can clone them back to life, perhaps we can help circumvent this worst-case scenario.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Role of Anecdotal Evidence in Zoology

One of the most controversial and divisive topics in the field of zoology is the role that anecdotal evidence plays in the discovery of new species. Some eager believers readily accept every claim, no matter how far-fetched or sketchy it is. Meanwhile, some militant skeptics claim that anecdotes are worth nothing at all. In my opinion, both of these opinions are erroneous. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Contrary to statements by many science journalists, anecdotal evidence has, indeed, had a significant role in the identification of several new species in the past. People who had been to Indonesia spoke of an enormous "land crocodile" that would devour large animals, including humans. In 1912, their claims were vindicated when the beast was finally identified by scientists. We now know it as the Komodo Dragon, Varanus komodoensis.
Likewise, travellers in equatorial Africa told stories about a tribe of giant, hairy men who would kidnap people and kill them. In 1847, these claims were confirmed when the Gorilla was discovered.

However, the skeptics are definitely right when they say that anecdotal evidence cannot be used to prove the existence of a species. According to accepted scientific protocol, the only way that a species's existence can be definitively proven is by obtaining a specimen -- either dead or alive.

So I conclude that anecdotal evidence can help indicate the existence of a given species, but it cannot prove the existence of a given species. 
A good analogy that I like to use is the smoke analogy; if a person sees smoke in the distance, the smoke indicates the possible existence of a fire, but the existence of a fire cannot be definitively proven unless the person walks up to the region where the smoke is emanating from, and checks to see if there is a fire.
When there is smoke, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there might be a fire that the smoke is emanating from. And when there is anecdotal evidence of an unknown animal, it is not unreasonable to suggest that there might, in fact, be an unknown animal behind the reports. However, the existence of a fire cannot be proven unless someone checks to see where the smoke is coming from. And the existence of an unknown animal cannot be proven until a specimen is obtained.

So anecdotal evidence is not total proof, like the true believers claim, but it is also not worthless, like the militant skeptics claim. As is so often the case in life, the extremists are wrong. It is the middle position that is the most scientific and reasonable.