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Thursday, February 12, 2009

In Honor of Darwin

Posted by Patrick Alan Coleman on Thu, Feb 12, 2009 at 12:19 PM

It's time to revisit the Darwin Awards. Though often debunked as urban legends, the Darwin Awards have for years been a compendium of the unlikely, strange, and idiotic ways individuals have inadvertently offed themselves. The Darwin Award itself is given in recognition of "those who improve our gene pool by removing themselves from it."

Is it mean spirited? Yes. Is it funny? Yes. Is it still relevant? Yes (at least for today). Here's a sample from the Darwin Awards website:

Rattler Got Your Tongue?

(1992, California) Snakes flick their forked tongues in the air to "smell" the world, collecting molecules and analyzing them by pressing their tongue tips tips them into small olfactory pits. An inebriated twenty-year-old man, apparently unaware of this biological fact, took umbrage when a wild rattlesnake stuck out its tongue at him. Tit for tat! He held the rattler in front of his face and stuck his tongue out right back at it. The snake expressed its displeasure at this turn of events by biting the conveniently offered body part. The toxic venom swelled the man's face and throat, choking him to death.

Of course, this kind of thing isn't necessarily an example of natural selection in evolution. That would imply that the individual listed above was a) genetically stupid (and not just drunk) and b) did not pass on his genes to a passel of stupid (possibly drunk) offspring who would continue the cycle.

As far as I know, evolutionary biologists have not come up with a category for "self selection," because it's unlikely that people dying in stupid ways have enough of an effect on the gene pool to create any major change. But hey, we're complex creatures... who knows.

Still, it's a funny read—even though the idea that stupid people will select themselves out of the gene pool remains a cynical fantasy

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