Above: Pikaia gracilens, hiding in the mud and desperately clinging to life until it can evolve some defences. At least according to the movie.
After the disaster that was yesterday’s segment, you may be wondering how much lower this movie can sink. Getting the phylum of several animals completely wrong is pretty hard to beat. But if the movie hit rock-bottom in Part 2, rest assured that things don’t start to improve in Part 3. Let’s get right down to it:
“Fossils of Pikaia are extremely rare in the Burgess Shale, less than a tenth of 1% of the total – a dangerously low presence. It is possible for a species to be hunted to extinction…” (1:04)
I don’t want to press this particular point to hard, because I haven’t read anything suggesting this assertion carries any weight, but I haven’t read anything refuting it either. However, it seems unlikely that the number of specimens found in a deposit would be considered solid evidence for the actually numbers of a species. If I recall, the Tyrrell Museum exhibit speculated that Pikaia was a strong swimmer, and thus able to largely avoid the mudslide that created the deposit.
“Somehow, Pikaia was able to hang on long enough to evolve further, but buried in mud, or hiding with babies, he was a fugitive in his own world.”(6:05)
Tons of misconceptions here. The idea of Pikaia “hanging on” long enough to evolve conjures images of RPG’s or Pokemon games. “If we can just hang on for a million more years we can level up!” And as for the whole “fugitive in his own world” thing. The problem with the evolution-equals-war metaphor is that they take it way too far. What they’re saying here is basically that any creature that isn’t a predator is an evolutionary failure. Wrong on so many levels.
“This was the world of the Dinocarids, when the Arthropods ruled the seas, in a 30 million year reign of terror.” (6:50)
Amazingly, in this section they get the Class of Anomalocarids right, even though they got the phylum completely wrong earlier. This is a little like correctly identifying humans as Mammals (class Mammalia), but saying that we belong to phylum Arthropoda (are we arthropods? No, we’re Chordates). Also, reign of terror? The dramatization is getting out of control at this point.
“Though our ancestors were on the run, and the threat of extinction was just around the corner, sooner or later, they were destined to fight back…” (7:53)
Even though the entire documentary seems to be making a Gouldian argument about the unlikelihood of humanity “winning” evolution, they don’t think twice about using deterministic language. If evolution is a crap-shoot (as the movie suggests) and humans were a long shot at evolving, it seems odd to say that we were “destined to fight back.” If we were destined to win the arms race, then we weren’t a long shot, we were a shoo-in. This is just sloppiness on the part of the producers.
Now, enjoy the video. Or hate me for making you watch it. Whatever:
Remember to comment. Misery loves company!