In this recent article from the New York Times, Carl Zimmer explores the discoveries of biologists: races who have lived in mountainous areas for millenniums have actually adapted to maximize the amount of oxygen their bodies can absorb. This article discusses experiments in several different areas of the world, including the mountains of Tibet and Ethiopia. The studies exposed that the people of the two areas had two different distinct gene mutations that were specific to the region, but they both increased the capacity to absorb oxygen. In this way, the experiments showed that species adapt in different ways to perform the same result.
Beyond the interesting news story, this article silently poses a startling question: are humans the ultimate in evolution? After all, if humans are still adapting to their environments, evolution is still occurring even among different human races. And if humans are still evolving, we must not be the the final, anthropocentric “March of Progress” success. And that poses the even more frightening question: if modern humans aren’t the progress history has been marching for, what is?
This article also poses something interesting about rhetoric: if the logical progression of thought after reading this article is to question the vanity of how we study evolution, why is this not brought up anywhere in the article? Even the article title refers to these mountain experiments as “clues to human evolution”, choosing to use a word that inherently implies a secret, suggesting just the slightest inkling that maybe how we teach evolution isn’t quite right and here are the people to prove it. Could it be possible that this was a topic that Zimmer wouldn’t want to broach with the intended audience, casual readers of the Times? Or could it also possibly be assumed that this is not new information at all, and the audience would have already thought of evolution in this light?
These questions present a need for an analysis of the intended audience and the occasion for this article. Considering that this article is intended to be read by casual readers, not anyone with particular scientific training, it is very possible that more scientific information was left out under the assumption that the audience would not need such extensive details to understand the article.
How might this article have been different had it been published in a scientific journal? How might the intended audience and the venue the article is published in affect the way the content of the article?