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Article Reinforced a Misconception

August 05, 1994

I am a science teacher who constantly attempts to dispel myths concerning evolution and how organisms change over time.

Therefore I was disappointed in your July 28 article concerning the pygmy mammoth fossil found in the Channel Islands. The article said that once the woolly mammoths were on the islands "they began to shrink." A paleontologist was quoted as saying, "When large animals stay on an island they usually become smaller."

People need to understand that animals do not just "shrink" and "become smaller" for lack of anything better to do on a small island. In reality, if it is beneficial for the smaller of the species to survive, they will reproduce with their small genes and create more small animals. The larger ones will become extinct as will their large genes, thus creating a new population of smaller organisms over time.

This simple concept is the basis of evolution and natural selection. I am positive Jim Mead, the paleontologist quoted, was speaking in layman's terms. But the article should have clarified his statement.

The idea that organisms spontaneously modify themselves is such a common misconception that as an educator I am frustrated to see it constantly reinforced.

DEBRA LEITER

Ventura

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