This question If evolution is not about increased complexity, why does so much complexity evolve? made the SE hot list and generated a lot of answers (including one by me). It's not a great question, largely because the OP is working under a number of patently false assumptions about biology. But then again, that's true of most non-biologists and I believe there is value in us helping people with the groundwork of their understanding, especially on topics like evolution.

There have been a number of comments on the answers to this question to the effect of "you should give references". It would seem that several downvotes to answers have also been given for the same reason.

Now, as a former biologist, I understand the desire for references. I have read this meta question Should we [always] ask for references? and I agree with a lot of it. The examples given there are answers which make a lot of detailed claims to technical questions and fail to back them up. That's bad.

However, it strikes me that there is little to be gained on insisting for the same standards for more basic questions. On the essentials of evolution, for instance, I imagine I could put any undergraduate level textbook as a "reference" and find that it did indeed support my claims. That alone makes a mockery of the idea that it's worth putting in the effort to find and quote a specific reference.

Not to mention that doing so could even be offputting for people asking questions at that level, while being useless to already education biologists. The site ought to be a resource for people operating at all levels, as Physics SE and Chemistry SE seem to manage to be.

To downvote on the basis of not providing references to such questions therefore seems taking good advice too literally. Surely there's a balance to be struck here? And if so, surely we can find better rules to support it?


1 Answer 1


This is not a basic question, and it is a "follow up" question that was closed in order to prevent Primarily Opinion-Based answers. As you can see, this question has as well.

As for your answer, there are places where references would improve it. For example:

Once all the niches in an environment have been filled, and organisms in that environment have settled into stable food chains, the chance of a random mutation causing a species to be even better suited to their niche, or to enable them to explore a new niche are extremely small.

could benefit from a citation, which would actually back the statement up, as would a study showing that demonstrated the following:

But in practice it reaches stable dynamics and sits there.

For this:

What upsets the apple cart are sudden changes to the environment. Volcanic activity. Floods. The impact of an invasive new species. These transform the environment and enable new bursts of strong evolutionary activity. But not all the old species are wiped out or transformed by the change - they may cling on to a smaller niche, but they hang on in there. This is one of the reasons we see such an enormous diversity of species in the world today.

You could reference the Toba supereruption, the asteroid strike that ended the age of the dinosaurs, etc.

You may wish to do a little reading on the theory of punctuated equilibrium if you want to learn more.

If this is important then referencing one or two of the most important works on the subject might benefit others with an interest in actually learning and not trying to further their agenda as the OP, in my opinion, did.

From a biologist's point of view one could argue that the most advanced species are archaebacteria: they appeared at the dawn of life, found niches in environmental extremes, and have been so successful that they've barely needed to change since.

If you have examples of published literature that says this, it carries a lot more weight than just stating it.

This is an example of a similar question where I provided referenced answers in order to support the claims I was making to refute the OPs premise.


So yes, I think it is worth asking for references to be provided, especially when the OP is calling into question the things that you are putting forth as facts.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the examples. And I do understand your point. But I can't escape the feeling that even for most of these, almost any biology textbook would suffice as a reference. Which seems to undermine the point of providing them? $\endgroup$
    – Bob Tway
    Jan 7, 2016 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ When a self-proclaimed computer scientist tries to say that "if we cannot simulate a process we have not understood it properly." Then if I am going to do more than comment and provide an actual answer, then I am going to want to quote chapter and versus to show them they do not understand biology. Almost ever answer that question got are long form comments. There is a place for simple answers, especially if it is a Homework help question, but even there, a link or two to supporting docs may be helpful to the next person that comes along that has a similar but not exactly the same question, $\endgroup$
    – AMR
    Jan 7, 2016 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @MattThrower If you look for basic questions (real ones), then you will see that these usually contain at least a few (or entirely) online available, easy to understand ressources. This also includes Wikipedia. The only thing that should not happen is that we only cite articles from the Wikipedia. $\endgroup$
    – Chris Mod
    Jan 7, 2016 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ OK, thanks for the input. I'm don't feel I can take the time to reference the majority of my answers, so I have deleted those where I have not provided any. As a former scientist, I do appreciate the desire for rigour although I still think it's misguided in this instance. But if those are the standards desired by the community, so be it. $\endgroup$
    – Bob Tway
    Jan 8, 2016 at 10:44

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