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Hip Hop Evolution Files: Quick & Dirty explanation of Natural Selection by Daft Punk

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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My semester teaching was a bit of a roller coaster for me. I didn’t feel especially prepared for it. After working myself into a lather worried about students complaining or shirking, they turned out to be fine. I taught upper division courses, so they were pretty well-prepared to to do the work. I, on the other hand, found prepping lectures and labs and selecting papers for students to read and discuss a-never-ending jog. However, it did give me a chance to practice my lecture delivery style and my voice. By the end, I found myself embracing my hip hop meets science voice in all of my classes, not just the special topics seminar of Hip Hop and Sexual Selection. I had fun teaching and using examples from music to explain concepts.



From SouthernPlayalisticEvolutionMusic on the Southern Fried Science Network.


Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger by Daft Punk

Work It Harder Make It Better
Do It Faster, Makes Us Stronger
More Than Ever Hour After
Our Work Is Never Over

I think this pretty much sums up how Natural Selection works. Okay, it is rather simplified and maybe other evolutionary biologists would frown at my need to reduce such a complex and foundational premise of Biology to a double haiku, but hey….Survival of the Fittest was used to describe Natural Selection and that’s only four words.

Generally speaking natural selection is the long term (think multiple generations) consequences of individuals that have been able to survive hardships and leave offspring behind as proof of their existence.

Everyone, whether human, beast, insect, plant, fungi, flower or microbe must make a living. We’ve got to eat, get hydrated, stay warm or cold (depending on your situation), avoid harm (like predators, disease, accidents), and leave copies of ourselves.  And with the simple acts of making a living, some individuals just seem to be better off than others. Whether it’s because of luck, good genes, preparedness, or savvy, the ones that live and tell the tale to their grandchildren are the winners. That’s fitness.

And with every generation, organisms work harder (to survive), get better, get faster (or more clever and otherwise adapted to their environment) and stronger individuals…and it keeps going, generation after generation.  The work is never over.  Organisms never stop responding to external and internal hardships to survive and leave even better copies of themselves on the earth.

I also like this version of the video by the Carleton Singing Knights.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. kejames 8:33 pm 12/29/2011

    I love the idea of using songs and other elements of pop culture to help explain scientific concepts, and I have no doubt that this was a memorable and effective lesson for your students. I have a couple of qualms, though…

    This particular song doesn’t feel quite right to me as an explanatory device for natural selection. I worry that students might come away with a Lamarkian view of evolution. Of course, whether that is the outcome would have a lot to do with how you bracketed the song with explanation. With this song, you’d have to say very explicitly that what an organism does in its lifetime (like work it harder) doesn’t necessarily make it better/stronger/fitter from an evolutionary point of view. In other words, only an inherited propensity to work it harder will lead to evolution (and then only in an environment where working it harder is actually an advantage… a sloth that works it harder, for example, might be at a disadvantage).

    My second qualm is the use of the word “better”, in the song and especially in your last sentence. Better suited for a particular environment, perhaps, but better overall? When a cave-dwelling species loses its eyesight, is that “better”? What about when the environment changes suddenly and the adaptations that were good in one environment become a hindrance to survival in another?

    The way we talk about evolution is too steeped in value judgements, and this can lead to misconceptions like some organisms are “better” or “more advanced” than others. More complicated, perhaps, but every species on this Earth has been evolving for the same amount of time. It’s nearly impossible to avoid ascribing value altogether – I’m sure I do it all the time – but I think we should at least try.

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  2. 2. DNLee 1:52 am 12/30/2011

    All very good points, Karen, and I do go into more detail to explain how evolution/natural selection works on populations, not individuals. Your critiques of the ‘lesson’ of using this song are well-noted and I handle them in the lecture. Plus, I merely use songs as a springboard…a way to get people to open up to the concept/s of evolution.

    As far of the ‘steeped judgement voice’ well, most people – students, general public, my friends and family members – have notions and preconceptions already. They already have value judgments. Evolution is complicated. My outreach/teaching philosophy is to start where people are. This often means accepting people’s prejudices/preconceived notions. Those preconceptions/opinions/comprehensions are real. I use them to bring people to closer understanding of science.

    Perfect understanding? Not always. I don’t think it’s necessary for people to know all of the nuances or details, and especially not at once. It’s a process of better science understanding and appreciation.

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  3. 3. kejames 11:00 am 12/30/2011

    Glad to hear it, and not surprised one bit that you have given all this some very careful thought. I would be interested to know how common the Lamarkian misconception is among your students starting out, and whether the Daft Punk approach seems to exploit that (i.e. starting where people are) and then provide you an opportunity to bust that myth later.

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  4. 4. Maliky 10:34 pm 02/11/2012

    I love the idea of the video! My first impression of the video was that I was not to sure it was of the proper content. After watching the video I thought it was a very clever way of talking about evolution.It really does show different organisms getting better over time.

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