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Old 11 January 2013, 01:14 AM
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Ponder Yawns, hiccups, goosebumps: What’s the use?

Scientists have been fascinated by anomalies, ranging from the yawn to the continued presence of the appendix, ever since Charles Darwin attempted to use his theory of evolution to explain them in the mid-19th century.

If these adaptations have no use, why do we not lose them over time?
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Old 11 January 2013, 01:40 AM
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One, that article was clearly written by someone who's not familiar with Creationists and their love of quote-mining.

Two, one detail they missed with the appendix is that the organ has reached a state where being larger provides us with no benefit, but being smaller appears to increase the risk of it getting infected, which prior to the development of surgical procedures and antibiotics to fix the problem was an extremely dangerous condition. So the appendix appears to have reached an equilibrium point where it's not likely to change from for the foreseeable future.
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Old 11 January 2013, 01:50 AM
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With both the appendix and wisdom teeth, there's also a decrease in the negative side of them with modern medicine and dentistry. It doesn't take away the negative side entirely--some people don't have access to those services, and there are still risks associated with the services themselves as well--but it does reduce the negative pressure on those traits so that I would think it might take longer for them change based on that pressure.

Interesting too what you mentioned about equilibrium with the appendix. I only had 3 wisdom teeth, which when I had them removed I thought was a positive thing. Then, a few years later, I began having some symptoms in the place where the 4th tooth would have been. It turned out to be a cyst of a type that sometimes forms from a tooth bud that didn't develop. By the time it was discovered, it was more than a cm across, and had created significant void in my jaw. The surgeon who removed it told me my jaw could have broken from a pretty light blow. It wound up taking two surgeries to deal with it.

So I wonder if there are risks that come from the process of wisdom teeth disappearing that at least partially offset the risks of the wisdom teeth themselves.
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Old 11 January 2013, 02:01 AM
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Yeah, some times there can be. It's part of what Richard Dawkins talked about in Climbing Mt Improbable (and most of his other books, too). For every trait in an organism, there's usually multiple selective pressures pushing it in different directions. If one of those pressures is to reduce an existing structure, the structure will atrophy, but if it gets to a point where any further atrophy will have a greater negative impact on the organism's ability to survive and reproduce than the advantage such a reduction would give, the trait will stabilize in the population.
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