Posted by Ed Brayton on March 25, 2004 08:13 AM

One thing you may notice toward the bottom of the lefthand sidebar is something that reads:

Some explanation is probably a good idea. This is a ranking system for blogs developed by N.Z. Bear, the owner of the Truth Laid Bear website, based upon the number of other blogs that are linking to that blog or to articles found on it. The more incoming links from other blogs a given page gets, the higher it ranks. Ah, but here comes the irony...

The TLLB ecosystem divides the rankings into taxonomic categories, just like biology does with plants and animals. The categories go as follows:

Higher Beings
Mortal Humans
Playful Primates
Large Mammals
Marauding Marsupials
Adorable Rodents
Flappy Birds
Slithering Reptiles
Crawly Amphibians
Flippery Fish
Slimy Molluscs
Lowly Insects
Crunchy Crustaceans
Wiggly Worms
Multicellular Microorganisms
Insignificant Microbes

Anyone familiar with biology will of course recognize that this is, roughly, the order of appearance of these various life forms on the planet. Every blog begins as an "insignificant microbe" and progresses up the scale to "higher beings" (if they become extraordinarily popular). The irony, for a blog that focuses on evolution, is that this ranking system is based upon a popular but nonetheless false conception of evolution as an inexorably progressive march toward some goal. In reality, a reptile is no more "advanced" or "evolved" than an amphibian, both are well adapted to their environments. Evolution deals with fitness for a local environment, not with some overall state of "more evolved" or "less evolved". Indeed, one could make the case that those insignificant microbes - bacteria - are "more evolved" than humans. After all, they've survived far longer, occupy a far more diverse set of environments, and evolve at a rate that often exceeds the ability of humans to combat them through antibiotics.

Another irony is that if one accepts this "great chain of being" concept of evolutionary progress, this blog seems to be moving rapidly up the scale. At this point, The Panda's Thumb is listed as an "insignificant microbe", but the number of incoming links and the number of daily visits, after only 2 days, actually places us in the middle of the "adorable rodents" taxon. Talk about rapid speciation! Even in Gould and Eldredge's wildest imaginations, they could not have foreseen the equilibrium being punctuated at a rate of 10 major saltational leaps in a mere 2 days. Perhaps The Panda's Thumb is really a hopeful monster after all.