Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Appendix of Vestigial Textbooks - 4

In this series we have been discussing the ever present need to recycle textbooks as new scientific discoveries are made.

As we have discussed textbook extinctions, we have also discussed a hypothesis here and there, because they are the culprits that may cause certain textbooks to become extinct.

In the first post of this series we discussed one such hypothesis set forth by Dr. William Parker, whose hypothesis was that Darwin was wrong when he used the term "vestigial appendix", a term still in the textbooks that deal with that subject matter.

Darwin, in using that description, was advancing the hypothesis that the human appendix served no useful purpose, was vestigial, yes, was a throw away.

Dr. Parker, a modern research scientist, countered Darwin's hypothesis by setting forth a counter hypothesis that the human appendix was a safe harbor for gut microbes, and was therefore not vestigial.

Dr. Parker asserted that Darwin was wrong, and that current textbooks are in error.

Either hypothesis can't go anywhere unless, based upon it's assertions or premises, it can predict the outcome of experiments and/or explain other phenomena:
Parker’s idea, his hypothesis, predicts individuals with their appendix should be more likely to recover from severe gut infections than those without. To test this prediction, one could compare the fate of individuals with and without their appendixes after being experimentally infected with a gut pathogen.
(Your Appendix Could Save Your Life, Scientific American). As it turns out, Dr. Parker's hypothesis has predicted results that have been verified to a useful degree:
And then, second, the big result …. Individuals without an appendix were four times more likely to have a recurrence of Clostridium difficile, exactly as Parker’s hypothesis predicted. Recurrence in individuals with their appendix intact occurred in 11% of cases. Recurrence in individuals without their appendix occurred in 48% of cases.
(ibid). The data from that research strengthens Dr. Parker's hypothesis, even though it is not enough, yet, to move it into a theory, then later into a law.

But, due to those new research inroads (into the many benefits, values, and activity ongoing concerning human - microbe symbiosis) the future is more positive now than ever before for Dr. Parker's hypothesis.

There is a good chance it will be elevated to a theory, and thereafter cause changes to be made in the textbooks out there.


  1. I think it's pretty safe to say that we've been at least semi-convinced that the appendix was not merely vestigial for a while.The fact that appendicitis can be treated with antibiotics also means means that the appendix is not impervious to antibiotics!

  2. The American Journal of Epidemiology indicates that a large number of appendectomy operations still take place each year: Link.

    A government source still says "Scientists are not sure what the appendix does, if anything, but removing it does not appear to affect a person's health." Link