I love when science provides space for fun, and it so often does. Some time ago, I read Richard Lenski and Terence Burnham’s 2017 paper in the Journal of Bioeconomics entitled “Experimental evolution of bacteria across 60,000 generations, and what it might mean for economics and human decision-making,” (1) and it was one of those papers where I could tell that they had a blast writing it. They give an overview of the Long-Term Evolution Experiment (LTEE), which Lenski has running for longer than I have been alive (if it were a scientist, it could be applying for postdocs by now), and how understanding how bacteria evolve may or may not help us understand some of the random stuff people do.
Because, as behavioral economists know, the random and illogical things that people do actually show patterns and have plausible and increasingly evidence-backed explanations (yes, I am a fan of the Freakonomics Radio podcast).
My favorite point that Lenski and Burnham make in the paper is that many of the human inventions that we consider commonplace and integral to our lives, like stock exchanges, colonoscopies, and agriculture, have in an evolutionary sense not been around for very long. Continue reading