Sunday, February 10, 2002

She's wrong

Then again, not everything you get from an oyster is a pearl. Take this, on macroevolution.

Let's look at the article. Well, actually you can't, unless you have a subscription. They wanted about as much as it would cost to retire my banner ad to look at the article, and want to debrief you before they'll even say how much a subscription is, so I blew them off. You can get a free ID, but that will only let you look at the abstract according to what I read.

So let's look at the popular article she linked to. Here's the title: "Change of plan puts the Hox on creationists". Gosh, can you guess what side the writer is on? Might a reasonable person question the objectivity of what is to follow?

It starts with this:
Biologists have uncovered the first genetic evidence that explains how large-scale alterations to body plans were accomplished during the early evolution of animals.

Say what? All these years of ragging creationists, and this is the first genetic evidence? What other kind of evidence would be relevant? There may be terrific scientific grounds for macroevolutionary theories, but you ought to have found them before you start teaching macroevolutions as, well, gospel.

The achievement is a landmark in evolutionary biology, not only because it shows how new animal body plans could arise from a simple genetic mutation, but because it effectively answers one of the oldest criticisms of evolution from the creationist fringe; namely, what could be the genetic mechanism behind the introduction of really radical new body designs.

For one, why is it that the scientists have to mention "the creationist fringe"? Why don't they mention the criticism of other scientists? These exist.

Now if all DNA is made of the same 4 amino acids, presumably, given enough tries, some friendly cosmic rays might foul up enough of them simultaneously in just the right combination to cause a viable critter. No, two of them, fertile, of opposite sex, (or else something that's parthenogenetic, but then you'll probably need another mutation to get them laid again). And they have to occur within a short enough period of time to where they find each other, mate, and reproduce prolifically enough in a tolerable environment so they can spawn a radically new species. How do you like those odds?

And that was just in getting from a crustacean to an insect - no word on getting from primordial slime to crustaceans, or insects through vertebrates to bloggers.

Now not all critters have the same number of chromosomes. More is not necessarily better - Down's syndrome is associated with an extra one in humans, and some critters have more than we do. I want to hear about how critters get new chromosomes. The article isn't any help, but maybe some bloggers are. No speculations - show me the proofs.

I'm not a geneticist, but I do know that the field is still incredibly immature, and there are far too many interactions that they haven't a clue about yet. It's a little too soon for macroevolutionists with all their resources and education to declare victory over some simple literal minded believers. In the meantime you might be interested in Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear, or Genome by Matt Ridley.

And just wait until the likes of Jeremy Rifkin get hold of this one. Frankenfoods indeed.

I ought to add that I respect the blogger's critical thinking and have been watching the blog for some time. My theory is that the message of the quoted article was approved, and thus sneaked under the radar. I could be wrong, but at least I'm not trying to force anyone to teach my theories in school.

UPDATE: She's right again

The highly evolved Moira Breen noted in a sidebar that I erred above in stating that DNA was constructed of amino acids. She is correct in case there was any doubt.

On the plus side, she provides further confirmation of my contention that I am not a geneticist. Could Bill Clinton have spun it any better?

No doubt errors like the above, left unchecked, could lead to a career at the New York Times. But this peripheral error does not invalidate the larger point that the demonstration of the theory of macroevolution (which we would insist on for any other scientific theory before asserting it with such certitude) is not yet complete.

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