Wells’ flagrantly false commentary on Hox complex structure

| 30 Comments

This evening, I am watching an episode of that marvelous and profane Western, Deadwood, as I type this; it is a most excellently compensatory distraction, allowing me to sublimate my urge to express myself in uncompromisingly vulgar terms on Pharyngula. This is an essential coping mechanism.

I have been reading Jonathan Wells again.

If you're familiar with Wells and with Deadwood, you know what I mean. You'll just have to imagine that I am Al Swearingen, the brutal bar-owner who uses obscenities as if they were lyric poetry, while Wells is E.B. Farnum, the unctuous rodent who earns the contempt of every man who meets him. That imagination will have to hold you, because I'm going to restrain myself a bit; I'm afraid Wells would earn every earthy sobriquet I could imagine, but I'll confine myself to the facts. They're enough. The man completely misrepresents the results of a paper and a whole discipline, and does it baldly on the web, as if he doesn't care that his dishonesty and ignorance leave a greasy, reeking trail behind him.

Let's start with Wells' own words.

Continue reading "Wells' flagrantly false commentary on Hox complex structure" (on Pharyngula)

30 Comments

PZ, you would make a great Al. Can I be the Doc?

And about that kidney stone, just grit your teeth.

(If Wells is EB, then Dembski has to be the ubiquitous puddles of mud in Deadwood, nasty to step in and no point otherwise. Behe could be the mousetrap vendor. Oh, I guess they wrote that part out. Oh, well.)

For the benefit of anyone new to the territory, Wells is an infamous anti-science propagandist, “intelligent design” creationist, and member of the so called Discovery Institute, which specializes in that sort of thing.

You said:

“The evidence in the paper shows a pattern of inheritance of structure and variations from structure in the Hox genes? But didn’t Wells claim it showed that the arrangement wasn’t evidence of inheritance? “

But he said:

“the arrangement in Drosophila melanogaster that so strikingly resembles the arrangement in vertebrates has not been inherited from a common ancestor but is a relatively recent acquisition.”

You are talking about different things. He denies that there is proof that insects and vertebrates have a common ancestor. He is NOT denying it, just saying the evidence must now be questioned. And he is not denying genetic inheritance.

Isn’t it possible for similar structures to evolve independently? Aren’t there many examples of that?

How the hell can you hit “post” before you even look to see if you’ve contradicted yourself in the space of two sentences?

He denies that there is proof that insects and vertebrates have a common ancestor. He is NOT denying it, just saying the evidence must now be questioned.

The analysis of Hox genes by PZ Myers is excellent, even us non biologists can learn much from it. I believe that these kinds of rebuttals are necessary and important. Our adversaries specialize in plausible sounding factoids, and those of us who’ve never heard of Hox genes before need to get up to speed.

However, I also agree with the commentary by amph on Pharyngula about too much honor to loonies. I believe that it is a mistake to contribute to giving our opponents publicity and thus helping to provide them with the celebrity status they so desire.

In my previous comment to Matt Young’s post (Sixth Grade Science, March 27th) I carefully avoided mentioning the teacher in question by name. The reason to keep a wary eye on these guys is precisely to thwart them from taking center stage.

I am not a fan of April fools jokes, I believe credibility is important and well worth protecting, especially when your mission is to debunk as false the statements of others. My husband though, does accuse me sometimes of being somewhat lacking of a sense of humor. When he puts Deadwood into the DVD player, I always leave the room. I’m hoping that in his case at least, Deadwood does not turn out to be a language immersion course.

You quoted…

“the arrangement in Drosophila melanogaster that so strikingly resembles the arrangement in vertebrates has not been inherited from a common ancestor but is a relatively recent acquisition.”

…as a refutation of the claim that Wells was denying inheritance of the HOX sequences.

However, the chart PZ displayed shows clearly the relationships between the various members of the Drosophila family and shows that the differences are shown to be inversions of structures in a parent family, which are then inherited by later branches of the family. This is NOT evidence of “recent acquisition” as Wells claims, but evidence for inheritance with mutation as PZ claimed. You are working far too hard to ignore the obvious!

As for similar structures evolving separately, that only occurs at the level of physical expression and generally show different groups of genes expressing physical characteristics similar to those expressed by another group of genes in a separate species. I may not have all the details correct, but I believe this is the reason this site is called “The Panda’s Thumb

realpc Wrote:

You are talking about different things.

No, we’re talking about the same thing. There is a canonical arrangement of genes that is inferred from the arrangements in extant species, that is evidence for common descent; flies and people both carry versions of a similar Hox arrangement, but the fly copy is more degraded. There is also evidence of variation that supports a pattern of evolutionary change.

Wells completely misstated the evidence of the paper. It shows evidence for both common descent of a level of genetic organization shared between invertebrates and vertebrates, and it shows the evolutionary relationships within one clade at a reasonably high level of detail.

Of course PZ is absolutely correct. This is very strong evidence of common ancestry. Still you can understand why Wells is so frustrated. When we find similarities we attribute them to common ancestry. When we find differences we attribute them to divergence and adaptation. Either way we win! There is a reason for that and it is not because of bias or prejudice, it is because evolution actually happened.

Creationists failed to see the significance of the pattern in morphology or genetics, now they fail to see the significance of the exact same pattern in developmental biology. Conserved similarities due to common ancestry are overlaid with minor variations due to specific adaptations and these are all arranged in a nested hierarchy that is consistent in independent data sets. Now that is evidence that can’t be ignored.

By the way, realpc has already demonstrated on other threads that he knows even less that Wells about developmental biology. I don’t know why he always tries to defend these guys by telling us what they “really meant”. I suggest that we all ignore him so as not to let him derail any more threads.

David Stanton Wrote:

By the way, realpc has already demonstrated on other threads that he knows even less that Wells about developmental biology.

Broken record time…

No one knows what Wells and realpc know about developmental biology (or evolution), only what they want their target audience to know.

I can say “Elvis is alive and Paul is dead” but that doesn’t mean I know nothing about rock & roll. Only that I might have an agenda that depends on misrepresentation. I’m not sure about realpc, but Wells has made it clear for years that he has a prior commitment to pseudoscience.

Thanks Frank J. I stand corrected. I forgot that “It helps if the other side thinks we are morons.”

realpc: Given how blatantly and insistently you misrepresented the writings of Dr. Egnor, and given how studiously you ignored every attempt to point this fact out to you, do you really think you can handle a more complicated subject like this? More to the point, how can you expect us to take you seriously on ANY subject? You were a liar and an idiot in the last thread, and you’re a liar and an idiot in this one.

When we find similarities we attribute them to common ancestry. When we find differences we attribute them to divergence and adaptation. Either way we win!

And there is nothing wrong in finding descriptive postdictions - and sometimes they can be extremely detailed.

But the main reason why evolution isn’t a giant “just so story” are the observational underpinnings and the numerous successful predictions. Again we win! ;-)

“It helps if the other side thinks we are morons.”

So now we know to think of them as liars by default. Glad we got that straightened out.

Wells is a special type of creationist.

Behe is another example. So is Bryan Leonard.

There are a number of even crazier and less well known examples.

These are people who start out as creationists, but literally force themselves through a PhD in a biology-related field in the crazed (or dishonest) hope that their misrepresentations will be taken as legitimate criticisms from within the field.

These are a peculiarly tragic bunch. They obviously have some level of intelligence and talent to begin with, but they sacrifice it, and the better part of their lives, on the alter of a politically motivated pseudo-religious, pseudo-scientific dogma. (Note that self-delusion and inability to admit the obvious can superficially appear like “stupidity”, but is actually a different thing.)

The silver lining is that they can get jobs at a right wing “institute” (or if they’re sneaky like Behe, tenure at a legitimate university that ends up embarrassed for years to come). But it’s not much of a silver lining.

I’m pretty sure Behe had tenure before getting sidetracked into “intelligent design” creationism. I think his change in departments, though, came afterward.

harold — not right wing.

wrong wing!

Behe’s CV is now online

From page two notice that he was a chemist all the way, and in the chemistry department, and indeed did good research, until the middle of 1995, just before his book _Darwin’s Black Box_ came out in 1996. Somehow he got himself transferred to the Lehigh biology department. Looks much better for a big time anti-evolution guy to have the authority of being a biologist. Now the Bio department has a unique disclaimer:

http://www.lehigh.edu/~inbios/ http://www.lehigh.edu/~inbios/news/evolution.htm

No one knows what Wells and realpc know about developmental biology (or evolution), only what they want their target audience to know.

A poor analogy, but one that came to my mind. Jack Benny was quite an accomplished violinist but he could screech like an alleycat trapped inside a boiler’s whistle for the purposes of his comdey act. In a way we know that Wells and his ilk are intelligent precisely because they they need to be in order to create their twisted antiscience.

Paul

Paul wrote:

“In a way we know that Wells and his ilk are intelligent precisely because they they need to be in order to create their twisted antiscience.”

Maybe that is true, but I still find it hard to believe. I mean, if you are intelligent enough to be able to look that stupid on purpose then you should be intelligent enough not to want to look that stupid. And you should certainly be intelligent enough to be able to figure out that it is senseless to rant against the science that has provided you with the technological life style you enjoy or the modern medicine you depend on for your very existence.

Maybe you don’t really have to be that intelligent to make arguments that only fool the ignorant. But if you really are more intelligent than that, shame on you, you should know better than to act like that. Oh well, maybe I’m just not intelligent enough to understand this level of stupidity.

if you are intelligent enough to be able to look that stupid on purpose then you should be intelligent enough not to want to look that stupid.

Tell that to Will Ferrell, your average circus clown, and Borat. The professional IDers are to comedians what the psychics are to magicians, or WWE is to UFC if you like.

again, I am amused that you all can’t agree. Is homology proof of common ancestry or not? The NCSE says no my textbook says yer some of you say no some say yes. Better not reply and give me the celebrity status is am so desiring by posting a thought on this cite for higher learning. Quick..call me a name! Go mutations!

Re “But if you really are more intelligent than that, shame on you, you should know better than to act like that. “

Maybe they value money or votes more than reputation among the sensible?

Henry

Science Avenger and Henry J:

You guys make very good points. Of course I was only trying to point out the absurdity of this position. Many creationists do not seem to value intelligence, honesty, integrity, evidence or truth in the same way that most scientists do. They are willing to throw all that away in the hopes of converting some people to their religious view, which they value above all else. (Or maybe sometiomes just making an easy buck). Of course, as has been pointed out here many times, lying for Jesus means you have already lost the battle because you have already become what you most hated in the first place.

Levi,

Glad to see the “seeker” is back and still asking questions. One possible definition of homology is: similarity due to common ancestry. That means that yes, the presence of homologous structures is, in and of itself, evidence for common ancestry. I know, I know it’s a tautology, it doesn’t really explain anything, blah blah blah. Just ask yourself, how many homologous structures would there be if there were no common ancestry?

(To everyone else, please be nice to Levi. He seems to have a sore spot for name calling.)

“No longer will he be simply an Associate Professor” from ‘A Reasonable Kansan”

Ah, another ignoramus hurling insults from behind a wall of anonymity.

Is this attack of the trolls day? Can some people accept that not everyone is motivated by fame and fortune?

Posted by A Reasonable Kansan on April 5, 2007 4:21 AM (e)

When the day comes when PZ is able to get his angry blogs recognized as peer reviewed literature…that is, by the comments section from fellow atheists using science as a front for religious and political attacks…he will have it made!

No longer will he be simply an Associate Professor having to live in Morris, but a scientists (sic) with some really significant accomplishments!

Oh whine on u useless twat. If you had just performed as great a service to international foreign relations as PZ has done by linking to ‘Deadwood’(snicker);thus pointing out that not all yanks are vacant anal retards and that actually there might be hope for the human race when the truly demented batshit crazy fundy Theo fascists are relegated to their deserved place in history… the corner of the classroom with a dunces cap and a kick up the arse for being postmodernist ‘any idea is a good idea’ relativists not to mention politeness and god police, then you too could enter halls of science fame and glory.

…Just joshing…seriously tho’ getcher hands on a KJV and stand outside the saloon and preach away, I hate an empty silence when it can be filled with a decent jeremiad.

These people aren’t idiots and they don’t believe that they are misleading people.

They are victims of fascism and are helping to spread it. They believe that anything that contradicts their beliefs. Beliefs that come from their leaders, not from the bible. Christianity is just a handy cover since so many places give religion lots of protection.

Check out the book “American Fascism” for a description of this. I recommend it.

You can’t convince these people through facts or pointing at anything in reality. They live a safe imaginary world where miracles happen and they always win. Reality is the work of Satan.

Ciao!

The comments below Dembski’s post of Wells’ junk are pretty funny.

Who would have guessed that ID’s designer could be a beaver?

30

scordova

04/04/2007

9:50 pm From wikipedia:

Beavers have been known to build very large dams.[2] The largest known was discovered near Three Forks, Montana, and was 2,140 feet long, 14 feet high, and 23 feet thick at the base.

Now such a dam is what I call ID!

There was one guy that recommended reading Dembski’s junk about the Dover trial and it looks like he wrote it before Minnich and Behe testified. I wonder why Behe and Minnich’s testimony under oath do not match up with Dembski’s reality of ID?

Re “Who would have guessed that ID’s designer could be a beaver?”

So the Intelligent Designer is also a dam designer? (heh heh)

Henry

C’mon, levi.

Be brave.

Talk to me about the bonobos.

And why not all chimps are “atill” chimps.

Hmm. Better make that “atill” a “still.”

Just don’t use it for moonshine.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on April 3, 2007 10:55 PM.

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