A new (mis)take on an old paper

| 25 Comments

When an anti-evolutionist attempts to publicly “explain” a scientific paper, it usually signals two things: you should read the paper for yourself, and you should not be surprised to find that the creationist “explanation” misrepresents what the paper really says. A new blog post by Paul Nelson is no exception. Nelson, descending from the (relative) intellectual heights of the Discovery Institute to join the crowd at Dembski’s Whine Cellar, tells his readers that scientists did not grasp the true point of a 1975 paper because they did not read it all the way through.

The paper in question is a relatively famous one - it’s a paper in Science by Mary-Claire King and Allan Wilson that compared the available measures of genetic difference between humans and chimps with what was known about the morphological, behavioral, and cultural differences between the two species. King and Wilson, in this paper, calculated that there was a 1% genetic difference between humans and chimps, and that this difference is not enough to account for how different the two species really are. Nelson claims that scientists focused on the first finding because it was reported early in the paper, and missed the second part because it came later, after us lazy lab boys had given up on reading. (Nelson apparently believes that scientists share his work ethic.)

Read more (at The Questionable Authority):

25 Comments

Mike,

Gotta get Wilson back in the story (I was a high school student in 1975). Swap out several of the “Nelsons” and replace them with Wilson.

Nowhere in my blog post did I say “scientists” didn’t grasp the point of King and Wilson 1975. Many of those who cite the one percent genetic difference figure are popular writers or pro-evolution activists. In my experience, when I tell such persons the rest of King and Wilson’s argument, they profess astonishment.

Which means they never actually read the original Science paper.

Hi Paul, I think you forgot to post your explanation of “ontogenetic depth”, and from the context I assume it might connect somewhat to this story. Tomorrow, perhaps?

Hey, creationist Paul Nelson!

Welcome back!

We get so many trolls and so few genuine creationists around here that you are a welcome sight.

I’d be interested to know what “astonishment” you get when you press your case over this 32-year old paper.

Also, I’d be interested to hear your take on the work that’s been done since 1975 and how that adds to or subtracts from the conclusions of Wilson and King.

I guess that’s two questions:

1. What’s the astonishment?

2. What’s your take on work done on the human-chimp relationship in the last 32 years?

And, I guess I have a third question.

3. Is there any expectation that I will get a reply from you within 6 years?

Regards.

Fixed the Wilson-Nelson transposition. Thanks for the correction, Paul.

While you’re here, and this is genuine curiosity on my part, could you take a couple of minutes to elaborate on exactly why you believe that human-chimp divergence is macroevolutionary rather than microevolutionary?

This is off topic but it surely qualifies as breaking news.

IDURC Announces 2007 Casey Luskin Graduate Award. The first recipient will remain anonymous. The second recipient is (drum roll) Casey Luskin!

I am not making this up.

[C]ould you take a couple of minutes to elaborate on exactly why you believe that human-chimp divergence is macroevolutionary rather than microevolutionary?

Bingo.…nothing in the suite of anatomical characters that distinguish the human-chimp divergence suggest macroevolutionary changes. If Paul is relying on the taxonomic status of the groups, using that to argue macroevolutionary versus microevolutionary change, then that could be considered playing word games. The discussion will have to shift to the history of taxonomy as it relates to humans and apes and the relative merits of various taxonomic systems. Get John Wilkins in here.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

You can see the desperate creationists in that UD thread, e.g.:

Let’s also remember that a 4% difference is about 120 million base pairs difference. Huge!

…neglecting that if you do the base-pair-to-base-pair comparisons, you get the ~1% figure. Only with indels (insertions/deletions) and similar events where a single mutation removes or copies many base pairs at once, do you get the larger numbers.

See wikipedia for a summary of the different measures.

Paul Nelson, as usual, doesn’t have enough of a scientific conscience to correct his own…

Nelson apparently believes that scientists share his work ethic.

indeed.

projection is nothing new to Paul.

or creationists.

Nowhere in my blog post did I say “scientists” didn’t grasp the point of King and Wilson 1975.

so when you said

no one really understands how macroevolution occurs.

surely you meant to exclude scientists there, too?

You’re nothing but a con man in a cheap suit.

BTW, having Paul even mention ANY paper written by Wilson is an insult to Wilson, who was a staunch defender of evolution, and a pioneer in genetics work.

…and a rabid anti-creationist as well.

I was an undergrad in 1975 when this paper came out. I distinctly remember my professor in an Evolution class, geneticist Spencer Brown, telling us about it. His comment was that their findings only dealt with structural (protein-coding) genes, and that differences in regulatory genes were also most likely involved.

Nelson is simply talking through his hat.

OFFTOPIC:

Here’s a test for ID:

http://www.thefoto.ru/uploads/posts[…]927591_1.jpg

Given ID principles, try to guess whether this is an intelligently designed shape.

Keywords: heart, Voh.

Hi Mike,

You asked:

could you take a couple of minutes to elaborate on exactly why you believe that human-chimp divergence is macroevolutionary rather than microevolutionary?

Micro, macro, tomato, tomahto…”I am apt to suspect there enters somewhat of a dispute of words into this controversy” (Hume 1779).

But seriously: my first introduction to King & Wilson 1975 was, IIRC, reading Gould’s Ontogeny and Phylogeny (1977) as a college student, which then sent me back to the original paper. Gould was so excited about King & Wilson 1975 that he used it to launch the book’s epilogue (and thanked King and Wilson in his acknowledgments for providing the launching point) about searching for evolutionary mechanisms to explain the “phenomena of saltation” (p. 409):

Although the differences between humans and chimps may be quantitative only, the two species as adults do not look much alike and their adaptive differences are, to say the least, profound (no monkey, despite the common metaphor, will ever type —- much less write —- the Iliad). Yet King and Wilson (1975), reviewing evidence for the astoundingly small differences in structural genes between the two species, have found that the average human polypeptide is more than 99 percent identical with its counterpart in chimps.…For 44 structural loci, the average genetic distance between chimps and humans is less than the average distance between sibling species barely, if at all, distinguishable in morphology — and far less than the distance between any measured pair of congeneric species.

What, then, is at the root of our profound separation? King and Wilson argue convincingly that the decisive differences must involve the evolution of regulation.…Of the nature of our regulatory differences, King and Wilson profess ignorance: “Most important for the future study of human evolution would be the demonstration of differences between apes and humans in the timing of gene expression during development of adaptively crucial organ systems such as the brain” (p. 114).

I think King and Wilson 1975 was deeply prescient —- a great paper, deservedly a classic. But the puzzle they posed is still unsolved today. Sorry, Toejam, but that’s the truth; don’t gripe to me, take it up with Massimo Pigliucci:

http://life.bio.sunysb.edu/ee/pigli[…]ovelties.pdf

See slides 11 and 18-20.

Consider an anatomical character that, except under pathologic circumstances, is universally shared in Homo sapiens, our white sclera:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/e[…]med_RVDocSum

How did this character arise, and how was it fixed, in our common ancestry with chimps (who lack the character)? Various adaptive hypotheses exist about the communication function of white sclera. These however tend to be of the “it’s good to have that trait, so we have it” sort. Given that other primates have pigmented sclera, it is likely that the common ancestor of chimps and humans also had pigmented sclera. The character “white sclera” must then have evolved on the branch leading to Homo sapiens.

How did that happen? Anybody?

Doc Bill, you asked about “astonishment.” My conversations about King & Wilson 1975 have typically gone (roughly) like this [EA, evolution activist; PN, me]:

EA: King & Wilson showed that we’re basically chimps. You know, the “third chimpanzee,” as Jared Diamond put it. 99 percent identical genetically.

PN: Actually, the main point of their paper was to argue that significant evolutionary change must arise from mutations in “regulatory,” not structural, genes, and that how this happens, and what these loci are, is an open puzzle.

EA: Say what?

About like that. This conversation does not occur with evolutionary biologists of my acquaintance who have read King & Wilson 1975.

slang Wrote:

Hi Paul, I think you forgot to post your explanation of “ontogenetic depth”, and from the context I assume it might connect somewhat to this story. Tomorrow, perhaps?

Paul must be a “day-age” creationist because it has been ~3 years since he promised that. He better hurry, because there’s a “middle age earth” creationist named Ray Martinez, who, if he ever publishes a paper that’s been “almost finished” for a year or so, will blow ID, YEC and OEC out of the water. Of course, like any good pseudoscientist, Ray only claims that it will be bad news for “Darwinism.”

slang wrote:

Hi Paul, I think you forgot to post your explanation of “ontogenetic depth”, and from the context I assume it might connect somewhat to this story. Tomorrow, perhaps?

Paul must be a “day-age” creationist because it has been ~3 years since he promised that. He better hurry, because there’s a “middle age earth” creationist named Ray Martinez, who, if he ever publishes a paper that’s been “almost finished” for a year or so, will blow ID, YEC and OEC out of the water. Of course, like any good pseudoscientist, Ray only claims that it will be bad news for “Darwinism.”

Apparently these creo nuts have some sort of time machine, because all of their best work and most persuasive arguments seem to occur in the future.

Paul, sorry for the delay in your comment. It got stuck in moderation due to the number of links it contained. I’m going to respond to your comments fully, but I’m going to do so with a full post rather than as a continuation of this thread. It’s a separate issue, and important enough (I think, anyway) to warrant a new thread.

Thanks for the reply, Paul.

Third chimp, eh? If you considered my son you’d have to change that to one-third chimp, or so it appears.

I must be dim because I’m still not astonished. Except that back in ‘75 being able to come up with a figure of 1% was pretty remarkable. Sort of like adding a decimal point of precision to the age of the universe, 13.7 billion years.

That there are still unknowns is, to me, an exciting opportunity, but I’m not astonished by it.

I guess my astonishment bar is pretty high, although if my son took out the garbage without being asked I’d definitely be astonished.

Consider an anatomical character that, except under pathologic circumstances, is universally shared in Homo sapiens, our white sclera:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/entrez?Db=pubm

How did this character arise, and how was it fixed, in our common ancestry with chimps (who lack the character)? Various adaptive hypotheses exist about the communication function of white sclera. These however tend to be of the “it’s good to have that trait, so we have it” sort. Given that other primates have pigmented sclera, it is likely that the common ancestor of chimps and humans also had pigmented sclera. The character “white sclera” must then have evolved on the branch leading to Homo sapiens.

How did that happen? Anybody?

Let me guess.…. goddidit?

What is the scientific theory of Intelligent Design again? I know you stated it clearly and succinctly, without any logical fallacies or references to the supposed inadequacies of other theories, and with proposals for how the theory might be tested and falsified, complete with some predictions of evidence yet to be uncovered, but I seem to have forgotten. Could you refresh my memory?

I mean, I don’t expect you to spend valuable time typing it out, just copy and paste a link.

Here’s an idea–just print the theory in each month’s issue of PCID, so in case I forget again, I can just check the latest issue. I mean, I didn’t get this month’s issue–I assume someone stole my mail–but if you get it in there next month everything will work out and we’ll all be on the same page. Maybe you could put your ontogenetic depth thingy in the same sidebar or something.

Thanks for the help.

Paul Nelson Wrote:

The character “white sclera” must then have evolved on the branch leading to Homo sapiens.

How did that happen? Anybody?

When the creationist becomes tired of discussing transitional fossils (or rather their fabled ‘missing links’), they can always switch to discussing distinguishing characters.

White sclera is a phenotype in for example horses. Is evolution of white sclera among horse races micro- or macroevolution, Paul? Anybody?

You can tell Paul really knows deep down how desperately preposterous the separate creation of humans is, when he pulls out stuff like this:

Consider an anatomical character that, except under pathologic circumstances, is universally shared in Homo sapiens, our white sclera:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/e[…]med_RVDocSum

How did this character arise, and how was it fixed, in our common ancestry with chimps (who lack the character)? Various adaptive hypotheses exist about the communication function of white sclera. These however tend to be of the “it’s good to have that trait, so we have it” sort. Given that other primates have pigmented sclera, it is likely that the common ancestor of chimps and humans also had pigmented sclera. The character “white sclera” must then have evolved on the branch leading to Homo sapiens.

How did that happen? Anybody?

A difference in **pigmentation**!! Clear proof that humans couldn’t share common ancestry with chimps!

Paul, this is pitiful!

Here we have an example of what is really insane about creationists. Paul links to a paper that proposes an explanation, but complains apparently because the molecular geneticists haven’t gone and figured out the exact genetic cause of white schlera. You know, I think creationists seek out and savor ignorance like it was fine wine.

Gee, just maybe eyeball color isn’t super-high on the priority list compared to cancer and everything else molecular geneticists have to work on. Besides, knocking out a pigment production pathway in a certain tissue is almost the most trivial mutational change I can imagine (this is all it takes in albinism, which is caused by blocks anywhere in a series of proteins that produce the relevant pigments). For all we know, all that happened is that the relevant pigment production genes were down-regulated in the eyeball. Clearly beyond the power of evolution and proof of divine intervention!

As for what the selection pressure was that fixed the mutation, well, that is subject to testing and scientists are testing it. Right here in 2007 in fact:

J Hum Evol. 2007 Mar;52(3):314-20. Epub 2006 Oct 20.

Reliance on head versus eyes in the gaze following of great apes and human infants: the cooperative eye hypothesis.

Tomasello M, Hare B, Lehmann H, Call J.

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany. [Enable javascript to see this email address.]

As compared with other primates, humans have especially visible eyes (e.g., white sclera). One hypothesis is that this feature of human eyes evolved to make it easier for conspecifics to follow an individual’s gaze direction in close-range joint attentional and communicative interactions, which would seem to imply especially cooperative (mututalistic) conspecifics. In the current study, we tested one aspect of this cooperative eye hypothesis by comparing the gaze following behavior of great apes to that of human infants. A human experimenter “looked” to the ceiling either with his eyes only, head only (eyes closed), both head and eyes, or neither. Great apes followed gaze to the ceiling based mainly on the human’s head direction (although eye direction played some role as well). In contrast, human infants relied almost exclusively on eye direction in these same situations. These results demonstrate that humans are especially reliant on eyes in gaze following situations, and thus, suggest that eyes evolved a new social function in human evolution, most likely to support cooperative (mututalistic) social interactions.

What’s your explanation Paul? How and why? And how do we test GodDidIt?

Paul, sorry for the delay in your comment. It got stuck in moderation due to the number of links it contained.

Mike, can you check to make sure Paul’s response to my request isn’t being held up in moderation because it contains too much ID theory?

Paul Nelson Wrote:

I think King and Wilson 1975 was deeply prescient —- a great paper, deservedly a classic. But the puzzle they posed is still unsolved today.

That’s it? Still unsolved today? Is that supposed to be a criticism of some sort, or what?

Really, are you that completely, totally, absolutely STUPID, CLUELESS, IGNORANT regarding science, or what? Apparently, or you wouldn’t prattle so pathetically on something so obvious and well-known.

Unresolved puzzlers are the NORM in scientific research. Some puzzlers last for a few years, some for centuries. A few, a tiny few, end up being explained by a scientific revolution, but most have to wait until someone pushes existing theory further and further.

So, Paul, what’s your explanation for high-temperature superconductivity? Goddidit? What’s your explanation for cancer? Goddidit? What’s your explanation for Alzheimer’s? Goddidit? What’s your explanation for the Pioneer anomaly? Goddidit?

I have this picture of you and God together in a Gary Larson cartoon, and one of you is wearing a T-shirt that says “I’m with stupid.”

Nick Matzke Wrote:

Here we have an example of what is really insane about creationists. Paul links to a paper that proposes an explanation, but complains apparently because the molecular geneticists haven’t gone and figured out the exact genetic cause of white schlera. You know, I think creationists seek out and savor ignorance like it was fine wine.

They may savor it, but they don’t have to seek it out. Sadly, most people are OK with the double standard of evidence - mainstream science is always under suspicion until every last detail is known (which is virtually impossible), while any “alternative science” gets a free pass on a mere feel-good sound bite that pretends to challenge mainstream science.

As you know, anti-evolution one of many such pseudosciences. In this case zero detail on its own “theory”, in fact ever-increasing evasion (ontogenetic depth, anyone?) from even a basic “what happened and when,” sell better than the “pathetic level of detail” in the multiple lines of ever-converging independent evidence for the mainstream theory.

Thats a great entry, thanks for posting it. I’ve bookmarked your website and will be eager to reading more!

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Dunford published on July 2, 2007 4:12 PM.

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