More on Luskin, afarensis

| 29 Comments

We have already pointed you to afarensis’s deconstruction of Casey Luskin’s post on Lucy at the Discovery Institute Media/Museum Complaints Division. Luskin attempted to argue, based on his detailed study of a museum exhibit and some quote-mining, that the entire world community of paleoanthropologists has no idea what they are talking about when it comes to Lucy. Afarensis was calm and polite, which was fine and admirable, but the one danger of being completely polite when commenting on something like Luskin’s piece is that the degree of outrageousness, incompetence, and silliness in the creationists’ work is not fully exposed. For example, it’s not just wrong to say, as Luskin does, that Lucy is the most complete hominid skeleton available, it’s wildly, flabbergastingly, bang-your-head-against-the-wall obvious that this is wrong, and anyone even vaguely familiar with the field knows it. Anyone who didn’t know it could look it up in 10 seconds on google and find for example the Homo erectus specimen Turkana Boy.

(Here’s the quote from Luskin, he hasn’t issued a correction although the mistake has been pointed out for days now.)

The first thing my friends and I noticed when seeing Lucy’s bones was the incompleteness of her skeleton. Only 40% was found, and a significant percentage of the known bones are rib fragments. Very little useful material from Lucy’s skull was recovered. (This seems to be common: many of the replica skulls of early hominids at the exhibit were clearly based upon extremely fragmentary pieces.) And yet, Lucy still represents the most complete known hominid skeleton to date. (bold original)

Anyway, Zinjanthropus, without losing it, gives some more sense of the outrageousness of Luskin’s claims:

Next, he says:

If the next rainstorm could wash Lucy away completely, what happened during the prior rainstorms to mix-up “Lucy” with who-knows-what? How do we know that “Lucy” doesn’t represent bones from multiple individuals or even multiple species?

Well, you see, a person doesn’t get to be a paleontologist unless she knows her anatomy. She has to know where every single little muscle attaches onto every single little bone. It’s her job. All of this anatomical knowledge makes it really easy when someone comes into a forensic anthropologist and says, “I think I’ve found a human skeleton behind my house, and I suspect murder!” A forensic anthropologist can go to that site, look at a single bone fragment from the tibia or a medial phalanx and tell the person, “No, don’t worry, this is just a dog.” She can do this because she is intimately familiar with anatomy, and knows how, in the dog, the tibial plateau will be shaped quite differently than in the human because of the different mechanical requirements.

Paleoanthropologists can do the same thing with Lucy’s pelvis or femur. The pelvis and femur don’t look like anything we see in any quadrupedal animal at all. And wow- that COMPLETE sacrum is just screaming “BIPEDAL ANIMAL HERE!!!” We can look at muscle attachment sites and say, “Gee, whoever this was, she had a really huge gluteus minimus!” We can then compare the size of different gluteus minimus muscles across the animal kingdom and see that only animals who walk upright have such a large gluteus minimus. So, it’s not merely that we’ve counted up our bones and we don’t have any duplicates. We can look at the functional anatomy of these bones and determine that we don’t have a quadruped. [formatting original]

Read the rest for more!

29 Comments

I’ve said things like this before, but slamming Casey Luskin … well, it’s hardly like he doesn’t DESERVE it, or even that there’s the SLIGHTEST lack of validity and justification .…

… but it STILL feels beneath one’s dignity. That makes it even MORE annoying to have to answer it.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

It’s not about Luskin, it’s about the fact that he is the primary voice of the Discovery Institute, and the DI is the primary voice of the ID movement. If they had an ounce of scientific knowledge or interest in doing their due diligence on scientific matters before publishing antievolution propaganda, Luskin’s endless hapless errors wouldn’t be published. So everything silly he does sticks to the lot & shows the bankruptcy of the whole institution. IMHO.

This seems to be common: many of the replica skulls of early hominids at the exhibit were clearly based upon extremely fragmentary pieces.

Sounds like a conspiracy. No doubt, “many” paleontologist are throwing away “many” of the pieces.

Nick (Matzke) said:

So everything silly he does sticks to the lot & shows the bankruptcy of the whole institution.

Oh, it’s absolutely justified. It makes it even more appalling to think the DI would use him as a spokesman. But on top of the annoyance of the whole matter on the face of it is the annoyance of having to expend ammunition … on a cockroach.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

No quarter, no prisoners, Nick! Fraud needs to be exposed.

mrg (iml8) said:

I’ve said things like this before, but slamming Casey Luskin … well, it’s hardly like he doesn’t DESERVE it, or even that there’s the SLIGHTEST lack of validity and justification .…

… but it STILL feels beneath one’s dignity. That makes it even MORE annoying to have to answer it.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

I know, it’s like having to kill a housefly with a shotgun. But, you do realize that persistent, malignant stupidity, such as Luskin’s verbal bowel movements for example, demand drastic measures.

The museum exhibit goes to some length to explain the difference between bipedal and quadraped hips, with examples with circles and arrows and everything. Apparently Luskin ignored that part of the exhibit.

Stanton said:

I know, it’s like having to kill a housefly with a shotgun. But, you do realize that persistent, malignant stupidity, such as Luskin’s verbal bowel movements for example, demand drastic measures.

Thank you Stanton, I was wondering if there was any sense of irony on PT. Of course I realize. The disgusting thing is we’re stuck with the cleanup.

Only a Terry Pratchett fan would understand, but I’ve come to think of CL as “C.M.O.T. Luskin.”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Come on, Nick admit it, you’ve got the easiest job in the world, debunking the crap that Luskin throws at the wall and hopes it sticks.

Yes, but he has to do it so often. It’s like stepping on a cockroach repeatedly and having it continue to scuttle on.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

That was a great post by Zinjanthropus and I linked to it earlier today. In my defense I did make fun of Luskin’s claims to have studied about hominins all throughout the piece. Since you mention a retraction from Luskin on the completeness issue I thought I would mention that I sent a trackback but always get an error message from Evolution News and Views. Works everywhere else though…

afarensis, FCD said:

That was a great post by Zinjanthropus and I linked to it earlier today.

Yeah, rather than continue with expressions of exasperation I did really like the citations in this posting: “Well, a person doesn’t get to be a paleontologist … “ Good shooting.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site.

I always get a kick out of reading that line. Talk about irony deficiency.

I was quite impressed by the Lucy exhibit in Seattle. Unfortunately it’s not turning out to be a big draw in town.

But I’m also quite surprised that Luskin went to see it, or so he says. Perhaps in reality he didn’t and he’s just making up his story? That would seem to make more sense given the way he and his creationist comrades write.

Well, PZ Myers, you’ve made the opinion page of US News & Review. Not very favorable I’m afraid, for there you’ll find the following oped piece by none other than Casey Luskin:

http://www.usnews.com/articles/opin[…]oly-day.html

Seems the “Darwinists” have converted Abraham Lincoln’s birthday to Darwin day to begin with, then they proceeded on a witch hunt, blah, blah, blah. Academic freedom cries Casey, that renowned scholar that he is!

Hmm. Those articles are part of series, there are others by Pennock etc.: http://www.usnews.com/Topics/tag/Se[…]e/index.html

Luskin’s though, is a disgrace. All the usual DI scams are there: Paley’s argument from complexity resurrected yet again; misleading analogy; quote mining; casual mention of “chance” as though it were relevant; argument from incredulity; argument from ignorance; argument from silence; “irreducible complexity” as a fact (never mind that it has never been found); the long-discredited list of 700 names, all that. All topped off with the obviously conflicting claims that there’s a vigorous debate about the basic tenets of the Theory of Evolution among scientists and also successful suppression of the views of a persecuted minority. And all of it without a single bit of evidence for creation or design, nor any acknowledgement that some is needed.

I’m in a poor position to write to a US news outlet and protest at Luskin’s blatant falsehoods and fraud. Yet I think some sort of concerted effort is required.

Advanced Luskin bashers must listen to his podcast, “Intelligent Design the Future”. He’s amazingly prolific. He and his guests seem to open up a bit in this format; witness Dembski’s comments to the effect that children should be “innoculated” from evolution in Sunday school classes (8/1/2008).

Prediction: none of the myriad critiques of his Lucy “scholarship” will dissuade him from reiterating every point in a future podcast.

( http://feeds.feedburner.com/IdTheFuture )

Dr J Wrote:

Come on, Nick admit it, you’ve got the easiest job in the world, debunking the crap that Luskin throws at the wall and hopes it sticks.

mrg(iml8) Wrote:

Yes, but he has to do it so often. It’s like stepping on a cockroach repeatedly and having it continue to scuttle on.

The job would be easy (though he’d soon be out of work) if most nonscientists would confront the DI and other pseudoscience peddlers with “put up or shut up.” Instead the culture is that mainstream science is always under suspicion, while pseudoscience peddlers get away with all sorts of misleading sound bites as long as they sound cool.

It’s not enough that most people stayed away from such obviously extreme propaganda as “Expelled.” They need to critically analyze the more subtle stuff. Granted, most people won’t read Luskin’s article directly, but the content always seems to “trickle down” to “did you hear that that fossil that they thought was our ancestor was just a monkey?”

mrg(iml8) Wrote:

“Well, a person doesn’t get to be a paleontologist … “ Good shooting.

I’ll bet that “bullet” missed that guy (with a science degree no less!) who 10 years ago tried to tell me that paleontologists “just happen to find the fossils when they need funding”. I asked him how they could get away with that given the intense competition, but of course he could not answer that. He wanted to believe in “the conspiracy” and that’s that.

ngong said:

He’s amazingly prolific.

Well, it’s not like it requires much effort to keep pulling trash out of the fanny pack.

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Dave Luckett said:

I’m in a poor position to write to a US news outlet and protest at Luskin’s blatant falsehoods and fraud. Yet I think some sort of concerted effort is required.

Not really needed. I was wondering if US NEWS was actually endorsing the ID position – they’re right of center but not far right of center – but they’re having a balanced debate, with op-eds on both sides of the fence. NATURAL HISTORY magazine, no friend of Darwin-bashers, did pretty much the same some years back.

As far as reader commentaries go they’re having a typical online Darwin flame war. The US NEWS editors seem to find it interesting. “This might not be so charming if you had to deal with it all the time.”

Cheers – MrG / http://www.vectorsite.net/gblog.html

Luskin writes “And yet, Lucy still represents the most complete known hominid skeleton to date.”

Sorry Casey but I’ve got a pretty darn complete homind skeleton right here. It is currently supporting my muscle and organ systems!

Mark Farmer said:

Luskin writes “And yet, Lucy still represents the most complete known hominid skeleton to date.”

Sorry Casey but I’ve got a pretty darn complete homind skeleton right here. It is currently supporting my muscle and organ systems!

According to Casey, humans don’t count, and fossil hominids don’t count, either.

According to Casey, humans don’t count, and fossil hominids don’t count, either.

No, it’s that Casey Luskin can’t count, and most other creationists can’t tell.

Even if we were to accept the complete and utter b.s. about Lucy being the most complete skeleton and that it is not enough to make important determinations…

Lucy is just the tip of the iceberg even if we limit ourselves to what is ascribed to A. afarensis. Clearly it would have been nice to have a lot more of Lucy’s skull. But we do have a lot more such specimens. First Family had cranial material. AL 444-2 is a good cranium. And admittedly it was of a very young child, but has Luskin already forgot Selam? And if one broadens the search to all Australopithecines then we have quite a few very good skulls including the damn near complete and fully articulated skull of Little Foot.

Indeed I think it more than safe to say that the skeletal structure of Australopithecines is very well represented in the known finds. Anyone with any serious interest in the subject knows this. Sure there is a lot scientists still want to know, but to imply we don’t have a very good idea what the skeleton of A. afarensis looks like is to imply something that is not true.

“she had a really huge gluteus minimus”

Wouldn’t that make it a gluteus maximus?! But seriously, great job in continuing to take out the trash from both Nick and Afarensis.

Frank J said:

Dr J Wrote:

Come on, Nick admit it, you’ve got the easiest job in the world, debunking the crap that Luskin throws at the wall and hopes it sticks.

mrg(iml8) Wrote:

Yes, but he has to do it so often. It’s like stepping on a cockroach repeatedly and having it continue to scuttle on.

The job would be easy (though he’d soon be out of work) if most nonscientists would confront the DI and other pseudoscience peddlers with “put up or shut up.” Instead the culture is that mainstream science is always under suspicion, while pseudoscience peddlers get away with all sorts of misleading sound bites as long as they sound cool.

What makes you think a demand to “put up or shut up” would have any effect at all? I’m sure every creationist fuckwit who spews bullshit on this site has been told that countless times. I’ve done it myself, repeatedly. They just keep spewing the same bullshit. And creationists never call each other on that bullshit, no matter how obvious it is that they’re lying. These people have no shame, no integrity, the very idea of honesty is alien to them. They’ll keep making shit up until the end of time no matter how many times they get caught in the act, and their sycophants will eat it up again and again. Exposing them as incompetent frauds discredits them with sane, rational people, but that’s not even close to their target audience.

386sx said:

The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site.

I always get a kick out of reading that line. Talk about irony deficiency.

This is especially so if you read it (as I always do) to mean The misreporting of the evolution issue is the sole purpose of this site.

I don’t know what exhibit Luskin was visiting. He says,

…with full skeletal and full-flesh reconstructions of Lucy abounding throughout the exhibit…

I went to see Lucy on Darwin Day at the Pacific Science Center, and the exhibit contained precisely one full-flesh reconstruction of Lucy, and zero full skeletal reconstructions (though there was a single 3D reconstruction of her 40% skeleton). Both reconstructions and Lucy herself were in a single room at the end of the exhibit, so his use of the words “abounding throughout” is just plain wrong.

He also says,

The first half (or more!) of the exhibit was actually quite fascinating as it told the cultural and political history of the Ethiopian people and the Aksumite Empire. This history seemed well-documented by facts and evidence, replete with coins, weapons, religious artifacts, and art, which inform us about this rich and beautiful culture. And when the evidence was thin, the exhibit acknowledged that there are aspects of the Aksumite people where we know very little. This high standard of evidential documentation…

Luskin apparently ignores the fact that most - and in some sections all - of the artifacts and art on display were from the 19th and 20th centuries (reproductions and objects created in traditional ways). The coins were old, but I’d estimate that 95% of the rest of the items were quite young. The display on making books even said, basically, “some people still make books in the old style,” and presented 20th-century books and book-making tools (nothing in the display case predated 1900 according to the legend, and from the looks of them all, those items probably did not predate 1990). Hardly the sort of “evidential documentation” required for an empire that was conquered in 960 AD.

I also went through the Science Fiction Museum earlier that same day. Luskin would have been amazed at the “evidential documentation” of several different space-faring civilizations to be found in those rooms, were he to maintain the same “high standard.”

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on February 10, 2009 6:56 PM.

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