Stephen Meyer: workin’ in the quote mines

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Stephen Meyer’s new book, “Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design,” has received highly critical reviews from several working scientists. Don Prothero panned the book for (among other things) its misrepresentations of paleontology, and Nick Matzke showed Meyer’s ignorance of (among other things) phylogenetic methods (see also here). Now John Farrell has critically reviewed the book in National Review (behind a $0.25 paywall). Farrell’s review criticizes Meyer’s book on several grounds, but the part of immediate interest here is Meyer’s quote mining of a genuine scientist. I’ll quote from the review at some length below the fold.

In his review Farrell writes:

Consider again the alleged absence of transitional intermediate fossils connecting the Cambrian animals to simpler Precambrian forms. Meyer argues that Darwinian scientists have no explanation for this; indeed, just as Darwin once did, they’ve tried to dismiss this challenge by falling back on the convenient hypothesis that the fossil record was poorly preserved and/or had been insufficiently sampled. Meyer:

Developmental biologist Eric Davidson, of California Institute of Technology, has suggested that the transitional forms leading to the Cambrian animals were “microscopic forms similar to modern marine larvae” and were thus too small to have been reliably fossilized. Other evolutionary scientists, such as Gregory Wray, Jeffrey Levinton, and Leo Shapiro, have suggested that the ancestors of the Cambrian animals were not preserved, because they lacked hard parts such as shells and exoskeletons. They argue that since soft-bodied animals are difficult to fossilize, we shouldn’t expect to find the remains of the supposedly soft-bodied ancestors of the Cambrian fauna in the Precambrian fossil records. University of California, Berkeley, paleontologist Charles R. Marshall summarizes these explanations …

Meyer then quotes Marshall:

It is important to remember that we see the Cambrian “explosion” through the windows permitted by the fossil and geological records. So when talking about the Cambrian “explosion,” we are typically referring to the appearance of large-body (can be seen by the naked eye) and preservable (and therefore largely skeletonized) forms. … If the stem lineages were both small and unskeletonized, then we would not expect to see them in the fossil record.

I went to Marshall’s paper and discovered that this passage had been lifted out of context, with the final statement – the part after Meyer’s ellipsis – tacked on from 15 pages later in the article, a section in which Marshall was commenting on a detailed diagram outlining the various factors scientists deem relevant to understanding the entire Cambrian explosion. The implication of the cut-and-paste quote in Meyer’s account is that a leading paleontologist is, like his colleagues, trying to explain away a significant challenge to evolution: the lack of intermediate forms in the Precambrian period. But in fact, Marshall was not doing that. Here are the key missing words from Marshall’s passage that would have appeared immediately before Meyer’s ellipsis:

Finally, I place the word “explosion” in quotation marks because, while the Cambrian radiation occurred quickly compared with the time between the Cambrian and the present, it still extended over some 20 million years of the earliest Cambrian, or longer if you add in the last 30 million years of the Ediacaran and the entire 55 million year duration of the Cambrian.

The italics are original.

So Meyer (or maybe Casey Luskin, Meyer’s research assistant on the book), mashed up quotations separated by 15 pages in the original to create a statement that the original author did not make. I’m not sure that ellipses zooming past 15 pages is a new land speed record, but it has to be well out in the tail of the distribution. This sounds like a case for John Pieret and the Quote Mine Project.

86 Comments

It’s the magical creationist ellipsis gambit again, often appearing in the dishonesty institute’s fellows, et. al works in place of the actual words. But to the creationist reader, it’s unimportant and the criticism is easily dismissed as it’s okay when these creationists engage in such “slight-of-text” trickery, for this, as we all know, is their MO/SOP. But care must be taken, as sometimes they omit the tell tale ellipsis as in the quote of Darwin regarding all sides should be heard.

Well, that, and they forgot (yeah) to give us any kind of specific cause for any specific effect, something that could yield a genuine, honest prediction.

Think of it, they’re dealing with a 150 year-old problem yet again, with nothing but poof and an utter failure to explain the relatedness of the extant phyla that rose to prominence in the Cambrian. Scientifically, it just reinforces the conclusion that ID is worse than nothing, something that just sucks in meaning and spits out meaningless drivel.

Glen Davidson

“Lord! I am *so* tired [of this]! How *long* can this go on?”

Somewhat surprisingly, the National Review has at times supported evolution. This is despite NR being a conservative publication and even though William F Buckley Jr was an anti-evolutionist (although he rejected YECism). NR’s John Derbyshire wrote this article just before the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover School Board court case got underway.

Uncommon Descent has responded to John Farrell’s criticism of Darwin’s Doubt, albeit in an indirect way.

Anyone can “prove” anything if he’s willing to behave dishonorably. To demonstrate the method, consider this scriptural guide to a holy life – the first part is from Genesis 19:36, and the part after the ellipsis is from Exodus 22:30

Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. … Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep.

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

Anyone can “prove” anything if he’s willing to behave dishonorably. To demonstrate the method, consider this scriptural guide to a holy life – the first part is from Genesis 19:36, and the part after the ellipsis is from Exodus 22:30

Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. … Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep.

That’s amusing. We could turn this into a game: create the most amusing quotemine of the bible using the “Meyer 15 page separation” rule. The online bible users can use an alternate (300 x 15 =) 4500 word separation rule.

eric said:

That’s amusing. We could turn this into a game: create the most amusing quotemine of the bible using the “Meyer 15 page separation” rule. The online bible users can use an alternate (300 x 15 =) 4500 word separation rule.

Why bother with the bible? There’s a lot of opportunity in just selectively picking letters from Meyer’s book title.

What about

Darwin Doubt..s …Intelligent Design

or

Darwin.. : .. Exp.os.e… Intelligent Design

Ellipses!!! Covering a 15 page gap without any indication that it even came from a different paragraph! Enough to get you a “fail” on any college paper!

It is indeed fodder for the Quote Mine Project (if I can ever get someone to do the html work again). Anyway, it will go on my blog.

For your information, however, a 15 page ellipsis if far from the record. We once had a 104 page ellipsis:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quo[…]html#quote44

John Pieret said:

Ellipses!!! Covering a 15 page gap without any indication that it even came from a different paragraph! Enough to get you a “fail” on any college paper!

It is indeed fodder for the Quote Mine Project (if I can ever get someone to do the html work again). Anyway, it will go on my blog.

For your information, however, a 15 page ellipsis if far from the record. We once had a 104 page ellipsis:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quo[…]html#quote44

Whoops, that instance didn’t even bother with an ellipsis. Count Meyer as marginally more honest than that quote miner.

SensuousCurmudgeon said:

Anyone can “prove” anything if he’s willing to behave dishonorably. To demonstrate the method, consider this scriptural guide to a holy life – the first part is from Genesis 19:36, and the part after the ellipsis is from Exodus 22:30

Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. … Likewise shalt thou do with thine oxen, and with thy sheep.

I guess that’s where Pasiphae got her idea.

My favorite quotemine (and it doesn’t even involve mangling with ellipses):

The EXACT PHRASE “There is no god” appears TWELVE times in the KJV.

In the NIV, a favorite of many fundies as an ‘improved’ translation, “There is no god” appears FIFTEEN times.

There is no god. The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

Helena Constantine said:

I guess that’s where Pasiphae got her idea.

That’s a lot of bull.

Just Bob said: There is no god. The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.

I believe every word in the Bible - it’s the sentences I have problems with.

Suggested theme song: I’ve been working in the quote mines, all the live long day, I’ve been working in the quote mines, just to pass the time away…

Religion News Service (RNS) journalist Jonathan Merritt very recently interviewed Stephen Meyer, based on Meyer’s books Darwin’s Doubt and Signature In The Cell.

That interview is now online. Merritt cranks it up by saying, ”… even though many scientists have criticized the movement as being unscientific, it’s hard to ignore the growing number of people embracing ID explanations for life on earth.”

He’s right. You won Dover, but now you’re losing America.

So check this out (especially the kewl headline):

An intelligent defense of Intelligent Design: An interview with Stephen Meyer

http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews[…]ephen-meyer/

FL

FL said: That interview is now online. Merritt cranks it up by saying, ”… even though many scientists have criticized the movement as being unscientific, it’s hard to ignore the growing number of people embracing ID explanations for life on earth.”

Note that the quote doesn’t say ‘a growing number of SCIENTISTS embracing [ID}’. The two parts of the claims aren’t a valid comparison. So…thank you FL for demonstrating the topic…the problem with quote mining.

Yeah, I guess it is hard to ignore a large number of people having been fooled by professional con artists. Especially if the size of that group is growing.

(or should that say less than professional?)

FL said: He’s right. You won Dover, but now you’re losing America.

Yes yes, we’ve been losing America for 150 years now and the end of evolution is just around the corner. Just like it was in 2000, in 1990, in 1980, and so on, and so on.

I’ll say this for you: Creationists make fusion researchers look like pessimists.

So an interview by someone with a Masters of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Masters of Theology from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology is supposed to tell us what - that ID has nothing to do with religion…

eric said:

We could turn this into a game: create the most amusing quotemine of the bible using the “Meyer 15 page separation” rule. The online bible users can use an alternate (300 x 15 =) 4500 word separation rule.

I’d rather count 15 pages in a book than 4500 words anywhere.

FL said:

i…a…m…an…as…s FL

Hey, this is fun!

eric said:

Yes yes … the end of evolution is just around the corner.

Once you get the hang of it, the possibilities are limitless.

Yes yes … the end of evolution is just around the corner.

The End of Evolution is a growth industry.

W. H. Heydt said:

FL said: That interview is now online. Merritt cranks it up by saying, ”… even though many scientists have criticized the movement as being unscientific, it’s hard to ignore the growing number of people embracing ID explanations for life on earth.”

Note that the quote doesn’t say ‘a growing number of SCIENTISTS embracing [ID}’. The two parts of the claims aren’t a valid comparison. So…thank you FL for demonstrating the topic…the problem with quote mining.

Is there any evidence that even a growing number of people are embracing creationism? My understanding is that fundamentalist sects are slowly declining.

Maybe he was measuring the amount of noise coming from the people who push Creationism?

It’s amusing that FL refers us to an interviewer whose first sentence is false. Origin of life?

Richard B. Hoppe said:

It’s amusing that FL refers us to an interviewer whose first sentence is false. Origin of life?

Typical Fl - amusing. That is, after you get past the usual initial shock of stupid.

A lot people around here work in coal mines. That is almost as dirty.

Somehow the second line of the song seems appropriate without alteration:

Workin’ in a coal quote mine

Goin’ down down down

The quote mining is actually more egregious than the review makes it sound. The sentence after the ellipsis, which gives the impression Marshall is quickly handwaving away the fossil record, is not even in the main text; it is from a footnote to a table. Not only does Marshall not handwave away the fossil record, he spends approximately two full pages of text discussing it, the quality of it, what is found in it, and the significance of those findings.

More interesting is this:It seems to be that he doesn’t challenge the idea that there is common descent by natural means among the vertebrates over the last few hundred million years.

bayilil veren said:

More interesting is this:It seems to be that he doesn’t challenge the idea that there is common descent by natural means among the vertebrates over the last few hundred million years.

Someone else said that, and no, it actually isn’t very interesting. Here’s why…

The point of ID/creationism is to sneak sectarian science denial, favoring one narrow religious cult, into taxpayer funded public school science classes. This is generally part of a broader right wing authoritarian social/political agenda.

But the key word above is “sneak”.

The original effort was to get straight post-modern YEC creationism into schools, but when they lost Edwards v. Aguillard they immediately adopted the lame “plausible deniability” ID approach. If you are unfamiliar with any of this, here is a starting point. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Pandas_and_People. Make sure to read about “cdesign proponentsists”.

It has frequently been pointed out that evolution deniers don’t all say the same thing, but yet they almost all support one another. The rare more honest crackpots who insist on the purity of their own version are isolated; in fact they wind up obsessing here and at other pro-science sites, because this is where they don’t get banned.

Many creationists are cynical and dishonest. That’s a generalization I strongly stand by. They support doing what it takes to get evolution denial into schools. Heck, even “creation science” was massively dishonest. It was post-modern sectarian dogma disguised as science, just not quite as disguised. They support doing whatever it takes to deny, distort, censor, or otherwise interfere with the teaching of sound science in public schools, because science doesn’t match their ideology. If that means pretending to only care about “the Cambrian explosion” today to get a foot in the door, that’s fine with them.

John West Fails!

After extolling his minions to “vote down” the negative comments on the Amazon dot Com book thread the results have been exactly: ZERO. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

That indicates that Evo Whine and Snooze gets even less hits than we imagined, and those hits are probably from evolutionists, the mighty Darwinian Lobby, scoping them out.

Fail, West. Again. Loser.

John Pieret said:

For your information, however, a 15 page ellipsis if far from the record. We once had a 104 page ellipsis:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/quo[…]html#quote44

That’s cute how at the link the author says, “It may even be possible to construct a phylogeny for this quote, since there are variations in punctuation between the different webpages”

He means construct a stemma.

Doc Bill said:

John West Fails!

After extolling his minions to “vote down” the negative comments on the Amazon dot Com book thread the results have been exactly: ZERO. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

That indicates that Evo Whine and Snooze gets even less hits than we imagined, and those hits are probably from evolutionists, the mighty Darwinian Lobby, scoping them out.

Fail, West. Again. Loser.

In terms of Google PageRank, the Discoveroids’ blog is a 5, the same as the Time Cube. (So is my blog, but I don’t pretend to be influential.) The Thumb ranks higher.

harold said:

bayilil veren said:

More interesting is this:It seems to be that he doesn’t challenge the idea that there is common descent by natural means among the vertebrates over the last few hundred million years.

Someone else said that, and no, it actually isn’t very interesting. Here’s why…

The point of ID/creationism is to sneak sectarian science denial, favoring one narrow religious cult, into taxpayer funded public school science classes. This is generally part of a broader right wing authoritarian social/political agenda.

But the key word above is “sneak”.

The original effort was to get straight post-modern YEC creationism into schools, but when they lost Edwards v. Aguillard they immediately adopted the lame “plausible deniability” ID approach. If you are unfamiliar with any of this, here is a starting point. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Pandas_and_People. Make sure to read about “cdesign proponentsists”.

It has frequently been pointed out that evolution deniers don’t all say the same thing, but yet they almost all support one another. The rare more honest crackpots who insist on the purity of their own version are isolated; in fact they wind up obsessing here and at other pro-science sites, because this is where they don’t get banned.

Many creationists are cynical and dishonest. That’s a generalization I strongly stand by. They support doing what it takes to get evolution denial into schools. Heck, even “creation science” was massively dishonest. It was post-modern sectarian dogma disguised as science, just not quite as disguised. They support doing whatever it takes to deny, distort, censor, or otherwise interfere with the teaching of sound science in public schools, because science doesn’t match their ideology. If that means pretending to only care about “the Cambrian explosion” today to get a foot in the door, that’s fine with them.

Among the contributions here, I find yours exceptionally agreeable, so I want to clarify what appear to be differences.

You had pointed out the lack of testable statements coming from the evolution deniers. I expanded on that by saying that I didn’t find substantive statements of any kind, testable or otherwise. And then I went further, saying that Meyer’s book did not even challenge the reality of evolution by natural means, among the vertebrates, for hundreds of millions of years. I thought that this was interesting because that includes human evolutionary origins, surely something which would be of great concern to evolution deniers. How many people really care whether trilobites evolved (and went extinct) by purely natural means? The only explanation that I can think of for interest in Meyer’s book is precisely what you say: It gives them some hope that maybe there’s something wrong somewhere in what the “darwinists” say.

TomS -

We don’t really have a difference.

However, I will fine tune one thing you say.

It gives them some hope that maybe there’s something wrong somewhere in what the “darwinists” say.

Having grown up among old fashioned sincere religious people who respected science and education, my initial thought, when I discovered political creationism in 1999, was that creationists might be trying to square science with deeply held beliefs or some such thing. (*Technically, I had encountered Chick tracts in the seventies, but hadn’t perceived a political element, and had merely seen them as the equivalent of UFO rants and so on.*) I basically became fully aware of political evolution denial circa 1999.

However, they didn’t fit that profile. They did things like repeat arguments that had been shown elsewhere to be false, misrepresent the statements of others, and make false accusations, which didn’t fit with the “traditional Christians” model.

A light bulb went off one day when I realized that they function as authoritarian political activists, with at least at much commitment to doing anything to harm their perceived opponents as to gain anything for themselves.

Virtually all educated traditional Christians who cared about accepting science had actually become “theistic evolutionists” long before 1999, I now realize.

The “movement” ID/creationists of today are emotionally committed to “defeating Darwinism”, but know that they can’t do it by openly stating religious objections.

They have set for themselves the challenging task of denying science to promote a narrow sectarian religious justification for their ideology, while simultaneously trying to disguise the “narrow sectarian religious” part.

In the words of Sir Walter Scott, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”

They do not allow naive ethical considerations to interfere with this challenging tasks, not even the ethical considerations exiged by the Biblical character Jesus and the Ten Commandments.

They will accept books that seem to imply some acceptance of some evolution. They will even, at times, accept Islamic anti-evolution books. (Remember, though, in parallel with Meyer “implying” that humans may have evolved, Luskin, or sometimes Meyer himself, will write “rebuttals” to every major new scientific work about human evolution. The ONLY consistencies are obsessive opposition to “evolution” and dog whistle appeals to the fundamentalist religious right.)

It’s all about denying the theory of evolution in some way, shape, or form, with the implied goal of making it legally possible to contradict it in public schools.

I don’t know how far they would go. If someone wrote an anti-evolution book from a Satanist perspective, I don’t know if they’d embrace that. I suspect they would, delightedly, and claim that it “proved” that evolution denial “isn’t only Christian” and can therefore be taught in public schools.

They have, in the course of a generation, tried for all of the following approaches - eliminate mainstream science and replace it with “creation science”, demand “equal time” for mainstream science and “creation science”, claim that the theory of evolution “is a religion” and therefore can’t be taught, claim that the theory of evolution “is a religion” and therefore creationism can be taught too, remove the theory of evolution from curricula and replace it with nothing - just flat censor it (this was the approach of the Kansas school board that got me interested in 1999), and/or claim that ID/creationism isn’t religious and can therefore be taught as science - whether it has any value as science or not.

I don’t think they’re consciously hoping that there’s something wrong in what “darwinists” say. I think that as authoritarians, they instinctively assume that they are the default and just have to remove pesky opposition. As we have both noticed, they spend almost no time trying to persuade. They spend a lot of time reinforcing the biases of the already committed, and they spend far more time than that defensively responding to challenges. Meyer’s book is an example of both of these activities. It’s mainly a defensive response to science, but it’s also a reinforcement of biases - it reassures the “base” that someone, somewhere, is using big fancy words to contradict science. They just assume that if they can shut down opposition, they win by default.

Their perception is that they should rightfully be allowed to force school children to parrot their personal chosen biases as “fact”. They perceive anything that is at odds with their biases as a peasant revolt; as soon as they can squash the revolting peasants the old order will be restored. This is the opposite of the truth, of course. It is they who are a post-modern radical movement. But they don’t seem to see it that way.

Speaking of quote mines, did anyone else spot or notice the gross quote mine in David Berlinski’s latest defense of Darwin’s Doubt? This should definitely go in the Quote Mine Project. In his feeble attempt to criticize Matzke’s devastating review, he quotes Susumo Ohno on whether new proteins or protein families were required in the Cambrian radiation. This is what he shows his audience:

… [I]t is more likely that all the animals involved in the Cambrian explosion were endowed with nearly the identical genome, with enormous morphological diversities displayed by multitudes of animal phyla being due to differential usages of the identical set of genes.

The original quote from Ohno’s paper:

Inasmuch as only a 1% DNA base sequence change is expected in 10 million years under the standard spontaneous mutation rate, I propose that all those diverse animals of the early Cambrian period, some 550 million years ago, were endowed with nearly identical genomes, with differential usage of the same set of genes accounting for the extreme diversities of body forms.”

Not only did he totally omit the important qualification (in bold) that appears in Ohno’s original paper with a period, but he totally ignores the fact that Ohno’s words are actually in total agreement with what Matzke wanted to say: No new proteins or families of proteins were required for the phenotypic diversity we see in the Cambrian animals. In other words, no new genes (or proteins) were necessary to explain the diversification of animal phyla in the Cambrian. And yet he says to the gullible that “Susumo Ohno came to a different conclusion”.

Do these people have any modicum of respect for their audiences’ intellect? Do they think that they write for lobotomized baboons who cannot remember what was said in the beginning of the paragraph?

Rhazes said:

Speaking of quote mines, did anyone else spot or notice the gross quote mine in David Berlinski’s latest defense of Darwin’s Doubt? This should definitely go in the Quote Mine Project. In his feeble attempt to criticize Matzke’s devastating review, he quotes Susumo Ohno on whether new proteins or protein families were required in the Cambrian radiation. This is what he shows his audience:

… [I]t is more likely that all the animals involved in the Cambrian explosion were endowed with nearly the identical genome, with enormous morphological diversities displayed by multitudes of animal phyla being due to differential usages of the identical set of genes.

The original quote from Ohno’s paper:

Inasmuch as only a 1% DNA base sequence change is expected in 10 million years under the standard spontaneous mutation rate, I propose that all those diverse animals of the early Cambrian period, some 550 million years ago, were endowed with nearly identical genomes, with differential usage of the same set of genes accounting for the extreme diversities of body forms.”

Not only did he totally omit the important qualification (in bold) that appears in Ohno’s original paper with a period, but he totally ignores the fact that Ohno’s words are actually in total agreement with what Matzke wanted to say: No new proteins or families of proteins were required for the phenotypic diversity we see in the Cambrian animals. In other words, no new genes (or proteins) were necessary to explain the diversification of animal phyla in the Cambrian. And yet he says to the gullible that “Susumo Ohno came to a different conclusion”.

Do these people have any modicum of respect for their audiences’ intellect? Do they think that they write for lobotomized baboons who cannot remember what was said in the beginning of the paragraph?

They probably think that they do and they probably do. THey can only fool the ignorant and gullible, that’s their target audience. The educated and informed are forever outside their grasp.

Using the argument that you can only with one kind of house with the same set of tools is monumentally stupid. Only the willfully ignorant would fall for such a transparent falsehood.

Do these people have any modicum of respect for their audiences’ intellect? Do they think that they write for lobotomized baboons who cannot remember what was said in the beginning of the paragraph?

They probably think that they do and they probably do. THey can only fool the ignorant and gullible, that’s their target audience. The educated and informed are forever outside their grasp.

I’m not sure what baboons did to deserve this insult, but they write for committed self-brainwashed authoritarians who demand that the propaganda they consume match their biases and wishes, whatever level of distortion must be applied to do so.

If their target audience was solely the educationally deprived in Appalachia and similar regions, they would not have as much fund-raising.

Berlinski’s quote actually comes from a different passage in the paper, which had a similar wording to that of the abstract. So, I apologize, he didn’t omit anything. But still, Ohno’s position in the paper in no way contradicts or invalidates what Matzke had to say. The Cambrian radiation didn’t require a new set of proteins or protein families, according to Ohno. Instead, the diversity of body plans or forms arises from the differential expression of the same set of genes. How is it that “Susumo Ohno came to a different conclusion” from that of Matzke’s?

This is the passage that Berlinski partially quoted:

The Cambrian explosion denoting the almost simultaneous emergence of nearly all the extant phyla of the kingdom Animalia within the time span of 6-10 million years can’t possibly be explained by mutational divergence of individual gene functions. Rather, it is more likely that all the animals involved in the Cambrian explosion were endowed with nearly the identical genome, with enormous morphological diversities displayed by multitudes of animal phyla being due to differential usages of the identical set of genes. This is the very reason for my proposal of the Cambrian pananimalia genome. This genome must have necessarily been related to those of Ediacarian predecessors, representing the phyla Porifera and Coelenterata, and possibly Annelida. Being related to the genome - possessed by the first set of multicellular organisms to emerge on this earth, it had to be rather modest in size.

The whole passage tells us that Berlinski’s musings about Ohno’s usage of the word “endowed” are quite deceptive. Ohno DOES say what he means by “the curious and suggestive word endowed”. The genome of the Cambrian animals came from their “Ediacarian predecessors”. Ohno’s answer also counters another point that Berlinski tried to raise: that the 136 protein families unique to animals “must have arisen throughout the Cambrian era”. No, they don’t have to. They could have easily arisen at any point in the ancestors of the Cambrian phyla (this could extend the time period to at least 80 million years, if not more). The other point is that these protein families don’t necessarily have to have uniquely arisen in the animal lineage. Berlinski tells his gullible audience the following:

These proteins presumably arose after the last common animal ancestor.

That might be a possibility, but it is no way the only one. In fact, the paper that he cites identified three possible reasons why these protein families might be unique to the animal lineage:

The remainder comes from families that have a spasmodic distribution because of gene loss, gene invention, or just because the sequence-matching procedures are not powerful enough to detect all homologs.

In other words, we might have had more protein families in common with the other eukaryotes, but they could have been lost in the course of evolution, or the other possibility is that our tools aren’t powerful enough to detect the homology. (Note that this paper was published in 2003).

Well of course different anatomies wouldn’t necessarily require different proteins. Put a cell type in some part of the body where it wasn’t before, or have some part grow more (or less) relative to other parts than it used to, or have some part get absorbed after it grows, or some other change in arrangement or proportions. None of those results would need proteins that weren’t already there.

Henry J said:

Well of course different anatomies wouldn’t necessarily require different proteins. Put a cell type in some part of the body where it wasn’t before, or have some part grow more (or less) relative to other parts than it used to, or have some part get absorbed after it grows, or some other change in arrangement or proportions. None of those results would need proteins that weren’t already there.

Exactly. The exact same DNA makes all of the different types of cells in the body. The exact same type of DNA makes things as different as the solitary and gregarious forms of locusts, the different castes in a bee colony, the larval and adult stages of butterflies. WHy on earth would you suppose that entirely new and different kinds of proteins were required in order to produce changes in morphology?

You can build a lot of things with wood, a hammer and some nails. You don’t need to use plastic or metal or even saws and rivets. ALl you have to do is alter the directions slightly and you get a different result.

The Cambrian radiation didn’t require a new set of proteins or protein families, according to Ohno. Instead, the diversity of body plans or forms arises from the differential expression of the same set of genes. How is it that “Susumo Ohno came to a different conclusion” from that of Matzke’s?

Taken excessively literally, this statement by Ohno borders on being nonsense.

It is certainly true that essentially the same genome is found in all somatic cells of the human body, that organisms with very different morphologies at very different parts of their lifecycle generally have the same genome throughout their lives, and so on. Having said that, different species have different genomes.

However, of course, Ohno undoubtedly meant to draw attention to the fact that very minor changes in nucleotide sequence can have very major effects on morphology.

harold said:

The Cambrian radiation didn’t require a new set of proteins or protein families, according to Ohno. Instead, the diversity of body plans or forms arises from the differential expression of the same set of genes. How is it that “Susumo Ohno came to a different conclusion” from that of Matzke’s?

Taken excessively literally, this statement by Ohno borders on being nonsense.

It is certainly true that essentially the same genome is found in all somatic cells of the human body, that organisms with very different morphologies at very different parts of their lifecycle generally have the same genome throughout their lives, and so on. Having said that, different species have different genomes.

However, of course, Ohno undoubtedly meant to draw attention to the fact that very minor changes in nucleotide sequence can have very major effects on morphology.

Well, in the paper’s abstract he said “nearly identical genomes”, which is a fairly reasonable statement. We have diverged from Chimpanzees around 6 million years ago, and yet our genomes are remarkably similar (especially in terms of gene or protein content). I know this isn’t a very accurate analogy, because of generation time and other considerations, but it reflects on the situation in the Cambrian. The animal phyla weren’t very divergent in terms of morphology and genome structure at the very beginning – at least not as divergent as they would become later on. Their genomes could have been very similar at the beginning. But as the diversification process continued, differences in genome content and in morphology began to accumulate, with the latter being perhaps quicker and more visible for the same reason that you stated in your last sentence.

It’s very likely that in the Cambrian, most of the morphological changes were due to minor changes in the regulatory sequences that control development. And this was Matzke’s main point: Doug Axe’s research, in addition to being flawed on its own (as Arthur Hunt and others have showed), isn’t applicable to this particular discussion. No new major proteins or protein families were needed to achieve the morphological diversity we see in the fossil record – at least not as much as Meyer imagines there should have been. And this is what Ohno’s paper affirms. Yet Berlinski somehow got the opposite conclusion from the paper.

I’m assuming that by “differential expression” Ohta was referring to changes in regulatory sequences. That’s what would alter expression patterns. Two things are important here: first, changing expression wouldn’t take all that many mutations; second, it could happen gradually, with many mutations of small effect, each advantageous in itself, for which an obvious mechanism is increasing specificity and strength of binding at transcription factor binding sites.

harold said:

Do these people have any modicum of respect for their audiences’ intellect? Do they think that they write for lobotomized baboons who cannot remember what was said in the beginning of the paragraph?

They probably think that they do and they probably do. THey can only fool the ignorant and gullible, that’s their target audience. The educated and informed are forever outside their grasp.

I’m not sure what baboons did to deserve this insult, but they write for committed self-brainwashed authoritarians who demand that the propaganda they consume match their biases and wishes, whatever level of distortion must be applied to do so.

If their target audience was solely the educationally deprived in Appalachia and similar regions, they would not have as much fund-raising.

harold, I don’t mean to detract from the thread topic, but whoa! LOL. I mean really, this has to stop! I live in middle of Appalachia and I think we are getting a bad rap. Now I will admit that this is not the center of enlightenment, and I know that it is not the most education prioritized spot in American (sigh), and yes we are pretty deep with Sunday fundie Bible bangers, and I know the area has a reputation of being generally populated by one-tooth stump-jumping hillbillies who can’t add more than two single digits on paper (let alone in their heads) and get a correct answer, but actually there are a lot of smart, very well educated people in Appalachia. Not everyone in Appalachia is a “lobotomized baboon.” Texas and Louisiana, for example, fare no better.

I lived five years in the southern portion of Maine (8th grade through 12th) and the educational system up there sucks just as bad as it does here. I admit that public education in this area is well below the standard I would like – and that concerns me, because my daughter is in the public school system here – but, there are a lot of people working very diligently to improve that condition.

Just got Darwin’s Doubt from the library. And I’m quite unable to find any real acknowledgment that anything happened between the end of the Ediacaran and the start of the Atdabanian, which is a period of around 20 million years, and during which quite a bit happens. No wonder Meyer calls the Cambrian explosion quick and mysterious: he cuts a giant slice out of the middle.

It also appears that the small, shelly fauna appears only in one endnote, and that’s attached to text that makes it seem as if it’s an Ediacaran phenomenon.

John Harshman said:

I’m assuming that by “differential expression” Ohta was referring to changes in regulatory sequences.

Ohta? or Ohno?

I know Tomoko Ohta – she is an eminent Japanese theoretical population geneticist who is famous for her work on slightly deleterious mutants as an explanation for protein substitution and polymorphism. But I suspect you meant the late Susumu Ohno.

John Harshman said:

Just got Darwin’s Doubt from the library. And I’m quite unable to find any real acknowledgment that anything happened between the end of the Ediacaran and the start of the Atdabanian, which is a period of around 20 million years, and during which quite a bit happens. No wonder Meyer calls the Cambrian explosion quick and mysterious: he cuts a giant slice out of the middle.

It also appears that the small, shelly fauna appears only in one endnote, and that’s attached to text that makes it seem as if it’s an Ediacaran phenomenon.

We’ll be waiting for your full review of the book. We have heard the opinion of a phylogeneticist (Matzke), a paleontologist (Prothero), and with your full review, we will complete the set with the educated opinion of a systematist. That should interesting.

Joe,

Have you read Darwin’s Doubt? If not, are you planning to do so anytime soon?

Keelyn said:

harold said:

Do these people have any modicum of respect for their audiences’ intellect? Do they think that they write for lobotomized baboons who cannot remember what was said in the beginning of the paragraph?

They probably think that they do and they probably do. THey can only fool the ignorant and gullible, that’s their target audience. The educated and informed are forever outside their grasp.

I’m not sure what baboons did to deserve this insult, but they write for committed self-brainwashed authoritarians who demand that the propaganda they consume match their biases and wishes, whatever level of distortion must be applied to do so.

If their target audience was solely the educationally deprived in Appalachia and similar regions, they would not have as much fund-raising.

harold, I don’t mean to detract from the thread topic, but whoa! LOL. I mean really, this has to stop! I live in middle of Appalachia and I think we are getting a bad rap. Now I will admit that this is not the center of enlightenment, and I know that it is not the most education prioritized spot in American (sigh), and yes we are pretty deep with Sunday fundie Bible bangers, and I know the area has a reputation of being generally populated by one-tooth stump-jumping hillbillies who can’t add more than two single digits on paper (let alone in their heads) and get a correct answer, but actually there are a lot of smart, very well educated people in Appalachia. Not everyone in Appalachia is a “lobotomized baboon.” Texas and Louisiana, for example, fare no better.

I lived five years in the southern portion of Maine (8th grade through 12th) and the educational system up there sucks just as bad as it does here. I admit that public education in this area is well below the standard I would like – and that concerns me, because my daughter is in the public school system here – but, there are a lot of people working very diligently to improve that condition.

My apologies, no actual insult to Appalachia was intended.

In fact, my comment actually intended to emphasize that politicized creationism and related activities are NOT unique to Appalachia, NOR to poor rural regions. Creationist efforts to take over school curricula have targeted poor rural districts, but, for example, neither the DI nor the TMLC is actually located in Dover, PA, in Appalachia, or in any similar place.

So blaming or excessively stereotyping Appalachia was actually the opposite of my intent.

I’m not sure I understand the difference between a phylogeneticist and a systematist. But if there’s any difference (you could make the argument that one is a subset of the other), I’m probably the former rather than the latter.

Rhazes said:

Joe,

Have you read Darwin’s Doubt? If not, are you planning to do so anytime soon?

Not unless someone sends me a free copy or unless I can find it in our city library or my university library. Even then I would read mostly the sections on Complex Specified Information, and see whether Meyer fell into the errors we all thought he would. It would make a good extra data point in the discussion about CSI: does Meyer’s explanation reflect Dembski’s recent clarification of CSI (and his assertion that that was the original meaning of CSI all along)? Does Meyer think CSI is how you prove Design? Or that having concluded for Design, you then make a meaningless after-the-fact labeling of it as CSI?

I won’t do a “full” review because others better-versed in paleontology have reviewed those parts.

John’s point is very telling – if Meyer barely mentions the Small Shelly Fauna then that is a huge problem with his book.

Ohta? or Ohno?

I know Tomoko Ohta – she is an eminent Japanese theoretical population geneticist who is famous for her work on slightly deleterious mutants as an explanation for protein substitution and polymorphism. But I suspect you meant the late Susumu Ohno.

Yeah. I always get those two confused, never having met either. Sure. Ohta: nearly neutral theory. Ohno: the person being talked about here.

Rhazes said:

Berlinski’s quote actually comes from a different passage in the paper, which had a similar wording to that of the abstract. So, I apologize, he didn’t omit anything.

Onlookers, welcome to Panda’s Thumb.

Come for the science and the defending thereof, stay for the intellectual honesty.

Joe,

I sent you the relevant passages from the book.

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This page contains a single entry by Richard B. Hoppe published on August 19, 2013 8:43 PM.

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