How to spot a crackpot
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Let’s start with the first assertion to which you’ve taken exception. Analogies are what they are—an attempt to aid the reader (since there may be a wide range of exposure to the materials) in understanding the salient points. It is a device that is effective and is used in all disciplines. [...] The use of differing language/information analogies to the genome does not start nor end with YE or ID proponents (they are not one-in-the-same) but is seen in the analogies of those who are strident evolutionists as well, such as Carl Sagan (1974) when he compares the genome with having more information than contained in the Library of Congress. [...] What I find interesting is not having read any evolutionist being singled out for using these analogies, but anyone who is YE or ID is denigrated for doing so. Unless you have taken non-YE/IDers to task regarding this point, it seems irrelevant to single out Sanford. I credit Sanford for being quite clear about the limitations of the analogy, as quoted above.Yes, Dawkins used the cake recipe in 1982 in The Extended Phenotype, Dennett used Borges' Library of Babel concept in an interesting analogy for genotypic space in Darwin's Dangerous Idea, and Steve Jones wrote a whole book on The Language of the Genes. Good science writers make their careers on good analogies. Of course to suggest that they never get into trouble over their analogizing is ridiculous: entire volumes of criticism by scientists and philosophers have been devoted to the "gene/meme" and "spandrels" analogies alone. The problem is that, despite his mild disclaimers, the analogy Sandford introduces is a terrible one to discuss the evolution of genomic complexity. So I pointed it out. The reason I did this without hesitation and with what you might perceive as some impatience is that creationists of all stripes use analogies as substitutes for the rigorous scientific work of formulating hypotheses, testing them in the laboratory, or with computer simulations, or with observations from nature, and developing theories based on these activities.
In the second argument you offer as one example the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, citing de Bono M, Barmann CI,.(1998). In the abstract we read, “A loss-of-function mutation in the npr-1 gene, which encodes a predicted G protein-coupled receptor similar to neuropeptide Y receptors, causes a solitary strain to take on social behavior.” [...] Loss-of-function and various other degradations to the genome is more the rule than the exception to genetic mutations. This is the point Sanford makes clear, though you sidestep this and ask, “Does it matter?” It is an important area of discussion that is not well served with a flippant response. Any gene that mutates causing loss-of-function has certainly lost, not gained usefulness, and by definition the genome has lost information."This is wrong at so many levels that it is even hard to know where to begin. First of all, it is by no means certain that the genome has lost any information in this case (or any other involving mutations). The main reason is that Sanford and other people who use this argument don't actually define the term in a meaninful way (precisely one of my main criticisms of Sanford). According to any technical meaning of information that I am aware of, a single aminoacid substitution does very little, if anything to it.
The results of our survey showed a huge disparity in word use between the evolutionary biology and biomedical research literature (Figure 1). In research reports in journals with primarily evolutionary or genetic content, the word “evolution” was used 65.8% of the time to describe evolutionary processes [...]. However, in research reports in the biomedical literature, the word “evolution” was used only 2.7% of the time [...]. Indeed, whereas all the articles in the evolutionary genetics journals used the word “evolution,” ten out of 15 of the articles in the biomedical literature failed to do so completely. Instead, 60.0% of the time antimicrobial resistance was described as “emerging,” “spreading,” or “increasing” [...]; in contrast, these words were used only 7.5% of the time in the evolutionary literature [...]. Other nontechnical words describing the evolutionary process included “develop,” “acquire,” “appear,” “trend,” “become common,” “improve,” and “arise.”They do point out that there was no evidence that the scientists involved were trying to cover up evidence for evolution or anything. Just poor choice of words. And, unfortunately, this does nothing to improve the public understanding of evolutionary biology (see this figure).
The results showed that the use of the word “evolution” was actually increasing in all fields of biology, with the greatest relative increases in the areas of general science and medicine (Figure 3). This reflects the growing importance of evolutionary concepts in the biomedical field, and highlights even more the strange rarity with which the word “evolution” is used in the biomedical literature dealing with antimicrobial resistance.But they follow this up with a deeply troubling passage for me:
It has been repeatedly rumored (and reiterated by one of the reviewers of this article) that both the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation have in the past actively discouraged the use of the word “evolution” in titles or abstracts of proposals so as to avoid controversy.I too have heard the similar rumors -- mustn't upset all those scientifically illiterate representatives in Washington! But it gets better:
Indeed, we were told by one researcher that in the title of one proposal, the authors were urged to change the phrase “the evolution of sex” to the more arcanely eloquent wording “the advantage of bi-parental genomic recombination.”Talk about politically correct evolutionary biology! I wish I'd known of this story before the Science Cafe...