Aug 15 2014

Bad Reporting About Epigenetics

Brad Crouch should be fired. At the very least he should never write a science news article again (well, maybe after remedial education and appropriate penance). At first I thought perhaps he was a general or fluff journalist taken off the dog show beat and asked to cover a science news item, but his byline for The Advertiser (an Australian news outlet) says he is a “medical reporter.” That’s frightening.

I read a lot of bad science news reporting, but rarely does a reporter so thoroughly misrepresent the actual science news – unless there is an obvious ideological agenda, but as far as I can tell this is just pure incompetence.

He is reporting on a review article on epigenetics recently published in Science. The two articles have very little in common, and it’s difficult to see how Crouch arrived at his story other than just making shit up. He begins:

LANDMARK Adelaide research showing that sperm and eggs appear to carry genetic memories of events well before conception, may force a rethink of the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, scientists say.

First, the paper is not research, let alone “landmark” research. It is a review article. It’s not even a systematic review or a meta-analysis, which a reporter might be forgiven for calling a “study” – it’s just a discussion of the topic of epigenetics.

What is especially interesting is that the words “evolutionary theory,” “Darwin,” and “Lamarck,” appear nowhere in the review, despite the fact these are the focus of Crouch’s reporting. Further, the word “epigenetics” appears nowhere in Crouch’s reporting, despite the fact that this is the focus of the review article.

Here is what the review actually says:

Transgenerational epigenetic effects interact with conditions at conception to program the developmental trajectory of the embryo and fetus, ultimately affecting the lifetime health of the child. These insights compel us to revise generally held notions to accommodate the prospect that biological parenting commences well before birth, even prior to conception.

Essentially, epigenetics are tweaks to the expression of genes in response to environmental factors. If a mother is, for example, living in times where there is good access to food, epigenetic factors will adapt her children to the current abundance. If she is living in lean times, they will we more adapted to food scarcity.

One biochemical mechanism of epigenetic factors that has been discovered is methylization of base pairs. This does not affect the sequence of genes, but it can affect their expression.

While epigenetics is stil fairly new, and the details are being worked out, so far the experiments show that it is a short term (1 or a few generations) tweak for adaptation to immediate conditions. It does not have any real impact on Darwinian evolution. It certainly does not indicate that the inheritance of acquired characteristics (often referred to as Lamarckism, even though this notion did not originate with Lamarck, was not unique to Lamarck, and was actually a minor aspect of Lamarck’s evolutionary thinking) will now replace Darwinian evolution.

I am not even sure I buy the much more limited conclusion of the review that healthful lifestyles are transmitted to children. This seems like an awful lot of extrapolation from limited research. It is plausible and consistent with existing research that being obese or overeating during pregnancy may cause and epigenetic signal of abundance, leading to children with a greater tendency to put on weight. What is not clear is if this is clinically relevant in humans. I also would not generalize this to “healthful lifestyle.”

Crouch goes way beyond overcalling epigenetics, and takes a left-turn into bizarro world:

It paves the way for a review of the work of French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, whose theory that an organism can pass to its offspring characteristics acquired during its lifetime was largely ignored after Darwin’s publication of On The Origin of Species in the mid-1800s, that work defining evolution as a process of incidental, random mutation between generations.

Wrong. It’s not Lamarck’s theory, but worse still epigenetics has absolutely nothing to do with the mechanisms of evolutionary change. Crouch does then pivot to the actual subject of the review, the effect of parental habits on the child. He quotes one of the authors, Sarah Robertson:

“People used to think that it didn’t matter because a child represented a new beginning, with a fresh start.

“The reality is, we can now say with great certainty the child doesn’t quite start from scratch. They already carry over a legacy of factors from their parents’ experiences that can shape development in the foetus and after birth.

“There is now biological evidence that memories of experiences in adults can be transferred through egg and sperm for the lifetime prospects of the child.

“If evolution has developed something like this it can give a child an edge to survive. This will rewrite long held views, that experiences can actually be transferred to offspring.”

You will notice that Robertson never says anything to support either the notion that epigenetics calls Darwinian evolution into question, nor the hyped interpretation that lifestyle transfers to children. Everything she says is compatible with a conservative interpretation of epigenetics. Crouch, however, uses them as if they support his ridiculous interpretation.

This is unfortunately common in bad science journalism. The reporter has their story in mind, usually some hyped interpretation not supported by the actual research they are reporting, or some tiny footnote they will exagerate as if it’s the main finding of the study. They then interview experts, not to find out what is really going on or to put the story into perspective, but to mine for quotes they can plug into their pre-existing narrative.

Then he does it again:

Prof Robertson stressed that genes remain the blueprint for a new baby, but said the work of both Darwin and Lamarck may need to be reconsidered.

“The genes are the blueprint and that won’t change,” Prof Robertson said. “But this is at another level, it is the decoration of the gene, the icing on the cake if you like, a gift to offspring that gives them another layer of information about survival.”

She says nothing about Darwin and Lamarck, just like the review says nothing abuot Darwin and Lamarck. Her statements that he uses to support his interpretation, in fact contradict it. Epigenetics is another level of information, which does not change the basic fact that genes are the “blueprints.’

As an aside, I do not like the “blueprint’ metaphor for genes. It’s misleading. Genes are not a blueprint. There is no representation of the final product in the genes. Genes, rather, are more of a recipe, a set of instructions that, if followed, result in the final organism. Yes this is nitpicking, but metaphors in science communication should strive to be conceptually accurate.

He finishes with the lifestyle theme again:

“Lifestyle changes by potential parents and improvements in the right direction, especially in the months leading up to conception, could have a lasting, positive benefit for the future of their child,” Prof Robertson said.

This, at least, is the proper focus of the paper. Here Crouch failed also. He never mentioned epigenetics, never gave this central concept to the review article any background, and he did not appear to interview other scientists to see if this one scientist, discussing her own paper, was in the mainstream or not.

Conclusion

Crouch’s reporting of this review article on epigenetics was an utter disaster. He displays everything that is wrong with bad science journalism.

Epigenetics is also not a new concept, as one might think from reading Crouch’s article. It is still relatively young, scientifically speaking, and there is likely scant public awareness of epigenetics. Reporting on this review was a good opportunity to introduce readers to the concept of epigenetics and to put it into some historical and scientific perspective.

Anyone reading Crouch’s piece who was not already familiar with evolutionary theory and epigentic would have come away without gaining any real insight, but rather completely misinformed.

My own take on epigenetics is that this is an interesting layer of complexity to the function of genes that allows for short term adjustments to current environmental conditions. Epigenetics have no significant impact on evolutionary theory, however.

Also, the concept that genes themselves are not destiny, but rather genetic expression interacts with the environment is nothing new. The term “epigenetics” was coined in 1939, and the modern sense of the word (mechanisms that affect the expression of genes) dates back to the mid 1970s.

Here’s Crouch’s headline: “Darwin’s theory of evolution challenged by University of Adelaide genetic memory research, published in journal Science.” (I know reporters don’t usually write their own headlines, but this is fairly based on Crouch’s reporting.)

Here’s the real headline: “Local scientists write a review article on the decades-old concept of epigenetics.”

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83 responses so far

83 Responses to “Bad Reporting About Epigenetics”

  1. carbonUniton 15 Aug 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Science sure takes a lot of hits due to bad reporting spreading misconceptions.

    typo? “hoe” instead of “how” ?

  2. jsterritton 15 Aug 2014 at 1:13 pm

    Wow, the headline really grabs you. Seems like Crouch would like to replace the generations-long evolution of genes with outcomes determined directly by the parents’ “healthful lifestyles.” Yikes. Obviously the big red flag here is some medical reporter “challenging Darwin’s theory of evolution.” That dang theory is famously airtight.

  3. kurtzson 15 Aug 2014 at 1:45 pm

    I humbly suggest that science is a process, and no theory is complete and absolute forever. Have a look at:

    http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/replication/#RepGen

    selected excerpts which stand out to me:

    From Introduction:

    Everyone agrees that genes are replicators, but genes may not be the only replicators. Perhaps more inclusive entities than single genes might also function as replicators. At the very least, this possibility should not be defined out of existence. Hence, Dawkins adopted “replicator” as a more inclusive and general term than “gene.”

    …Unfortunately, replication cannot be explicated adequately without at least touching on development and its constituent difficulties. For example, if replication were simply the passing on of structure largely intact without any subsequent translation, we would not be tempted to employ terms such as “information” in connection with it.

    …We then turn to Developmental Systems Theory and the attempt to extend the replicator. Genes are replicators, but possibly they are not the only replicators. Finally, we discuss all too briefly the role of information in replication, and the notion of reproducers as a solution to these problems.

    From Section 5:

    Numerous evolutionary biologists question how fundamental to selection the perspective of alleles at a locus actually is. Almost everyone agrees that evolution involves changes in gene frequencies. However, few go on to add that evolution is nothing but changes in gene frequencies. When one looks at the work of evolutionary biologists, one discovers that it involves much more than changes in gene frequencies.

    …One might well change the traditional gene selectionist view of biological evolution. Selection in gene-based theories of evolution was worked out first, but historical precedence does not entail conceptual priority.

    From section 6

    …Although such critics of Dawkins as Sterelny et al. (1996) decline to join with Dawkins in his demotion of environmental interaction, they do agree with him that replicators are special. They play a special role in development. However, they do not limit replicators to genes even in biological evolution.

    …As more and more nongenetic replicators, including epigenetic inheritance, are acknowledged, Dawkins’ Gene’s Eye view begins to gradate into the conception of the Extended Replicator, which Sterelny et al. (1996) specify as any non-genetic as well as genetic replicators.

    … For one entity to be a copy of another, it must be the output of a process whose biofunction is to conserve function. The function of copying is to produce from one token another token which is similar in the relevant respects. Genes fit this definition, but so do lots of examples of nongenetic transmission; e.g., habitat stability resulting from nest site imprinting, the song that a bird learns, various micro-organism symbionts, not to mention SCC transmission.

    From the conclusion:

    Replicators include genes, memes and even entities that are commonly thought of as parts of an organism’s phenotype or environment. Some authors argue that replication in this extended sense is necessary for selection; others that it is not. Selection can occur in the absence of replication.

    ==================================

  4. JRockon 15 Aug 2014 at 2:57 pm

    this is what I love about neurologica. the science reporting. also the rigorous and charming know-it-all’s. that’s a compliment for this blog because, well, it’s ok to be a know-it-all when you’re actually right. one man’s opinion.

    Dr. novella,

    first I’d like say I hope you rip tobinik’s dick off in court. and maybe, WHEN, you win you can have a bit of a counter suit to recover the costs and humiliate ole tobi “sack of quack” nik? but onto my question.

    you and the players on this blog often link to good information sources as well as bad ones. giving us name’s to consider and a list to ignore and warn others about is essential, I think, to anyone who has friends or acquaintances who tip toe through the woolips. which inevitably cost them in one way or another. but the links are disseminated through mountains of blog.

    would you (or the gang) consider composing a list (other than the blogs you link to) of a couple reliable sources on facebook. maybe a few lesser known news sites that reach the scientific bar? maybe some top notch news television?

    or perhaps the more fun list: the pages, sites, and news shows that wouldn’t know scientific rigor if it was conducted in, lets say, their own butt’s?

    maybe a bit of both? I hope I don’t seem sophomoric with the questions. I could probably google it. but I have faith in you and the roustabouts. I too love the mind. all the points of view that come from the blog I find most enriching. google can be a lonely place you know.

  5. JRockon 15 Aug 2014 at 3:38 pm

    ee gads. forgive my spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I know it’s a plain eye-sore to some of you.

  6. BBBlueon 15 Aug 2014 at 4:13 pm

    No hyphen in eyesore. :)

  7. Oracon 15 Aug 2014 at 4:13 pm

    It’s not just creationists who abuse the new science of epigenetics. It’s quacks, too:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/epigenetics-it-doesnt-mean-what-quacks-think-it-means/

  8. BillyJoe7on 15 Aug 2014 at 6:19 pm

    The most important fact about epigenetics is that epigenetic mechanisms are actually coded in the DNA. In other words, there is no epigenetics without random mutation and natural selection in the genome. That’s what really puts to rest the idea that epigenetics is a paradigm shift in thinking about evolution.
    Epigenetics is not going to replace modern evolutionary theory, it is well and truly part of it.

    (I hope that “all the usual suspects” who start blathering on about “intention” and purpose” whenever the subject is raised on this blog will read and understand this basic point, because it really should not require another couple of hundred posts to explain it)

  9. hardnoseon 15 Aug 2014 at 7:26 pm

    The political dogma of contemporary genetics says that information from the environment cannot influence genes in any way.

    That is probably why Novella sounds rather hysterical in this post. Epigenetic findings are a threat to Darwinian ideology.

    We don’t know enough about epigenetics, or genetics, to declare that environmental influences on genes are short term and limited. Yet Novella states that, because he dreads the possibility that serious faults might be found in Darwinian evolution theory.

    Lamarck did not stop believing that acquired traits can be inherited, by the way. Where did Novella get that idea?

    Lots of people believed in evolution before it finally became a mainstream scientific theory. And they usually believed the habits that parents acquired during their lives were passed along to offspring. I think even Darwin believed this to some extent.

    In the mid 20th century a political decision was made in biology that acquired traits cannot ever be passed to offspring. It was decided that evolution is entirely mindless and meaningless, and that Lamarck (as well as all the other earlier evolution-believers) was completely wrong.

    Lamarckian evolution theory is not mystical. It does however open a door that allows some degree of purpose and meaning in the development of species. Contemporary Darwinists HATE that idea. Notice the t

  10. hardnoseon 15 Aug 2014 at 7:29 pm

    Notice the tone of Novella’s diatribe.

    The traits that parents acquire during their lifetime result largely from the parents’ goals and desires. If they can be inherited by offspring, the goals and desires would enter into the picture of evolution.

    That is FORBIDDEN in materialist evolutionary biology.

    Not much is known yet about epigenetics, but I would not be surprised if it turns out that Lamarck was correct about certain things that have been completely denied in current evolution theory.

  11. Paulzon 15 Aug 2014 at 11:18 pm

    @hardnose

    “The traits that parents acquire during their lifetime result largely from the parents’ goals and desires. If they can be inherited by offspring, the goals and desires would enter into the picture of evolution.
    That is FORBIDDEN in materialist evolutionary biology.”
    1) This paper has nothing to do with their choices over a lifetime, merely conditions that exist during the immediately period of conception. Food stress generates biochemical signatures, for instance, and food abundance another.
    2) Nothing about this is anti-material, I don’t even know where you’re pulling that crap from.

    “Not much is known yet about epigenetics, but I would not be surprised if it turns out that Lamarck was correct about certain things that have been completely denied in current evolution theory.”
    I’m just going to assume that you didn’t read Novella’s article. He states right there that Lamarck did not create the hypothesis and he rejected it later in life. It’s not “Lamarck’s” hypothesis.

  12. FthisStateon 16 Aug 2014 at 12:55 am

    “Brad Crouch should be fired. At the very least he should never write a science news article again (well, maybe after remedial education and appropriate penance)”

    Well, welcome to the scientific era of authoritarianism and inquisition. What’s frightening is the mindset of that guy, and the author really is “that guy.”

    Does the author realize how ignorant they look when they write drivel like that? Appropriate penance? What if the other side thinks the same thing? What if the other side suggests that the author go through the same thing and not be allowed to write ever again until the author went through the required education and gave the appropriate penance?

    Way to bring back ideas from the 1200′s. Even if in jest, and it doesn’t sound like it’s in jest, it’s way over the top. Perhaps someone that advocates for such policies should themselves be forced to endure those policies before they are ever able to write again? Completely unscientific.

  13. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2014 at 1:51 am

    hardnose,

    “That is probably why Novella sounds rather hysterical in this post…he dreads the possibility that serious faults might be found in Darwinian evolution theory…Where did Novella get that idea?…Notice the tone of Novella’s diatribe”

    Try posting something like this on evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne’s blog and you would be immediately banned for rudeness and your pathetic post mercilously drawn and quartered without any right of reply. You are abusing the good nature of your host.

    You have demonstrated that you know next to nothing about this subject and understsand even less, but you blabber on about Steven Novella’s state of knowledge and understanding, which he has amply demonstrated is far in excess of your own.

    So, stop abusing your priviledges here, put you nose to the grindstone, and explain what is wrong with my above statement copied here:

    BillyJoe: “The most important fact about epigenetics is that epigenetic mechanisms are actually encoded in the DNA. In other words, there is no epigenetics without random mutation and natural selection in the genome. That’s what really puts to rest the idea that epigenetics is a paradigm shift in thinking about evolution.
    Epigenetics is not going to replace modern evolutionary theory, it is well and truly part of it”

    hardnose: “The traits that parents acquire during their lifetime result largely from the parents’ goals and desires. If they can be inherited by offspring, the goals and desires would enter into the picture of evolution”

    I wasn’t thinking of you when I said the following but welcome to the club:

    BillyJoe: “I hope that “all the usual suspects” who start blathering on about “intention” and purpose” whenever the subject is raised on this blog will read and understand this basic point, because it really should not require another couple of hundred posts to explain it”

    I’m inclined to start pulling your nasal hairs one by one, but I will give you a chance to apologise and repent. Please do not disappoint.

  14. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2014 at 2:42 am

    hardnose,

    “Lamarck did not stop believing that acquired traits can be inherited”

    Okay, to show how magnanimous I am, I’m going to concede this point.

    Although Lamarck did mention natural selection in his writings, he did not actually stop believing that acquired characteristics can be inherited. On the other hand, Darwin did later concede that acquired characteristics could be inherited.
    I think perhaps Steven mixed up these two facts about these two gentlemen.

    No need for abuse, though, you could simply have pointed this out.

  15. Bruceon 16 Aug 2014 at 4:11 am

    “You are abusing the good nature of your host.”

    This.

  16. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2014 at 4:58 am

    BJ to hardnose: “Try posting something like this on evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne’s blog and you would be immediately banned for rudeness and your pathetic post mercilously drawn and quartered…”

    —————————————————————
    hardnose,

    You are now going to be mercilously drawn and quartered. :)

    The political dogma of contemporary genetics
    The political dogma of contemporary genetics???

    says that information from the environment cannot influence genes in any way
    Epigenetics has been a part of modern evolutionary theory now for over three decades.

    Epigenetic findings are a threat to Darwinian ideology
    Darwinian ideology??? To repeat…
    Epigenetics has been a part of modern evolutionary theory now for over three decades.

    We don’t know enough about epigenetics, or genetics, to declare that environmental influences on genes are short term and limited
    The point is that, with our current state of knowledge, epigenetic influences are short term and limited, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise, and no reason to think otherwise.

    he dreads the possibility that serious faults might be found in Darwinian evolution theory
    Darwinian evolutionary theory has faults and deficiencies that every evolutionary biologist recognises. Which ius why we have had neo-Darwinism, the Modern Synthesis, and now Modern Evolutionary Theory. Please get yourself up to date, sir.

    Lots of people believed in evolution before it finally became a mainstream scientific theory
    That’s how science works! Individual scientists generate hypotheses. When the evidence in support of the hypotheses reaches a critical mass, they become scientific theories.

    And they usually believed the habits that parents acquired during their lives were passed along to offspring
    So? They were simply wrong.

    I think even Darwin believed this to some extent
    He did. He was also wrong. DNA had not yet been discovered. Please excuse him.

    In the mid 20th century a political decision was made in biology that acquired traits cannot ever be passed to offspring
    Political decision???
    The consensus position is that Lamarckism is false.
    Epigenetics has not changed this consensus.
    Epigenetics is part of Modern Evolutionary Theory.

    It was decided that evolution is entirely mindless and meaningless
    Decided???.
    The EVIDENCE is that there is no direction or purpose in evolution.

    and that Lamarck…was completely wrong.
    It remains that way.
    There is no evidence that evolution is achieved by the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

    Lamarckian evolution theory is not mystical
    Without a mechanism, and without evidence, it is indeed a mystical view of evolution.

    It does however open a door that allows some degree of purpose and meaning in the development of species
    Wild speculation beyond the evidence and, indeed, against the evidence.

    Contemporary Darwinists HATE that idea
    HATE the idea???
    Modern evolutionary biologists simply find no evidence, and no mechanism, for direction and purpose.

    The traits that parents acquire during their lifetime result largely from the parents’ goals and desires. If they can be inherited by offspring, the goals and desires would enter into the picture of evolution
    IF they can be inherited by offspring, the goals and desires COULD enter into the picture of evolution PROVIDED the inheritance could survive more than a few generations.
    This has not been demonstrated.

    That is FORBIDDEN in materialist evolutionary biology
    FORBIDDEN???
    Science follows the evidence and looks for mechanisms.
    There is no evidence, and no mechanism, for direction and purpose in evolution.

    I would not be surprised if it turns out that Lamarck was correct about certain things that have been completely denied in current evolution theory
    Your surprise or lack thereof cuts no mustard.
    Please provide evidence and mechanism.

  17. Steven Novellaon 16 Aug 2014 at 7:23 am

    Regarding Lamarck – I did make an error, but here it is:

    Lamarck had two main ideas regarding evolution, that it was purposeful and directional (predetermined by an inherent force in nature), and inheritance of acquired characteristics. It was the former and not the latter he rejected later in his career. He eventually came around, from examining the fossil record, that there was no direction to evolution. Creatures adapted to their local environments, that was it.

    I will make a correction in the text.

  18. Steven Novellaon 16 Aug 2014 at 7:30 am

    Fthis – I believe I made a solid case that Crouch, as a science journalist, demonstrated gross incompetence. He did not just make a mistake – he took a science article and completely misrepresented it. If science journalism is to have any standards, this should be completely unacceptable.

    What I suggested was the equivalent of a doctor being guilty of malpractice losing his license, or a lawyer being disbarred for gross incompetence.

    What do you find objectionable about this?

    Science journalism needs to have much higher standards.

  19. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2014 at 10:22 am

    SN: “Lamarck had two main ideas regarding evolution, that it was purposeful and directional (predetermined by an inherent force in nature), and inheritance of acquired characteristics. It was the former and not the latter he rejected later in his career. He eventually came around, from examining the fossil record, that there was no direction to evolution. Creatures adapted to their local environments, that was it”

    There is irony in the fact that that those who keep raising Lamarck’s ghost do so for the purpose of injecting direction into evolution.

  20. mumadaddon 16 Aug 2014 at 11:20 am

    “It is plausible and consistent with existing research that being obese or overeating during pregnancy may cause and epigenetic signal of abundance, leading to children with a greater tendency to put on weight. ”

    Isn’t this the wrong way round? I’m going off memory here, but I’m thinking of the Dutch Hunger Winter – the grandchildren of those that were pregnant (or at least went through early stages) during the famine had higher rates of obesity, due to epigenetic changes that made them better adapted to extract more calories from food. Absent the famine, this led to the higher tendency to obesity.

  21. mumadaddon 16 Aug 2014 at 11:21 am

    Just to clarify, ‘grandchildren’ wasn’t an error, it was important to highlight that the epigenetic changes could then be passed on genetically.

  22. hardnoseon 16 Aug 2014 at 12:39 pm

    [I’m just going to assume that you didn’t read Novella’s article. He states right there that Lamarck did not create the hypothesis and he rejected it later in life. It’s not “Lamarck’s” hypothesis.]

    Novella said Lamarck rejected the hypothesis — that doesn’t mean it’s true.

  23. hardnoseon 16 Aug 2014 at 12:46 pm

    [Darwinian evolutionary theory has faults and deficiencies that every evolutionary biologist recognises. Which ius why we have had neo-Darwinism, the Modern Synthesis, and now Modern Evolutionary Theory. Please get yourself up to date, sir.]

    Oh yes you have the new improved version, I must not forget the “neo-.” It is essentially the same theory, whatever you call it. Darwin didn’t have the understanding of genetics that came along later. Still the same theory.

  24. BBBlueon 16 Aug 2014 at 12:55 pm

    He did. He was also wrong. DNA had not yet been discovered. Please excuse him.

    I miss Stephen Jay Gould. He was a master at pointing out mistakes made by great scientists, including Darwin, in a way that did not diminish their greatness. Science, is a human enterprise, after all.

  25. midnightrunner2014on 16 Aug 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Interesting blog post. It’s unfortunate that some people still confuse epigenetics as “Lamarckian”. T. Ryan Gregory has covered the error here:

    http://www.genomicron.evolverzone.com/2009/03/lamarck-didnt-say-it-darwin-did/

    Lamarck did not believe the environment imposed direct effects on organisms. Epigenetics is actually closer to what Darwin proposed. For example look into Darwin’s theory of heredity known as “pangenesis”.

    More information here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamarckism#Critical_reception

  26. midnightrunner2014on 16 Aug 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Also can you guys check this out – there is a very absurd paper written by a neuroscientist who claims Lamarckian evolution can explain the human brain.

    http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnins.2013.00224/full

    “Lamarckian evolution explains human brain evolution and psychiatric disorders”

    I would like to known Steven Novella’s or any other expert thoughts about this. The author confuses Lamarckian evolution with epigenetics but please let me know any other errors you can find. He is claiming De novo Mutations causes psychiatric disorders?

  27. BillyJoe7on 16 Aug 2014 at 5:41 pm

    hardnose,

    Put your nose to the grindstone and answer my replies to your posts.
    Demonstrate that you actually know and understand what you are talking about.

    And give me your best criticism of the following:

    “The most important fact about epigenetics is that epigenetic mechanisms are actually encoded in the DNA. In other words, there is no epigenetics without random mutation and natural selection acting on the genome. That’s what really puts to rest the idea that epigenetics is a paradigm shift in thinking about evolution.
    Epigenetics is not going to replace modern evolutionary theory, it is well and truly part of it”

    What is wrong with that basic point about epigenetics.

  28. hardnoseon 16 Aug 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Mutations and natural selection are part of evolution. There is no scientific reason to assume that explains it. We have a description of some aspect of what goes on. That is not the same thing as having a complete explanation of why and how evolution happens.

  29. hardnoseon 16 Aug 2014 at 6:58 pm

    [Lamarck had two main ideas regarding evolution, that it was purposeful and directional (predetermined by an inherent force in nature), and inheritance of acquired characteristics. It was the former and not the latter he rejected later in his career. He eventually came around, from examining the fossil record, that there was no direction to evolution. Creatures adapted to their local environments, that was it.]

    I have never heard of that, and I have read a lot about evolution theory. Where did Lamarck ever say he thought there was no direction to evolution?

  30. Jess91on 16 Aug 2014 at 8:04 pm

    Hey BillyJoe, great quote about epigenetics being a part of modern evolutionary theory – I can’t wait to see what more we learn about its significance.
    Also, I think it would be a good idea for everybody to stop conflating Lamarck’s ideas with epigenetics – they’re related only in analogy and nothing more.
    For anyone interested in learning more about epigenetics (and you should be), there are 3 main pop-sci books out at the moment, by 1) Richard Francis, 2) Nessa Carey, and 3) Joel Wallach et al. I’ve read the former 2 and I can strongly recommend ‘The Epigenetics Revolution’ by Nessa Carey. It starts off in the basics but quickly whisks on to describe ‘epigenets’ effects on sexual selection, disease, and ontogeny.
    Great article Steve.
    – Jesse

  31. BillyJoe7on 17 Aug 2014 at 2:27 am

    hardnose,

    “I have read a lot about evolution theory”

    And understood nothing it seems.
    Why not just admit it.
    Because, at the moment, you’re just looking ridiculous.

  32. Bruceon 17 Aug 2014 at 5:43 am

    Mumadadd,

    “made them better adapted to extract more calories from food.”

    A complete sidenote to this whole discussion, but this is a point I always have to scream at the screen at. People (mostly woo-meisters) go on about making our bodies more “efficient” in order to lose weight etc, but the simple fact is that if your body is efficient it should be storing more calories! We are obese because of the ease of availability of calorie dense foods and an apparently more sedentary lifestyle. Anything else is just noise.

  33. M_Morganon 17 Aug 2014 at 9:27 am

    Wonders never cease, choc full of the ignorance of Billyjoe7, and Dr Novella. This is a good one:

    “The most important fact about epigenetics is that epigenetic mechanisms are actually coded in the DNA. In other words, there is no epigenetics without random mutation and natural selection in the genome. That’s what really puts to rest the idea that epigenetics is a paradigm shift in thinking about evolution.”

    Unless you can use logic, don’t bother making blanket pronouncements, and that goes for Steve’s absolute stubborn refusal to make any connection whatsoever, in this lifetime, definitely not, no doubt, between Epigenetics and Evolution by natural Selection. That’s how it reads Steve, desperate.

    Steve, you have no idea how mutations arrived at a human genome from amoeba in 3 billion years, because no-one does. The rates are too low to be done credibly blindly. Don’t panic at the fact that you don’t know how mutations arise (other than throwing up your hands and saying they are blind). You haven’t viewed them in operation over long time periods biologically (using fossils won’t work) so what do you expect? It suits you to retain the Central Dogma and the strangely fortuitous aggregations created by DNA to build human beings – nice accidents!

    Steve, that’s an immature approach. Perhaps being older like myself helps somehow. You need to question, and not wait till the proof smacks you in the face. Expanding the usage of a DNA strand shows that it doesn’t function as assumed in the Central Dogma, as it is open to variable expression by ENVIRONMENTAL effects.

    What is the basis for Epigenetics Steve? You did qualify by saying its fledgling, which excuses you from knowing much about it. But then again, perhaps you should look into it rather than rule out any connection to mutations. You go for entirely, 100% blind mutation, no doubt, Steve? Good luck with your head in the sand. Exposure to change by external conditions not previously accounted is indeed on a track away from blind isolation from an environment. That is exactly what blind mutation fanatics hate, but you guys can wait till it slaps you in the face. For the rest, you can read my free work at http://sdrv.ms/1a4HBbk to see how it actually fits together.

    PS Where have all the other vultures gone? Did you censure them Steve? If so, good job.

  34. mumadaddon 17 Aug 2014 at 9:41 am

    Book, science! Yay, mmorgan!

  35. mumadaddon 17 Aug 2014 at 9:42 am

    Blood auto correct.

    Ahem… Boo, science! Yay, m_morgan!

  36. mumadaddon 17 Aug 2014 at 9:43 am

    Facepalm. *bloody* auto correct.

  37. mumadaddon 17 Aug 2014 at 9:46 am

    Morgan,

    I read your book, and I’m sorry to break it to you but you have it all wrong. I have worked out that the whole endeavour of science is fatally flawed, but not in the way you suggest. You can read about it in my book. Just send me your bank details and I’ll ship one over to you in a jiffy.

  38. BillyJoe7on 17 Aug 2014 at 10:26 am

    M.Morgan,

    “Steve’s absolute stubborn refusal to make any connection whatsoever…between Epigenetics and Evolution by natural Selection”
    “you don’t know how mutations arise”
    “you have no idea how mutations arrived at a human genome from amoeba in 3 billion years”
    “You haven’t viewed them in operation over long time periods biologically… so what do you expect?”
    “the strangely fortuitous aggregations created by DNA to build human beings – nice accidents!”

    WTF are you blabbering on about?
    Please familiarise your self with modern evolutionary theory before you make a fool of yourself again.

    “mutation…rates are too low to be done credibly blindly”

    You forgot the second factor.
    Hint: it makes all the difference.
    And, by the way, I will ask you for a third time:
    What do evolutionary biologists mean when they say that mutations are random?
    Your refusal to answer will be taken as admission that you have no friggin’ idea.

    “Expanding the usage of a DNA strand shows that it doesn’t function as assumed in the Central Dogma modern evolutionary theory, as it is open to variable expression by ENVIRONMENTAL effects”

    Your ignorance is showing.
    Plasticity is well and truly part of modern evolutionary theory.
    It is programmed into the genome…wait for it…by random mutation and natural selection.
    Fancy that!

    “You go for entirely, 100% blind mutation”

    This statement is just based on your ignorance on a number of levels.
    I will hint at your mistake here by asking a question:
    Blind to what?
    Hint number two:
    The answer to the above is related to the answer to my previous question:
    What do evolutionary biologists mean when they say that mutations are random?
    Once you have found the answer to these questions you will realise how ignorant your statement is.

    “For the rest, you can read my free work at http://sdrv.ms/1a4HBbk to see how it actually fits together”

    Well, you couldn’t exactly sell your crank book now could you.
    In fact, you can’t even get people to read it for free!
    You are a crank, Morgan, and it’s about time you faced up to that fact.

    (BTW, the bit you quoted from my post is overstated a little (though only a little) but not in the way you imply, but I bet you have as little idea as hardnose (otherwise he would have jumped on it by now) what I mean by that)

  39. BillyJoe7on 17 Aug 2014 at 10:28 am

    mumaddad,

    “I read your book…”
    Good one! :D

    “You can read about it in my book. Just send me your bank details and I’ll ship one over to you in a jiffy”
    Hilarious! :D

  40. BillyJoe7on 17 Aug 2014 at 10:33 am

    Ah, Morgan always cracks me up, so serious, so…CRANKy!
    Nice end to a great week end.

  41. etatroon 17 Aug 2014 at 11:18 am

    There was a hypothesis paper several years ago suggesting that exosomal microRNA was a mechanism for Lamarckian evolution, leading to the expansion of the frontal cortex in hominids, and psychiatric disorders are a side effect/by product. I used it with my summer students as a discussion point on how even poorly constructed ideas can be published, scientists can be wrong, and how to extract assumptions from hypotheses. (Also, it’s important to separate the issue from the person, as a professional practice. Teach them to criticize the idea, not the person.) http://ericktatro.com/2014/02/20/microrna-lamarckian/

  42. jsterritton 17 Aug 2014 at 11:28 am

    M_Morgan

    “For the rest, you can read my free work at http://sdrv.ms/1a4HBbk to see how it actually fits together.”

    I don’t think I’ll ever be sad when M_Morgan shows up with his book. It’s a very special book. It explains everything — and succinctly, I might add (at 234 narrow pages, there is very little matter occupying very little space). I recommend it to everyone.

  43. randyon 17 Aug 2014 at 12:17 pm

    I agree with Steve’s assessment of of the Crouch article. After reading the Crouch article I was depressed that the dismal state of science reporting had reached a new low. The possibility that some information about environment may be passed over generations by epigenetics is intriguing but not the main focus of epigenetic theory. As Steve pointed out chromosomal DNA is not a blueprint. As a fertilized egg cell divides repeatedly into the full organism with at least 250 (probably more at the chemical level) different cell types, each in a unique structural position within the organism the information about what a particular cell should be doing must be stored. In effect each cell must have an “address” which tells it what it is and what it should be doing. That information must be stored and reproduced in some way aside from alteration of the DNA code sequence, hence, the epigenetic mechanisms. That these epigenetic mechanisms might allow information transfer across generations is interesting, but not the main story. Crouch’s article in not only misleading about the Lamarkian aspect of epigenetics, but also of the primary function of epigenetics. Essentially the information that tags individual cells as an organism grows, must be erased from the DNA for the next generation or the growth process of that generation will become chaos. Thus there must be severe limits on the amount of epigenetic information that can be passed from one generation to the next.

  44. jsterritton 17 Aug 2014 at 12:26 pm

    Hardnose…

    “The political dogma of contemporary genetics says that information from the environment cannot influence genes in any way.”

    What is with you? Why does everything always have to be a dark web of politics and conspiracy with you? Did something bad happen to you? Or does it just suit you to feel like a victim of those more powerful than yourself, you scrappy underdog, you? I think we need your origin story. M_Morgan similarly demonizes a “Central Dogma” that sheeple embrace, but at least he’s a bona fide madman prophet visionary crank trying to spread the good word (e.g., Levity, etc).

    As far as I can tell, there isn’t even a kernel of truth to your statement, hardnose. I don’t see anything that is contentious about epigenetics, aside from evolution deniers who claim that since Darwin didn’t know everything, he therefore knew nothing, so God. In last week’s Science there is a perfectly equanimous article about epigenetics. It is scandalously listed under the category heading, “EVOLUTION.”

  45. johnwernekenon 17 Aug 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Yet more evidence that voters should have absolutely nothing to do with any policy, only with choosing who will represent them in the doing of policy decision making.

  46. johnwernekenon 17 Aug 2014 at 2:24 pm

    The public is an idiot, about everything.

  47. Eugenie Mielczarekon 17 Aug 2014 at 2:48 pm

    Perfect timing–I just returned from a 10 day vacation (read ordeal)–above the Arctic circle. Participants included, bankers, physicians (very well educated and well read). This recent news article consumed some of our conversation — I could not convince them it was grossly in error. Very very sad . But I hope I did convince them to read SBM,SIBM and Neurologica. Eugenie Mielczarek

  48. hardnoseon 17 Aug 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Crick’s Central Dogma said that information goes from DNA to RNA to protein, always and only. Because of that, Neo-Darwinists refer to all DNA that does not code protein “junk.” And they deny that DNA can respond to external events, and they insist that any changes in DNA are “random.”

    It is very important for Neo-Darwinists to believe that DNA has no intelligence.

    You could say they are followers of the cult of nonsense and meaninglessness. They love to see nature as mindless, I guess because it lets them feel elevated and enlightened.

  49. jsterritton 17 Aug 2014 at 7:38 pm

    So DNA has intelligence and evolution theory is a cult of nonsense whose members denigrate mutation as being “random” to make themselves feel important? I liked it when your conspiracies were “X-Files.” This is just “Mean Girls.”

  50. Ymataon 18 Aug 2014 at 1:07 am

    @hardnose

    You’ve induced me to comment for the first time, I hope you are proud. I do not know much about these neo-Darwinists you refer to, but I will try to correct their misconceptions using my own (very limited) understanding of molecular biology.

    “Crick’s Central Dogma said that information goes from DNA to RNA to protein, always and only.”

    No, Crick’s central dogma states, “The central dogma of molecular biology deals with the detailed residue-by-residue transfer of sequential information. It states that such information cannot be transferred back from protein to either protein or nucleic acid.” That is, the primary DNA sequence (“code”) cannot be translated back from proteins’ amino acid sequences to nucleic acids (DNA or RNA). This is from Wikipedia, for your own reference.

    “Because of that, Neo-Darwinists refer to all DNA that does not code protein ‘junk.’”

    Modern molecular biology refers to non-protein coding DNA as “non-protein coding DNA.” It is readily acknowledged that DNA can also encode small RNA molecules (i.e. not mRNA, which is translated into protein; small RNA molecules have mainly regulatory purposes), act as regulatory regions, play important structural roles in the chromosomes, etcetera. “Junk DNA” is a distinct concept and refers to sequences of DNA which have literally no known purpose, which is surprisingly common. However, all non-protein coding DNA is not junk.

    “And they deny that DNA can respond to external events, and they insist that any changes in DNA are ‘random.’”

    These neo-Darwinists of yours seem quite misinformed. Modern molecular biology has many well-described mechanisms by which DNA responds to external events, from the sub-atomic level to the level of the whole organism. The changes to DNA that are “random” are nucleotide mutations, where the nucleotide base sequence of a DNA molecule is altered. This is often during cell division, where DNA synthase rarely incorporates an incorrect nucleotide during the synthesis of a new DNA molecule, but can also be caused by mutagens, which cause different kinds of mutations. However, there are many other changes to DNA that don’t change the primary sequence, and many of these are not random. For example, relevantly, epigenetic changes are “deliberate” and involve chemical alterations to the DNA molecules, or the histone proteins that they are wrapped around (in eukaryotes).
    I suspect that the neo-Darwinists are here referring to “gene expression,” rather than “changes in DNA.” Gene expression is about as far from random as can be, as shown by modern molecular biology. Silly neo-Darwinists!

    “It is very important for Neo-Darwinists to believe that DNA has no intelligence.”

    Finally, I must agree with the neo-Darwinists. What does “intelligent DNA” even mean?

    “You could say they are followers of the cult of nonsense and meaninglessness. They love to see nature as mindless, I guess because it lets them feel elevated and enlightened.”

    I think I agree with you here, hardnose. Your neo-Darwinists seem to say an awful lot of silly things about molecular biology. They seem like very strange people. Perhaps because they are stuffed with straw?

  51. Bill Openthalton 18 Aug 2014 at 7:16 am

    Hardnose is just a recycled USENET troll. He likes to ruffle feathers and enjoys the emotional replies. It’s kinda sad, but this is how some people get their rocks off.

  52. BillyJoe7on 18 Aug 2014 at 7:32 am

    hardnose,

    Why you keep insisting on making a fool of yourself?

    Crick’s Central Dogma says that information goes from DNA to RNA to protein”
    That is the case – apart from some minor unproven exceptions that are, in any case, irrelevant from the point of view of evolution.

    “always and only”
    BS. There are very few evolutionary biologists who would make such a exclusive statement. “Always and only” is nearly always wrong.

    “Neo-Darwinists refer to all DNA that does not code protein “junk.””
    BS. Regulatory genes are well and truly part of modern evolutionary theory.

    “And they deny that DNA can respond to external events”
    BS. Modern evolutionary theory is well aware that sudden environmental changes can trigger activation or inactivation of genes (via methylation and demethylation for example). In almost all cases, this change is actually encoded in the regulatory genes within the genome (“if this happens in the environment, activate this gene”). It is referred to as plasticity. Plasticity is well and truly part of modern evolutionary theory. It is also possible that change can be induced that is not encoded in the genome and is caused directly by the environment. However, such cases are not proven and, if they exist, are probably rare, mostly harmful, and last only one or a few generations and, hence, irrelevant from the pont of view of evolution.

    “and they insist that any changes in DNA are “random.”
    Marcus Morgan has been unable to tell us what evolutionary biologists mean by “random”, and I’m guessing you are about as clueless. Prove me wrong, hardnose. Come on, give it a go. You never know, you might actually learn something.

    ‘It is very important for Neo-Darwinists to believe that DNA has no intelligence’.
    It’s not important. It is simply true. There is no evidence for purpose and direction in the DNA. Not a single shred of evidence. No mechanism and no plausibility. The idea is dead in the water.

    “You could say they are followers of the cult of nonsense and meaninglessness. They love to see nature as mindless, I guess because it lets them feel elevated and enlightened”
    Well, I must admit I do feel elevated and enlightened by modern evolutionary theory.

  53. Bruceon 18 Aug 2014 at 8:32 am

    Hi,

    My name is [Bruce]. I come to this blog often and I almost always agree with the original post and with the bulk of the commenters. I am of average intelligence and often have very little to add to the conversation aside from the odd pithy comment. Few people ever respond to me or quote me and I am happy with this no matter how much of a fool I may appear to be.

    Hi,

    My name is [hardnose, M_Morgan, fullerm]. I almost always disagree with everything people say here and people will quote me and respond to me all the time. I love this attention and want it to continue so I will continue to say these things in order to make myself feel important, no matter how much of a fool I may appear to be.

  54. BillyJoe7on 18 Aug 2014 at 9:06 am

    Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

  55. Bruceon 18 Aug 2014 at 9:10 am

    Is attention seeking malicious?

    But I see your point.

  56. hardnoseon 18 Aug 2014 at 7:29 pm

    “Marcus Morgan has been unable to tell us what evolutionary biologists mean by “random”, and I’m guessing you are about as clueless. Prove me wrong, hardnose. Come on, give it a go. You never know, you might actually learn something.”

    I know exactly what mainstream materialist evolutionary biologists mean by “random.” They believe that changes in DNA during replication are accidents, without any purpose, and that if they benefit an individual or species in any way it was unintended.

    Evolutionary biologists are taught that DNA has no intelligence. If it does anything that appears to be intelligent, that is only an illusion. The extreme and unfathomable complexity of the “computer program” that we call DNA is the result of a long process of haphazard changes and natural selection.

    Evolutionary biologists don’t believe this, they KNOW this. They do not have any doubt or skepticism about this theory. It HAS to be true, or else materialism could not be true. And materialism MUST be true because … well because that’s what they were taught to believe.

  57. hardnoseon 18 Aug 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Bruce,

    I read this blog because I know I will disagree with many of Novella’s posts. Most of his readers are like you, and are here to soak up ever more of the world view they prefer to believe in. You read his posts and think (maybe not consciously) “Oh yes, that is what I thought, and if Novella thinks it also, then I must be right.”

    Usually these posts are preaching to the choir, and most comments are just “amen brother, you said it.”

    But real skeptical science depends on considering alternate perspectives. The reason I comment here is because I am a real skeptic. Not that anyone can ever be perfectly skeptical, but some of us at least try to be objective. Of course we often get abused by the mob, because mobs don’t like dissenters.

    Human nature is tribal, and tribal cohesion depends on all members resonating with the group mythology. The tribal mythology at this blog is atheistic materialism.

  58. jsterritton 18 Aug 2014 at 8:21 pm

    Hardnose…

    You keep coming here to evangelize about the “mob” and rail against how you, as a “dissident,” are treated. But you never back up any of your arguments with sources, reason, or logic. Rather, you superimpose the same old noble-radical-teaching-to-power narrative on each topic in succession. No one — repeat NO ONE — is keeping you down. On the contrary, all I ever see anyone do is indulge you.

    I take issue with your latest chapters because I really, really don’t like having words stuffed in my mouth and being told what I think — especially by some pitiful, attention-seeking, dumb-ass troll like you. Be as heroic as you care to envision yourself, but don’t presume to know what I think, let alone speak for me.

    Get bent.

  59. grabulaon 18 Aug 2014 at 10:08 pm

    @BJ7

    “Epigenetics is not going to replace modern evolutionary theory, it is well and truly part of it.”

    This is a difference between science and those who understand it and those who don’t. There’s always room for improvement. Down the road many theories change over time, some in big ways, most in small ways. Our understanding of them expands and it evolves. Of course a few bad eggs occasionally claim that a particular line of questioning is dead but that’s never totally the case.
    However, in woo, early adaptation of any hint of a whiff of something that challenges science in any way offers the fleeting hope that all that damning evidence against it is wrong and we need to look at the world in a whole new way.

    “The political dogma of contemporary genetics???”

    Your confusion is because you’re not a schill for Big Genetics.

    “And understood nothing it seems.”

    Careful, as hardnose has recently stopped pointing out, he’s a scientist.

    @Hardnose

    “The political dogma of contemporary genetics says that information from the environment cannot influence genes in any way.”
    Troll. please don’t feed this idiot.

    @Paulz

    “That is FORBIDDEN in materialist evolutionary biology”

    Hardnose and a couple of other retards on this blog tend to rail against ‘materialism’ – tending to imply science is just some big materialistic conspiracy.

  60. grabulaon 18 Aug 2014 at 10:27 pm

    Yay! Our fav crank M Morgan is back! I’m a little shocked that since his book covers just about everything, he isn’t here mroe obvious telling us how wrong we are.

    @M_Morgan

    “It suits you to retain the Central Dogma and the strangely fortuitous aggregations created by DNA to build human beings – nice accidents! ”

    Someone’s probably already addressed this bit of ridiculousness but I can’t ignore it. No one is claiming DNA is an aggregate of a series of accidents. That’s a seriously amateur strawman, coming from even you (though I’ll give you it’s halfway intelligible which is refreshing.)

    “Perhaps being older like myself helps somehow.”

    ‘Older’ guarantees nothing except existence on a longer timeline than those that came after you. A sound example of your logic though.

  61. grabulaon 18 Aug 2014 at 10:27 pm

    @jsterritt

    “at 234 narrow pages, there is very little matter occupying very little space”

    It’s got planty of mass though, that much is irrefutable.

    on hardnose: “You keep coming here to evangelize about the “mob” and rail against how you, as a “dissident,” are treated. But you never back up any of your arguments with sources, reason, or logic”

    No no, he has definitely said he IS a scientist.

  62. grabulaon 18 Aug 2014 at 10:28 pm

    @johnwerneken

    “Yet more evidence that voters should have absolutely nothing to do with any policy, only with choosing who will represent them in the doing of policy decision making.”

    This.

  63. grabulaon 18 Aug 2014 at 10:28 pm

    @hardnose

    “Because of that, Neo-Darwinists refer to all DNA that does not code protein “junk.””

    This begs the question, what DOES it do smart guy?

    “It is very important for Neo-Darwinists to believe that DNA has no intelligence. ”

    More question begging, WHY do you think it’s important for ‘neo-darwinists’ to believe this again?

    “They believe that changes in DNA during replication are accidents, without any purpose, and that if they benefit an individual or species in any way it was unintended.”

    Dear Question Begger, how would these changes of BEEN intended? What mechanism besides goddidit would you suggest drives this?

    @hardnose

    “Not that anyone can ever be perfectly skeptical, but some of us at least try to be objective”

    try harder hardnose, much much harder

    @Ymata

    “I think I agree with you here, hardnose. Your neo-Darwinists seem to say an awful lot of silly things about molecular biology. They seem like very strange people. Perhaps because they are stuffed with straw?”

    Well played.

  64. grabulaon 18 Aug 2014 at 11:09 pm

    from one of the links midnightrunner posted, Jerry Coyne states:

    “Lamarckism is not a “heresy,” but simply a hypothesis that hasn’t held up…”

    This is one of those many differences I like to point out between those of us who understand science and those of us who don’t coughHARDNOSEcough. When a new hypothesis comes along I personally look forward to any development or widening of our understanding it might bring. Even a failure adds to our growing knowledge. Some of these guys hold on to this stuff even long after it’s dead, just because they want to.

  65. jsterritton 18 Aug 2014 at 11:13 pm

    M_Morgan has re-edited his book (this might be a daily occurrence, but I’m still excited). A topical and piquant passage:

    “Viewing from universal absolutes, [Darwin] did not think that there was a final product species on Earth, although he did not realize our environment has a specific layering of chemicals corresponding to the structure of our anatomy, preferring our form of adaptation.” (Emphasis added.)

    If Darwin had only lived another 129 years (1st publication date of Morgan’s book), he could have learned about The Design and why people eat hamburgers because hamburger particles exist at mouth height (levity), while we wear shoes because shoe particles are lower down (gravity). What’s more, he’d know that this glorious geometry scales perfectly up (the entire universe), down (Planck time), and anywhere in between (solar system and why people like to hug and kiss). While Morgan does not assign “intelligence” to DNA, he does regard evolution — from the early universe to disco — as inevitable.

  66. grabulaon 18 Aug 2014 at 11:21 pm

    ah yes, I’m not taking the trip down that rabbit hole but I did find the bit about our sexy bits having something to do with the world, I mean other than the obvious. Morgan is really out there.

  67. Bruceon 19 Aug 2014 at 4:37 am

    “Even a failure adds to our growing knowledge.”

    I blame Dysney for the world in general not understanding the importance of failure.

  68. Bruceon 19 Aug 2014 at 4:38 am

    Apparently it is spelt Disney…

  69. BillyJoe7on 19 Aug 2014 at 9:01 am

    hardnose,

    “I know exactly what mainstream materialist evolutionary biologists mean by “random.” They believe that changes in DNA during replication are accidents, without any purpose, and that if they benefit an individual or species in any way it was unintended”

    Good boy!
    It seems you’ve done some reading since last I asked this question.
    More compactly…
    Mutations are blind with respect to outcome (advantageous or disadvantageous).
    Now the really important bit, and the real reason why I asked this preliminary question:
    What does “random” NOT mean.

    Okay, that might prove a tad difficult, so I’l give you a heads up…

    It does not mean that mutations are spread evenly over all parts of the genome.
    It does not mean that some sections of the genome can’t have very high mutation rates compared with the rest of the genome.
    It does not mean that some parts of the genome aren’t protected from mutations.
    It does not mean that mutation rates can’t change in response to environmental stimuli.

    And do you know why it does not mean all these things?
    Because all these features have themselves been produced within the genom by the same process of random mutation and natural selection!
    Doesn’t that make you feel “elevated and enlightened”!

    “Evolutionary biologists are taught that DNA has no intelligence”

    If there is any sense in which DNA has intelligence, it is because random mutation and natural selection have put it there (see above)

    “If it does anything that appears to be intelligent, that is only an illusion”

    Jackpot!
    The genome appears to be intelligently increasing mutations in some sections of the genome in response to environmental changes whilst protecting other sections from mutations. The genome seems to be advantageously increasing mutations where they are needed to respond to those environmental changes whilst protecting sections of the genome that are essential for the proper functioning of the cell. But here’s the thing: all those functions have all been put in the genome over millions of years of evolution by…
    …random mutation and natural selection!

    So much for your “direction” and “purpose” of “intelligently” acting DNA.
    They are nothing but anthropomorphic metaphors!

    “Evolutionary biologists don’t believe this, they KNOW this”

    Of course they know this.
    The evidence is overwhelming!

    “They do not have any doubt or skepticism about this theory”

    Well, I wouldn’t go that far.
    There is always room for doubt and scepticism – just not that much in some cases.
    The Earth is an oblate spheroid with bumps and ditches on its surface – there’s not that much doubt or scepticism about that.

    “It HAS to be true, or else materialism could not be true. And materialism MUST be true because … well because that’s what they were taught to believe”

    That’s a bit strong.
    I would say that the underlying assumption of science is materialism (or to cut short any semantic arguments, naturalism/materialism/physicalism). So far, for over four hundred years of accumulating evidence in support of this assumption, there has not been a hint of a sniff of anything supernatural (or again to cut short any semantic arguments, supernatural/immaterial/nonphysical)

    Speaking of “cutting short”, I do believe I have cut short any arguments you might have had for “purpose” and “direction” in the genome.
    You have been stripped bare before you’ve even got your clothes on.
    What do you think?

  70. saschbon 19 Aug 2014 at 9:23 am

    @hardnose

    I know, you usually avoid answering concrete questions, but maybe you could enlighten us, how the basic molecular mechanisms of epigenetics, which are pretty well understood btw, can possibly lead to any long-term changes of genetics (as in more than a few generations) and even somehow “threaten” modern evolutionary theory. How anyone who has an understanding of molecular biology can think this, is totally beyond me.

    Furthermore, as a biologist, I find it baffling, that you think that the “political dogma of contemporary genetics says that information from the environment cannot influence genes in any way.” Every biological definition of life, I ever read, says that the response to environmental stimuli is a characterstic of it. Look at any random molecular biology paper and it will probably in some way involve the influence of environmental information onto gene expression. If you are speaking about the immediate, targeted and permanent change of genetic information in a Lamarckian way, a proposed mechanism or some evidence would be nice.

    Also: Intelligent DNA??? What does that even mean? Do you even have a hint of evidence for something like that? What is it doing that seems intelligent? I’m really curious what deoxyribonucleic acid is in your mind.

  71. BillyJoe7on 19 Aug 2014 at 9:30 am

    saschb,

    Hardnose thinks the DNA is intelligent because it purposely directs the production of favourable mutations whenever the environment changes.

  72. saschbon 19 Aug 2014 at 10:16 am

    Thanks BillyJoe7,

    I didn’t see your post before. Now I understand the diatribe about randomness. So a favourable outcome is a proof for intent. Well, that’s convincing. If I’m winning at the craps table, it’s because the dice want me to win? Then they must hate the guys that lose. Or is it their DNA that hates them? Maybe we should start a breeding program for lottery winners.

  73. Bronze Dogon 19 Aug 2014 at 10:18 am

    I would say that the underlying assumption of science is materialism (or to cut short any semantic arguments, naturalism/materialism/physicalism). So far, for over four hundred years of accumulating evidence in support of this assumption, there has not been a hint of a sniff of anything supernatural (or again to cut short any semantic arguments, supernatural/immaterial/nonphysical)

    I feel like once again bringing up my position that “supernatural/immaterial/nonphysical” is an incoherent ‘junk drawer’ category. I don’t need to assume ‘materialism’ so much as parsimony: Explain the known with known forces and entities. When looking for explanations of the unknown, keep new hypothetical causes as simple and well-defined as possible.

    The problem “supernatural” hypotheses typically have is that they’re vague to the point of uselessness, and/or unjustifiably complex for what they try to explain. We’re typically expected to accept whole frameworks at once, rather than break them down into simpler, testable components we can build on. This has the side effect of making their prior plausibility low enough for casual dismissal. Those features are so common to “supernatural” hypotheses, scientists and skeptics have ended up using the word as shorthand for hypotheses with those fatal flaws.

    I think humoring woos’ insistence on arbitrarily defining two categories ends up obscuring the problem and giving the impression that skeptics categorically and reflexively reject things because they are labeled “supernatural.” I think the reality is the reverse: these things get lumped together as “supernatural” because science thus far rejects them. It’s easier to invent an ideological prejudice and tar your opponents with it than it is to ask hard epistemology questions and do the science.

  74. Bronze Dogon 19 Aug 2014 at 10:26 am

    Now I understand the diatribe about randomness. So a favourable outcome is a proof for intent. Well, that’s convincing. If I’m winning at the craps table, it’s because the dice want me to win? Then they must hate the guys that lose. Or is it their DNA that hates them? Maybe we should start a breeding program for lottery winners.

    Heh. I’m reminded of a pair of sisters from A Vision of Escaflowne. They had their blood replaced with that of soldiers who were the only survivors from their units, to enhance their already good luck to ridiculous levels. All sorts of catastrophes started happening to people who aimed weapons at them.

  75. BillyJoe7on 19 Aug 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Dronze Dog,

    I don’t think we disagree.

    At the dawn of science, materialism was an assumption – and, remember, an assumption is something that has very good reasons for being true, not something just plucked out of the air – but, after four hundred years of accumulating evidence in support of this assumption, and not even a hint of a sniff of anything immaterial/nonphysical/supernatural…

  76. grabulaon 19 Aug 2014 at 8:40 pm

    @bruce

    “I blame Dysney for the world in general not understanding the importance of failure.”

    Also all those ‘my child graduated kindergarten on time’ bumper stickers.

  77. grabulaon 19 Aug 2014 at 8:46 pm

    @bronze dog

    “I think humoring woos’ insistence on arbitrarily defining two categories ends up obscuring the problem and giving the impression that skeptics categorically and reflexively reject things because they are labeled “supernatural.””

    I don’t think anyone really but the woo believers insist on trying to draw this dichotomy. I don’t subscribe to ‘materialism’ as a label because science is good enough. If it doesn’t for some reason fall in that category it’s probably made up.

  78. SteveAon 21 Aug 2014 at 5:32 am

    jsterritt: “M_Morgan has re-edited his book (this might be a daily occurrence, but I’m still excited). A topical and piquant passage:
    “Viewing from universal absolutes, [Darwin] did not think that there was a final product species on Earth, although he did not realize our environment has a specific layering of chemicals corresponding to the structure of our anatomy, preferring our form of adaptation.” (Emphasis added.)
    If Darwin had only lived another 129 years (1st publication date of Morgan’s book), he could have learned about The Design and why people eat hamburgers because hamburger particles exist at mouth height (levity), while we wear shoes because shoe particles are lower down (gravity). What’s more, he’d know that this glorious geometry scales perfectly up (the entire universe), down (Planck time), and anywhere in between (solar system and why people like to hug and kiss). While Morgan does not assign “intelligence” to DNA, he does regard evolution — from the early universe to disco — as inevitable.”

    It’s a hoot ain’t it.

    There are quite a few Morgans out there, older gentlemen who perhaps did a bit of science at school or university and reckoned they had a handle on it, enough to get by on anyhow, enough to explain the workings of a toaster. Years later they read articles in the Sunday papers that tell them that new scientific ideas are completely overturning the old ones and assume there must now be an enormous gap in human knowledge, one that they thoughtfully fill with their own novel theories; in this case the ‘Up, Down, Left, Right’ theory of everything that Morgan managed to squeeze out in his spare time.

    I’m guessing that most of these gents (they do all seem to be men) are trying to compensate for their impending mortality with some 11th-hour legacy building.

  79. grabulaon 21 Aug 2014 at 7:36 am

    “If Darwin had only lived another 129 years (1st publication date of Morgan’s book), he could have learned about The Design and why people eat hamburgers because hamburger particles exist at mouth height (levity), while we wear shoes because shoe particles are lower down (gravity)”

    wtf…is that a direct quote?

  80. BillyJoe7on 23 Aug 2014 at 1:23 am

    I keep checking to see if hardnose has put some clothes on, but it seems he’s still running around naked. I guess I’ll just move on…

  81. jsterritton 23 Aug 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Grabula…

    The examples of hamburger particles (levity) and shoe particles (gravity) are mine, but are based on the teachings of Morgan, who tells us that “organs are located on either the right or the left side, corresponding to the location of Earth-based and celestial chemicals on Earth’s surface.” The way organs are arranged vertically is a little more complicated, since the human anatomy is organized exactly the same way as atoms and solar systems and galaxies, with forces (levity and gravity) balancing perfectly according to The Scheme. Don’t get me started on human reproductive organs, as Morgan is absolutely filthy on this topic. Here’s a snippet:

    “Obvious differences between sexes may be based on differences between electromagnetic levity and gravitational gravity, but the difference may extend to males functioning as an edge to a world to deal ends of a home, often with violence. Females tend to hold from real origins of a home, often with ignorance of the world, discussed later. The Scheme means biology and physics are directly comparable on all levels.” (Emphasis added)

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this book is amazing.

  82. BillyJoe7on 23 Aug 2014 at 6:06 pm

    It’s also very sad that somene has wasted all of his spare time over three decades producing absolute drivel. Even sadder than those contestants who turn up for auditions for The Voice expecting to win but who are eliminated on the first try because they could sing no better than their pet cat.

  83. grabulaon 24 Aug 2014 at 8:53 pm

    @Jsterritt

    “I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this book is amazing.”

    lol, that’s how hard it is to tell what’s serious with this guy. I remember when he first showed up there were snippets provided that were so far out there. The strangest part of the whole thing is it really seems like he believes this stuff!

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