Jul 02 2012

Genetic Misinformation

One of the themes of this blog is the misreporting of science information in the lay media, so I am always interested in a particularly bad piece of science reporting. Several readers pointed me toward this piece in The Telegraph about studying genetic ancestry. I know newspaper writers usually don’t write their own headlines, but in this case the headline is partly a quote from the article itself: “Scottish lecturer found to be ‘grandfather of everyone in Britain.’”

That is a misleading and useless characterization of the science story covered in the article. The phrase “grandfather of everyone in Britain” does appear as a quote from “scientists”, although no specific name is given. I know from personal experience and talking to other scientists who have been misquoted by the media that the presence of quotation marks does not mean that a real scientist actually uttered those words. It is possible that they did, however. Typically a reporter will interview an expert for thirty minutes or more about the topic of their report, and then use only small bits from the interview, or perhaps none at all. Good journalists will use the expert to help them understand the topic and shape the article they are writing. However, too often journalists (especially those who are not specifically trained as science journalists) will just fish for provocative quotes they can weave into the article they have already mostly written. Even worse, they may put quotes into the mouths of their experts. “Would you say that…”

So when I see terrible statements attributed to “scientists” I always have to wonder if the problem was with the scientist, the journalist, or both.

In any case, you probably don’t know from the headline alone what the article is about, except for a vague notion that it has something to do with genetics. The article is about a Scottish man who had his DNA tested and was found to have a mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) profile that looks distinctly African.

What this means is that the line of his ancestors that traces back along the female line only goes back to an African female, probably in the last few hundred years. Mitochondrial DNA comes only from the female line (well, almost completely) so it is a way to trace the line of female ancestors. Incidentally, the Y chromosome comes only from males, so that is a way to trace male ancestry.

The history of humanity is an interesting one. It is now very clear that humans evolved in Africa. Africans, in fact, have more genetic diversity than the rest of humanity combined – by far. This means that humans were evolving in Africa for a much longer time than their history outside of Africa, which from a genetic perspective is just one tiny offshoot of the African populations.

Further, the human population passed through a number of so-called bottlenecks in our history – times when the number of human ancestors was reduced to a very small number, perhaps just several thousand. There is still some debate about the number, severity, and duration of these bottlenecks.

A few more points are helpful to make sense of this type of genetic information. First, if you go back far enough everyone is related to everyone else. Think about it this way, you have two parents, four grandparents, eight greatgrandparents, 16 greatgreatgrandparents, etc. You don’t have to go back many generations until the number ancestors you have is more than the population of the earth. The same is true of everyone else on earth.

The solution to this apparent paradox is that many of your ancestors occupy more than one position in your ancestral tree – they are your greatgreatgreatgreatgrandfather, for example, along more than one line, because one set of your grandparents were actually distant cousins. In the end, we are all cousins, if you go back far enough.

This also means that it is very likely that all people living today are descended from every human living in the distant past, especially during times of a population bottleneck.

Researchers have found, however, that all existing mtDNA traces back to a single female living about 190,000 years ago (who they have whimsically and perhaps regrettably nicknamed “Eve”). But shouldn’t we trace our mtDNA back to the thousand or so women living during that particular bottleneck? No, because every time a woman has no children or bears only sons, their mtDNA line ends. Over time, from that bottleneck, only one mtDNA line persisted.

The same is true for the male Y chromosome line, which traces back to a male living about 130,000 years ago (and of course he has been dubbed “Adam.”)

With all this in mind, we can perhaps make better  sense of this news item. What geneticists found a bit surprising is that the Scottish lecturer had a mtDNA profile that looked very ancient, especially compared to others native to the British isles. This, of course, does not make him personally to be the ancestor of everyone in Britain, or even that he has the DNA of someone who was such an ancestor. It only means that he has a relatively recent (meaning hundreds rather than thousands of years) female ancestor from Africa. There are many possible sources of this ancestor, mostly involving the slave trade.

That fact is completely unremarkable and unsurprising. I guess that wouldn’t have made such a provocative headline. Still, it is a mildly interesting story that could have been used as a vehicle to explain some basics of human genetics and history. Instead we get an article which does more to confuse than to inform.

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122 responses so far

122 Responses to “Genetic Misinformation”

  1. gfb1on 02 Jul 2012 at 9:07 am

    Incidentally, the Y chromosome comes only from males, so that is a way to trace male ancestry.

    Not to be nitpick-y; but there is a region of the Y-chromosome that undergoes recombination with the X-chromosome, similar to all other chromosomes (pseudoautosomal). But, equally true that the markers used to identify male ancestry are not in these regions.

    My favorite, if unspoken, corollary of your post is the importance of ‘drift’, or the tendency for all gene frequencies to approach 0 or 1 (with certain sets of assumptions), essentially due to sampling error!! Nice to see that it appears to be true for mitochondria (and the Y-chromosome!).

    Thanks for a fun post!

  2. ConspicuousCarlon 02 Jul 2012 at 10:50 am

    Writing a confusing headline is an old advertising trick. Not just misleading, not just interesting, but actually confusing. The idea is to compel the audience to read the bullshit, which they would otherwise pass over, as a way to resolve the confusion.

  3. etatroon 02 Jul 2012 at 11:25 am

    As an aside or FYI to interested readers. EO Wilson’s “The Social Conquest of Earth,” has an interesting discussion in the opening chapters about human (and the Homo & Australopithecus genuses) that is well-referenced to primary literature. Good summer read.

  4. tmac57on 02 Jul 2012 at 12:48 pm

    especially compared to others native to the British aisles.

    Would those be aisles ‘zed’ and ‘nought’?

    :)

  5. Cow_Cookieon 02 Jul 2012 at 12:57 pm

    I’ve been a journalist nearly eight years. During that time, I’ve had exactly one job where I could truly afford to specialize (covering the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, still fairly broad).

    At all my other jobs, I’ve been assigned beats that tightened my focus but were still too broad to allow narrow specializations (examples of my beats: police and courts; local government and a public hospital; a county, schools and a small suburban community). Now as an editor, I’m focusing on an entire community. I think my experience is pretty typical.

    All that is to say journalists are overwhelmingly generalists by necessity. The altitude at which they’re generalists may vary, but all except a select few positions privilege broad knowledge over deep knowledge. With the poor economic climate for journalism, I don’t see publications increasing staff sufficiently to change that anytime soon.

    So taking that into account, what tips would you have to offer those who aren’t trained in the sciences and don’t cover science news exclusively? How do we leaven enthusiastic press releases from universities with appropriate skepticism? How do we know which expert to privilege in a controversy or do we just take a point-counterpoint approach?

    The best advice I received during my career came from my very first editor, who said, “You should be scared shitless about not knowing what you don’t know.”

    It’s something I’ve tried to keep in mind over the years, and I’d genuinely appreciate some recommendations on how to do that better with science topics. The answers are pretty easy when it comes to global warming, homeopathy, vaccinations, etc. But it’s much harder when it comes to esoteric topics that don’t already have a broad body of discussion.

  6. tmac57on 02 Jul 2012 at 1:42 pm

    When news outlets are putting the questions of “Are we the first to report this story?”,and “Will it sell copy?”, ahead of “Are we reporting the relevant facts of this story correctly?” then it becomes a race to the bottom,and true journalism is lost.
    We have major news organizations that seem to treat reality as something to be molded into a marketable commodity to appeal to their buyers and advertisers,rather than to inform and educate them.
    Surely there must be a substantial market of people out there who value the accuracy and integrity of the information that they consume,or am I just kidding myself?

  7. etatroon 02 Jul 2012 at 3:07 pm

    How do we leaven enthusiastic press releases from universities with appropriate skepticism?
    Find the primary peer reviewed article. Contact the editor of the journal. Listen to what they have to say. Ask for recommendations of other scientists or experts in the field to comment on it. Interview the lead scientists, interview the grunts on the ground as well. Actually listen to the scientists’ commentaries and answers to their questions and don’t have a pre-set narrative before the interview and find sound-bytes and quotes to fulfill that narrative. Let the science have its own narrative.

    How do we know which expert to privilege in a controversy or do we just take a point-counterpoint approach?
    The point-counterpoint approach is terrible in science because oftentimes the loudest voices are the outcasts that no one believes. Or the anti-science crowd (the examples you cite as obvious are good: anti-vaxxers or climate change denialists). Do some research on these people – what journals are they publishing in? How many times are they cited? Who’s getting federal grant money? Who’s getting pharmaceutical money? Who’s getting Templeton Foundation money? Whose career has advanced and who has stagnated and why? Actually assess the merits of what they are saying. Are they really saying that there might be ancient dinosaurs on Titan or was that an colorful bit of exaggeration (what point was being illustrated by this colorful exaggeration?)

  8. BillyJoe7on 02 Jul 2012 at 5:50 pm

    etatro: “EO Wilson’s “The Social Conquest of Earth,”….Good summer read.”

    Apparently the book is very misleading. It gives primacy to “group selection”.
    Most evolutionists, including Richard Dawkins, have panned it. They do not see “group selection” as a viable means of evolutionary change.

    Therefore, unless you have a good knowledge of evolutionary theory and a critical turn of mind, it’s probably best to read something more mainstream.

  9. etatroon 02 Jul 2012 at 7:02 pm

    One could argue that the data describing bottlenecks of hominid population would lend support toward group selection during evolution. Some of which were referred to in Steve’s original post. I think most biologists would agree that both group selection (bottlenecks) and individual selection take place and the “primacy” of one mechanism or another varies based on circumstances. I think that Dawkins (as much as I love him) is unnecessarily hostile and it should be noted that he does not have the final say on truth just because he’s very eloquent and persuasive in his use of language (and has a cult following). I think Dawkins risks creating a “dogma” for atheism, which would be destructive to the skeptical community. Dawkins’s ideas on gene selection and fitness at the gene level has been plausibly attacked as well. However, the fact is that Dawkins is a popular and charismatic personality, and his rhetoric isn’t always airtight when objectively evaluated.

    At any rate — if you read my post — I said the first few chapters deal with hominid evolution and are well-referenced; and it makes for a good summer read. It’s recent. I supposed that I had assumed that most readers will have already have read Dawkins’s “Selfish Gene,” or “Ancestor’s Tale.” The first few chapters of “Ancestor’s Tale” deal with hominid evolution. But I think that Wilson’s chapters are better referenced.

    I don’t think that these hypotheses or ideas should just be shouted down. There could or should be plausible predictions — and then test the predictions based on them.

  10. daedalus2uon 02 Jul 2012 at 9:20 pm

    There really does have to be a great deal of group selection going on. Every successful organism needs to have fertile offspring, but every successful organism also has to have fertile conspecifics for its offspring to mate with.

    It doesn’t matter how “fit” an organism is, if it doesn’t have any mates it is fertile with, it is a dead end and an evolution fail.

    Hybrids are examples of organisms that seem to have a more “fit” phenotype, but they have reduced fertility and some (such as mules) are infertile.

  11. neuroameron 03 Jul 2012 at 12:04 am

    Very true and very interesting read. I’m a little confused by what you mean by: “Scottish lecturer had a mtDNA profile that looked very ancient, especially compared to others native to the British isles.” Basically that if you construct a phylogeny, his DNA is closer to non-British lineages, and therefore could be said to resemble the original British DNA?

    Calling it ancient is also a bit misleading. His DNA has been changing and mutating just as much as everyone else’s has. It’s kind of like calling organisms like C. Elegans ancient or primitive. They’ve been evolving just as long as we have, they’re just further from us on the phylogeny. Not sure how much I wrote makes sense.

  12. BillyJoe7on 03 Jul 2012 at 12:27 am

    etatro,

    It’s not just Dawkins. The consensus view amongst evolutionary biologists is that “group selection” is unimportant, if it exists at all. Mostly, examples of “group selection” reduce to “kin selection” and “reciprocal altruism” which reduce to gene level selection.

    As for Dawkins atheism. Evolution certainly supports atheism, but there is more support for atheism than through evolution. And whether his atheism is a “risk” is actually besides the point. You don’t recoil from the truth because it might be risky.

    Lastly, I’d be surprised if this blog’s readers are well enough versed in evolutionary theory to pick the flaws in Wilson’s last two books. It’s a neurology blog after all.

  13. nybgruson 03 Jul 2012 at 2:27 am

    Indeed. Group selection is an interesting idea, but really has very little support. It wasn’t even something we touched on as more than a footnote in most of my undergrad classes.

    Besides Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Steve Pinker, and PZ Myers are contemporary critics and other criticized the notion when it first arose in the middle of last century.

    A bottleneck in a population – no matter how small – is not inherently an example of group selection. Small enough groups can be prone to serious genetic drift and founder effects, but that does not describe group selection.

    The basic premise of group selection is that the overall population level phenotypic advantages of particular genes will fix the alleles irrespective of the individual level advantages or disadvantages. This is an appealing notion, since we know that evolution obviously works on a population – not individual organism – level. However, the issue is demonstrating that a population level effect can exert an influence on the fitness of a particular allele. And that is where the evidence is lacking and seems to indicate that (as BJ said) if it does exist it is a very minor contributor to changes in allelic frequency.

    Daedalus makes the point about the necessity of fertile conspecifics. This is indeed true, but that does not offer a selective force to actually fix alleles in a population. The necessity of fertile conspecifics is a very broad requirement that can be very easily met by any number of allelic variations and thus would once again act very weakly, if at all, to influence the evolution of a population.

  14. etatroon 03 Jul 2012 at 3:06 am

    I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to think that when the environment changes (as it tends to), and there are different groups of a species; and resources cannot sustain the whole population, some groups survive while others don’t; the group (or groups) that did survive to produce offspring had some advantage over the other groups. I think the lack of other hominid species surviving is evidence of group selection. If we do share genes with chimps and apes; then why didn’t those other hominids survive? Presumably they would have had the shared genes that we had. Was there something about they way they behaved in a group that is different than the way H sapiens behave in a group? The fact that all the surviving individuals in the Homo genus have such a recent common ancestor; when there were so many other genera alive at the time, supports some notion of group selection. I am not talking about bottlenecking as in, a founder population on a lone island. I’m talking bottlenecking as in one tribe invading and massacring everyone in the neighboring tribe (of a different species but competing for the same resources or ecological niche?). Sexual selection may also happen at the group level (or even be a cause for speciation). I am not saying that Wilson’s critics are necessarily wrong, but I don’t think that Wilson’s hypotheses should be so easily dismissed on the basis of Dawkins’s rhetoric and cult following. I don’t think it’s a theory that should just be shouted down like we’re in a schoolyard cafeteria.

  15. BillyJoe7on 03 Jul 2012 at 8:17 am

    This, essentially, is the failure of group selection theory:

    The survival of a group is incidental to the survival of individuals within that group. In other words, it is individuals that survive. And individuals survive because of the genes contained within them. Genes are the units of evolution and they survive by acting through individuals. These genes are a recipe for an individual that uses kin selection, reciprocal altruism – and working together in groups! – to their own advantage, which is to say, the advantage of the genes contained within them. Certainly not to the advantage of the group -that, as I say, is incidental. So it all comes down to gene selection. Genes that produce individuals with survival advantage – including working together in groups! – increase their spread through the population.

  16. daedalus2uon 03 Jul 2012 at 9:04 am

    There really is a great deal of evidence for group selection. I think the problem is that the definitions people are using are problematic.

    How do commensal relationships evolve? Commensal relationships occur because the group of organism plus commensals has been positively selected for. What is the alternative? That the commensal relationship just happened? That there is teleology?

    It is unfortunate that there is such a bias against group selection. We know group selection occurs because there are group-level properties that can’t evolve except in a group, for example language.

    Figuring out whether group level selection or individual selection is more important is going to depend on the details of particular traits, particular genetic structures, degrees of phenotype plasticity and the life histories of the organisms in the ancestor chain. You can’t say group selection is unimportant in general because there are some things that can only evolve via groups.

    The need for fertile conspecific mates is a very strong limit that will trump everything else.

  17. etatroon 03 Jul 2012 at 11:09 am

    Billy, I think you have articulated that the discussion comes down to semantics at this point. Let’s suppose that group of alleles codes for a particular brain arrangement or amygdala that causes the organism to be group-ish, or cooperative. It has language, planning, social skills, empathy, facial recognition. And let’s suppose these alleles are present in a group and not in another group and these two groups compete for the same resources. Or the alleles actually lead to aggressive temperament and warfare. You seem to concede that the selection pressures are functioning at the group level. One group starves to death; another scrounges through; one group survives a plague, another group is wiped out; one group massacres, another group is annihilated. The genes and alleles that code for these traits are along for the ride. What good would empathy or language alleles be in the absence of the rest of the group? You are saying that the fact that the environmental interaction with the organism is occurring at the group-level, is just incidental to the selection pressure on the genes. But the fact is that one allele (say for a transcription factor that causes the amygdala to lead to a particularly empathic organism) needs to function along with other alleles (say, that all the genes that code the structural proteins of all the cells in the amygdala). And this particular plan for an amygdala isn’t beneficial without a group, but is advantageous over other amygdala-plans in the presence of a group. You could say that the genes (in this situation) are just along for the ride and is incidental to the selection pressures acting on the group.

    At this point, we’re arguing over what we prefer to label as incidental or the opposite as you put in your original critique, giving primacy to an idea or a mechanism. Well, Wilson is an expert on this idea and mechanism, so he will write a book with that as its focus. I think Dawkins has a formidable twitter following and challenging rhetoric; but that doesn’t make Wilson’s ideas out-of-the-mainstream. His book is an interesting summer read, it’s well-referenced, has some nice illustrations; he has a good voice. To shout it down as a friendly recommendation on the basis of tautological preferences, in my opinion, isn’t in very collegial.

  18. BillyJoe7on 04 Jul 2012 at 7:53 am

    etatro,

    There is no impirical evidence for group selection, no models, and plenty of theoretical problems.

    You just gave a hypothetical example – a “just so” story – showing how a group with certain characteristics would survive at the expense of a group without those characteristics. But you have not shown how those characteristcs could have evolved within that group in the first place. And this is the problem. There are no actual real life examples.

    There are also no models that show how those characteristics could evolve in groups. And any examples of group selection that have been suggested, can easily be shown reduce to, or to be better explained by, “kin selection”/”inclusive fitness”, which, of course, is just gene-level selection.

    Numerous features of evolution can easily be explained by kin selection but cannot be explained by group selection. Kin selection, in any case, would swamp any possible effects of group selection because it operates on a much faster time scale. Think about how slowly groups develop and proliferate compared to the reproduction of indviduals within that group.

    Groups are said to be necessary to select for altruism. But, it is easy to see how altruism could develop between individuals (mutual advantage), but hard to see how a group could be altruistic. There would always be individuals within that group who would be advantaged at the expense of others in the group by accepting the benefits of the group, but not contributing any costs of the group. So, if individuals can benefit by benefitting the group or benefit by disadvantaging the group, where does this leave “group selection”? It looks distinctly like selection is occuring at the individual/gene level.

    There could be group selection if all individuals within the group benefitted the group at their own expense. But, again, this siutation would be selected against at the individual/gene level by mutations that benefitted the individual at the expense of the group, thereby thwarting group selection.
    It’s actually a ‘no win’ game for group selection.

    Finally, what would natural selection on the basis of groups actually look like. Would groups replicate or bud off to produce progeny groups identical to the parent group. Would these progeny groups then undergo random mutation? Would the progeny groups that fortuitously undergo advantageous mutations survive at the expense of groups that do not? If not, then the term “group selection” could be meant only as metaphor, in which case the term serves more to obfuscate than to clarify.

    In any case, my point was that, for those not well versed in mainstream evolutionary theory, reading a book detailing a controversial (if not discredited) theory, would not be my choice for holiday reading material.

  19. daedalus2uon 04 Jul 2012 at 12:00 pm

    BillyJoe, There is lots of data that supports group selection. DS Wilson has a blog post about Dawkin’s review of EO Wilson’s book.

    http://www.thisviewoflife.com/index.php/magazine/articles/richard-dawkins-edward-o.-wilson-and-the-consensus-of-the-many

    Yes, there are individuals in groups that exploit the altruism of the non-exploiters in the group. The resulting behaviors are a balance between those two effects. This results in exploitation under some circumstances and non-exploitation under other circumstances. When groups are selected for non-exploitation, the non-exploiter phenotype dominates.

    Read the article in his reference 15. There are multiple instances of experimental demonstration of group selection.

  20. BillyJoe7on 05 Jul 2012 at 7:21 am

    daedalus,

    Okay, we’re not going to resolve this issue here. We can both go quoting and linking merrily away for a few weeks I’m sure. But just a note about the person to whom you linked.

    DS Wilson has been a keen supporter of group selection theory for as long as it has been gathering dust, even going to the extent of setting up “The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time” (the title of his book) based mostly on the ideas of group selection.

    He also has a spiritual/religious reason for promoting group selection. He receives large funds from the Templeton foundation to promote the connection between science and religion. So you can’t really trust him to be impartial in his criticism.

  21. daedalus2uon 05 Jul 2012 at 8:47 am

    BillyJoe, none of your objections to DS Wilson have to do with data about group selection. The reference he cites which I directed you to was not his work.

    There is good and reliable data that group selection works, and why wouldn’t it? Why wouldn’t selection at the group level foster traits that are expressed at the group level? Some traits are only expressed at a group level (communication for example).

    You can’t have group level traits without groups, and you can’t have selection for group level traits without selection of groups.

    You seem to be forgetting that most individuals don’t reproduce. When there is a stable population, the average number of successful and reproducing offspring the average individual has is two. In the wild, a woman could have 10 to 20 pregnancies over her lifetime, but have only two survive. That was what happened for essentially all of human evolutionary time. Being in a cohesive group allows conpecifics to share child protection and child rearing. That allows for an extended childhood and gives a much more complicated brain the time for plasticity to mold it into something useful.

    Yes, there can be and are individuals who exploit the group and don’t provide child protection and child rearing. We have a name for them, we call them dead-beat fathers and we sanction them.

  22. sonicon 05 Jul 2012 at 12:29 pm

    BillyJoe7- daedalus2u-
    This argument is a bit passe.

    As is stated in this article–
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/jun/24/battle-of-the-professors

    “According to one expert in evolution and development, Professor Georgy Koentges of Warwick University, the central problem is the impossibility of defining “fitness”, whether in organisms, organs, cells, genes or even gene regulatory DNA regions. As a result, he sees both Dawkins and Wilson as “straw men” in this debate.”…
    “The field has moved on, and so should we all,” says Koentges.”

    To quote from the article daedalus2u linked–
    “I also have claimed that there is a zone of consensus of the many and that both Dawkins and Wilson are outliers who fail to recognize that the days of pitting kin selection against group selection are over.”

    To understand the complete problem for Dawkins–
    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/01/richard-dawkins-definition-of-gene-is.html

    “The fact that Dawkins uses the word “gene” in such a non-standard way is not an issue as long as one recognizes that the Dawkins “gene” has nothing to do with the genes that molecular biologists and geneticists talk about.”

    From page 32 of “The Selfish Gene”–
    “What I have now done is to *define* the gene in such a way that I cannot really help being right!”

    If you have to use a non-standard definition so that you can define yourself to be ‘right!’– well do I need say more?

  23. daedalus2uon 05 Jul 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Sonic, thank you. I hadn’t realized that Dawkins was using such a perverse definition of “gene”.

    I quite agree with Professor Moran:

    “The most reasonable definition of gene is that it is a piece of DNA that is transcribed but there are exceptions to everything in biology. Some genes are made of RNA, for example, and sometimes it’s better to define a gene in terms of the protein it encodes. In no case is it reasonable to define a gene in terms of its ability to be selected or whether recombination can occur within it.”

  24. BillyJoe7on 06 Jul 2012 at 6:57 am

    sonic,

    Georgy Koentges comments in that article seem to make no sense.
    For example, what do you make of these comments:

    “There is no such thing as a good or bad gene”

    I’m sure you would have no trouble coming up with an example of a bad gene.

    “To use a simple human example, someone with the perfect set of genes for walking with two legs might die early because they jump off a cliff”

    What exactly is he arguing against here?
    One of his arguments against focussing solely on the gene is that it is…

    “an anthropological insult to our own feeling of self-belief”

    Is this even an argument?

  25. BillyJoe7on 06 Jul 2012 at 6:59 am

    daedalus,

    Your examples can be explained on the basis of inclusive fitness and/or cultural evolution.

  26. daedalus2uon 06 Jul 2012 at 9:01 am

    BillyJoe, chickens have cultural evolution?

    Carrion beetles and mites share a culture?

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/09/30/strange-insect-encounter-carri/

  27. sonicon 06 Jul 2012 at 4:02 pm

    dadealus2u-
    Your welcome.
    It seems there is some difficulty in defining gene exactly. I have no objection to the one you quote. Others might– and for what seems might be good reason– but whatever the case–

    If we define words so that what we say has to be right, then we are speaking in tautology.
    The problem with tautology is that they don’t really say anything — but they can produce a strong feeling of certainty.

    BillyJoe7-
    I don’t know any bad genes. Perhaps you can explain. He gives the example of genes that allow for walking on two legs as not being good or bad.
    Koentges is suggesting that some scientists have focused on the gene and others view this as ‘an anthropological insult…’ – and that neither of these views is correct– so he has moved on.

  28. BillyJoe7on 06 Jul 2012 at 5:30 pm

    daedalus,

    When I said inclusive fitness and/or cultural evolution, I meant inclusive fitness or cultural evolution or both.

    sonic,

    BRCA1, BRCA2, RB1, APC
    I thought you were going to explain how “an anthropological insult to our own feeling of self-belief” is even an argument.
    Koentges bags both the gene centered view and the group selection view saying that both are correct. But it doesn’t even seem to be his area of expertise so why should I care if he thinks everyone is right, or wrong, or…

  29. etatroon 06 Jul 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Billy – I think you mean to have good or bad alleles. A better way of saying good or bad might be “fit” or “less fit.” Some mutations, of course, are “deadly,” and those won’t yield viable offspring.

    Anyhow. To dismiss an example as a “just so” example is low-hanging fruit. All examples and hypotheticals are “just so” examples.

    Kin selection faces the same issues as group selection. It is an attractive theory, but actual observations of this occurring seem to be lacking. I recall an example of bats. There are species of bats who nest together in groups. Sometimes when they go out on a hunt, some bats are more successful than others; when they return to the nest, the less successful bats will beg the more successful ones for food. The successful ones regurgitate to feed the non-successful bats. The theory is that reciprocity is expected and that if all the bats behave in this way; then the group as a whole will survive. I don’t think it’s been observed that the bats will choose their sisters over their cousins or first cousins over second cousins or even parents over non (or distant) relatives in their nest. I don’t see how kin selection would function here, unless you could be sure that all the bats in a group are closely related. I do see how group selection might work.

    Say there are two groups of bats in a forest. One species with this behavior and one without. Group 1 occupies a nest on the east side of the forest, group 2 on the west side of the forest. As the groups’ populations expand, they will need to create more nests (budding, I suppose, or colonization); until eventually they are encroaching on one anthers’ territory. If one group’s behavior confers better fitness than another, eventually the forest will contain only group 1 or group 2.

    I do think though, that the phenomenon of H sapiens being the only hominid left on the planet is likely an example of group selection. If our common ancestor for all living H sapiens was only <200,000 years ago; and at some point (Neanderthals went extinct 40K ya?), there existed multiple genre and species of hominids, who share similar genes with us and chimps, then selection was happening at a group level. If selection were only to happen at the gene level, and we share such similar genes and alleles (Dawkins articulates this particularly well in Ancestor's Tale), then why did those species disappear so quickly? Why were not some of them preserved? Why did whole groups disappear at once?

    I don't see how kin selection timeframe would swamp group-selection timeframe either. I do not think it's easy for our 24-hour sleep cycle-, 80 year lifespan- evolved brains to accurately compare the evolutionary timescale and say that one selection mechanism would function faster than another selection mechanism when the timeframe is hundreds of thousands of years. My hunch is that group selection would be faster, but you seem to imply that your hunch is that kin selection would be faster. Since we're not evolved to be able to reason on these timescales, it seems like a dead-end argument and I wouldn't even bring it up.

    I would finally say that it's a petty argument. Both camps are interested in studying evolution and natural selection. To me … there is evidence and good theoretical grounds for multiple selection mechanisms to be acting at once. For one group to so vehemently denounce another group is like biting off the nose to spite the face. Imagine if biochemists studying gene transcription mechanisms: one group studies histone acetylation and other studies DNA methylation. The methylation group thinks their mechanism is more important than acetylation group, so publicly denounces them and calls them "out of the mainstream." I think it's subjective and, frankly, petty.

  30. daedalus2uon 06 Jul 2012 at 11:18 pm

    BillyJoe, What about the example of the group consisting of carrion beetles and their commensal mites.

    There can’t be “inclusive fitness” because the mites and carrion beetles don’t share DNA.

    That leaves “culture”. So you are saying that carrion beetles and their commensal mites have a culture?

    What definition of “culture” are you using, such that carrion beetles and mites can share one?

  31. sonicon 07 Jul 2012 at 2:44 am

    BillyJoe7-
    What makes you think those genes are bad?
    Perhaps we have a problem with the notion of ‘bad’.
    I can’t imagine a gene being ‘bad’– perhaps you can explain.

    etatro-
    I think your take on this disagreement is accurate. “Petty argument” seems an apt description. And isn’t that the point DS Wilson is trying to make- given that the two hypothesis are more or less equivalent?

  32. BillyJoe7on 08 Jul 2012 at 2:28 am

    etatro,

    “some bats are more successful than others; when they return to the nest, the less successful bats will beg the more successful ones for food. The successful ones regurgitate to feed the non-successful bats. The theory is that reciprocity is expected…”

    This is the gene level description:
    A bat that has genes for reciprocation increases its chances of survival and, as a result, the genes for reciprocation are likely to spread through the population of bats.

    “…then the group as a whole will survive.”

    The genes for reciprocation spread through the group of bats and therefore increases the chance that the group of bats survives. But if that is incidental. The selection is going on at the level of the gene – the genes for reciprocation. The rest follows as a consequence of that.

    “I don’t think it’s been observed that the bats will choose their sisters over their cousins or first cousins over second cousins or even parents over non (or distant) relatives in their nest. I don’t see how kin selection would function here”

    That is because this is not an example of kin selection. This is reciprocal altruism. The genes for reciprocity do not need to reciprocate with a relative, just another bat with the genes for reciprocity. It’s the gene centered view that is important.

    “I do see how group selection might work. ”

    How? I see only gene level selection.
    To see group selection you would need to see groups proliferating and budding off to form subgroups, the sub groups proliferating, mutations arising and spreading within the sub groups, and competition between (sub)groups with different mutations etc etc.
    By that time gene selection with have done its work.

    “Say there are two groups of bats in a forest…If the behavior of group 1 confers better fitness than group 2, eventually the forest will contain only group 1 bats.”

    But group 1 wouldn’t survive at the expense of group 2. Individual bats from both groups that have genes that confer better fitness would gradually predominate in the combined group at the expense of the bats from both groups that do not have these genes. This is gene level selection.

    “I don’t see how kin selection timeframe would swamp group-selection timeframe either. ”

    In gene level selection, selection can potentially occuring each time a mating occurs. But consider how long group level would take:
    You would need to start with a group of bats, the group would have to increase in size, the now larger group would have to bud off into subgroups, the sub groups would have to proliferate, different mutations would have to arise in these (sub)groups, the mutations for improved fitness would have to spread through the groups, the groups would need to interact, the group with the fitter genes would have to survive and the less fit groups die out, and then the whole process would have to iterate.

  33. BillyJoe7on 08 Jul 2012 at 2:30 am

    daedalus,

    “What about the example of the group consisting of carrion beetles and their commensal mites. ”

    As with etatro’s bats, this is not kin selection but reciprocal altruism.
    And it is gene level selection.

  34. BillyJoe7on 08 Jul 2012 at 2:31 am

    sonic,

    “What makes you think those genes are bad?’

    They kill you!

  35. sonicon 09 Jul 2012 at 4:12 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/misconcep_04

    The notion of a ‘bad’ gene is called ‘misconception 04′ on the Berkeley website.

    Koentges is a professor who teaches evolution at the university. (He is actually Professor of Genomic Systems Analysis at Warwick University.)

    I would think he would know something of this subject.

    It seems you are using the term ‘gene’ in a variety of ways here– can you tell me how you define the term?

  36. BillyJoe7on 09 Jul 2012 at 5:53 pm

    sonic,

    I said that Koentges does not seem to have expertise in the topic of this discussion. If you can show me where he discusses this topic intelligently and knowledgeably, I will reconsider my impression. In the mean time perhaps you can make sense of his statements in the article referenced above. What he says seems to be either wrong or irrelevant to the question about group selection.

    As for bad genes, your link seems to me to confirm that they exist. If you don’t think so please explain why you don’t think so. To me he seems to be saying that evolution tends to remove bad genes from the population whilst explaining why they still occur and he list many examples of these bad genes that still exsit today. If you read it differently I would interested to hear how you come to the opposite conclusion.

    I am using the word gene in a variety of ways. My purpose is to show why group selection can always be reduced to gene level selection. Whether its a single gene, a number of genes, or the entire genetic complement of an individual, it all comes down to gene level selection.

  37. Mlemaon 09 Jul 2012 at 8:05 pm

    billyjoe7

    “A bat that has genes for reciprocation increases its chances of survival…”

    how would that work?

  38. sonicon 09 Jul 2012 at 9:47 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    As far as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ genes– genes are segments of DNA (or RNA).
    DNA changes over time. At any given moment I have no way of knowing that it is in a good form or bad– or that the current form isn’t going to change into something else. So even if I could determine that a particular sequence was good or bad (and I have no way of doing so) I wouldn’t know that the sequence wouldn’t change so that it would become good or bad in the immediate future- in which case I would have to say that it was a good thing the bad version existed– right?
    Or it is a bad thing the good version existed?

    Further, the same sequence might have very different effects in a different environment– so even if I think of the DNA as ‘bad’ because of some effect it has on a particular creature– that doesn’t mean it might not have a very different effect on a different creature in a different environment- so that I would call it good.

    But this assumes I have some measure of the effect that I am going to call ‘good and bad’. But I don’t.

    And so even if I could decide what effects are ‘good and bad’ (and I can’t) — I still wouldn’t know that about the particular sequence under discussion.

    As you can see I am clueless on the goodness and badness of genes– perhaps you can help.

    As far as Koentges–
    Koentges teaches a course at the university called ‘BS212 Evolution’.
    Part of the course is called ‘principles of evolutionary change’.
    That’s why I think he knows something of the issues.
    He seems to understand that the notion of ‘good and bad’ genes is an oversimplification of the actual reality. Apparently I agree with that.
    Further his discussion of the difficulty of determining ‘fitness’ is spot on- and quite relevant to the mathematical models under discussion– as far as I can tell.
    It seems everything he says relates to the issues– what does he say that makes you question that?

  39. ccbowerson 09 Jul 2012 at 11:54 pm

    “My purpose is to show why group selection can always be reduced to gene level selection. Whether its a single gene, a number of genes, or the entire genetic complement of an individual, it all comes down to gene level selection.”

    Just because you can reduce selection to the gene level does not mean that the situation can not be more complex- with selection occuring at multiple levels. Perhaps the importance of multi level selection is limited to certain circumstances, and perhaps unimportant in many circumstances, but I think it is a mistake to assume that just because one can reduce selection to the gene that it is a good idea to ignore the possibility of additional information that higher levels may provide. There is a difficulty in studying this, but that should not be a reason to disregard it. Many areas of biology are hard to study, but we don’t disregard them as merely applied physics.

  40. BillyJoe7on 10 Jul 2012 at 12:20 am

    BJ: “A bat that has genes for reciprocation increases its chances of survival…”
    Mlema: “how would that work?”

    If a bat that returns with food feeds those who arrive back without food, he will be rewarded with being fed by them when he returns without food on another day.
    That increases his chances of survival.

  41. BillyJoe7on 10 Jul 2012 at 12:28 am

    sonic,

    I’ll agree with everything you said about bad genes (except that of course they can be determined – see my previous list for some examples) if you’ll agree with me that bad genes do actually exist. Okay? If not, perhaps you can explain away Koentges own examples of bad genes in the reference you yourself provided.

    And you still have referrenced Koentges where he gives an opinion about group selection. Nor have you defended his statements in the article referenced above. So my impression of Koentges regarding group selection remians unchanged – he is wrong or irrelevant.

  42. BillyJoe7on 10 Jul 2012 at 12:41 am

    ccbowers,

    If everything that uses group selection can be explained by gene level selection, then group selection is an unnecessary hypothesis. Then Ockham’s Razor.
    In any case, I have already explained how group selection cannot work. Here is a summary:

    You would need to start with a putative group, that group would have to bud off or spit up into subgroups, the subgroups would have to reproduce the characteristics of the parent group, random mutations would have to arise periodically in some or all of the subgroups, these subgroups would need to interact and compete with the subgroups that have not undergone random mutation or that have undergone different random mutations, the subgroups with the fitter random mutations would have to increase in size at the expense of the subgroups without these mutations.

    Can you find any examples?

    Even then, it could not work because gene level selection works so much faster that it would swamp the slow tortise of group selection.

  43. Mlemaon 10 Jul 2012 at 1:44 am

    BJ: “If a bat that returns with food feeds those who arrive back without food, he will be rewarded with being fed by them when he returns without food on another day.
    That increases his chances of survival.”

    not unless those other bats have the same gene. His possession of a gene that causes him to share his food, in the absence of a group of bats who also share their food, would decrease his chances of survival, right? or am I not understanding this

  44. BillyJoe7on 10 Jul 2012 at 6:59 am

    Mlema,

    The reciprocating bat shares food in excess of his own requirements, so he is not disadvantaged by donating food. However, if he donates to another reciprocating bat, he will be advantaged when next he returns without food and the other bat returns with food in excess of his own requirements. If he donates to a non-reciprocating bat, nothing is lost or gained – excopt that he will know not to donate to this particular bat again. In time, all the reciprocating bats will know all the other reciprocating bats and this process will become more efficient. As a result, all the reciprocating bats will always have enough to eat, more or less. The non-reciprocating bats will often go without enough food, or none at all. If subject to predation, the non-reciprocating unfed bats will be the first to be taken. Therefore reciprocating bats will come to predominate in the group of bats.

  45. sonicon 10 Jul 2012 at 1:23 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    What are you talking about?
    I don’t know there are any bad genes.
    As I explained– a gene by itself can have any number of effects. There aren’t any good ones or bad ones.

    What are you talking about?
    I have asked why you think a gene is bad– you said they kill you.
    But the only thing that has assured my death (and all other living things) is having been born.
    So birth is bad- — as it is the cause of every death that has ever occurred.
    Right?

    What are you talking about?
    The point is that if you define ‘gene’ to mean ‘the unit that is selected’ (as Dawkins basically does) then obviously you only need genes to explain things.
    http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2007/01/richard-dawkins-definition-of-gene-is.html

    Of course you are then using the word gene in a manner that is inconsistent with microbiology and genetics.
    And you have a tautology too.

    Good luck with that…

  46. BillyJoe7on 10 Jul 2012 at 5:35 pm

    sonic,

    Koentges (your reference) admits there are bad genes. For some reason he does not call them “bad”, he calls them “negative”, “deleterious”, “disadvantageous”. Whatever.

    From that link:

    “We would expect natural selection to remove alleles with negative effects from a population—and yet many populations include individuals carrying such alleles”

    “So why are these deleterious alleles still around anyway?”

    “the allele that causes sickle cell anemia is deleterious if you carry two copies of it.”

    You might point out that:
    “if you only carry one copy of it and live in a place where malaria is common, the allele is advantageous because it confers resistance to malaria.”
    To which I would respond:
    “where malaria is not a problem, the gene that causes sickle cell anemia is strictly disadvantageous”

    “neurofibromatosis is a genetic disease causing tumors of the nervous system. Natural selection cannot completely eliminate the gene that causes this disease because new mutations arise relatively frequently”

    “It is possible that some of the deleterious alleles that we observe in natural populations are on their way out, but selection has not yet completely removed them”

    “the allele that causes Huntington’s disease typically does not exert its devastating effects until after a person’s prime reproductive years. So although Huntington’s disease is certainly deleterious in terms of quality of life, it is not deleterious in terms of reproductive ability and is not selected against.”

    If you think I’ve missed your pedantic point, I haven’t. You refuse to call these genes “bad” because they may not be or may not have been bad in another individual and/or in another place and/or in another time and/or if there is only one copy of a recessive gene. If that is your argument, congratulations.

    Yes, whether a gene is bad or not can depend on whether it is dominant or recessive and whether or not you have one or two copies of a recessive gene, whether you are living here or somewhere else, whether you are alive today or sometime in the past or sometime in the future. But to argue form this that there are no bad genes…

    So I hope you do not carry a gene for Huntington’s Disease, because at some point you are going to find out how bad a gene can actually be. Of course, you might argue that if you die before the gene starts slowly destroying you, it was not really a bad gene after all. Again, if that is your argument, congratulations.

  47. Mlemaon 10 Jul 2012 at 11:47 pm

    BJ7: “The reciprocating bat shares food in excess of his own requirements, so he is not disadvantaged by donating food. However, if he donates to another reciprocating bat, he will be advantaged when next he returns without food and the other bat returns with food in excess of his own requirements.”

    isn’t collecting food in excess of his own requirements a disadvantage? Where did the other reciprocating bat come from?

    “If he donates to a non-reciprocating bat, nothing is lost or gained – excopt that he will know not to donate to this particular bat again.”

    hasn’t he lost the excess food? and if he has “genes” that tell him to donate, how will he manage to not donate? How will he know that that other bat isn’t a reciprocating bat that just hasn’t had the opportunity to donate to him yet (the other bat may have the donate gene, but hasn’t yet having been successful in getting excess food? Maybe if he donates to that bat for a very extended period without return he will be rewarded mightily when he has a long streak of unsuccessful hunting.)

    “In time, all the reciprocating bats will know all the other reciprocating bats and this process will become more efficient. As a result, all the reciprocating bats will always have enough to eat, more or less. The non-reciprocating bats will often go without enough food, or none at all. If subject to predation, the non-reciprocating unfed bats will be the first to be taken. Therefore reciprocating bats will come to predominate in the group of bats.”

    What about new non-reciprocating bats? Just because a certain bat hasn’t ever given you anything doesn’t mean he won’t at some future point. Perhaps he’s given to other bats you don’t know.
    How will the reciprocating bats know not to give new bats food until they’ve done it (and how then?) Wouldn’t the reciprocating bats be continually compelled by their genetics to give food to bats that don’t have enough, regardless of whether or not they would eventually get some back?

    It seems to me you’re investing bats with higher reasoning than they have to say that they’re working out some kind of arrangement that has intention (ie “well, I already gave you food and you didn’t give me any back so I’m not going to give you any more”)

  48. Mlemaon 10 Jul 2012 at 11:49 pm

    The terms good and bad don’t exist in science. They’re judgements of value. Value in science is situational and always has a context. That’s why we use words like deleterious or disadvantageous. Those words set things or processes in comparison to one another in order to establish their relationship. It’s easy to forget this because outside of science we revert to how everything relates to us. A gene that will kill you could be good for me :)
    (ha ha, just kidding BillyJoe)
    but for instance: we all say global warming is “bad”, but it’s not bad for any species that appear and flourish because of it. and to the universe, global warming is…?

  49. ccbowerson 11 Jul 2012 at 12:04 am

    “If everything that uses group selection can be explained by gene level selection…”

    I think the “if” is the point. If we were at the point that scientists were convinced that gene level selection explains all for every species, then there would not be a dispute here. My understanding is that this is a legitimate scientific dispute, and although group selection fell out of favor for a while, there has been renewed interest in the multilevel selection approach (although its relative importance is what is still disputed). I do not have a strong opinion on the matter, but you seem to have one, and I am unconvinced that your position is justified.

    This is not my expertise, but if you want an example I think infectious disease makes sense to me as an area in which multilevel selection should occur. Each individual host that is infected with a particular type of virus (or bacteria, parasites, etc.) is infected by many individual organims, but these organisms function as units (group), and excessive virulence may be productive on an individual level, but can be damaging on the group level if the host dies.

  50. BillyJoe7on 11 Jul 2012 at 12:20 am

    Mlema,

    I thought you were asking for your own information so I gave you a made up example of how reciprocation could work. I don’t even know if bats reciprocate or, if they do, exactly how they go about it. Suffice to say, reciprocation can work.
    But I’ll opt out of the anatomy dissection if you don’t mind.

    “A gene that will kill you could be good for me”

    Unless you die young, the gene for Huntington’s Disease is universally bad/deleterious/disadvantageous take your pick. ;)

  51. BillyJoe7on 11 Jul 2012 at 6:58 am

    ccbowers,

    I’m not sure that there is legitimate scientific dispute regarding group selection. It fell out of favour for good reason. It didn’t explain anything that couldn’t be explained by taking he gene centred view. And the reason for the renewed interest? Well, for a start, the Templeton Foundation is funding “research” in this area as part of their endeavour to accommodate science to religion (not the other way round I might add).

    I don’t know about your example for group selection. Do pathogens really try not to kill their victims? Pathogens kill people all the time. The flu kills 40,000 Americans every year. The bubonic plague killed 25 million people, about half of Europe. Also the “host” is pretty good most of the time at fighting off pathogens via their immune systems. Do you have an example where pathogens try to limit the damage they cause?

  52. ccbowerson 11 Jul 2012 at 9:40 am

    “Do pathogens really try not to kill their victims?”

    There is selective pressure to not due so…at least until the disease could be spread to others- how could there not be? That does not mean that hosts cannot die, but for an pathogen to be successful, it has to infect more hosts- not necessarily maximize damage to a given host. For this to occur there may be a tradeoff between the individuals and the group. I’m not sure about good specific examples – I imagine it can be complex given that the host is interested in limiting damage to itself, obviously, and there are many variables to consider. I am curious and will look into this at a later time

    With your flu example: influenza infects a large percentage of the population (varies, but about 20% is in the ball park), so this puts the 40,000 figure in perspective.

  53. Mlemaon 11 Jul 2012 at 4:40 pm

    BJ7, perhaps I was trying to learn something about evolution from you. But how can I do that if you don’t answer the questions raised by your explanation of your statement? or address my subsequent objections to your answers?

    I did this search for you:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=reciprocity+in+vampire+bats&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    would any of those help you answer my questions?

    thanks,
    M

  54. Mlemaon 11 Jul 2012 at 4:48 pm

    good, bad. whatever. they aren’t things that exist in nature, and in real science. resorting to value judgements makes me wonder if there’s some latent theism lurking

    from Genesis:

    “God looked upon what he had wrought and saw that it was good, so very good!”

    you’re not a closer theist are you BillyJoe? :-)

  55. Mlemaon 11 Jul 2012 at 4:53 pm

    BillyJoe, if you use the beliefs of the scientist to determine the validity of his or her scientific ideas/research, you are not being a good skeptic but rather basing your worldview on non-scientific factors. Research should be evaluated on its own merits. An atheist’s ideas aren’t right because they come from an atheist, and a theist’s ideas aren’t wrong because they come from a theist. That’s not good critical thinking.

  56. BillyJoe7on 11 Jul 2012 at 5:13 pm

    cwbowers,

    But, even in the case of a virus that depends on keeping its host alive in order to proliferate and spread, it can easily be explained by gene level selection.

    A virus that infects a host and kills it will not pass its genes on to the next generation. A virus that keeps its host alive long enough to preproduce will pass its genes on to many generations within that host. But, if it does not keep its host alive long enough to use it to spread to another host, it will also, ultimately, not pass on its genes. Therefore only viruses that contain genes which keep the host alive will still be with us today.

    So this is still gene level selection.

    The only situation in which group selection could be an explanation is when gene level selection cannot be the explanation. In other words, you need a situation where the genes within an individual are disadvantaged for the benefit of genes not contained within that individual. Because, in every case where the genes within the individual benefits as well, gene level selection is the explanation.

    (Note that I said “genes within the individual” to account for kin selection where the individual itself does not benefit but its genes within its relatives benefit.)

  57. BillyJoe7on 11 Jul 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Mlema,

    The Templeton Foundation looks for ways to accommodate science to religion. In other words, they already have their conclusion: that whatever can be discovered by science can always be accommodated to religion. They are looking for evidence to support their conclusion. This is not doing science. Science goes wherever the evidence takes it. In my opinion, the work of scientists who accept funding from the Templeton Foundation must always be suspect.

    On the other hand I do not blindly accept the work of atheist scientists. First of all, atheism is the only reasonable position based on the scientific evidence to date. Secondly, I have explained why group selection does not work. I am not putting my faith in the scientist.

    Finally, I am happy for you to substitute “disavantaged”, or whatever other word you wish, for “bad”. It doesn’t matter. Its just language to convey an idea. Organism do not strive to get their genes into the next generation, but I hope you understand what the evolutionary biologist means when he says that.

  58. sonicon 11 Jul 2012 at 10:51 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    You seem to have missed the important part.
    That is this–

    the word ‘bad’ has no objective meaning when it comes to genes.

    It is fairly common for people to put their feelings above the objective facts of a subject. Certainly it is something I am capable of doing.
    But I have noticed that some– I imagine through conscious effort– learn to overcome these emotional attachments so they can see the subjects clearly and rationally. Anyway– it’s something I try to do from time to time.

    If we could get past this point it might be possible to discuss what Koentges is talking about when he claims the central problem is the impossibility of defining ‘fitness’.
    We might also note that Wilson is promoting ‘multi-level selection theory’ and not ‘group selection’ as Dawkins claims.
    And then we could understand why the field has ‘moved on’ and what it has ‘moved on’ to.

    http://www.thisviewoflife.com/index.php/magazine/articles/richard-dawkins-edward-o.-wilson-and-the-consensus-of-the-many

  59. ccbowerson 11 Jul 2012 at 11:32 pm

    “So this is still gene level selection”

    Given that pathogens have a functional unit that is a group, and not individuals, it seems like there is addition information missing by looking simply at the gene level.

    “The only situation in which group selection could be an explanation is when gene level selection cannot be the explanation. In other words, you need a situation where the genes within an individual are disadvantaged for the benefit of genes not contained within that individual. Because, in every case where the genes within the individual benefits as well, gene level selection is the explanation.”

    It seems like you are creating a false dichotomy here. Why can’t both levels of selection being going on simultaneously, or at least vary depending on circumstance? Sure under most cirmcustances the gene selection will be doing most of the heavy lifting, but that does not mean that under certain circumstances group selection can’t have increased importance.

  60. BillyJoe7on 12 Jul 2012 at 6:53 am

    sonic,

    So, when I used the phrase “bad gene”, I was putting my feelings above the objective facts!

    Well, I don’t know about you, sonic, but I can definitely come to the conclusion, based on an objective assessment of the cold hard facts, that the Huntington Disease gene is bad.
    Hell, I might even say it with emotion that the Huntington’s gene is bad, based on the cold hard facts together will empathy for those so afflicted.

    “the word ‘bad’ has no objective meaning when it comes to genes.”

    Okay here are the cold hard facts about the gene for Huntington’s Disease:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntington%27s_disease#Signs_and_symptoms
    My assessment: The gene for Huintington’s Disease is a bad gene.
    Your assessment?

  61. BillyJoe7on 12 Jul 2012 at 7:01 am

    cwbowers,

    “It seems like you are creating a false dichotomy here. Why can’t both levels of selection be going on simultaneously”

    To be honest, most evolutionary biologist have not completely dismissed the possiblity. The problem is that it has yet to be demonstrated. As I indicated previously, a demonstration of group selection would have to satisfy the following:

    Starting with the putative group, that group would have to bud off or spit up into subgroups, the subgroups would have to reproduce the characteristics of the parent group, random mutations would have to arise periodically in some or all of the subgroups, these subgroups would need to compete with the subgroups that have not undergone random mutation or that have undergone different random mutations, the subgroups with the fitter random mutations would have to increase in size at the expense of the subgroups without these mutations.

  62. BillyJoe7on 12 Jul 2012 at 7:14 am

    Mlema,

    “I did this search for you:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=reciprocity+in+vampire+bats&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    That’s hardly a search.

    Find a link that lists all the essential facts about vampire bats and a link that demonstrates how group selection is necessary to explain these facts.
    Then I will either show you that it’s not group selection they are using to explain the facts or I will show you where the explanation by group selection fails. And then I will show you how gene level selection is all that is required to explain the facts.

    I don’t know beforehand that I can do it because I haven’t looked at any of the links.
    So my head is on the block.

  63. Mlemaon 12 Jul 2012 at 8:21 pm

    huh?
    you gave “an example” of reciprocity in bats. you made the statement:

    “A bat that has genes for reciprocation increases its chances of survival…”

    I asked you: how would that work?

    you tried to educate me about that and your explanation raised more questions and objections from me. then you said:

    “I don’t even know if bats reciprocate or, if they do, exactly how they go about it.”

    so I found you a real world example of reciprocity in bats. I was hoping that help you to answer my questions.

    now you say:

    “Find a link that lists all the essential facts about vampire bats and a link that demonstrates how group selection is necessary to explain these facts.”

    how am I supposed to do that? I don’t even know what group selection is. I was asking you about your example of the evolution of reciprocity in bats, which it turns out, exists. Don’t you want to find out if you’re right about how it happens? I guess not because now you also say:

    “Then I will either show you that it’s not group selection they are using to explain the facts or I will show you where the explanation by group selection fails. And then I will show you how gene level selection is all that is required to explain the facts.”
    (to which I’m thinking: how does he know what those links might say? but, you do then admit:)
    “I don’t know beforehand that I can do it because I haven’t looked at any of the links.”

    I don’t like to read a lot of stuff that I make proclamations about either. sometimes, like you, I just know I’m right, so I don’t see the need. but thanks for educating me to the point that you did. I appreciate it.

  64. Mlemaon 12 Jul 2012 at 8:26 pm

    oh, I guess I should apologize for expecting what turns out to be a very complicated lesson on evolution to be given on a blog site. I know that’s inappropriate. and you’re not nygbrus!:-)

    sorry too for the one-handed typing:-(

  65. BillyJoe7on 13 Jul 2012 at 12:20 am

    Mlema,

    Originally I thought you were asking me how reciprocal altruism works, so I gave you an example to illlustrate how it could work. I didn’t expect a lot of questions about the details of my example because it was just meant as an illustration of how reciprocal altruism works to improve fitness.

    So next I thought you were trying to show how vampire bats are not an example of reciprocal altruism. So I thought, well, give me the details – or a link to the details about vampire bats – so that I get on with showing you how reciprocal altruism works and how group selection does not work in the actual case of vampire bats.

    Sorry if you don’t want to contribute to the work involved in resolving this issue.

  66. Mlemaon 13 Jul 2012 at 12:24 am

    ha ha ha! OMG BJ you are a trip! :)

  67. sonicon 13 Jul 2012 at 12:28 am

    BillyJoe7-
    My assessment–
    It is unlikely we will have a discussion about the difficulties in defining ‘fitness’, the reasons for having ‘multi-level’ selection as opposed to ‘group’ selection, the dangers of defining a term like ‘gene’ so that you are always ‘right!’ (as Dawkins claims to have done), …

    I can say that it might be unfortunate for some that a particular person had difficulties and/or an early demise as the result of having a particular gene. I can agree that such a thing could cause a great deal of distress.
    But to say “the gene is bad” is to make those emotions and distress the arbiter of truth.

    I don’t see a gene being good or bad. They just are.

    PS– if you can make badness and goodness into something quantifiable– well, then we might have something- an objective measure.

    ccbowers-
    If you check the article by DS Wilson you will find that one of the points he makes is the one you are–
    http://www.thisviewoflife.com/index.php/magazine/articles/richard-dawkins-edward-o.-wilson-and-the-consensus-of-the-many

    “Thus was born the era of pluralism and equivalence in sociobiology. It has become part of the zone of consensus of the many, but Wilson and Dawkins are not among them. Both fail to recognize that the era of “kin selection vs. group selection” has passed. Most of the important questions can be asked within either framework and can be translated between frameworks.”

  68. BillyJoe7on 13 Jul 2012 at 12:39 am

    Mlema,

    A better example might be a hypothetical pack of animals of the same species.
    If these animals have genes for ‘grouping behaviour’ it would increase the chance getting their genes into the next generation by improving their chance of surviving to reproduce. Each animal gets an advantage by cooperating with other animals to bring down a large prey, so this is gene-level selection, not group selection.
    If these animals are related (as they usually are), that is called kin selection. If the lions are not related, that is called reciprocal altruism.

  69. BillyJoe7on 13 Jul 2012 at 5:36 pm

    sonic,

    “But to say “the gene is bad” is to make those emotions and distress the arbiter of truth.
    I don’t see a gene being good or bad. They just are.”

    I see the gene for Huntington’s Disease as being objectively, unequivocally bad.
    I’m not blaming these genes for being bad either. They just are…bad.
    You seem to be playing some sort of semantical game here. Is there is actually a reason for doing so?

    “if you can make badness and goodness into something quantifiable – an objective measure. ”

    By any measure, the gene for Huntington’s Disease is bad.
    By an objective measure of its physical and emotional effects it is a bad gene.
    But let’s move on….

  70. BillyJoe7on 13 Jul 2012 at 5:37 pm

    sonic: “It is unlikely we will have a discussion about the difficulties in defining ‘fitness’”

    One perfectly reasonable definition: The fitness of a particular gene configuration can be defined as the change, over the generations, in the prevalence of that gene configuration compared to other configurations of that gene.

  71. sonicon 15 Jul 2012 at 1:26 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    I would like to discuss ‘fitness’ further. But before we ‘move on’ I must explain my ‘semantic game’.
    You see, I think that we can communicate largely because we share the same words and meanings. And the meanings matter quite a bit.
    I had a business partner who spoke Cantonese as his first language. It is amazing how many times we would be disagreeing about something– only to discover that we actually didn’t disagree- we were just using a word to mean different things. And it wasn’t always him who had the definitions mixed up.

    When you say something is ‘objective’ I think you are referring to something that exists independent of the mind. The sun has an objective existence.
    When you use the word ‘measurable’ I think you are referring to something that is quantifiable and has a means and method of measure. Length is measurable– you can place a ruler next to an object to find the number of meters. (Tool, method, unit).

    When you say there is an objective measure for a gene of its goodness or badness– I don’t have a clue what you are talking about.
    What is a gene that could be good or bad?
    What is objective about goodness and badness?
    What tool can be used to measure? What are the units of measurement?

    If we are going to discuss ‘fitness’, then we are going to have to agree what it means to be objective. I suggest ‘measurable using a known piece of equipment’.

    One good thing about that definition is we can avoid any pretense that what I think is objective. And I’ll return the favor.

    So if there is an objective measure for the goodness or badness of a gene– we better get that straightened out before continuing.
    See- when discussing this– what I am talking about has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with ‘good and bad’.
    If what you are talking about does have to do with those items– well we better clear that up. Otherwise I fear we will be talking about two different things and wondering why we aren’t understanding…

  72. BillyJoe7on 16 Jul 2012 at 7:49 am

    sonic,

    Do you think that pain is not objectively measurable?
    Pain Management Specialists routinely ask their patients to rate their pain on a scale from 1 to 10. Are they asking the impossible? Do you think that they cannot do this objectively? Do you think that subjective experiences cannot be objectively measured or graded? If you have had pain from a kidney stone, you have probably experienced the most severe pain you are ever likely to experience. You would probably grade it as a 10. All other pain that you have or will experience can be measured against that grade 10 pain. You would probably measure cutting your finger as a grade 1 pain.

    Do you think good cannot be distinguished from bad?
    There is a grey area where it can be difficult to tell whether something is good or bad. But that doesn’t negate the fact that there are things that are definitely good and things that are definitely bad. Falling out of a ten storey window and breaking every bone in your body is definitely bad. Winning the first prize in the lottery is definitely good. Certainly it is good compared to breaking every bone in your body.

    And having Huntington’s Disease is definitely bad, especially as measured against, say, having colour blindness. Huntington’s Disease is the result of having a gene for Huntington’s Disease. That makes having a gene for Huntington’s Disease bad. That makes the gene for Huntington’s Disease bad. If you don’t think so, I think you are making a distinction that’s not worth making. Perhaps you need to come right out and say why you think it’s important to make that distinction.

  73. ccbowerson 16 Jul 2012 at 10:14 pm

    You two are talking past (or around) each other here.

    Pain is subjective, but can be measured with various pain scales. The fact that it can be measured does not change the fact that it is a measurement of a subjective experience.

    Calling something good or bad is a value judgement, and some people here are objecting to the value judgement being used. If you are calling a gene “bad” it is for some deleterious effects it has for the organism when compared to an alternative. As long as we agree that the change is deleterious, I don’t see a problem, but under certain circumstances it can be problematic (when there is a disagreement about the value judgement being placed). Do we really need to use moral terms here?

  74. sonicon 17 Jul 2012 at 1:38 am

    BillyJoe7-
    I don’t believe there is an objective measure for pain. I have read about a few tries to come up with one– at least one fairly interesting one using fMRI from Stanford– but so far– no go.

    I don’t believe there is an objective measure for good and bad.
    Even if there were an objective measure for good and bad– it is hard for me to think of how that would apply to a gene. (It is also hard for me to imagine how it would apply to the color orange as well…).

    I am not making a distinction between what the gene does and the gene itself in this instance. I making making a distinction between opinion (subjective) and fact (objective).

    A gene exists (objective) A gene is bad (subjective).

    That’s the important distinction I’m trying to make.

  75. BillyJoe7on 17 Jul 2012 at 6:55 am

    sonic,

    Are you saying is that it is only a matter of opinion that:
    - having a gene for Huntington’s Disease is worse than having a gene for colour blindness!
    - falling out of a ten storey window is bad and winning the lottery is good!

    Of course it’s important for you for this to be true isn’t it?
    Otherwise you have nowhere to go with your ‘fitness’ argument. Am I right?

    Oh well, at least you agree that a gene is what a gene does.

  76. BillyJoe7on 17 Jul 2012 at 7:00 am

    ccbowers,

    Surely you don’t think I’m impugning the gene’s morality by calling it bad. :)

  77. sonicon 17 Jul 2012 at 3:40 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Yes- that is what I am saying. It is a matter of opinion about which disease is better or which activity is better (falling or winning).
    It is not important to me that these things be– I am just using the words properly– or at least I believe I am- and I have checked a dictionary.
    Certainly you have provided no evidence to the contrary.

    I wouldn’t mind discussing other things– but we will have problems until you learn the difference between your opinion and fact.

    But if you can’t see that– then our discussions will almost always turn into a situation where you repeat the same thing over and over and fail to grasp that what you are repeating is an opinion that is at odds with some factual rendition. If that reminds you of past communications (or the current one), then you can understand why I’m working so hard to change the tune.

    I feel I have failed with the current attempt. I may try again.
    Hasta la vista.

    PS– no, I don’t agree that a gene is what a gene does. ‘Does’ and ‘is’ are not equivalent concepts and apply differently in this case. You might want to consult a dictionary for clarification.

  78. BillyJoe7on 18 Jul 2012 at 12:38 am

    BillyJoe:
    “Are you saying is that it is only a matter of opinion that:
    - having a gene for Huntington’s Disease is worse than having a gene for colour blindness!
    - falling out of a ten storey window is bad and winning the lottery is good!”

    sonic:
    “Yes- that is what I am saying. It is a matter of opinion…”

    A good test of a scientific fact is that it is independant of the observer. In other words all obervers will agree. I am willing to bet that if you ask every neurologist alive today which is worse (Huntington’s Disease or colour blindness) all of them, without exception, would unequivocally give the same answer (Huntington’s Disease), which we can, therefore, regard as a fact.

  79. elmer mccurdyon 18 Jul 2012 at 3:30 am

    Hey, sonic and billyjoe7 were talking about objective measures for pain! I’d just posted about that in topic suggestions! It’s like kismet!

    http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/topic-suggestions-open-thread/#comment-44363

  80. sonicon 18 Jul 2012 at 3:40 pm

    elmer mccurdy-
    A good topic suggestion–
    Have you seen this?
    http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0024124&annotationId=1495;jsessionid=EEBFF9D88ABE843D2B3A4D2B1FE6BA90
    I’d be interested in what is going on with this too.

    BillyJoe7-
    Had I known that objective reality was obtained through opinion polls–
    And what is nice about this one is that we don’t even need to take the poll– you already have the answer.

    Did you notice ?– At this point you are asserting that your opinion about the opinion of others is equivalent to objective reality (a fact).

    Your opinion about the opinions of others has become objective reality. This situation is so far from what I consider to be sensible– I really do believe that there is a problem in language. Have you considered the possibility of looking these terms up in a dictionary- ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘opinion’, objective’ ‘fact’? I’m not sure– it might be something else– but I’m thinking those will get the job done so that you won’t keep asserting that you opinion about the opinions of others is equivalent to objective reality.

    There is a saying about horses and water.

  81. BillyJoe7on 18 Jul 2012 at 4:20 pm

    sonic,

    Dictionaries are not always useful references in discussions such as these. I don’t know about your dictionary, but none of mine give the definition for a scientifically derived fact. What is your defintion of a scientifically derived fact?

    Let’s use an example:
    Do you agree that evolution is a fact?
    How was this fact arrived at but through the consensus of scientists based on the evidence?

    Following on from my last post…
    I assume you know the symptoms of Huntington’s Disease and of Colour Blindness. If you had to choose between them, which condition would you choose to have and why?
    Do you have any reason to think that anyone else would choose Huntington’s Disease?

    Another question:

  82. elmer mccurdyon 18 Jul 2012 at 6:02 pm

    sonic, that link is pretty interesting. The Thernstom book discussed experiments using fMRI for something like biofeedback, but said that it wasn’t yet possible to differentiate scans of people with or without pain; I believe there was some sort of brain activity that was an indicator of “suffering,” although I can’t remember which part, offhand.

  83. elmer mccurdyon 18 Jul 2012 at 7:13 pm

    Apparently what I was thinking of was the “rostral anterior cingulate cortex.”

    from this article that Thernstrom wrote: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/magazine/14pain.html?pagewanted=all

  84. daedalus2uon 18 Jul 2012 at 9:56 pm

    BillyJoe, the problem is that whether a gene results in a phenotype that is more fit or less fit is context dependent, it depends on the rest of the genome and it depends on the environment. Unless you specify the rest of the genome and specify the environment, the question is not answerable. It isn’t that the answer is an opinion, the answer is indeterminant, that is there is no answer.

    Which is better, a strong immune system or a weak immune system? Which is better, dying from anaphylaxis because your immune system is too strong, or dying from an infection because it is too weak? Without knowing what antigens you (and your descendants) will be exposed to, and what infectious diseases you (and your descendants) will be exposed to (and in what order and time frame), it is not possible to answer which type of immune system is better. If you train your immune system with a vaccine, you can tolerate an immune system with a lower “gain”, making anaphylaxis less likely, but in the absence of modern hygiene, antibiotics and hospitals, the risk of infection might be too high.

    What evolution has done is minimize the sum of deaths and non-reproduction from all of physiology simultaneously. You might have a “perfect” gene for something, but if that gene interacts badly with genes that everyone else has, and all combinations of your “perfect” gene and everyone else results in a non-viable organism, then your “perfect” gene will make your line go extinct and you will have no descendants.

    Selecting individuals for “perfect” genes individually does not ensure that those “perfect” genes work together in an organism. A “perfect” horse and a “perfect” cow, do not produce a cross breed that can run like a horse and give milk like a cow, a cross between a horse and a cow does not produce viable offspring.

  85. BillyJoe7on 19 Jul 2012 at 12:22 am

    daedalus,

    I assure you that none of what you have posted is news to me.
    The question is: are there bad/detrimental genes?
    The answer is yes and an example is the gene for Huntington’s disease.

  86. sonicon 20 Jul 2012 at 1:12 am

    elmer mccurdy-
    Interesting story. More to this than I was aware of. Cool…

    BillyJoe7-
    If you think we are dealing with a technical question, then there are dictionaries for that as well. Otherwise when you are dealing with a phrase you can either- 1) find the phrase in the dictionary– these are called idioms. Or 2) you can learn each word individually and put them together.

    But what I was interested in was discovering the difference between your opinion and objective fact.

    Your replies have become non-sequitur.

  87. BillyJoe7on 20 Jul 2012 at 8:12 am

    Sonic,

    It is telling that you have evaded answering those questions.

    I will link for you the scientific understanding of the terms ‘opinion’, ‘objective’, and ‘fact’.

    Evolution is a fact.
    What does this mean? This means that there is such overwhelming evidence for evolution that it would be bizzare to deny that it is true. It is described as a fact because it would be extremely unlikely that it would ever be overturned. But nothing in science is one hundred percent certain. A scientific fact can be overturned. If evidence comes to light that evolution is false, then the fact of evolution will be overturned. But, unless and until that time, evolution will be regarded by scientists as a scientific fact.

    Evolution is an objective fact.
    What does this mean? It means that the evidence for evolution is free of emotion, bias, and prejudice. The fact of evolution is based on cold, hard evidence. That is all. It does not mean that evolution must exist as a physical object.

    What is a scientific opinion?
    It is an opinion based on the evidence. If the opinion (based on cold, hard, evidence) of scientists with expertise in the area of interest is that evolution is overwhelmingly true and is therefore extremely unlikely to ever be overturned by contrary evidence, then evolution attains the status of a fact.

  88. sonicon 20 Jul 2012 at 12:36 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    From your answer I can not figure out what you are proposing.
    I am asking what- if anything- is the difference between your opinion about the ‘goodness and badness’ of something and an ‘objective fact’.
    Your answer seems non-sequitur to me.

    How can I answer your questions when I don’t understand them? I am asking if your opinion is the same as objective fact. I need to know this as my opinion is not an objective fact.
    You can understand why I don’t think we are using the same language– and any answer I give will be misunderstood. See, it seems to me that you are asking me to confirm some sort of objective fact about the goodness of a disease. But the question doesn’t even make much sense to me.

    If I ask you to answer the question– “Gogjuryt fgrhty kiyotu?” you might recognize the difficulty.

  89. BillyJoe7on 20 Jul 2012 at 5:16 pm

    Question: Is evolution a fact?
    Answer: Yes.

    Question: Gogjuryt fgrhty kiyotu?
    Answer: Fv<|<edifI|<^oVV

    Seriously, sonic, I sincerely hope you understand the difference between my question and yours ;)

  90. BillyJoe7on 20 Jul 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Sonic,

    “I am asking what- if anything- is the difference between your opinion about the ‘goodness and badness’ of something and an ‘objective fact’.”

    My bald opinion is worth nothing.
    My opinion backed up by evidence is worth something.
    The opinion of an expert backed up by lots of cold, hard evidence is worth a great deal.
    The consensus opinion of experts backed up by a mountain of cold, hard evidence is worth a great deal more.
    If the evidence is so overwhelming that it is extremely unlikely ever to be overturned, that opinion is elevated to an objective fact.

    If you disagree, sonic, you simply do not understand how science works.

    “How can I answer your questions when I don’t understand them?”

    You are seriously telling me that, after me giving you the scientific definition of a ‘fact’, you still cannot answer the question: Is evolution a fact?

    “I am asking if your opinion is the same as objective fact. I need to know this as my opinion is not an objective fact.”

    And you think I haven’t answered that question?
    Hint: It’s the same as yours.

    “You can understand why I don’t think we are using the same language”

    What I understand is that you don’t understand the scientific language.
    I also understand that, even though I’ve been at pains to explain the scientific definition of the language I am using, you are steadfastly refusing to explain your definition of the idiosyncratic language you are using.

    “and any answer I give will be misunderstood.”

    So, you refuse to give an answer because you already know that I will misunderstand it?

    “See, it seems to me that you are asking me to confirm some sort of objective fact about the goodness of a disease. But the question doesn’t even make much sense to me.”

    The goodness of a disease???.
    Don’t you mean the badness of a specific disease (Huntington’s Disease).
    Your idiosyncratic definitions of ‘fact’, ‘opinion’, and ‘objective’ (whatever they are!) won’t even allow you to answer the question: Is Huntington’s disease worse than Colour Blindness?
    My god, sonic, it’s a straight forward question with a straight forward answer.

  91. Mlemaon 20 Jul 2012 at 10:00 pm

    bj,

    it’s anyone’s opinion that Huntington’s disease is bad. and because we humans are the ones who place a judgment “bad” on such things, we can even say it’s a fact that it’s a bad thing to have Huntington’s. When we speak that way it’s because we all assume the unspoken value of life and its continuance. that is: to live is “good”, so a gene that ends life is “bad”. But to transfer this way of placing value judgments onto something like a gene isn’t appropriate if you’re trying to speak scientifically.

    it may seem like semantics, but there’s a concept here that I think it’s important to grasp: a gene isn’t “bad” anymore than the fox who kills the bunny rabbit is “bad”. In science everything is relative. so yes, it’s worse for a person to have huntington’s than to be color blind. But if you’re going to be rational and scientific: a gene is a gene is a gene. Genes do what genes do, foxes do what foxes do, and people do what people do. when you start calling a gene or a fox or a human “bad” you’re flipping over into that uniquely human ability to assign value relative to self (or anybody else for that matter – even a bunny’s!). are you sure you want to do that? you might end up having to try to scientifically defend that humans aren’t simply different by degree, but also by kind…after all, I don’t think the bunny rabbit thinks the fox is “bad”. Do you think the bunny thinks the fox is bad?

    it’s not really a big deal bj. it seems so ridiculous to mince words right? but that’s what you gotta do if you wanna be a rational skeptical critically-thinking scienc-y sorta guy! :)

    ps- thanks for your earlier reply regarding group selection.

  92. BillyJoe7on 21 Jul 2012 at 3:04 am

    Mlema,

    “But to transfer this way of placing value judgments onto something like a gene isn’t appropriate if you’re trying to speak scientifically.”

    We don’t disagree, Mlema. (:

    Firstly: I explained in earlier posts what I meant by ‘bad’. Clearly, I am not suggesting that genes are moral agents. So, you can substitute ‘detrimental’ or ‘deleterious’ if you wish.

    Secondly: I agree that, if you are sufficiently strict in your definitions, you won’t be able to apply the word ‘bad’ to anything. A homocidal axe murderer is not really ‘bad’. It was just the result of his genetic makeup + environmental influences (including other people) + memories of past events acting through mechanistic cause and effect relations (plus possibly some random quantum events) within his brain. In this sense, no one is really truly responsible.

    But we hold them responsible anyway because that is part of the environmental input into the brains of humans that persuade them to act ‘good’ rather than ‘bad’. So we lock away the minority who are ‘bad’ to protect the majority who are ‘good’ and, as a result, life is a whole lot more pleasant for most of us.

    In a similar vein, we can hold the ‘bad’ gene for Huntington’s Disease responsble for its effects on their human carriers. And, if we ever discover how to do so, we will eliminate this ‘bad’ gene from the human gene pool.

    (In the mean time, sonic cannot even bring himself to say that Huntington’s Disease is worse than Colour Blindness.)

  93. sonicon 21 Jul 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Mlema-
    Nice try.

    BillyJoe7-
    You didn’t quite answer the question–
    What- if anything- is the difference between your opinion about the ‘goodness and badness’ of something and an ‘objective fact’?
    I get that opinions can be based on varying degrees of evidence.
    But that doesn’t really answer my question. If you could keep your answer as specific to the question as possible…

    But you have made what looks to be an attempt and I am feeling hopeful– so–

    Now to your question about these diseases–
    I can’t tell which is worse- Huntington’s or Color Blindness.
    Can you specify– worse at what?– It seems they are both perfectly good at what they do to me.

  94. BillyJoe7on 21 Jul 2012 at 8:35 pm

    sonic,

    “I can’t tell which is worse- Huntington’s or Color Blindness.”

    You can’t tell if Huntington’s Disease is worse than Colour Blindness? Really?
    So, going back to another question you have not yet answered:
    Given the choice of having either Huntington’s Disease or Colour Blindness, which condition would you choose and why?

    “Can you specify– worse at what? – It seems they are both perfectly good at what they do to me.”

    I assume you are now talking about the gene for Huntington’s Disease and the gene for Colour Blindness?

    So let me dissect what you are saying:

    The gene for Huntington’s Disease just IS.
    Meaning that the gene for Huntington’s Disease is neither good nor bad.
    On the other hand, the gene for Huntington’s Disease is (perfectly) good at what it DOES.
    What the gene for Huntington’s Disease does is cause Huntington’s Disease.
    So the gene for Huntington’s Disease is (perfectly) good at causing Huntington’s Disease.

    Summarising:
    The gene for Huntington’s Disease just IS, meaning that it is neither good nor bad, but what the gene DOES is cause Huntington’s Disease and it is (perfectly) good at causing Huntington’s Disease.

    Is that correct so far?

    If so, let me ask a question, in the hope that you will actually answer it:
    Is Huntington’s Disease bad?
    You can answer it anyway you like, but please answer it. If you really think the question is unaswerable, please explain why you think it is unanswerable.

  95. sonicon 22 Jul 2012 at 2:58 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    I jumped the gun.
    Please make a list of differences between your opinion about the goodness or badness of something and an objective fact.
    I’ll start by giving you an example–
    When asked if something is good or bad– I have to know ‘for what?’ This is because good and bad imply ‘for a purpose’.
    Objective facts don’t have anything to do with purpose. “The capital of Australia is Canberra.” No purpose implied.
    Can you think of other differences?

    Your question– is Huntington’s disease bad? I would have to ask– bad at what?
    Bad for what? Perhaps it is ‘Bad to the bone.’
    If you could be more specific about what purpose you are implying with your question it would make the answer more precise.

    You ask which condition I would choose and why–

    My brother will not live long enough for Huntington’s to kick in. In his case — given the choice- he might opt for Huntington’s (knowing he will die before it kicks in) over color blindness– because that way he gets to see the colors while he is alive.

    If I choose one– does that mean he has to have the same?
    So do I give him color blindness because I have hopes of living long enough for the Huntington’s to kick in?
    What if those hopes for longevity are just pipe dreams?

    And if the Huntington’s kicked in– would I mind? Perhaps it is better than what I’ve got– is there a way I can do a ‘taste test’ just to be sure about what the choice I’m making actually is?

    And is my choice actual or illusion?

    Is any of that helpful in making your list of differences?

  96. Mlemaon 22 Jul 2012 at 7:05 pm

    sonic,

    you’re not the first to suggest that I’m trying
    :)

    bj, please tell me you understand that everything you’re saying to me about people or genes is based on an unspoken but unscientific assumption you’re making about the goodness of life.

    that is, when your answer to your own question:

    “Is Huntington’s Disease bad?”

    is ‘yes it’s bad’. and if I ask you why, you will say ‘because it kills people’. and I ask you now:

    why is that bad?
    what will you say?

  97. Mlemaon 22 Jul 2012 at 7:08 pm

    and oh dear Lord please don’t entertain the idea that I myself don’t believe that something that kills people isn’t bad. but please tell me why YOU think so too

  98. BillyJoe7on 23 Jul 2012 at 6:18 am

    Sonic,

    Why did you answer a question different from the one I asked?
    I asked you to choose between HAVING Huntington’s disease and HAVING Colour Blindness:

    “Given the choice of having either Huntington’s Disease or Colour Blindness, which condition would you choose and why? ”

    But you answered a different question, something along the lines of: which gene would you rather be born with? Perhaps I should have blocked that loophole more tightly by capitalising the ignored word:

    “Given the choice of HAVING either Huntington’s Disease or Colour Blindness, which condition would you choose and why? “.

    On the other hand, the question you asked me I have already answered. You rejected that answer, so I’m trying to explain that answer through the questions I am asking now. Firstly to see if there is some common ground to work from. But you seem to be unwilling to answer that first question which is preventing any further progress, and I’m left wondering why.

  99. BillyJoe7on 23 Jul 2012 at 6:27 am

    Mlema,

    Huntington’s Disease is not ‘bad’ just because it kills people (some live almost a normal lifespan). It is ‘bad’ because the neurological deterioration it causes results in progressive physical, mental, and psychiatric disability.

    Why is that ‘bad’? Well, perhaps you would like to answer my question:

    “Given the choice of HAVING either Huntington’s Disease or Colour Blindness, which condition would you choose and why? “

  100. sonicon 23 Jul 2012 at 4:49 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    I don’t argue objective facts.

    As you have yet to produce any difference between ‘your opinion about good and bad’ and ‘objective fact’ (that’s right- you have not mentioned one difference one time)–
    I have come to the conclusion there isn’t any difference. Your opinion is objective fact. And I believe it extends beyond just about ‘good and bad’.

    I don’t argue objective facts- your opinion is therefore inarguable.

    So, the obvious answer to any question is — “whatever you say.”
    How could it be otherwise?

    You see, I don’t argue objective facts.

    BTW- I tried to answer your question, but if you say i didn’t…

    I don’t argue objective facts.

  101. BillyJoe7on 23 Jul 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Sonic,

    :)

    I mean, what can I say?
    You have been at pains to avoid answering this very simple and straightforward question:

    “Given the choice of HAVING either Huntington’s Disease or Colour Blindness, which condition would you choose and why? “

    I know why, and you know why.
    The obvious answer and the obvious follow up questions will undercut your argument completely, won’t it? You know where I’m heading with this, don’t you? And you don’t want to go there, so you simply refuse to take the first step.

  102. BillyJoe7on 23 Jul 2012 at 5:45 pm

    sonic:

    “I don’t argue objective facts.”

    Why not?
    Do you think objective facts can’t turn out to be false?
    I have given you the meaning of the term “objective fact” in science. You didn’t comment. Why not?
    If you missed it, here it is again:

    The word ‘objective’ in science simply means based on the cold, hard facts untainted by emotion, bias, or prejudice.
    The word ‘fact’ in science can be understood as follows:

    My bald opinion is worth nothing.
    My opinion backed up by evidence is worth something.
    The opinion of an expert backed up by lots of cold, hard evidence is worth a great deal.
    The consensus opinion of experts backed up by a mountain of cold, hard evidence is worth a great deal more.
    If the evidence is so overwhelming that it is extremely unlikely ever to be overturned, that opinion is elevated to the status of a scientific fact.

    Combining the two: if a scientific fact is based on cold hard evidence untainted by emotion, bias, and prejudice (as it necessarily is – see above), it is an objective fact.
    For example evolution is an objective fact in science.
    Does that mean it cannot be overturned? Nope – just produce the cold hard evidence untainted by emotion, bias, and prejudice and the fact of evoution will be overturned.

    (That, by the way, was my answer to your question about the difference between my opinion and objective fact )

  103. Mlemaon 23 Jul 2012 at 7:19 pm

    ok bj, I’m willing to try again!

    I said:
    please tell me you understand that everything you’re saying to me about people or genes is based on an unspoken but unscientific assumption you’re making about the goodness of life.

    you either don’t understand what I’m asking, or you don’t know how to answer – because you definitely didn’t acknowledge that you do understand what I’m asserting.

    then, when I tried to condense our back-and-forth by acknowledging that we both think Huntington’s disease is bad because it kills people, you dodge the next question by saying:

    “Huntington’s Disease is not ‘bad’ just because it kills people (some live almost a normal lifespan). It is ‘bad’ because the neurological deterioration it causes results in progressive physical, mental, and psychiatric disability.

    s, ok, you and I both agree HD is not ‘bad’ just because it kills people (some live almost a normal lifespan). It is ‘bad’ because the neurological deterioration it causes results in progressive physical, mental, and psychiatric disability.

    so NOW can you answer the question:

    why is that bad?

    and, it would be nice if you would explain what your question:

    “Given the choice of HAVING either Huntington’s Disease or Colour Blindness, which condition would you choose and why? “

    has to do with any of this. But I will answer you anyway.

    I would rather have Huntington’s disease than be color blind. I’m answering this as someone who has neither and I really don’t see how my preference for one condition in life over another has anything at all to do with any of this.

    so, again:

    why is Huntington’s disease and everything it is and does BAD?

  104. sonicon 23 Jul 2012 at 11:17 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Here is how the term ‘scientific fact’ is defined–
    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/scientific+fact
    Is your opinion about the goodness or badness of something one of those– a scientific (or objective) fact?

    That is the question I was asking– and I have concluded that your opinion is the same as a scientific (or objective) fact.
    Your preference for ice cream flavor is an equivalent truth to General Relativity, for instance.
    Is my conclusion in error?
    Why or why not?

    Your question about the diseases is really more about which set of symptoms I would prefer to experience– right?
    And if the answer is an objective fact– then I am answering for everyone– right?
    See, if I pick Huntington’s, then this assures me that those I am choosing for will live long enough for the symptoms to kick in- perhaps 40 years plus…– whereas if I pick colorblind that person could be dead at 12.
    So if I pick Huntington’s- my pick means that at least some people will live long enough to reproduce- make babies. If I choose colorblind– I have no such assurance.
    On the other hand– a world filled with Huntington’s people might not be a world anyone would want to get born into– perhaps it would be better in such a case that humanity comes to an end.
    Of course as long as there are people– there is a chance they will figure out a cure for the Huntington’s. But then I’m not really choosing that they get the symptoms– I am using a loophole to avoid the symptoms– something that you say I must not do.
    Does any of this have anything to do with what you are talking about?

    My unbiased- unemotional- detached answer to the question is– I have no preference.

  105. BillyJoe7on 24 Jul 2012 at 7:07 am

    BillyJoe: “Given the choice of having either Huntington’s Disease or Colour Blindness, which condition would you choose and why? “

    Sonic: “My unbiased- unemotional- detached answer to the question is– I have no preference.”

    Then I have to question your sanity.
    Most people do not even know they have colour blindness until a special test is done to detect it.
    Compare that to the symptoms you can expect from Huntington’s Disease:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntington%27s_disease#Signs_and_symptoms

  106. BillyJoe7on 24 Jul 2012 at 7:37 am

    Mlema,

    “please tell me you understand that everything you’re saying to me about people or genes is based on an unspoken but unscientific assumption you’re making about the goodness of life.”

    No I don’t understand. What do you mean by an unspoken but unscientific assumption you’re making about the goodness of life. Yes, I am assuming life, otherwise I wouldn’t be asking you to choose between HD and CB if I wasn’t. You can’t have either if you are not alive. But I am not assuming the goodness of life. Life sucks for some people. Thousands of children starve to death from the moment they are born.

    ” you and I both agree HD is not ‘bad’ just because it kills people (some live almost a normal lifespan). It is ‘bad’ because the neurological deterioration it causes results in progressive physical, mental, and psychiatric disability.”

    Meaning that you disagree with sonic. Well, that’s certainly a relief!

    “so NOW can you answer the question: why is that bad?”

    You should know shouldn’t you? After all you just agreed with me that it is ‘bad’! Don’t you have a reason for saying that HD is ‘bad’? Isn’t it because the neurological deterioration it causes results in progressive physical, mental, and psychiatric disability.? Do you have another reason?

    “and, it would be nice if you would explain what your question:
    Given the choice of HAVING either Huntington’s Disease or Colour Blindness, which condition would you choose and why? has to do with any of this.”

    I adressed that to sonic initially in an attempt to get something on which we could both agree so that we could proceed from some common ground. As you can see wI’ve hit a brick wall.

    “But I will answer you anyway: I would rather have Huntington’s disease than be color blind.”

    I’m glad we agree, though I didn’t really have any expectation that we wouldn’t. But, then, I didn’t expect sonic wouldn’t agree either, but there we go, life has its little surprises.

  107. sonicon 24 Jul 2012 at 5:21 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    I was trying to have a meaningful conversation with a guy who thinks that the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of something is an ‘objective’ fact.
    He won’t even look in a dictionary to find out that this is incorrect by definition.

    You question my sanity.
    A knowledgeable observer probably would have all ready determined– I’m not sane– “Just look– he’s trying to have a meaningful conversation with a guy who … He couldn’t be sane.” ;-)

    Is that good or bad? Objectively- I mean… :-)

  108. Mlemaon 24 Jul 2012 at 6:39 pm

    BillyJoe7,
    are you going to answer my question or not? I’ll keep checking for a little while unless you tell me you’re not going to answer. I’m beginning to accept that you don’t understand the question, and may not be able to answer it. But I’ll ask again for now:

    Why is Huntington’s disease, all that it is and all that it does, BAD?
    We know it’s bad. Everything it does is bad, and if we could cure it that would be GOOD.
    Why is HD bad and a cure for Huntington’s disease good?

    please don’t answer by asking me another question.

    cheers,
    M

  109. BillyJoe7on 25 Jul 2012 at 12:35 am

    Sonic,

    If you need a dictionary, your argument can’t rely on your use of the word you have to look up.
    Try understanding the word ‘ontology’ from looking up the dictionary. The meanings of the dictionary definitions grow on you with use and the dictionary is only a helper for those new to the word and a distraction for those whose argument is rapidly disappearing down the plughole.

    You have no preference for HD or CB.
    Congratulations, I’ll take CB and give you HD.
    Welcome to a future in which you will experience progressive physical, mental, and psychiatric disability, until you truly wil not know if you even have a preference or not.

  110. BillyJoe7on 25 Jul 2012 at 12:41 am

    Mlema,

    I have done more answering of questionsin this thread than the both of you put together.
    My answer to your question is the same as yours. Right? So now you know my answer. Please stop asking for information you already have.

    On the other hand, if you have a point to make, please make it.

  111. sonicon 25 Jul 2012 at 4:54 pm

    BillyJoe7-
    Ontology–
    1. a branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being
    2. a particular theory about the nature of being or the kinds of things that have existence
    (that’s Merriam-Webster)

    I believe I can understand that. If there is another definition (like there might be in computer science) — you can specify that you are using a specialized definition and define the word more precisely if need be (not unusual in technical discussions).

    If you are referring to a specific theory ( definition 2) then you can specify which one. In order to understand any particular theory- I would have to read up on that. But I would be reading a theory about the nature of being and what sorts of things actually exist. Right?

    The dictionary is available on-line. If you type the word you want to know with ‘definition’ into Google or another search engine a number of excellent resources will be made available to you.
    Happy hunting!

    BTW- I said that my “unemotional, unbiased, detached answer is I have no preference.”
    I think you misquote me due to a misunderstanding of what those qualifying words mean.
    I mention this because those words might be a good starting point for brushing up on your dictionary skills.
    Good luck!

  112. BillyJoe7on 25 Jul 2012 at 5:18 pm

    sonic,

    You realise, don’t you, that you have just proven my point?

    My point was that if you don’t know the meaning of a word, you will not know it’s meaning by simply referring to a dictionary the first time you come across that word. In other words, you will need to come across that word in many different contexts to get a real feeling for what that word really means.

    Now you looked up the definition of ‘ontology’ and found two definitions. You also added that there may be other definitions, specialised definitions, more precise definitions, and you made a comment about the word ‘theory’ and that it might mean a specific theory that needs to be spelled out and which you might need to read up on.

    As I say, you have proven my point.

    (By the way, I know the meaning of ‘ontology’. I used that as an example of a word I had to come across in many different contexts before I felt I knew what it meant)

  113. BillyJoe7on 25 Jul 2012 at 5:29 pm

    sonic,

    “I said that my “unemotional, unbiased, detached answer is I have no preference.”
    I think you misquote me due to a misunderstanding of what those qualifying words mean.”

    Nope.
    Here is what I said about the meaning of ‘objective’ in science:
    The word ‘objective’ in science simply means based on the cold, hard facts untainted by emotion, bias, or prejudice.
    So I understand exactly what you are saying.
    Your error is in thinking that a cold, hard, unemotional, unbiased, detached appraisal of HD and CB cannot lead you to have an opinion about which you would prefer to have. That is clearly false.

  114. Mlemaon 25 Jul 2012 at 9:21 pm

    BillyJoe,
    I’m lettin’ you off the hook because you are too wiggly! I wish I were more skilled in this sort of casting about – trying to snag your focus and attention. But I’m catching only flak.
    But your unwillingness or inability to answer my question is perfectly acceptable. I believe we enjoyed an honest exchange after all and I thank you for that my friend. Someday you’ll have to answer such a question as I’ve posed to you in one way or another and then you will do it! And, as things often go, that is the same moment in which no one will need to ask you such a question.

    But since I’ve enjoyed engaging you in this way, I’ll leave you with another question if I may:

    What do you think might be my motivation for asking you why Huntington’s disease and all that it is and does is BAD while a cure for Huntington’s disease would be GOOD?

    I don’t want you to answer. i just want you to carry the question with you for a while.
    all the best,
    M

  115. BillyJoe7on 26 Jul 2012 at 6:23 am

    Mlema,

    I like your style. :)

    Okay then:

    “Why is Huntington’s disease, all that it is and all that it does, BAD?”

    Huntington’s Disease is ‘bad’, because it causes neurological deterioration resulting in progressive physical, mental, and psychiatric disability. Or in a little more detail:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huntington%27s_disease#Signs_and_symptoms

    The earliest symptoms are often subtle problems with mood or cognition. A general lack of coordination and an unsteady gait often follows. As the disease advances, uncoordinated, jerky body movements become more apparent, along with a decline in mental abilities and behavioral and psychiatric problems. Physical abilities are gradually impeded until coordinated movement becomes very difficult. Mental abilities generally decline into dementia. Complications such as pneumonia, heart disease, and physical injury from falls reduce life expectancy to around twenty years after symptoms begin

    So, do I get to see the point of your hook?

  116. sonicon 26 Jul 2012 at 11:15 am

    BillyJoe7-
    You continue to amaze.
    Here’s something interesting–

    If you don’t understand what a word means when you look it up, it is probably because you don’t know what one or more of the words in the definition mean. Once I learned that trick– I can understand what a word means by looking it up almost every time. It’s amazing–

    So if you look up ‘detached’– you find
    ‘exhibiting an aloof objectivity usually free from prejudice or self-interest.’

    So if you want me to answer a question about what I would prefer– well my detached answer will be ‘no preference’. That’s because I’m demonstrating ‘aloof objectivity without any self-interest.’ Right? You can grant me that it is a proper use of the language to say that my detached answer to questions involving personal interests would be ‘no preference’.
    Any other answer demonstrates self-interest. But the ‘detached’ answer has no self-interest.
    I really like “No preference,” here– don’t you?

    Now I understand that you have an opinion about the goodness or badness of some diseases. So do I.
    Is your opinion about the goodness or badness of these diseases the same as an objective fact?
    Another way to ask that question– if I disagree with you is it because I’m wrong?
    I ask because if you disagree with me about something- history indicates that you might be right– in fact I can be wrong about important things. At least I have been before.
    So you can see why I don’t think my opinion is the same as objective fact.
    And I am very curious about yours.
    (See, if we are going to discuss something like the difficulties of defining ‘fitness’ for example- I need to know if you are ever wrong. If you can be wrong- then we can discuss. If you can’t be wrong- then you can just tell me.)
    Kapeesh?

  117. BillyJoe7on 26 Jul 2012 at 5:27 pm

    sonic,

    I prefer HD to CB.
    My preference is based on the unemotional, detached, unbiased, cold, hard facts about HD and CB as derived by scientists working in the respective areas of interest.
    In other words, my preference is based on objective facts about HD and CB.

    Put it this way:
    If you had absolutely no knowledge of HD and CB, if they were just words you couldn’t even find in a dictionary, what would be your preference? Obviously you could have no preference and, if forced to choose, you might as well flip a coin. Now, suppose you are given detailed information about these conditions – the unemotional, detached, unbiased, cold, hard facts about HD and CB as derived by scientists working in the respective areas of interest.
    What would your preference be now?

    My answer is that I would prefer CB.
    And this is my unemotional, unbiased, detached answer.
    Do you think that it is impossible to prefer CB in an unemotional, unbiased, detached manner based purely on the cold, hard facts about HD and CB?

  118. BillyJoe7on 28 Jul 2012 at 7:07 am

    What would a robot choose?

  119. sonicon 29 Jul 2012 at 11:28 am

    BillyJoe7-
    I can have an opinion based on facts.
    I can’t have a fact based on opinions.

    This is largely a matter of what the words mean and how people are.

    Opinions -especially those that involve choices that effect oneself- can be based on fact, but will always have bias and emotion involved. Sometimes these biases are shared by many and are therefore considered normal or good. But that is just bias as well.
    For example–
    It is bias to think that pain is less desirable than pleasure– a bias not shared by all.
    It is bias to think that a long life is better than a short one– a bias not shared by all. It might surprise you to talk to the people at the hospital where I used to work. Many of them would answer the question about HD and CB this way– “Which one will kill me soonest? I’l take that.”
    They had a different bias than most.

    How would one really know which would be a better life for himself anyway?– Certainly not by experiment. You only live once at a time– we can’t have a control life to test against the other options- can we? And how do you intend to double-blind the darn thing?
    So we speculate based on facts, emotion and bias.
    Oh, you don’t want to live a life of slowly degrading motor and mental skills? But that is just the emotion of fear. Meet someone who would gladly take on the challenge and you will know what I mean.
    You can find people like that in the hospital too.

    The sun has an objective view of things. It doesn’t care if I live or die or how I live or die. It doesn’t care if all humanity is wiped out today or the next day. And that is an objective view of the situation.

    I’m guessing that you have the bias that life is good. In particular you probably think that human life– and specifically your own life- is good.
    You probably have quite an emotional attachment to that notion.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t have that. I am saying that we don’t all have that all the time- and anytime that notion impacts your thinking you are forming an opinion based not only on fact- but on bias and emotion as well.

    I can tell you this– any question about what I prefer will be answered differently depending on when you ask. And that includes between HD and CB.

    And that’s the cold hard fact about that.

    Sorry if this is horrible news.

  120. BillyJoe7on 30 Jul 2012 at 8:50 am

    sonic,

    I’ve been very clear throughout this entire thread that the definitions of ‘fact’, ‘objective’, and ‘opinion’ that I have used are the definitions as understood by science. I’ve repeated those defintions at least three times and not once have you responded, let alone made any attempt to take them apart. Yet here you are offering alternative meanings that are so divorced from science as to be totally useless.
    Science is a practical pursuit and it has a proven record.
    Your definitions have no practical use whatsoever.
    Here again are my defintions as understood by science.

    The word ‘objective’ in science simply means based on the cold, hard facts untainted by emotion, bias, or prejudice.
    The word ‘fact’ in science can be understood as follows:

    My bald opinion is worth nothing.
    My opinion backed up by evidence is worth something.
    The opinion of an expert backed up by lots of cold, hard evidence is worth a great deal.
    The consensus opinion of experts backed up by a mountain of cold, hard evidence is worth a great deal more.
    If the evidence is so overwhelming that it is extremely unlikely ever to be overturned, that opinion is elevated to the status of a scientific fact.

    Combining the two: if a scientific fact is based on cold hard evidence untainted by emotion, bias, and prejudice, it is an objective fact.
    For example evolution is an objective fact in science.
    Does that mean it cannot be overturned? Nope – just produce the cold hard evidenceand the fact of evoution will be overturned.

    sonic: “I can’t have a fact based on opinions”

    In science, facts ARE based on opinions.
    But let me qualify….
    Is evolution a fact?
    You never answered that question.
    Evolution IS a fact because it is based on the consensus of experts whose opinions are based on such a large body of cold, hard evidence untainted by emotion and bias (that is to say objective evidence) from so many different fields of science that it is unlikely ever to be overturned.
    That’s what makes evolution a fact.
    That’s what a fact means in science.
    And, yes, given sufficient extraordinary contrary evidence, a fact in science can be overturned.

    By your definition, nothing can be a fact, which makes that word totally superfluous.
    It’s a definition divorced from science and therefore of no practical use.

    sonic; “I can have an opinion based on facts.”

    Not unless you are sloppy in your use of the word ‘fact’.
    But you can have an opinon based on evidence.
    It takes extraordinary evidence to establish a fact.

    “It is bias to think that pain is less desirable than pleasure”
    “It is bias to think that a long life is better than a short one”
    “Many would answer the question about HD and CB this way– “Which one will kill me soonest? I’ll take that.”
    “Oh, you don’t want to live a life of slowly degrading motor and mental skills? But that is just the emotion of fear”
    “The sun has an objective view of things.”

    What can I say?
    Meaning that I have so much to say that I don’t know where to start.
    I’ll just pick one:

    “The sun has an objective view of things. It doesn’t care if I live or die or how I live or die. It doesn’t care if all humanity is wiped out today or the next day. And that is an objective view of the situation.”

    The sun does not have an opinion at all. And, if it can’t have an opinion, it can’t have an objective opinion. And it can’t care or not care. But people can have opinions. And they can care. It seems the two go hand in hand. But we can sort their evidence-based opinions from their emotion based opinons. The opinions based on cold, hard evidence untainted by emotion and bias get the nod. And a consenus of opinion based on cold hard evidence establishes objective facts.

    That’s science, sonic.
    I don’t know what game you are playing.

  121. sonicon 31 Jul 2012 at 12:31 am

    BillyJoe7-
    There is no ‘science’ that understands something.

    I responded to your thing about opinion and science by linking you to the definition of ‘scientific fact’. I’ll write it out for you.
    A scientific fact is–
    ” an observation that has been confirmed repeatedly and is accepted as true (although it truth is never final).”

    So I would say that a ‘scientific fact’ is based on observations.

    You can check this claim– type “scientific fact definition” — into the search engine of your choice.

    You claim that “In science, facts ARE based on opinions.”
    Is there anyway that I can verify that claim?

  122. BillyJoe7on 31 Jul 2012 at 12:51 am

    sonic,

    I’ve already pointed out and explained why having to refer to a dictionary for a word in yourt argument undermines the strength of your argument using that word.

    “There is no ‘science’ that understands something. ”

    Oh, better than the sun, I’ll have you know. (;
    Really is that the best you can do in refutation?
    (I obviously meant the definitions of these words as used by scientists)

    “You claim that “In science, facts ARE based on opinions.”
    Is there anyway that I can verify that claim?”

    I’ve tried to lead you there, but you adamantly refuse to follow.
    This will get you there….
    Is evolution a fact?
    Think about it.
    (But first you need the correct answer and, going on past performance, that’s going to be a little difficult I think)

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