Dec 20 2012

Disco-Tute – Fake

The Orwellian-named “Discovery Institute” is an organization dedicated to the promotion of Intelligent Design (ID), which is little more than a superficial repackaging of long-discredited creationist arguments against evolutionary theory.They do not have a legitimate scientific program, although they desperately try to create the impression that they do.

In my opinion the Disco-Tute is founded on intellectual dishonesty. They are primarily a propaganda machine for pseudoscience. You might recall they funded the movie Expelled – which was an exercise in intellectual dishonesty from beginning to end. They deceived many of the scientists who they interviewed for the film, even going to the extent of creating a dummy production company as a front. The result was a hack-job of transparent propaganda.

Now another example of Disco-tute intellectual dishonesty has come to light, exposed by The Panda’s Thumb blog. This started with a critique of a new Disco-tute video on population genetics. It was noticed that the video is a green-screen shot with the Disco-tute scientician in front of an image of a laboratory. We are apparently meant to assume that she is in the Disco-tute labs where actual research is conducted. However, the image is a stock photo.

OK – this is a small deception, the kind of thing many video producers would do to create the right “look” for the video. It’s part of the culture of film-making – it doesn’t matter if it’s real, as long as it looks good. But this is not a sufficient excuse.

Credibility and intellectual honesty trumps the needs of film-making. There are things that are allowable when making a film that are not allowable when making a documentary, or when doing journalism. There have been cases, for example, of Photoshopped photos being used in news reports, and this practice has been highly criticized. You can’t fake an image to make it look good for the news. Similarly when creating a science video you should not fake credibility by having your spokesperson in front of a stock image of a lab, giving an impression that is deceptive.

Worse than the poorly done green-screen shot in front of a stock photo, however, is the actual content of the video. Biologist Ann Gauger, PhD, hosts the video. She works for the Biologic Institute, which is funded by the Disco-tute. It is basically just an extension of the Disco-tute, with the purpose of finding evidence for intelligent design.

For some reason the video is titled as, “How accurate are the models currently used in population genetics.” The video, however, has nothing to do with population genetics, but with phylogenetic analysis. The content is the typical denialist strategy of manufacturing doubt and confusion by misrepresenting the science.  The main point of the video is the same as this article by Gauger published on the Biologic Institute website, essentially that evolutionary biologists are building their phylogenetic tress based upon the assumption of common descent.

This is only partly true (which seems to be as close to true as ID proponents get). We are long passed the point where the basic concept of evolution has been established as a scientific fact. We can now proceed from that established fact to develop more and more detailed theories of how evolution works, and more detailed pictures of evolutionary history. That is how science works. We don’t have to keep asking the same question over and over again – but of course that is the question that creationists want to dwell on because they don’t like the answer that science has already provided.

However, if a premise turns out to be false it will likely still come to light from later research because any research based upon that premise will run into serious problems, paradoxes, or limitations, forcing a rethinking of the basic premise. This happens in science all the time also.

Evolutionary theory, despite the Disco-tute’s desperate attempts to argue otherwise, is a fantastically successful theory that is doing just fine. The denialist strategy, however, is to confuse arguments about the details of how evolution proceeds and the details of evolutionary history with the basic question of whether or not life evolved. Gauger gives us an excellent example of this confusion. She quotes a 1998 commentary by Maley and Marshall:

To be confident in our hypotheses of relations among the animal phyla we need to gather more DNA sequences, especially from undersampled phyla; develop better methods of DNA analysis on the basis of more realistic models of DNA evolution; and develop independent data sets using morphological, developmental, and other molecular data (to corroborate or falsify specific hypotheses or to combine in total-evidence analyses. Work is currently under way on all these fronts, which promise more secure hypotheses of the relationships among the animal phyla and, through them, a better understanding of the causes of major morphological innovation.

What they are doing, like good scientists, is confronting the difficulties and potential sources of error in constructing the deep or ancient phylogenetic tree of life from genetic analysis.  They point out several challenges, such as homoplasy (different evolutionary lines evolving similar genetic sequences independently), horizontal gene transfer from insertions, deletions (loss of genetic information), the lack of sufficient data for some phyla, and the complexity of statistical analysis of gene sequences. In other words, its complex and messy. Welcome to real science.

Despite this genetic analysis, overall, has still resulted in a consistent phylogenetic tree of nested hierarchies – what is predicted by evolutionary history. Scientists are still pursuing genetic analysis to build their tree of life because the process is working quite well. What Maley and Marshall are talking about is two things – what we need to do to progress the field further, and perhaps ultimate limitations on the resolution of this approach. In fact Gauger quote mines a 2010 study by Rokas and Carroll which states:

“Here we examine how the combination of the spacing of cladogenetic events and the high frequency of independently evolved characters (homoplasy) limit the resolution of ancient divergences.”

They are talking about “resolution” – how clearly and confidently can we reconstruct evolutionary events that happened hundreds of millions of years ago by current genetic evidence? The information we need may simply not exist, or have been altered by events that tend to obscure the evolutionary relationships. This does not mean, and none of these researchers are saying, that the evidence calls into doubt common descent, or that it points to a different reconstruction, as Gauger suggests. She is using the old creationist strategy of taking quotes out of context and misusing them to imply something the scientists are not saying.

Gauger is also focusing on the deep phylogenetic tree because this is where the evidence is most problematic. The closer we get to present day, the easier it is to construct the tree of life from the genes of living creatures. The resolution gets better because there is less noise in the genetic information, and we have access to more information.

Ironicaly, the evidence from molecular analysis is the most robust line of evidence for common descent. Talk Origins reviews 30 major predictions of common descent and the evidence that validates all of them. Here’s a quick version – if we look at the amino acid sequence of specific proteins, or the DNA nucleic acid sequence that codes for those amino acids, across different species we see an exquisite evolutionary pattern – no matter what gene or protein we look at. The key is that there are different sequences of three base pairs that code for an individual amino acid, and different amino acid substitutions that still result in essentially the same protein, so these changes are largely silent and subject to genetic drift.

This means, first of all, there is no reason for the same base pair or amino acid sequence to occur even in functionally identical proteins in different species, unless those species are related through evolution.  If we assume a common creator (designer) then they could be identical. But when we compare, for example, a horse protein to the same human protein we do not find that they are either identical (or almost identical, allowing for, say, 10,000 years of genetic drift), nor do we find that they have no relationship at all. What we find is that they are a little different, as if genetic drift has been introducing silent changes to the base pair and amino acid sequence since the split between humans and horses. The amount of difference follows a basic phylogenetic pattern, for every protein of every species we have examined. Sure, sometimes the details are different from what we expected, but not the big picture – one of nested hierarchies.

Creationists, however, want to distract you from this big, clear, and completely unambiguous picture by focusing down on the tiny details where noise predominates. They do this to obscure the picture science has created, to manufacture false doubt and confusion.

What they are doing is not science – it’s denialism. It’s fake science. It’s appropriate that they are spouting their fake science in front of a fake green screen of a fake lab.



The Disco-tute has responded to criticism of their video. Of course, they respond only to the green screen criticism, and entirely missed the point about integrity. The tried to fob it off as just a video convention.

But I do agree, as I said above, that this is really just a minor, if humorous, issue. The real point is that the content of the video is utter rubbish. Here is what they write (please unplug your irony meters before reading):

Gauger, a PhD in developmental biology who was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard, has the science on her side. It’s a typical Darwinist feint: When you don’t have the arguments and you don’t have the science, change the subject and pile on the red herrings. Casey Johnson, who dismisses our little video as a “nonsensical rant,” can’t reply to Dr. Gauger on the merits. If she could, she would.

Who’s feinting now? Gauger’s arguments are incoherent psseudoscientific nonsense that would fail a high school biology class, let alone challenge the prevailing scientific consensus.

29 responses so far

29 thoughts on “Disco-Tute – Fake”

  1. ccbowers says:

    “The denialist strategy, however, is to confuse arguments about the details of how evolution proceeds and the details of evolutionary history with the basic question of whether or not life evolved.”

    You can substitute many topics for evolution, and the sentence remains true. Motivated reasoning seems to be the common factor: conflating the search for mechanisms for a phenomenon with whether or not a phenomenon exists at all. Climate change (and apparently abiogenesis) come to mind.

    The flip side of this type confusion are those who look for mechanisms for phenomenon we have no reason to believe exist, like those looking into how homeopathy works.

  2. Bronze Dog says:

    It’s both funny and sad that they had to green screen a lab setting. But I suppose it could be hard for them to get permission to record in a proper lab without making up a cover story that’d be blown by hearing the speech. And that’s on top of a lot of them not being real scientists, who’d probably need supervision at the very least.

    As for the main point, it’s kind of the reverse of one I made about alties. Alties have “big” ideas and they want us to change the laws of physics and chemistry to conform with those unproven ideas, rather than accept the usual explanations of placebo, cherry picking, and so on. They don’t realize that by radically changing the laws to appease them, we’d have to come up with new explanations for all those little everyday things that those laws already explain quite clearly and consistently.

    Creationists in this case want to discard the best explanation for the big picture and present situation of Earth’s biology because there’s some confusion about exact details way back in evolution’s ancient history. They want us to discard the big overarching theme of biology that ties the big messy business of life into an understandable order in favor of a chaotic god with an unknowable agenda, all to “explain” a few hiccups.

  3. Philosofrenzy says:

    “What they are doing is not science – it’s denialism. It’s fake science. It’s appropriate that they are spouting their fake science in front of a fake green screen of a fake lab.”

    Come on, Steve, that isn’t fair.

    It’s a real green screen. 🙂

  4. BillyJoe7 says:

    Apparently the idea of a phylogenetic tree has been completely and utterly destroyed by bacteria engaging in horizontal gene transfer. It is now a network. But that’s not all. Those same nasty bacteria are apparently sitting around in their little social groups surveying the evolutionary scene and cooperating to purposefully mutate their genomes towards their desired ends of completely and utterly destroying the modern theory of evolution.

  5. nybgrus says:

    Watch out BJ. Those bacteria are plotting to get you! Devilish l’il bastards.

  6. Roger Bigod says:

    If you follow the money, the Discovery Institute is probably a racket in which deluded mega-rich people think they’re advancing the true faith by paying deluded or cynical “intellectuals” to attack evil science. Same as economic think tanks, but with less effect.

    There was an interesting document floating around on detailing a “five year plan” to make ID the Standard Theory. It was all about infiltrating legislatures and committees, storming the media and otherwise constructing a facade. Way down the list was sponsoring some research. IIRC, one of the sponsors was the retired Berkeley Law prof who was a big time HIV-denier and buddy of Duesberg. (Oh, the company we keep.) The plan is probably somewhere on the Wayback Machine. It was produced over 10 years ago, so it’s truly pathetic now.

    The argument for common descent based on DNA sequences is stronger if you mention that it was clear from the first study, in 1968. Nobody could sequence DNA at the time, so they used amino acid sequences, with the same result of a nested hierarchy.

    It works for families of similar proteins too. In particular, the proteases of the blood clotting system. Behe used it as an example of “irreducible complexity”.

  7. sonic says:

    I saw the video–I think she is using the term ‘population genetics’ incorrectly. I don’t think her point isn’t completely accurate either– I will link to two articles that show they have not continued to assume that. I think it has to do with the recognition that HGH and ‘convergent evolution’ happen more than was first suspected.

    I have been to that ‘discovery’ site before. The articles they talk about are often interesting, but the analysis can be very sketchy.

    However- the quote from Talk Origins is not a good way to show that.
    The talk Origins quote is from Doulas Theobald. He is quoting his own study which has been debunked here-

    “The tests described above show that there is currently no formal demonstration of the universal common ancestry of the extant life forms. The likelihood tests of the kind described by Theobald [4] fail to address the problem because they yield results “in support of common ancestry” for any sufficiently similar sequences.”

    The nature and origin of this similarity are irrelevant for the prediction of “common ancestry” of by the model-comparison approach. Thus, homology (common origin) of the compared proteins remains an inference from sequence similarity rather than an independent property demonstrated by the likelihood analysis.”

    In other words, this analysis assumes that sequence similarity proves common descent– the very claim the lady in the video made.
    Just to be complete, the people who debunk Theobald also say this–
    “A formal demonstration of the Universal Common Ancestry hypothesis has not been achieved and is unlikely to be feasible in principle. Nevertheless, the evidence in support of this hypothesis provided by comparative genomics is overwhelming.”

    So it isn’t that the evidence isn’t good, it’s just that Dr.N. has quoted a study that made the error that the lady in the video was saying–
    In order to understand why a formal demonstration of universal ancestory is “unlikely to be feasible in principle”, I give two articles that might be of interest.

    “By the mid-1980s there was great optimism that molecular techniques would finally reveal the universal tree of life in all its glory. Ironically, the opposite happened…

    The problems began in the early 1990s when it became possible to sequence actual bacterial and archaeal genes rather than just RNA. Everybody expected these DNA sequences to confirm the RNA tree, and sometimes they did but, crucially, sometimes they did not…

    More fundamentally, recent research suggests that the evolution of animals and plants isn’t exactly tree-like either. “There are problems even in that little corner,” says Dupré. Having uprooted the tree of unicellular life, biologists are now taking their axes to the remaining branches.”…
    Phylogeny: Rewriting evolution
    Tiny molecules called microRNAs are tearing apart traditional ideas about the animal family tree.
    “I’ve looked at thousands of microRNA genes, and I can’t find a single example that would support the traditional tree,” he says. The technique “just changes everything about our understanding of mammal evolution”.

    So the lady in the video is incorrect in terminology and in that not all researchers are making that assumption.
    Unfortunately the link is to a study that did– even though perhaps unknowingly.
    And the problems for a ‘tree of life’ based on sequences alone seems further from possible than ever.

    I’ve always thought the genetic evidence for common descent was best. Over the years the study has been more and more interesting as more and longer sequences have been made available for comparison.
    And it seems the HGH problem and the ‘convergent evolution’ situation have muddied the waters.
    The Bush of Life! Not as poetic as the tree perhaps, but more accurate– and if it’s a bush, then doesn’t that mean we are even more closely related to things than if it were a tree? Well, maybe anyway… 🙂

    Oh, the whole ‘it was green screened’ thing makes me think the people who are complaining are grasping at straws.
    Have you been to a studio where filming is done lately?
    It’s all green screen. Oh, and have you watched NOVA?
    Green screen and computer generated graphics through out. 🙂
    Oh, and I saw they had a picture of her in her real lab as well. So much for that criticism.

    Why not just point to the studies that show her claim false?

  8. me2earth says:

    I know this will be controversial, but it is disturbing how many of the criteria for spotting out pseudo–science apply to climate change and string theory amongst other currently ‘trendy’ consensus–driven evidence–light well–funded scientific theories. Particularly the tendency for those actively lobbying for universal acceptance of unproven immature theories whilst denying alternate explanations and contrary (inconvenient) evidence.

    Follow the money. Do the scientists have a vested interest in going with confirmation bias to support weak models of physical systems (or in the case of string theory, who needs testable models?).

    Follow the politics. Are some, or most of the scientists (or even worse, utterly unaccountable bureaucrats) involved pushing ideology, rather than science? I worry whenever politicians (and clueless bureaucrats) take an interest in science and begin naively crafting policy and legislation based on incomplete evolving theories (it’s easy to detect their ignorance if you listen to them bloviate on subjects about which they seem to know next to nothing).

    And so on… see what I mean?

  9. me2earth says:

    Engaging faith based protagonists is difficult, (most) often fruitless, and almost entirely frustrating. The reason to do it at all, for me, is when you detect a little crevice of doubt, or when you encounter someone who is loosely citing an otherwise trusted ‘authority’ they respect that is easily susceptible to debunking. OK, sometimes it feels right to do it for the joy of debate when you clearly have the upper hand (countered by the belated recognition that your opposition is impervious to reality and facts).

    Caution is advised when deciding to engage such individuals or institutions. Always, ALWAYS, begin with the presumption that they are sincere in their stated position. Many of the comments I’m reading seem instead to presume some kind of cynical hidden motives, whereas I’ve found that creationists really do believe (incorrectly but sincerely) that evolutionists are making faith–based arguments that appear to fall to simple but flawed logic schemes they’ve concocted. We optimistically believe (Charely Brown, meet Lucy) that when the flaw in their thinking is exposed they will readily abandon there faulty beliefs. Unfortunately faith–based beliefs are notoriously difficult to pry loose and largely impervious to logical persuasion. It is human nature (hardwired in fact) to be attracted to such thinking and one of the recurring topics of Neurologica Blog—how do we guard against our own tendency to simply believe that which we’d like to be true? Yes, even the most scrupulously skeptical are guilty of leaping to conclusions, confirmation bias, over confidence and other flawed thinking (even Steve, our estimable leader regularly exposes such thinking, on certain subjects, without being aware of it).

    We may know that this presumptive approach of our opposition will fail on the basis of simple logical argumentation, reason, and easily observable evidence, but this knowledge will not prevail if you are unable to empathize with or at least understand your opponent’s faulty world–view.

  10. Sonic – I have to strongly disagree with you. You are citing “debunking” that has itself been highly criticized, and you are making the same mistake that I pointed out in the DI video. I also addressed The tree of life article in a previous post. It was a terribly written article, widely criticized by experts for being misleading.

    Horizontal genetic transfer and convergent evolution do add noise to the tree of life, and this noise increases over phylogenetic time – but this noise is generally insignificant compared to the clear signal of common descent, the evidence for which is overwhelming. It’s like saying the Earth is not a sphere – well, technically true, but it’s pretty darn close to a sphere with a few tweaks. Of course DI is using evidence that the Earth is not a perfect sphere. and quoting scientists saying it’s not a sphere, to argue that it’s a cube. It’s BS.

    As I said above, scientists certainly proceed from the conclusion of common descent NOW – because it’s been proven. But that doesn’t mean it is just an assumption, or that evidence would still not debunk it if common descent were not true, and it certainly does not mean the evidence for common descent is not there to justify the current conclusion.

    There is no viable alternative explanation for the pattern we seen in amino acid sequences, base-pair sequences, and the pattern of viral inclusion other than common descent. The data is fuzzy around the edges – like all incomplete data sets on very complex phenomena, but the signal is incontrovertible.

  11. BillyJoe7 says:

    Her we go again…round and round the mulberry bush.

    It is a phylogenetic tree of life. Meaning that it shows how species are related to each other through evolutionary history. That is its importance. HGT certainly occurs. However, it doesn’t occur often enough to obscure phylogeny. In other words, the phylogentic tree is still clearly visible. Otherwise we would not know how distantly or closely species are related to each other. And we do. Fortunately the HGT events can be identified and picked out from genes that are inherited from ancestors, hence preserving the phylogenetic tree of life.

    Yeah, evolution is bit more complicated than Darwin envisioned. Fancy that!

    So, don’t be distracted by the cherry picked links and quotes by the poster who who has a penchant for double negatives and who thinks Human Growth Hormone somehow has something to do with it. 🙂
    Don’t miss the forest for the trees.
    Don’t miss the tree for the undergrowth.

  12. BillyJoe7 says:

    …ah, Steve beat me to it.

  13. sonic says:

    Dr. N.-
    Thank-you for the reply–

    You say the study I cite has been highly criticized. I haven’t found it. The only criticism I could find about the paper was from Theobald himself. And it seems he misses the point about his ‘null hypothesis’ being a straw man that nobody would compare in his critique of the paper–
    From the reviewer William Martin–
    Cogniscenti cringed when they saw the Theobald paper, knowing that “it is trivial”. It is trivial because the straw man that Theobald attacks in a text largely formulated in convoluted legalese, is that significant sequence similarity might arise by chance as opposed to descent with modification…

    I’ve done all my search tricks- nada.
    I feel bad about asking- but do you have a reference handy?
    And I couldn’t find your post on the ‘tree of life’ (the search engine on the site didn’t give it to me- I tried a few different things.)

    I am under the impression the ‘tree of life’ is actually the ‘bush of life’ as far as the current researchers are concerned.
    This is not to question common descent, it is about what pattern emerges from the evidence.

    Again, sorry to ask- I’ve looked– references please?

  14. BKsea says:

    “scientician” – ouch.

  15. sonic says:

    Dr. N.-
    I have re-read Theobald’s response to Koonin/Wolf.

    Regardless of who is right, Koonin or Theobald, about the particulars of this study- he did not assume what the lady in the video says all scientists assume. So this is an excellent example that refutes the claim in the video regardless.
    And that is the big point.

    There are difficulties in the analysis and the models used and the conclusion come to- but these are all arguable points.

    What is not arguable is that this is an excellent refutation of the claim made in the video.

    My mistake- sorry about that.

  16. steve12 says:

    “Caution is advised when deciding to engage such individuals or institutions. Always, ALWAYS, begin with the presumption that they are sincere in their stated position.”

    This may be good advise normally, but DI is clearly not sincere. Read through even a small slice of the Dover trial and this becomes clear. Even the Judge felt lied to.

    While other groups should be granted that presumption, the DI should not.

  17. ccbowers says:

    “While other groups should be granted that presumption, the DI should not.”

    I wouldn’t characterize this as an exception to the advice quoted, but I would emphasize that it is good to BEGIN with giving benefit of the doubt. That presumption is subject to revision with new information. Once a pattern of behavior provides more information, continuing to continue to assume sincerity despite mounting evidence to the contrary becomes foolish.

  18. steve12 says:

    “I know this will be controversial, but it is disturbing how many of the criteria for spotting out pseudo–science apply to climate change and string theory”

    I’m disturbed by some of the stuff I’ve read about string theory where testability is concerned to be sure. I wish I understood some of the issues a little better, but saying that your theory is mathematically correct but can never be tested, or requires a particle accelerator the size of the Universe, etc. is disturbing scientifically. On the other hand, I think, why can’t that be true?

    But closer to the mundane, please show me some specific points of Climate science that meet this same criteria for pseudoscience. By specific points I mean
    a. non-political
    b. NOT climategate emails, which are really political. Scientists polishing figures to make their point or sarcastically talking about doing away w/ peer review happens every single day in every single field of science.

    “Follow the money. Do the scientists have a vested interest in going with confirmation bias to support weak models of physical systems (or in the case of string theory, who needs testable models?).”

    This is not a good criteria for judging scientific truth. But if we are going to do this, we need to look at the much greater amount that energy companies have put into alternative theories that explain less data and make worse predictions. I always find it funny when people say “follow the money” with climate science, then only follow the side backed by much less of it.

    “Follow the politics. Are some, or most of the scientists (or even worse, utterly unaccountable bureaucrats) involved pushing ideology, rather than science?”

    Again, a bad method of adjudicating scientific truth. But if we are gonna engage, thinking about the politics of the bureauocrats w/o thinking of the political forces that have billions and billions of dollars (they see as) at stake is at best biased. I file this under the “tyranny can only come from governments” fallacy. Tyranny comes form power, and anyone with too much power can be tyrannical.

    THen again, maybe you’re equally suspicious of both sides? Didn’t seem that way reading it, but I’m happy to be corrected….

  19. steve12 says:

    “I wouldn’t characterize this as an exception to the advice quoted, but I would emphasize that it is good to BEGIN with giving benefit of the doubt. That presumption is subject to revision with new information. Once a pattern of behavior provides more information, continuing to continue to assume sincerity despite mounting evidence to the contrary becomes foolish.”

    Good point. They deserved that benefit when they began, sure – and to be fair to me2earth, that was his point.

  20. BillyJoe7 says:


    I don’t know if me2earth will be back to defend his claim that climate change and string theory are pseudoscience, but I suggest we get a definition of first because, by my definition, neither qualify as pseudoscience.

    With climate change, there is a vast amount of reliable data, there is a consensus of ninety-seven percent of the relevant experts in climate change and there are outcomes actually worse than the predictions (which is what you would expect with a consensus which, by its nature, is likely to be conservative). There are no mavericks or cranks (who, on the other hand, do populate the climate denialist camp). There are no laws of physics being overturned, or new ones proposed.
    And to suggest that there is a money and political trail is laughable. Both have always worked on the side of climate denialists and, only recently, has climate change gained a little political traction.

    And string theory is a bit like multiverse theory. Both are entirely consistent with present scientific knowledge and both explain things for which there are no evidence-based alternative explanations. Both may turn out to be dead-end science, but pseudoscience they are not. Again, I suppose we need a definition.

  21. steve12 says:

    I agree BillyJoe – neither are pseudoscience, and I think climate change is quite solid at this point.

    My reservations about M/string theory lie with it’s testability. It’s a challenge to science definitionally when we have a theory which cannot be falsified. And my understanding (which is quite incomplete) is that the lack of falsifiability is not simply technical, but that an infinite amount of solutions are available, so that even if technical issues could be overcome the theory still cannot be falsified.

    Again, I’m no expert ehre, but these things seem to be cause for concern. That said, I don’t think it’s pseudoscience.

  22. sonic says:

    What’s your take–
    Regarding the “TOL” for early evolution–
    “the possibility remains that the TOL concept can be reformulated and remain valid as a statistical central trend in the phylogenetic “Forest of Life” (FOL). ”

    From the conclusion–
    Indeed, it is now well established that HGT spares virtually no genes at some stages in their history (Gogarten and Townsend, 2005) and these findings make obsolete a “strong” TOL concept under which all (or the substantial majority) of the genes would tell a consistent story of genome evolution (the species tree, or the TOL) when analyzed using appropriate data sets and methods. However, is there any hope of salvaging the TOL as a statistical central trend (Wolf et al., 2002)? (This is Wolf et al., 2002)
    “However, this tree should be reinterpreted as a prevailing trend in the evolution of genome-scale gene sets rather than as a complete picture of evolution.”

    Perhaps a different phrase for the different concepts would be less confusing.

    As I understand it, microRNAs might tell a different story about later evolution as well. But that is speculation- the kind I like, but the kind you seem to not like.

    Have I figured that out correctly? 🙂

    I’ve noted an interest in GR–
    Here’s one you might like–

    twins A and B. twin B gets whisked away in a spaceship- flies out and comes back sometime later.
    When they meet twin A will be older than twin B.
    One might say that twin B has lived fewer years than twin A. 🙂
    How about that?

  23. BillyJoe7 says:


    I thought my previous post explained the mainstream view on the TOL pretty well. I’ve explained it, and Steven Novella has explained it. I’m not sure that there is anything left to add.
    I’m not going to get on your merrygoround, sorry.


    It’s SR, not GR.
    But you have stated the twins paradox correctly.
    But do you know how to resolve the paradox?
    And can you see how it is different from the scenario you posed about a week ago?

  24. ccbowers says:

    “But you have stated the twins paradox correctly.”

    I don’t understand the significance of the 2 individuals being twins, and how this creates an apparent ‘paradox.’ Calling the individuals ‘twins’ seems like an irrelevant detail, and is not meaningful to the senario. There doesn’t seem to be a paradox in the senario described.

  25. BillyJoe7 says:


    They obviously don’t need to be twins. It just makes the point clearer. The twins are exactly the same age up until the time one of them takes off on an intergalactic journey and returns to Earth. When they meet up again, the stay at home twin is ten years older than the travelling twin.

    And it’s not a paradox. It’s an apparent paradox. An apparent paradox always has a resolution. The twin paradox is an apparent paradox in special relativity and it has its resolution in special relativity
    Why is it an apparent paradox?
    What is the solution?

  26. BillyJoe7 says:

    …oops, I see you have also called it an apparent paradox, so now I’m confused as the why you have a problem.

  27. ccbowers says:

    “…oops, I see you have also called it an apparent paradox, so now I’m confused as the why you have a problem.”

    Actually, I don’t have a problem other than the detail about the twins is irrelevant. Not only does it not “make the point clearer” it does exactly the opposite: cause people to think there is a paradox when none exists. Its not that I don’t understand the solution, it’s that I don’t understand why people would see a paradox

  28. sonic says:


    It doesn’t have to be a rocketship that grabs the twin. A plane or train or rickshaw would all suffice. I mentioned GR because it deals with more complex motions and includes the notion that time is faster on the second floor than it is on the first. 🙂

    I figure between the relative motion and gravitational effects, it would actually be rather odd if two people shared the exact same clock. And that should explain my earlier statement.

  29. BillyJoe7 says:

    Justification after the fact is all I see sonic.
    And your original statement was incorrect however you slice it.
    But anyway, off the merrygoround…

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