Tuesday, November 29, 2011

No Evidence? (bad science, bad!)


I found this article because it was being cited as "proof that Evolution is false" so I wanted to give my usual rant about poor science journalism.

Dr Eric Bapteste, an evolutionary biologist at the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, said: "For a long time the holy grail was to build a tree of life. We have no evidence at all that the tree of life is a reality."

Really? So... I didn't come from my parents? That doesn't constitute a certain amount of evidence?

Any genius can tell that where it takes two to tango then it's not a LITERAL and STRICT tree, but to say there is "No evidence" is rather absurd.

Are there additional complexities? Sure, we know more about things like lateral/horizontal gene transfer, retroviral changes, epigenetics and all sorts of things but those don't change the fundamental observation that things come from their parents in critically important ways.

Dr Bapteste said: "The tree of life was useful. It helped us to understand evolution was real. But now we know more about evolution it's time to move on."

This is a more accurate statement but even then, there is no denying the inheritance. The 'tree' doesn't go away here, it just is filled in with more details.

I get what they are saying but this nonsense is incredibly misleading. It sounds like they are perhaps pandering for publicity. [one of the evils produced by poorly funded science]

Why can't they just say "the tree of life is growing more complex with X, Y, and Z additions"? And we've KNOWN this for over 80 years!! "First discovered in 1928 by Frederick Griffith, lateral gene transfer is the process by which bacteria can pass genetic material laterally." Why are they acting like this is a revolution?

The article should have begun: "Since 1928, when Frederick Griffith discovered lateral gene transfer in bacteria, scientists have known that..." Do you feel the difference in tone and level of accuracy about reality that makes? But this wasn't mentioned AT ALL. Instead, this article basically lies (perhaps out of ignorance or lack of time) but certainly omits many extremely relevant facts. And these are supposedly quotes from competent biologists? I wonder if their views are being fairly and accurately represented but some of the quotes seem difficult to take out of context. Perhaps there are language barriers?

And on the flip-side of that Gonorrhea has picked up human DNA (and that’s just the beginning) also points out that some of the gene transfer studies may have actually been contaminated (and also discusses the role false contamination has played in some studies).

Here are a whole bunch of studies on gene transfer. So clearly science isn't ignoring this although it may be underestimated how important of a role it could play - and being a Human could also mean more than just your genes; we also rely on the bacteria that inhabit our body (symbiotic on many levels).

This statement pulls the article out the frying pan a little bit - but I still think it's very misleading:

Both he and co-researcher Dr Ford Doolittle stressed that downgrading the tree of life doesn't mean the theory of evolution is wrong just that evolution is not as tidy as we would like to believe.

Anyway, we learn more, our knowledge grows -- this is a good thing.

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