Pharyngula

He’s planning to debate Jonathan Wells…on Fox radio. I guess we can only hope the host, Alan Colmes, is a little less passive than Flatow was in the Mooney/Bethell debate, but we can guarantee that Wells is as ignorant and foolish as Bethell.

I am going to have to turn my attention soon to Wells’ new book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), but for two things: 1) The New Semester! Is! Flying! into my Face! for the next few weeks, and 2) Wells is a tawdry slug of a writer, who just thumps out lie after lie about the state of modern biology, and since he supposedly was trained in developmental biology, he really pisses me off with his poor scholarship.

For example, here’s his description of chapter 3 of his new book (this will look familiar: he’s clearly rehashing his old, much debunked book, Icons of Evolution.)

Chapter 3 : Why You Didn’t “Evolve” in Your Mother’s Womb

Guess what? Darwin thought the
strongest evidence
for his theory was
that vertebrate
embryos are most
similar in their earliest stages; the prob-
lem is, they’re not.

Faked embryo
drawings are still
used in some modern
biology textbooks as
“evidence” for Darwin’s theory.

Scientists have never
been able to produce
Darwinian evolution
by mutating an
embryo.

Three paragraphs, three misleading lies.

Developmental biologists have not argued that embryos are most similar in their earliest stages. We have long known that they aren’t—there are variations in patterns of cleavage determined by degree of maternal investment, for instance, and in mammals, the crucial novelties of the the greatly expanded extra-embryonic membranes are set up in the earliest decisions of development. No, the interesting observation and the one that is difficult to explain without the linkage of common descent is that all vertebrate embryos converge in the formation of a common suite of primitive characters at the pharyngula stage…after gastrulation. The similarities arise at the time the embryo is laying out the body plan. Nineteenth century naturalists noted the superficial similarities between different species, and the similarities have deepened as we dissect the underlying molecular basis of the patterns—the Hox genes I talk about here.

I’ve found modern biology textbooks that reprint the drawings by Haeckel that he is referring to. However, it isn’t as evidence for evolution—it’s as an example of a historical, but obsolete theory. Wells also complains in Icons about textbooks that use photographs of embryos—photographs which show that the striking similarity of vertebrate embryos at the appropriate stages is real. (By the way, Michael Richardson has high-res examples of these embryos, and the old drawing in contention.)

That last one is a new one, but it’s painfully stupid. Mutating an embryo is a process that affects an individual; Darwinian evolution is observed in populations. You might as well complain that we’ve never observed a writer produce a book by pressing a single key on a keyboard.

That does give you a flavor of what Wells’ books are like, though: the man is incapable of pounding out a sentence without getting something wrong, and the whole production reeks of dishonesty. And since the book is coming from Regnery publishing, I guess that is no surprise.

Comments

  1. #1 Kristine
    August 17, 2006

    Well, I have the utmost confidence in Chris, which is not to say that the Wells flim-flammah won’t works its evil magic on all those little Fox ‘bots.

    I see that Phillip Johnson spoke at a megachurch in Roseville, CA, the one that I think my brother attends. Oh, greeaaattt…

  2. #2 BlueIndependent
    August 17, 2006

    I look forward to another Mooney body slam. I also look forward to seeing him speak on his book tour in a month.

  3. #3 Great White Wonder
    August 17, 2006

    I would like to see Chris treat Wells with utter contempt and not let Wells weasel out of answering ANY of Chris’ questions directly.

    In other words, Mooney should just have a face off with Wells. Either Wells answers the questions and admits his lies, or Mooney simply refuses to converse with the man except to say: “Why aren’t you answering the question?”

    And of course the conversation should start off with Mooney reciting Wells’ famous ode to Wells’ spiritual Father, the notorious antigay bigot sicko Rev. Moon.

    Also worth pointing out is Wells association with the Discovery Institute, funded by (surprise) another notorious antigay bigot.

    What shouldn’t be discussed? Centrioles. Embryology. Why? It’s irrelevant and nobody listening to Fox Radio gives a shit about any of that stuff.

  4. #4 TAW
    August 17, 2006

    GASP, he’s debating at alan colmes’ radio show? awesome! Alan is liberal to the bone. I can’t wait to listen to it! The challange will be remembering…

  5. #5 Ginger Yellow
    August 17, 2006

    I sometimes wonder how much less stupid America would be if Regnery didn’t exist. They’re a pretty good argument against the marketplace of ideas.

  6. #6 minimalist
    August 17, 2006

    Regnery’s books are among the few where one is dumber for having read them. In the marketplace of ideas, Regnery is a pickpocket.

  7. #7 Warren
    August 17, 2006

    Faked embryo drawings are still used in some modern biology textbooks as “evidence” for Darwin’s theory.

    I remember the “ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny” drawings from my own science textbooks in the fifth or sixth grade or so — late 1970s. These weren’t meant to be mockeries of evolution, either.

    Siiiiigh.

  8. #8 Alex
    August 17, 2006

    It seems that there should be some sort of legal mechanism in place used to shepard these kinds of publications. If we are talking about dishonesty relating to factual reality, that at its base is fraud.

    If I can make money by selling a book that claims to discredit the work of PZ (or any scientific body of work) using dishonesty and unscientific methods, is that not the equivalent of selling snake oil?

    The reason I bring this up is because creationist/xtians love all of these publications, Creation Magazine, and the like. They read them and believe them like gospel (pun intended). I bet every one of their readers knows for a fact that evolution has been disproven – only because these publications say so.

    Shameless lies and manipulation.

  9. #9 Great White Wonder
    August 17, 2006

    Alex

    It seems that there should be some sort of legal mechanism in place used to shepard these kinds of publications. If we are talking about dishonesty relating to factual reality, that at its base is fraud.

    Well, if I remember the elements of fraud correctly, you’d have to show that you bought the book, reasonably relied on it, and were measurably damaged by the reliance, in addition to proving the intent to deceive you on the part of the authors. Then there are the First Amendment issues. It’s the damages part that is going to get you hung up. How were you harmed by this philosophical bullshit?

    Of course, you have to deal with clueless would-be promoters of science like this “Mark Nutter” character who just posted this at Panda’s Thumb:

    Science does not currently provide us with a means of objectively detecting an intent behind the behavior given only the evidence of the behavior itself. You may subjectively suspect a deliberate intent to deceive, but you cannot actually prove it, for the same reason you can’t make ID scientific.

    This bizarre comment was in response to Dave Thomas’ totally unobjectionable claim that Salvador Cordova is a liar. I busted Sal Cordova for lying many moons ago and he’s been busted, oh, maybe hundreds of times since then. But in Mark Nutters bizarre fantasy world, unless you can prove to a mathematial certainty what a person is thinking when they make a particular statement, you can never call that person a liar.

    Such absurdities are the direct result of mistakenly elevating false and vapid notions of “civility” above reasoned and frank discourse.

  10. #10 Alex
    August 17, 2006

    Great White,

    I do agree it is a stretch.

    I guess what I was trying to say is that in the realm of scientific discourse, subjective opinions stated as such are fine. Subjective opinions stated as factual can lead people to believe in things like faith healing. Not to mention the unwarranted damage/doubt it brings to the body of scientific work that was debated – all from baseless, decietful arumentation.

    Anyway, it just gets my goat that they lie and decieve people, tell them what they want to hear so they can manipulate them, and they use the hard work of scientists everywhere as their vehicle. All with no accountability or penalty.

    As far as the “intent to decieve” thing goes, this claim is false, as you know. They are dishonest to the core, especially with themselves. You have to be in order to believe the unbelievable.

  11. #11 jim
    August 17, 2006

    Alex,
    I think they lie for 2 reasons. One, it isn’t technically a lie if you are so stupid to actually believe it. (There are people who fall intot his catagory.) Two, to them the ends justify the means. They are “protecting” the world from the “immoral concequences” if Darwinian Evolution were – God Forbid – :-) TRUE.

    Sad? Yes, it is.

  12. #12 Phoenix Woman
    August 17, 2006

    Chris shouldn’t expect any help from the submissive Colmes. He was picked by FAUX News to be opposite Hannity for one very simple reason: He has no frickin’ spine. (Unlike Joe Conason, who was turned down to appear opposite Hannity precisely because Smokin’ Joe can and does eviscerate right-wing nutjobs like a Benihana chef in the Fulton Fish Market.)

  13. #13 Alex
    August 17, 2006

    There will not be time to debate anything of scientific substance. Nor is it the venue, after all, Fox has to pander to their viewership and stack the cards. All Chris will have time to do effectively is call out Wells by asking him to simply point to the peer-reviewed research that supports his claims.

    The very first time he fails to do this, which will be very early in the segment, Chris needs to ride him on it and bury him with it the entire show. Chris should avoid all scientific explanation and answer any questions as directly as possible and defer detailed inquiry to peer-reviewed research – in light of the limited amount of time of the segment.

  14. #14 shiva
    August 17, 2006

    Wells has decided it’s best not to pretend at science. Why not simply write some low brow trash? Would be a laugh but not surprising if the DI lists this as a peer-reviewed/edited publication.

  15. #15 Great White Wonder
    August 17, 2006

    PW

    Chris shouldn’t expect any help from the submissive Colmes. He was picked by FAUX News to be opposite Hannity for one very simple reason: He has no frickin’ spine.

    Colmes is also one of the ugliest people on TV.

  16. #16 Scott Hatfield
    August 18, 2006

    Colmes’ homeliness pales next to the emotional ugliness of the iron-jawed Sean Hannity, who essentially plays the intellectual equivalent of a rapist. For my part, I’d put up with Hannity just to have five minutes to dissect the Reverend Wells. If you’re a science teacher, and care about evolution education, then the author of that tissue of lies, ‘Icons’, is pretty much the Antichrist.

    I mean it.

    Scott

  17. #17 Great White Wonder
    August 18, 2006

    I agree, Scott — the ugliest part of Hannity and Holme’s collective bodies is Hannity’s mind.

  18. #18 Chris Clarke
    August 18, 2006

    GASP, he’s debating at alan colmes’ radio show? awesome! Alan is liberal to the bone.

    Or he would be if he had any.

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