Pharyngula

Lifecode

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I’ve been reading a strange book by Stuart Pivar, LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), which purports to advance a new idea in structuralism and self-organization, in competition with Darwinian principles. I am thoroughly unconvinced, and am unimpressed with the unscientific and fabulously concocted imagery of the book.

There exists a real difference of opinion between two approaches to biology, the functionalist and structuralist views, and it influences how we look at evolution. The functionalist position is the one most people are familiar with: populations contain organisms with differing fitnesses, selection promotes the individuals with the better functional adaptations, and the properties of populations change over time to improve their functional status.

Structuralism is harder to get across. A key figure in historical structuralism is D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson and his book, On Growth and Form (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll); Thompson summarized it most tersely in this aphorism:

Everything is the way it is because it got that way.

The emphasis in structuralism is on process and history and interactions with the environment; what Thompson means is that form is a consequence of developmental and evolutionary processes (although no Darwinist, Thompson was entirely on board with evolution), and that the understanding of why organisms look as they do lies in understanding how they are assembled. Stephen J. Gould, in his foreword to On Growth and Form, explained Thompson’s guiding principles this way:

This hybrid theory of Pythagoras and Newton argues that physical forces shape organisms directly (with “internal” and genetic forces responsible only for producing raw material, admittedly in gradients and programmed timings, for construction under principles of physics)—and that the ideal geometries beloved by classical Athens pervade organic form because natural law favors such simplicity as an optimal representation of forces.

As you might guess, Thompson is very popular with developmental biologists. It’s not just that he privileged our discipline with importance, but that he was a fascinating writer, extremely erudite, and his book is rich with observations and insight. He didn’t just claim that physics and geometry dictated aspects of form, but he carefully documented it with examples. Cells tend to be round, for instance, not because they need explicit genetic instructions to assume that shape, but because extant physical forces configure it that way in the absence of other specific internal efforts to change it.

I mention Gould and Thompson intentionally, because as it turns out, Pivar claims the mantle of both Gould and structuralism. In LifeCode, he lays out his theory of morphogenesis based on topological distortions of cells. He was a personal friend of SJ Gould’s, and has recently made friends among the anti-evolutionists and Intelligent Design creationists by claiming that Gould did not believe that natural selection played a major role in evolution, that he was suppressed by “anti-antidarwinist forces”, and that heterochrony was “Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of evolution.” It’s all very peculiar. I’m not going to bother with these claims—they’ve been dealt with elsewhere—except to say that I think they are ludicrous.

Instead, Pivar sent me a copy of his book to review, so I’ll focus on that. I am a fan of Gould’s and I rather intensely despise creationists, so taking that tack would not predispose me to evaluate it charitably. However, I also appreciate the ideas of structuralism (especially as expressed in that quote by Gould above), think Thompson was a demi-god in the pantheon of developmental biology, and favor the hybrid perspective of West-Eberhard, so instead I sat down with it as I would to a new book by that better known structuralist, Brian Goodwin(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll)—critically, but with an inclination to enjoy some new ideas.

I was disappointed.

I will say this: it is very pretty. Pivar has a website for the book, with some of the artwork on display. It’s visually striking stuff.

Unfortunately, it has almost nothing to do with reality. His theory (which is also explained on a website) is all about topological manipulations of embryonic forms, and he uses the artwork to show his models for how the embryo is distorted by physical forces to generate various structures…and they simply do not bear any relationship to cell and tissue movements in any embryo I’ve ever seen. Here, for instance, is his explanation for the development of the skull.

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Cheetah Skull and Brain. The brain is an enclosed membrane within the brain case. With expansion, it bulges and extrudes through six fenestrae, extruding to form nasal, optic, and auditory sacs.

The head forms from the polar cap, which consists of three flat, broad segments of the polar sphere appearing as three concentric, ringed zones. The segments are divided into four quadrants. Each of the resulting twelve parts develops a circular hole at the center. The six fenestrae of the future dorsal side will form the nasal, optic, and auditory capsules. The ventral half produces the jaw. The architectural scheme of the skull results as concurrent, deep, invaginating infolds along the dorsal and ventral midlines fuse, sealing off enclosing cavities in each hemisphere. These meet internally and form the floor of the brain case and the roof of the mouth. These cavities are analogous to the structure in plants that produce the anthers.

This is a remarkable story, especially since, try as you might, you will see absolutely none of the described features present in the developing embryo. The jaw arises as a caudal condensation, for instance, and extends forward during development. There aren’t any of these regular fenestrae, there isn’t a ventral invagination, and most importantly, the vertebrate head never looks like any of his intermediate stages. These are pure confabulations.

He attempts to explain many phenomena in development, all with the same stunning failure to attempt to look at real organisms, favoring instead the geometric purity of his imagination. His explanations of gastrulation, while more abstract, are notably lacking in any association with actual data. I’ve watched gastrulation occur; I have friends who study cell and tissue movements in zebrafish gastrulation; I’ve written software that is used to analyze changes in embryo shape and cell migration. Let me tell you, nothing in this book is even an approximation of what we actually see.

I’m afraid all of these artistic inventions are in the service of a theory that is unappealing, uninteresting, and without the slightest bit of predictive power. Here is his idea, briefly: all cells and embryos are donuts, and how they turn themselves inside out determines their future morphology. To be fair, I’ll transcribe it as he has written it:

The shape assumed by the surface enveloping the primordial germ plasm is a geometric or topological form called the sickle torus, a kind of torus that can be described as one spheroidal surface inside another, interconnected at the poles by a narrow funnel vortex. Its cross section is sickle shaped as opposed to the circular cross section of simpler doughnut-shaped torus.

The toroidal egg cell surface is fluid. It is in constant axial flow like smoke rings or magnetic fields but substantially slower.

Toroidal streaming imposes on the membrane sheet the relentless cycle of alternate compression and expansion suffered as the sheet passes through the narrow vortices. The membrane becomes empatterned by radial and circumferential subdivisions. This pattern guides the expansion of the membrane to the mature egg-cell plasma membrane and later, as separate cells, guides the formation of the standard adult phyletic body.

Doesn’t help much, does it?

Again, none of this—sickle torus, rings of axial flow, toroidal streaming, radial and circumferential subdivisions—is in evidence. How it generates the complex form of an organism is not obvious. How his theory can be reconciled with a large body of embryological evidence that directly contradicts virtually all of it is not clear, and Pivar has chosen not to address any of it. And a book full of geometrically interesting sketches neither explains nor supports Pivar’s theory.

I have to add another compliment for the book, though. In addition to the lovely artwork, it’s an extremely high quality print; well bound, on heavy stock, and looking to last a thousand years. It seems no expense was spared getting it published, which is in contrast to the content, and is unusual for such flagrant crackpottery. It may well be popular among creationists, who can always be trusted to favor glossy superficialities over substance.

To Mr Pivar, I would suggest a simple rule. Theories are supposed to explain observation and experiment. You don’t come up with a theory first, and then invent the evidence to support it.

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    July 12, 2007

    Wow. Just… wow. 😮

    ———————–

    Stephen J. Gould, in his forward to On Growth and Form

    I suppose that is bound to happen when Americans pronounce it “frrwrrd” but keep an etymological spelling. Said spelling is foreword.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    July 12, 2007

    Wow. Just… wow. 😮

    ———————–

    Stephen J. Gould, in his forward to On Growth and Form

    I suppose that is bound to happen when Americans pronounce it “frrwrrd” but keep an etymological spelling. Said spelling is foreword.

  3. #3 QrazyQat
    July 12, 2007

    On my site I have a good quote from Philip Deitiker in a newsgroup about theories leading the data:

    If you put discovery of the mechanism of evolution first, it means that you have to wait on a convincing trail of artifacts, skeletal material and/or, lately, genetic material, first. If you put the theorization first then you simply have to rearrange the existing material, edit out what is inconsistent, twist and turn the facts, and Walla you have a ‘why’ theory that no-one can absolutely disprove. Of course you also have a theory that is also beyond actual proof.


    One common feature how the theorist actually behave, in an instance whereby they make a claim, it is often based on the lack of evidence they use as evidence for their theory. When the evidence for something arises, then they twist the theory such that lack-of-evidence that previously supported their theory becomes the presence of evidence that supports their theory. Negative of positive, the evidence always supports the leading theory. Why else do you create a theory before you have sufficient evidence, so that you can lead the data as it comes out, at least until so much data comes that the theory looses all support. Very seldomly does the theorist actually back out of supporting his theory because new data fails to support it.

  4. #4 Leon
    July 12, 2007

    “frrwrrd”?! I don’t know which Americans you’re thinking of, but here in California it’s strictly “forewrd”.

    And whatever our sins of pronunciation may be, we show a lot better sense than other dialects that 1) don’t pronounce “r” at all, 2) change the “r” to a “w”, or 3) add extraneous “r”s to the end of words.

  5. #5 Willey
    July 12, 2007

    The links you provide to the lifecode book go to some floofy la-la astrology book, not this book. I’d like to see some of the imagery you talk about, but can’t seem to find the books real website.

  6. #6 stogoe
    July 12, 2007

    Not any more, David. Language is constantly changing.

  7. #7 David Marjanovi?
    July 12, 2007

    I don’t know which Americans you’re thinking of, but here in California it’s strictly “forewrd”.

    OK, the two Rs don’t sound the same, but as far as I have noticed you pronounce the o and the r at the same time ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhotic_vowel ) rather than one after the other.

    And whatever our sins of pronunciation may be

    There is no such thing. The sin I mentioned is the disconnect between pronunciation and spelling, which will likely reach the breaking point within this century.

  8. #8 David Marjanovi?
    July 12, 2007

    I don’t know which Americans you’re thinking of, but here in California it’s strictly “forewrd”.

    OK, the two Rs don’t sound the same, but as far as I have noticed you pronounce the o and the r at the same time ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhotic_vowel ) rather than one after the other.

    And whatever our sins of pronunciation may be

    There is no such thing. The sin I mentioned is the disconnect between pronunciation and spelling, which will likely reach the breaking point within this century.

  9. #9 Colugo
    July 12, 2007

    For all of his structuralist tendencies, compared to the more extreme structuralists Gould was nearly an ultra-Darwinian selectionist-adaptationist.

    Some structuralists have made tremendous contributions (Rupert Riedl, D’Arcy Thompson) while others are less praiseworthy (Mae-Wan Ho, Rupert Sheldrake).

    The challenge for evolutionary biology is to synthesize structuralism and selectionism-adaptationism using empiricism and logical analysis rather than hand-waving and quasi-ideological posturing. Selectionism-adaptationism has been associated with Anglo-American classical liberalism while structuralism is linked to Continental holism. Jettisoning that ideological and philosophical baggage would be helpful.

  10. #10 Leon
    July 12, 2007

    I don’t know, David. I think we pronounce the o and r fairly distinctly, but the a and r mashed together like you describe.

    Ok, I was being, um, melodramatic or something. -ahem-

    You’re probably right about the spelling/pronunciation disconnect. For what it’s worth, my goal has always been to choose the spelling/pronunciation that makes the most sense. By that I mean, when the language gives you a choice:

    1. Choose the pronunciation that better matches the spelling. Recently, for instance, I admitted to myself that coupon is pronounced “coupon” and not “cyoupon” and changed the way I say it.
    2. Choose the spelling that’s most phonetic. That generally means US spellings: color, etc. I use a few British spellings though: judgement and arguement for instance (you wouldn’t write “managment”, after all). And I follow the British convention with quotations: if a period or comma wasn’t in the original quote, don’t put it inside the quote.
  11. #11 Jeff
    July 12, 2007

    I just want to know how you get “Lester”, or “Lesta”, if you prefer, from “Leicester”.

    Or how “saw” becomes “sawr”???

    And why you pronounce “Ghandi” with the same “a” sound as “candy”??

  12. #12 rhian
    July 12, 2007

    er, http://www.lifecodebook.com is definitely not right. that website is for a book about the vedic code of life written by swami ram charran.

  13. #13 Jim Anderson
    July 12, 2007

    The links to Pivar’s book instead point to another crackpot work with the same title.

  14. #14 rhian
    July 12, 2007

    and leon, are you sure you didn’t just make up that spelling of “arguement”? it’s a common misspelling, but i’m fairly sure it’s wrong both sides of the atlantic. (yes, i’m british.)

  15. #15 Leon
    July 12, 2007

    Well, I’ll be damned rhian. A quick bit of research, and it looks like maybe “arguement” was a figment of my imagination. Well I’ll be go to hell, as my grandfather would say. So damn, another change to make in my spelling…

  16. #16 Kseniya
    July 12, 2007

    Spelling, though important, is overrated in that correctness is somewhat arbitrary.

    Spellings are approximations of pronunciations, nominally correct transcriptions of actual words. Heterography was the norm before the advent of printing, and wide-accepted standard spellings have been prevalent only for the last two or three hundred years.

    If pronunciations change – as it seems they inevitably will – shall we adapt the spelling to match the consensus pronunciation? Or try to drag the pronunciation back towards that which is suggested (or demanded) by the “correct” spelling? Is either feasible, or even possible?

    Language seems to be a living world unto itself, populated by words that change, adapt, go extinct, and arise like new species from old – and it’s a one-way process that can’t be predicted or fully controlled even by those best positioned to manipulate it.

    English spelling is atrociously arbitrary. The thought of getting bent out of shape by phonetically-apt but officially incorrect spellings of English words seems almost laughable. (Plough rhymes with cow, but not with cough, or dough? Okaaay.) And yet… I do value accuracy, standards are useful.

    Where is the nearly one-to-one relationship between sound and symbol that we find in (for example) Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet? Management should be spelled: Manajment. Fudge should be spelled: Fuj. Huge should be spelled… ummm… Hyuj?

    Really! Why should G have to work two jobs, while J sits around on the couch watching TV most of the time? I realize that changes like this would profoundly impact Scrabble letter-point values, but some hardships are worth enduring.

  17. #17 Thanny
    July 12, 2007

    Let’s not forget criticizing us Yanks for saying “erb” for “herb”, while not noticing that we agree on “our” for “hour”.

    I also find the phantom R amusing. Someone of no particular accomplishment can be stellar simply by being named Stella.

    Aside from issues of pronunciation, I find the concept of On Growth and Form, as summarized by PZ (I have not read it), to be pretty fuzzy thinking. Physical laws are part of the environment that genetic phenotypes are thrown against. I’m sure I’m reacting to an oversimplified representation of the concept, but it’s self-evident that genes control morphology, within the constraints of physical reality.

    It seems rather like giving a bundt pan too much credit for the cake it contains.

  18. #18 MarcusA
    July 12, 2007

    Alan Turing, the British mathematician, did some work on embryonic development, which had a structuralist slant. He had read D’Arcy Thompson’s book. So, structuralism is all very theoretical in a way that creationists like. It touches upon physics a lot, which will please Intelligent Designers to no end. I liked Stephen Gould very much, but I always found him a bit of an enigma. So it is sad, but not surprising, that a friend of his is using his name to promote baseless ideas.

    And it’s “pearls before swine” when PZ offers us a fascinating book review and some of us blow it off to bitch about minutiae. Only editors and small minded goof balls debate the spelling of words. The former does so because it is necessary. The latter does so because it is compulsive.

  19. #19 Colugo
    July 12, 2007
  20. #20 Leon
    July 12, 2007

    I’m not compulsive! But you misspelled….oh, wait…

  21. #21 Kseniya
    July 12, 2007

    One of the smartest people I know is a terrible speller. He’s a linguist. He’s dyslexic. (I’m not making this up.) I have yet to misunderstand his written language, nor have I ever felt compelled to correct him. If he asked for corrections, I would grant them. If he was not a native speaker, I might offer.

    Only editors and small minded goof balls debate the spelling of words.

    Marcus, are you absolutely sure there’s no third option here?      K8^B

  22. #22 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 12, 2007

    Seems Pivar’s websites are sold out. (New book with same name, “Under Construction”, et cetera.) Guess LifeCode didn’t sell.

    [Btw, I note that O’Leary’s blog is named “Post-Darwinism”. Puh-lease! Creationts, including later payleists, predate the scientific and darwinian splits. They just don’t get that “common descent” thing, do they? :-P]

    One of the smartest people I know is a terrible speller. He’s a linguist. He’s dyslexic.

    Rumor is that one of the big shot topologists can’t or couldn’t visualize structures worth damn. He/she did it all by working with “linguistic” logic. (No names. Hey, it was a rumor! :-P)

  23. #23 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 12, 2007

    Seems Pivar’s websites are sold out. (New book with same name, “Under Construction”, et cetera.) Guess LifeCode didn’t sell.

    [Btw, I note that O’Leary’s blog is named “Post-Darwinism”. Puh-lease! Creationts, including later payleists, predate the scientific and darwinian splits. They just don’t get that “common descent” thing, do they? :-P]

    One of the smartest people I know is a terrible speller. He’s a linguist. He’s dyslexic.

    Rumor is that one of the big shot topologists can’t or couldn’t visualize structures worth damn. He/she did it all by working with “linguistic” logic. (No names. Hey, it was a rumor! :-P)

  24. #24 Graculus
    July 12, 2007

    If pronunciations change – as it seems they inevitably will – shall we adapt the spelling to match the consensus pronunciation?

    Consensus of whowhatwhere?

    As a Canadian, I’m looking forward to having all the Yanks pronounce “about” properly….

  25. #25 Nix
    July 12, 2007

    Kseniya, phonetic spelling only works if everyone pronounces words the same way. For English, this isn’t even true in the UK and is even less true across the world. Global languages simply *cannot* use phonetic orthography. (The limit case here is of course Chinese, where the written form and phonetics bear *no* relation whatsoever…)

  26. #26 Jon H
    July 12, 2007

    “. In addition to the lovely artwork, it’s an extremely high quality print; well bound, on heavy stock, and looking to last a thousand years. ”

    Sounds a bit like Muggletonian biology.

  27. (The limit case here is of course Chinese, where the written form and phonetics bear *no* relation whatsoever…)

    well, *very little* relation, anyway. But since the radicals often give pronunciation hints, “no” is a little bit overstated.

    but sinopedantry aside, this post is on a really interesting topic. I totally get the appeal of structuralism. Too bad we don’t get to keep the theory and throw out the facts—it would be so elegant if the cheetah skull really did that.

  28. #28 Obdulantist
    July 12, 2007

    ‘On Growth and Form’, by D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson is easily one of the best books I ever read on any subject. Very, very highly recommended. Even if you ultimately don’t agree with his position, the quality of his arguments and prose, and the stunning drawings, will more than repay the effort. I re-read it every ten years or so just for the sheer pleasure.

  29. #29 Kseniya
    July 13, 2007

    Graculus, touché, and Nix, that’s a good point!

    I was thinking very long term. Consistent spelling is a relatively new phenomenon, and we have no way of knowing what happens when pronunciation changes so much that the correct spelling begins to bear only passing resemblance to the word in its spoken form. That’s what I was wondering about.

    However, in speculating thus, I overlooked the stabilizing influence of the written word and the consistent spelling standard provided by the dictionary, particularly in the communications age where populations speaking the same language are not as profoundly isolated from one another as they were in in the past. I would expect regional differences in pronunciation to continue, but much less drift over time.

    In short, I don’t expect another great vowel shift anytime soon. 🙂

  30. #30 Kseniya, OM
    July 13, 2007

    —> Adjutant Minion

    Now that is cool.

  31. #31 thwaite
    July 13, 2007

    Too bad we don’t get to keep the theory and throw out the facts—it would be so elegant if the cheetah skull really did that.

    True. And thanks to PZ for highlighting that we don’t and it didn’t.

    But I’m still bemused at the forward written by Richard Milner, as mentioned in the other post. Milner’s done some really useful books like his ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EVOLUTON. Although, that was more history of science than science … hmm, very different mind-sets.

  32. #32 Don Cox
    July 13, 2007

    “Spelling, though important, is overrated in that correctness is somewhat arbitrary.”____Not in the case of “forward” and “foreword”, which actually have different meanings.

    As for D’Arcy Thompson, yes it is a great book, except for all the footnotes in Greek, which are frustrating if you don’t read Greek. I think there is simply a gap in his logic. A sphere might be the best shape for a cell such as Protococcus because of the laws of physics. That doesn’t mean that the laws act directly on each individual cell to force it into that shape (as they do to a soap bubble). It means that non-spherical cells are at a disadvantage, because they for example lose moisture faster, so that selection will favour the most spherical.

  33. #33 Don Cox
    July 13, 2007

    I think the origin of drawings like the one you show (I haven’t seen the book) is in the work on natural history of the poet Goethe, which again was purely speculative. But Goethe’s point that functionally different organs such as leaves and petals could be structurally homologoes was definitely influential. For example, Goodrich’s work on the history of vertebrate anatomy (gill arches etc) derives from Goethe’s observation. (Good rich, unlike Pivar, did look at the evidence.)

  34. #34 Don Cox
    July 13, 2007

    “homologoes” should be “homologous”

  35. #35 Kseniya
    July 13, 2007

    Not in the case of “forward” and “foreword”, which actually have different meanings.

    True enough in that case, especially as a) “foreword” is a compound word and b) the two have subtley different pronunciations, but I wasn’t addressing that specific case. I suppose I should have said so… 🙂

  36. #36 PeteK
    July 13, 2007

    Who cares? Words are our servants, not our masters. Stick to the facts, my dear boy! teach ’em nothing but facts. The science is the important thing.

  37. #37 Leon
    July 13, 2007

    As a Canadian, I’m looking forward to having all the Yanks pronounce “about” properly….

    You must hang out with too many of us who’ve migrated north. Don’t worry, we still pronounce it right.

    Now if you guys north of the Border could remove the extraneous “u”s from words like colo(u)r, hono(u)r, etc., that would be a big help to the language.

  38. #38 ACW
    July 13, 2007

    Kseniya #32: For me, “forward” and “foreword” are pronounced identically, but I prefer the distinct spellings because of etymology. I’d be interested in hearing about what the difference is for you. It’s possible that you do have a difference, but it’s also possible that you’re being tricked into thinking there is a difference under the influence of the spelling.

    Dan Cox #30: I think you’re articulating a viewpoint close to the hardline functionalist pole. The structuralist rebuttal would be something like this: a rod-shaped bacterium has to work extra hard in order to be rod-shaped; being spherical is much closer to the default. One will find processes in a bacillus whose job is specifically to create the elongated shape, while one will not (expect to) find analogous processes in a coccus whose job is retaining sphericity. The coccus can simply let surface tension do its job; the bacillus can’t. We can expect some selective pressure in the environment of the bacillus that favors oblongness, and we can feel like there’s something we don’t know until we discover what the advantage is to the bacillus for being long.

    But there doesn’t have to be selective pressure favoring sphericity in the coccus; the coccus may be spherical simply because it “doesn’t care”. Knowing what we know about physical law, we shouldn’t feel like there’s some big mystery if we don’t have a positive explanation for the shape of a coccus.

    I think the synthesis we are looking for is along the lines of: some forms are easier to implement than others, and all other things being equal we should expect organisms to “prefer” the easier forms. The “expense” of a form is determined by natural law, and this is where structuralism and functionalism meet and interact.

  39. #39 Obdulantist
    July 14, 2007

    I think the synthesis we are looking for is along the lines of: some forms are easier to implement than others, and all other things being equal we should expect organisms to “prefer” the easier forms. The “expense” of a form is determined by natural law, and this is where structuralism and functionalism meet and interact.

    Well said, ACW. That is my take on it. (By “natural law” I assume you meant ‘natural physical law’?)

    Don Cox, I don’t necessarily agree with everything Thompson argues, but I find his book more stimulating of ideas than almost any other work of science I have read, which is why I re-read it every so often. For me it’s up there with ‘The Origin of Species’ and Feynman’s undergraduate Lectures on Physics (the so called ‘Red Book’ series).

    I certainly agree about the Greek passages, though. Drives me up the wall.

  40. #40 stuart pivar
    July 14, 2007

    Dear PZ

    You reviewed the wrong book!!

    “Lifecode, from Egg to Embryo” is brand new. “Lifecode” of 2004, exists in only a few review copies. Since then, I have answered my critics by substantially augmenting the model, and providing correspondence with observed nature, based on known, accepted phenomena. The new book is the result. However, you have referred your readers to your previous review, as if it was the same book under discussion.

    The confusion about using a similar title led to the seeming endorsement by prominent scientists of a bogus theory. In fact, each of them is well aware of what they call plausible, publishable and worthy of further investigation. When you receive your copy this morning you may be overjoyed to see that the riddle of embryogenesis has been solved by a model you cannot seem to refute. Later today, pages from the new book will be posted on http://www.selforganization

    Fear not, my sources in embryology are extensive, including the previously untranslated works of the German nineteenth-century experimental embryologists which, luckily, I am able to read. By the way, observation shows that there are hundred of different kinds of gastrulation, not just five.

    I eagerly await your comments on “Lifecode: From Egg to Embryo.”

    Stuart Pivar http://www.selforganization.com

  41. #41 stuart pivar
    July 14, 2007

    Dear PZ

    You reviewed the wrong book!!

    “Lifecode, from Egg to Embryo” is brand new. “Lifecode” of 2004, exists in only a few review copies. Since then, I have answered my critics by substantially augmenting the model, and providing correspondence with observed nature, based on known, accepted phenomena. The new book is the result. However, you have referred your readers to your previous review, as if it was the same book under discussion.

    The confusion about using a similar title led to the seeming endorsement by prominent scientists of a bogus theory. In fact, each of them is well aware of what they call plausible, publishable and worthy of further investigation. When you receive your copy this morning you may be overjoyed to see that the riddle of embryogenesis has been solved by a model you cannot seem to refute. Later today, pages from the new book will be posted on http://www.selforganization

    Fear not, my sources in embryology are extensive, including the previously untranslated works of the German nineteenth-century experimental embryologists which, luckily, I am able to read. By the way, observation shows that there are hundred of different kinds of gastrulation, not just five.

    I eagerly await your comments on “Lifecode: From Egg to Embryo.”

    Stuart Pivar http://www.selforganization.com

  42. #42 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 16, 2007

    The confusion about using a similar title led to the seeming endorsement by prominent scientists of a bogus theory.

    Am I misreading this, or does this say face up that the earlier book was bogus?

    the riddle of embryogenesis has been solved by a model you cannot seem to refute.

    Alrighty then, no analysis needed then since the ‘science’ is dogma.

  43. #43 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    July 16, 2007

    The confusion about using a similar title led to the seeming endorsement by prominent scientists of a bogus theory.

    Am I misreading this, or does this say face up that the earlier book was bogus?

    the riddle of embryogenesis has been solved by a model you cannot seem to refute.

    Alrighty then, no analysis needed then since the ‘science’ is dogma.

  44. #44 agathi
    July 23, 2007

    Hi PZ,
    the link pointing to http://www.lifecodebook.com/ should be updated/changed/discarded.
    SWAMI RAM CHARRAN seems to be fun, but nothing to do with Pivar.

  45. #45 Travis Finucane
    August 22, 2007

    Use the WayBack machine and you can find some of the old lifecodebook site:

    http://web.archive.org/web/*sr_11nr_10/http://www.lifecodebook.com/*

  46. #46 Nigel D
    August 22, 2007

    Stuart Pivar wrote:
    Dear PZ

    You reviewed the wrong book!!

    Oh, that’s a shame. Think of all that effort wasted. And it was a lovely expose of some fantasy masquerading as science.

    PZ wrote:
    . . . Pivar sent me a copy of his book to review . . .

    Well, I guess we know who caused that little mix-up, then. Still, I can’t help wondering how Pivar managed to send out a copy of the wrong book for review.

  47. #47 Frank Wales
    August 22, 2007

    Fear not, my sources in embryology are extensive, including the previously untranslated works of the German nineteenth-century experimental embryologists which, luckily, I am able to read.

    Because obscure 19th century data supports this theory better than more recent or more reviewed data?

  48. #48 Marcus B
    August 22, 2007

    Aside from this great review, with all these little nitpickings over spelling on here, I’m surprised no-one has mentioned the “Walla” quoted in QrazyQat’s post. I think that’s meant to be “Voilà”, French for, roughly, “and here it is!”. “Walla” is, so Wikipedia tells me, the Americanisation of “rhubarb”, the fake background conversation used in movies, and is also rather close to “Wallah”, a common Anglo-Indian word for a servant or labourer. I think I’d want to stick with the French.

    Reminds me a conversation with a checkout girl at a Sears store in San Dimas, CA (Home of Bill & Ted):
    She: “Where are you from?”
    Me: “England.”
    She: “Yeah? You speak real good English!”

  49. #49 Matt
    August 22, 2007

    Fear not, my sources in embryology are extensive, including the previously untranslated works of the German nineteenth-century experimental embryologists which, luckily, I am able to read.

    They are here on these gold plates! Now, just let me go behind this special screen. I’ll read the translations out, and you write them down.

  50. #50 Karan
    August 23, 2007

    I don’t give a damn if you Americans “pronounce ‘Ghandi’ with the same ‘a’ sound as ‘candy'”, but what I do care about is that if you wanna talk about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, before criticising someone over pronunciation, you better get the name right in the first place.

    Ghandi my foot! Can’t you even make an effort to pronounce names properly, or is it that you people just don’t care how you mangle foreign names as easily as you do the language?

  51. #51 Ryan
    August 23, 2007

    I don’t give a damn if you “wanna talk about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi”, but what I do care about is that, before criticizing someone over spelling, you better get the words right.

    ‘Wanna’ my foot! Can’t you even make an effort to use real words, or is it that you people just don’t care how you mangle foreign words as easily as you do the grammar?

    Or, put more succinctly: pot… kettle… black…

  52. #52 Amsterstorm
    May 9, 2009

    @46……im criticizing your “criticising”

  53. #53 Sven DiMIlo
    May 9, 2009

    I wanna Ghandi.

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