Pharyngula

As I mentioned before in my review of Stuart Pivar’s LifeCode: The Theory of Biological Self Organization, I’m actually sympathetic to the ideas of developmental structuralism. This is the concept that physical, mechanical, and chemical properties make a significant and underappreciated contribution to the acquisition of organismal form; genes are not enough, do not carry a complete specification, and what we have to consider is interactions between genes, environment, and cytoplasm. Good stuff, all of it — and I’d like to see more work done on the subject. In my review, though, I had to point out that Pivar hadn’t actually addressed any biology, and that his modeling was little more than an extended flight of fancy, unanchored by any connection to any embryology.

Now Pivar has put out a new version of his book, Lifecode: From egg to embryo by self-organization. I’m sorry to say it doesn’t address any of my criticisms, and is even worse. This is not a scientific theory, and it isn’t even a collection of evidence: it’s a jumble of doodles. I read through it all this afternoon (there really isn’t that much to read), and I have to conclude it says nothing about the development or evolution of biological organisms, although it is relevant to something else.

What seems to be new in the book is a set of experiments, of sorts. Pivar’s model of development has long been that we achieve the diversity of organismal form by starting with a torus, and that fluid movements and distortions of the toroid form lead to the more elaborate forms at the end of development. The donut is the unifying principle underlying everything (hmmm, makes one wonder if there is a tie-in to the new Simpsons movie). So what he’s done in this work is make some flexible plastic toroidal tubes filled with fluid and flexed them and twisted them, and taken some pictures. These balloons of fluid, as you might guess, buckle and wrinkle in predictable ways — ways that, in Pivar’s interpretation, leap to be represented as morphogenetic events. A tube that is bent, for instance, makes a series of wrinkles with an even distribution that look, very vaguely, like maybe you could pretend they are segments.

So he does pretend. At length.

We already know that segmentation does not form as a consequence of responses to distortions in a tube. Primitively, it is by a sequential partitioning of new segments from an undifferentiated mass; in many insects, it is set up by patterns of interaction between genes. These are genes that are fairly well-characterized and have been found indispensable to the process; as I wrote in an earlier article, general rules like the ones Pivar is modeling do not apply, and each segment seems to be hard-coded into the regulatory logic of pattern formation. It really doesn’t matter how pretty a model might be—what counts is whether the mechanism being modeled actually exists in the organism. And no, Pivar’s model doesn’t work anywhere that I’ve seen yet.

Much of the book is filled with sketches in which he starts with something like his toroidal tubes, and then imaginatively transforms the tube into some animal. These transformations are completely unfettered by data or even the slightest familiarity with the embryology or evolution of the organism in question. Here, for instance, is a tube transformed into a polyp like creature and then into a spider.

i-f1abd7f03d1fc60c7ff26fa39a445e23-pivar_chelicerate.gif

Nothing in the development of a spider comes even close to looking like that. No evolutionary intermediates looked like that. Chelicerates did not evolve directly from some kind of collapsed coelenterate, and the intermediates don’t even make functional sense. The radial tentacles of coelenterates are not homologous to the legs of spiders. This is artistic self-indulgence, nothing more.

Even worse, here’s a transformation that makes no sense at all. He’s portraying the development/evolution of paired limbs as a process of stretching and separation of a fluid-filled tube at an attenuated midline boundary.

i-fc6c4e5be4db42382ede5a15c7adf5c3-pivar_limb.gif

It’s absurd. Limbs don’t develop like that at all! The limbs in a pair develop independently, as protrusions and extensions from the body wall. Digits do not form by pulling left and right apart, like tugging on a string of sausages.

The doodles in this book bear absolutely no relationship to anything that goes on in real organisms, but after staring at them for a while, I realized what this book is actually about.

This book is a description of the development and evolution of balloon animals.

It’s that bad. This is a book suitable only for use at clown colleges, and even there, I suspect the clowns would tell us that it is impractical, nonsensical, and has no utility in their craft.

A good, solid, empirical structuralism based on an analysis of the mechanics and forces on real embryos would be a useful contribution and would help us to understand development and evolution. Lifecode is not that contribution. It’s not even close.

In light of the fundamental disconnect from reality represented by the substance of the book, it’s almost unfair to critique the unprofessionalism of the presentation, but it’s got to be said: it’s also terribly done. The original Lifecode was slick and glossy, at least, even if its content was abysmal; this version is a spiral bound mess, with poorly photocopied figures. The figures have no legends, and aren’t even referenced in the text; with no explanatory content at all, we’re left to puzzle over them to try and figure out what he’s getting at. The images of limb morphogenesis and chelicerate development above are as is — you have seen all the explanation there is, which is none. Almost two thirds of the “book” consists of photocopied papers and book chapters by other authors that are not related to the thesis at all, but are just plopped in. There doesn’t seem to be any unifying principle to the selection at all, except perhaps that many mention toroids and shape. This isn’t really a book at all, it’s more of a scrapbook of collected fragments.

Comments

  1. #1 Paul Mannering
    July 17, 2007

    Who publishes this kind of crap?

  2. #2 Monado
    July 17, 2007

    But it could be useful as sketches for a new animated movie, showing critters emerging from the slime. Maybe Pixar would be interested.

  3. #3 Milo Johnson
    July 17, 2007

    Oh, come now. Everybody knows that balloon animals didn’t evolve, they are formed individually by their Creator – usually a sad alcoholic wearing grease paint.

  4. #4 MarcusA
    July 17, 2007

    Many balloon animals were killed or harmed in the making of this book. Good!

  5. #5 Bronze Dog
    July 17, 2007

    This book is a description of the development and evolution of balloon animals.

    That’s exactly what I was thinking of saying in the comments, except I suddenly found you saying it in the post.

    I think I’ll give my ego a boost by saying “great minds.”

  6. #6 HP
    July 17, 2007

    clowns would tell us that it is impractical, nonsensical, and has no utility in their craft

    Clowns are always bitching about the core curriculum. They’re worse than business majors.

  7. #7 DaveX
    July 17, 2007

    That last diagram was priceless. Trying to keep the youngest asleep, so I didn’t laugh out loud, but I nearly popped my eardrums trying not to!

    That’s definitely some original thinking, and it might be fun for a goofy off-world science fiction story or something.

  8. #8 gg
    July 17, 2007

    ‘An animal is not a truck! It’s not something that you just dump something on! It’s a series of TUBES!’

    Alaska Senator Ted Stevens’ new theory of life…

  9. #9 The Physicist
    July 17, 2007

    Damn PZ, you already read that whole book you are a word crunching machine. I will be the first yo admit my biology is as comprehensive as a idiot savants common sense. There is no way I would ever argue with you about evolution. I would be embarrassing. I am an evolution skeptic, but I would never debate you, because I don’t know how th spell abogenesis or anthropic and neither dose my word processing capabilities.

    But when Read stuff like this, I cannot discern who is right, I don’t know enough to know. This is why I am an old earth ID’er. I respect your opinion just like I do a plumbers, I’m not a plumber. It is what they do. We are having a debate the same way over at the topical optogon on the origin of the universe, and if life came though evolution or not is not a concern of mine, just the cause, and as a physicist I can speak intelligently to the subject, I suggest you read it and keep up with it. Michael is only 22 years old and needs some help me thinks, find someone to help him. If you cannot understand it at least give me the same respect I give you.

  10. #10 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 17, 2007

    But I am curious about where he claims to have come up with these concepts. Does he have any observations at all?

  11. #11 Blake Stacey, OM
    July 17, 2007

    gg:

    Marvelous!

  12. #12 Louis
    July 17, 2007

    That’s actually a really cool concept.

  13. #13 Nerull
    July 17, 2007

    I respect your opinion just like I do a plumbers, I’m not a plumber. It is what they do.

    Except you have shown yourself to be the sort who will go on for hours telling the plummer the problem can’t possibly be what he thinks it is, despite the fact that you know nothing about the subject. He is still right, of course, no matter how much you wave your arms and jump up and down, and probobly thinks your a raving loony – and rightly so.

  14. #14 Ann Homily
    July 17, 2007

    Pivar/Pixar — are you sure this book isn’t a computer animation tutorial instead?

    #10: I think his observations are from the Adobe Flash shape tweening function…

  15. #15 Azkyroth
    July 17, 2007

    But when Read stuff like this, I cannot discern who is right, I don’t know enough to know. This is why I am an old earth ID’er. I respect your opinion just like I do a plumbers, I’m not a plumber. It is what they do. We are having a debate the same way over at the topical optogon on the origin of the universe, and if life came though evolution or not is not a concern of mine, just the cause, and as a physicist I can speak intelligently to the subject, I suggest you read it and keep up with it. Michael is only 22 years old and needs some help me thinks, find someone to help him. If you cannot understand it at least give me the same respect I give you.

    Now I’m POSITIVE You didn’t just say you think that Pivar’s ramblings are as likely to be true as our present understanding of embyrology…

  16. #16 Brownian
    July 17, 2007

    Can you do that? Can you just make stuff up and write a book about it?

    Sweet!

    On another note, can anybody tell me how to get in touch with Stuart Pivar?

    That guy’s obviously got some wicked hash.

  17. #17 The Physicist
    July 17, 2007

    Except you have shown yourself to be the sort who will go on for hours telling the plummer the problem can’t possibly be what he thinks it is, despite the fact that you know nothing about the subject. He is still right, of course, no matter how much you wave your arms and jump up and down, and probobly thinks your a raving loony – and rightly so.

    Ok.Imusually don’t do yjid, buy you need a dressing down

    1) have I ever argued that I knew evolution wasn’t true, other that questioning it
    2) I might also question a plumber so he doesn’t take me to the bank, but I do not question his knowledge only his materialistic honesty, by asking those questions.
    3) PZ talked about the truth in a recent blog as a philosophical question, and none nof the peanut gallerynhad a clue about philosophy, It was evident, this is not your fault, but the fault of the schools and univerities.

    Philosophy is one of the most important subjects tyjat should nr yaught.

    when someone talks about truth, it becomes philosophical, and without training the ignorant lose their mind. They can’t deal with it.

  18. #18 Ian Menzies
    July 17, 2007

    If Lifecode was about plumbing:

    Pivar: “Here are some pretty drawings that show cold water transforms into hot water through vortexes.”

    PZ: “Um, we make hot water by applying flame or resistive heating to water. Not through vortexes. Are you loony?”

    The Physicist: “See, I can’t understand this conversation about hot water. That’s why I’m still convinced that shit flows up hill.”

  19. #19 Brownian
    July 17, 2007

    PZ talked about the truth in a recent blog as a philosophical question, and none nof the peanut gallerynhad a clue about philosophy, It was evident, this is not your fault, but the fault of the schools and univerities.

    Oh for fuck’s sake, another genius martyring his time for the sake of us ign’ants.

    Physicist, why don’t you drop David a line, and the two of you can go off together to merrily discuss philosophy and theology to you little hearts’ content unencumbered by us boorish troglodytes who refuse to honour your armchair gentleman profundities with the rapt attention they so obviously deserve? You’re obviously not getting what you want from us, so why are you wasting your time and mine?

    Frankly, I’m getting very bored with these accusations of ignorance, and would like to see your ilk start demonstrating some intelligence of your own. You can’t know how ready I am to see some.

  20. #20 Kseniya
    July 18, 2007

    …usually a sad alcoholic wearing grease paint.

    Tsk.

    The balloon animal / tubes comparisons are hilarious, though.

    Methinks Mr. Pivar’s favorite boyhood toys were Pla-Do and Transformers.

  21. #21 The Physicist
    July 18, 2007

    Posted by: Brownian | July 17, 2007 11:41 PM

    Your ignorance has already been shown by your post at the topical optogon, whein you didn’t even read the limits of the debate before you shot off your mouth. I mean if you gonna make a point at least read what the debate is about.

  22. #22 Patrick Quigley
    July 18, 2007

    Given the splitting that occurs in the last image, I think that this might be more about bubble animals rather than ones formed from balloons.

  23. #23 cm
    July 18, 2007

    Brownian said:

    Can you do that? Can you just make stuff up and write a book about it?

    No, no, no, not at all–and he didn’t. See, here’s what is says about LifeCode on the Amazon page:

    “This book is the result of a ten-year study of morphology and evolution with the help of an [sic] large private library of rare books and an extensive collection of natural history items.”

  24. #24 The Physicist
    July 18, 2007

    Frankly, I’m getting very bored with these accusations of ignorance, and would like to see your ilk start demonstrating some intelligence of your own. You can’t know how ready I am to see some.

    Posted by: Brownian | July 17, 2007 11:41 PM

    Mo, your not bored, you are afraid, you have yet to as have the sycophants here answer a question about truth, because they can’t. So you think you can win by hurling insults. And you post over at the TO was unintelligible and you weren’t even privy to the fact that the debate wasn’t about evolution.

  25. #25 Ichthyic
    July 18, 2007

    *sniff*

    that’s goooood crank!

    has Pivar been nominated for a place on crank.net yet?

  26. #26 Ichthyic
    July 18, 2007

    the ignorant lose their mind. They can’t deal with it.

    is that an explanation of your behavior, or just projection?

  27. #27 Kseniya
    July 18, 2007

    The Physicist:

    you have yet to as have the sycophants here answer a question about truth, because they can’t.

    That may not be… true. Quite a few comments were made since the last time you posted to that thread. Whether or not any of those comments address the question to your satisfaction is for you can say, and if you still have some interest in the topic (and it seems you do) you might want to read through the newer comments if you have not already done so. ‘Sup to you, of course.

  28. #28 Stanton
    July 18, 2007

    PZ talked about the truth in a recent blog as a philosophical question, and none nof the peanut gallerynhad a clue about philosophy, It was evident, this is not your fault, but the fault of the schools and univerities.

    The Physicist, do realize that philosophical truths have absolutely nothing to do with Biology, Evolutionary Biology, Paleontology, Geology, or any other natural science. The fact that you don’t seem to care that scientists focus on explaining what the evidence shows, rather than quibble about who’s responsibility it is to make things true aggravates the majority of posters here.
    Do also realize that Pivar has demonstrated that he knows absolutely nothing about embryological development of any sort, given his silly postulating of cnidarian to arachnid, or the fact that he thinks that vertebrate limbs start off as a muff that pinches into two, nevermind that people have known for almost two centuries that vertebrate embryos develop each limb independently of each other.

    In other words, The Physicist, do realize that in Science, people are free to voice their own ideas to explain evidence, but, other people are equally free to point out when the aforementioned ideas are incapable of explaining the presented evidence, or when they run contrary to it.

    Also, please learn how to spell.

  29. #29 Sophist, FCD
    July 18, 2007

    you have yet to as have the sycophants here answer a question about truth

    (Truth==Beauty) && (Beauty==Truth)

    I thought everyone knew that.

  30. #30 Stingray
    July 18, 2007

    Philosophy is one of the most important subjects tyjat should nr yaught.

    In fact, scientists believe it should be taught even before children have learned how to spell.

  31. #31 Lepht
    July 18, 2007

    Sophist, no:

    (truth==java) if {
    (syntax==correct) && (programmer==good)
    }
    else (truth==C++)

    =]

    Lepht

  32. #32 Brownian
    July 18, 2007

    Mo, your not bored, you are afraid, you have yet to as have the sycophants here answer a question about truth, because they can’t. So you think you can win by hurling insults. And you post over at the TO was unintelligible and you weren’t even privy to the fact that the debate wasn’t about evolution.

    Uh, so I’m expected to be your memory as well as doing your thinking for you?

    Very well. Here is the text of your own introduction on Topical Octagon:

    Let me introduce myself, my name is Gregg and I live in Fort Worth, Texas. My Moniker is Equus Pallidus. I am Joining this debate with the expectation of making the case that neither evolution or the diversity of life could exist without the Creator God (God of Abraham, the triune God)….

    Please, do go on about how the sycophants and I are all afraid.

  33. #33 DrFrank
    July 18, 2007

    Sophist, I think you need to learn some better code optimisation techniques 😉

  34. #34 SEF
    July 18, 2007

    ‘An animal is not a truck! It’s not something that you just dump something on! It’s a series of TUBES!’

    I had missed that original “series of tubes” thing. So after reading that post yesterday and then encountering the “meme” yet again on a kitten picture today, I thought I’d better find out what your shared cultural reference was. Now I see that Ted Stevens’ mixture of jobs/posts at the time sort of explains his peculiar mix of metaphors. However, what is it that explains Stuart Pivar’s toroidal tube obsession? Blowing too many smoke rings from mind-altering substances?

  35. #35 Azra
    July 18, 2007

    Brownian:
    Physicist, why don’t you drop David a line, and the two of you can go off together to merrily discuss philosophy and theology to you little hearts’ content unencumbered by us boorish troglodytes who refuse to honour your armchair gentleman profundities with the rapt attention they so obviously deserve?

    Class – great start to the day, it’s making me giggle like a loon behind my computer screen.

  36. #36 hoary puccoon
    July 18, 2007

    Um, if it wouldn’t intrude to get back to a discussion of science– It’s my impression that molecular developmental biology is really just starting to get off the ground, since genomics and the discoveries of people like Janni Nusslein-Volhard. Is this right? Because it looks like Pivar is doing the kind of flailing around that happens in science when nobody is sure how things are going to fall out. (I’d say it’s like one of Kuhn’s paradigm shifts, except mentioning Kuhn makes too many people mad.)
    So, PZ, I’d really like to know, is Pivar just a flake? Or is he addressing questions that are up in the air, where nobody is sure of even the general nature of the answers, so off-the-wall solutions have a chance of success?

  37. #37 PZ Myers
    July 18, 2007

    He’s a flake. There are real questions, and hanging out with Gould as he claims to have done he probably picked up on them…but his approaches are unscientific and nonsensical. The two diagrams above (and the many more in the book) have no foundation in reality.

  38. #38 steven pirie-shepherd
    July 18, 2007

    It looks as though this book is a bad attempt to re-write D’Arcy Thompson’s “On Growth and Form” but without actually having studied animals or plants in any way, shape or form.
    For people interested in the “mechanical” approach to body shape, Canto has a nice edition of “On Growth and Form” for less than $20. It even has an intro by SJ Gould.

  39. #39 Tom Boaz
    July 18, 2007

    Can you do that? Can you just make stuff up and write a book about it?

    Sure, and you can find one in every hotel room! Ba-Dum PSSH

  40. #40 Tom Boaz
    July 18, 2007

    Alternate punchline: …and the Gideons will distribute it for free!

  41. #41 ing
    July 18, 2007

    The spider has ten legs.

  42. #42 PZ Myers
    July 18, 2007

    The spider has ten legs.

    Mere details. Do not question the genius!

  43. #43 rrt
    July 18, 2007

    Aren’t those pedipalps?

    Paging Mrs. Tilton?

  44. #44 James Stein
    July 18, 2007

    He’s a flake. As PZ already demonstrated, he’s -not- addressing things that haven’t been sussed out yet: he’s addressing things we already know about. And he’s amazingly incorrect.

  45. #45 Dave Godfrey
    July 18, 2007

    The illustrations remind me of those of the early 20th century palaeontologist William Patten, who had a big thing for ontogenesis, and self-organisation as the driving force behind evolution (Gould wrote about him in one of his essays (“Shields of Theory and Actuality” I think). Patten was an interesting chap, and decided that eurypterids evolved into cephalaspids (he even thought he’d found paddle-like appendages from Tremataspis at one point). His drawings looked much like those of Pivar. And were equally invented.

    It all went horrifically wrong when he tried to apply this model to human behaviour, and wrote one of the most gods-awful books I’ve ever read on this.

  46. #46 Peter Ashby
    July 18, 2007

    Having worked and published in one of the best labs working on the problems in limb development I second your charges of gross ignorance of how development actually proceeds. Not only do chick and mouse limbs not develop like that, but at the time of initial growth both embryos are still open ventrally meaning there is no way they can bend around and join. In fact they are as far from being joined at the tip as it is possible for them to be.

  47. #47 Kagehi
    July 18, 2007

    Wonder if he also things trees grow this way, never mind the blindingly obvious evidence from just looking at them that they don’t, or the vast number of computer models used to generate them using fractal systems… And Physicist, they are quite correct. This is not someone developing a theoretical model of how something not well understood works, but someone inventing a new model that has no relation to what is already known to happen, through numerous observations of it. He is talking about, “Why pipes and not just channels cut in the floor leading to a big pit?”, while we are talking about, “Why won’t this particular glue work on this kind of pipe in cold weather?” He is babbling about basic concepts, and getting it wrong, while we are talking about the nitty gritty details and rules that determine *why* the basic concepts are what they are in the first place, and not something else.

    He might as well be doing something like writing a book on some hypothetical computer based on string and rubber bands, while we are sitting in front of a real one based on silicon, and using it to experiment with how to make better silicon computers. Its not just wrong, its completely absurd.

  48. #48 Leon
    July 18, 2007

    It’s absurd. Limbs don’t develop like that at all! The limbs in a pair develop independently, as protrusions and extensions from the body wall. Digits do not form by pulling left and right apart, like tugging on a string of sausages.

    I’d like to second that, from a layperson’s personal experience. We saw early ultrasounds of my daughter in the womb. Her arms started out as buds sticking out the sides of the torso and grew outward–not a tube that separated in the middle.

    Does this book fit into the “not even wrong” category?

  49. #49 Stanton
    July 19, 2007

    Does this book fit into the “not even wrong” category?

    No, it fits in the “not even worth recycling” category.

  50. #50 hoary puccoon
    July 19, 2007

    PZ, James Stein, Thanks for answering. I didn’t think Pivar could be right, but it does seem he falls into the not-even-wrong category.

  51. #51 jotetamu
    July 19, 2007

    Has Pharyngula started to use a milder form of punishment than disemvowelling, namely modifying random words by changing most of their letters to ones on nearby keys on a qwerty keyboard?

    Jim Roberts

  52. #52 stuart pivar
    July 19, 2007

    This is the model theory of embryonic seld-organization
    Theorem:
    The forms of the animal phyla are simulated by the topological expansion of an elastic spherical surface within a spherical surface of less elasticity. Inward expansion of the inner sphere produces a torus. Circumferential expansion produces the radial body. Axial extension forms a segmented tube. Bending failure creates internal membranes which originate the appendages. The number of bends beginning with one, are the number of paired appendages. These quantified differences depend on elasticity which is controlled by the chemicals in the protoplasm, under the ultimate control of the genes The genes maintain and modify the relative size of the organs of an unchangeble bodyplan.

    The shell or bones of the skeleton derive from the outer sphere, deformed by the forming body within, or, in vertebrates, without.

    There are only two animal body plans. Since all life begins as a sphere within a sphere, it is proposed as plausible that this is nature’s secret.

  53. #53 Ichthyic
    July 19, 2007

    stuart-

    do you have a website which summarizes your “theory”?

    please post a link?

  54. #54 Kagehi
    July 19, 2007

    Problem is Stuart, while some of the basic stages happen as you claim, its the “basic” stages. Once division into a tube happens, other genes kick in, which then start forming bones and other things, in a way 100% different than you are describing. You are talking about a fantasy idea based on pure hypothesis, and no data. Real scientists have studied how such things form and even filmed them, and there is nothing like what you are claiming happening in any of the actual observed data. Its fine to come up with an idea when people have no clue what is going on, but when your idea contradicts what everyone else has actually observed in the lab? That’s just nuts.

  55. #55 bls
    August 20, 2007

    A reply to post #18:

    Amusingly, hot water *can* be created from cold through vortexes.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vortex_tube

    Also, more directly, simply swirling water around enough will heat it of course…

    I haven’t managed to work out whether you intended the statement you assigned to Pivar to be false 😉

  56. #56 Susannah
    August 21, 2007

    “…balloon animals”.

    Not quite. I think he was describing the Slime toys. (Wikipedia entry)

    And no, those are not pedipalps. The “spider” in his illustration has those, too, plus the 10 legs. (Comment # 42)

  57. #57 Jamie Flournoy
    August 21, 2007

    This reminds me of Kepler’s proposition that polyhedra determined the positions of planets: a neat idea that has all sorts of cool implications, but which sadly bears no resemblance to reality. Oops.

    BTW, to say that philosophy is irrelevant to science is nonsense. It’s essential.

  58. #58 mark
    August 21, 2007

    That explains it! I recall seeing a picture in Thor Hyerdahl’s account of the Kon Tiki expedition, of the statues that typically showed the arms beginning to split apart at the fingertips. They appeared just as in step 10, human, in Pivar’s figure above (except fleshed out, not skeletal). What further proof could one ask for?

  59. #59 Jim
    August 21, 2007

    While I don’t think you should be able to be sued for posting an opinion on a blog, this review is unnecessarily scathing(which is not to say it is lacking in entertainment value), and is arguably not a review at all but merely an attack of this person’s ideas.

    I’d also like to add that all explanations of reality are basically metaphors that are a function of the instruments that we use to examine reality. There is a limit to what we can ‘observe’ and measure. We make up words and stories to explain our limited datasets. If observation with better instruments seems to contradict a good metaphor either a better(more inclusive) metaphor is formed, or someone makes up something(see ‘dark matter’, ‘dark energy’) that would allow the metaphor to still be ‘right’. There is a lot of money being spent right now trying to detect something that might not exist.

    I don’t believe that the author of this book is ignorant of how creatures actually physically develop, he is just trying to illustrate a metaphor for development, a possibly useful idea for thinking about development. It is certainly interesting.

  60. #60 PZ Myers
    August 21, 2007

    You’d be quite wrong. His “metaphor” doesn’t fit and is strongly contradicted by actual observations of embryos. You don’t need a flawed instrument to see that hands do not develop from masses that are fused at the fingertips, and we have a large body of evidence that shows that no vertebrates form limbs at that way.

    In science you don’t get to ignore the evidence because your fantasies are so much prettier.

    “Unnecessarily scathing”? The work is so out of touch with reality and evidence and scientific explanations that I thought I was being unnecessarily kind.

  61. #61 Rey Fox
    August 21, 2007

    “and is arguably not a review at all but merely an attack of this person’s ideas.”

    Awwww, the poor ideas.

  62. #62 Rob East
    August 21, 2007

    Isn’t the imagination a wonderful thing! Just like religion, it is an ‘as if’ model with no basis for reference other than the authors unintuative supposition on the topic in hand.

    Marvellously ludicrous. I am ordering my copy today!

  63. #63 John Bode
    August 21, 2007

    (truth==java) if {
    (syntax==correct) && (programmer==good)
    }
    else (truth==C++)

    Ack.

    if (syntax.correct() && programmer.good())
    {
        truth = java;
    }
    else
    {
        truth = Visual Basic;
    }
    

    Much better.

  64. #64 Ric
    August 21, 2007

    Doesn’t reviewing a work necessitate identifying bad ideas and labeling them as such? How, then, can one say that something is not a review but is merely an attack on ideas? It doesn’t make sense.

    Geez, I hope I don’t get sued for saying that.

  65. #65 thalarctos
    August 21, 2007

    There are only two animal body plans.

    PZ, please make sure to have him expound upon this point at the deposition. I’d love to be a fly* on the wall as he goes into detail about that.

    Hell, if your lawyer is willing to produce it, I’d probably buy a copy of the DVD.

    * is that the first body plan of two?

  66. #66 spinoza
    August 21, 2007

    This sounds like someone who read Weisman, was intrigued by the idea of fate maps, then dropped some acid.

  67. #67 Chris Bell
    August 21, 2007

    I’m sorry PZ, I don’t take the NY bar for another 8 months – otherwise I would take care of this pro bono.

  68. #68 Rob
    August 21, 2007

    “This book is a description of the development and evolution of balloon animals.”

    Well, that’s just plain ridiculous. Any self-respecting clown can tell you that balloon animals are formed out of straight lines, not toruses. Tsk.

  69. #69 Jim
    August 22, 2007

    “”Unnecessarily scathing”? The work is so out of touch with reality and evidence and scientific explanations that I thought I was being unnecessarily kind.”

    Don’t fight this fight, it’s not worth it. You insulted this guy. This happens all the time on the internet and even in this thread. People don’t like being insulted. You managed to insult this guy to a point that he’s suing you. Suing you seems unreasonable to me, but you made it a point to insult him.

    I can’t imagine that he could sue you successfully, but I can’t imagine you convincing anybody that this is some sort of objective review of his work. You hate this book. You mock it. It is perhaps deserving of these things from your point of view.

    My opinion is that you could save quite a bit of money and unnecessary histrionics by simply contacting this guy, explaining to him in a rational(rather than condescending) manner, why you don’t like his book, and why you decided to lash out to such a degree that he was insulted. Apologize for being insulting, as being insulting is completely unnecessary, in any instance, really. What purpose does it serve besides your own?

    I bother to post this because I really don’t think that this battle has any real relevance, it is just a feud between two people. I would hate to see this little dispute be the symbolic battle of ‘Freedom of Speech’ on the internet or something, where all the bloggers are following it etc. This shouldn’t be a story. This isn’t a battle between ‘reason’ and ‘faith’ that will teach us all a lesson and be remembered. This is just a flame war that has extended into real life. Only a very, very small percentage of the people in the world would even be able to make sense of this situation. The only useful function of this situation is to create publicity for both parties, which is of no advantage to anyone but them and their lawyers.

    Just drop it PZ, you are an unconvincing martyr. Diffuse the situation, don’t start a crusade, and get back to what you are supposed to be doing, of which stating your opinions is just a part.

  70. #70 Boffo
    August 22, 2007

    Sir, you have insulted my profession by comparing the writer to a clown. I demand satisfaction. Custard pies at dawn.

  71. #71 john brown
    August 22, 2007

    This “Stuart Pivar” sounds like that native american indian tribe that was trying to legally claim that they invented Linux and were trying to claim intellectual property on Linux. If anyone remembers that case I cannot recall the name.

    I hope this case results in really good publicity for Myers and a lot of anguish and distress for the unoriginal Stuart Pivard.

  72. #72 Phila
    August 22, 2007

    You managed to insult this guy to a point that he’s suing you. Suing you seems unreasonable to me, but you made it a point to insult him.

    Y’know, the mere fact of the lawsuit doesn’t prove anything about the tone of PZ’s review, nor about Pivar’s motivations for the lawsuit. Sometimes, people get sued for no good reason. And they’re supposed to be innocent until proven guilty in any case.

    I also like the idea that PZ is supposed to contact Pivar and explain politely why his book is unscientific and irrational. Yeah, that oughta calm him down, alright.

    Don’t know what line of work you’re in, but I hope to god it’s not mediation.

  73. #73 pseudonymous in nc
    August 22, 2007

    I wonder if Jim has any insight into whether sockpuppets developed from toroid forms?

  74. #74 MFB
    August 22, 2007

    Sorry, this guy is claiming to be a scientist.
    If you claim to be a scientist, you do not sue hostile critics. You refute them by the power of your superior scientific discourse. You hold them up to ridicule because they do not know what they are talking about.
    Going to court about a matter of scientific debate is like taking RealClimate to court because they are rude about global warming sceptics.

  75. #75 graham
    August 22, 2007

    What’s with all the leg fascism? How the hell do you so-called ‘scientists’ know how many legs a spider should have? I say leave it up to the spider. If he wants to have ten legs, good luck to him. You just hate ambition.

  76. #76 windy
    August 22, 2007

    I can’t imagine that he could sue you successfully, but I can’t imagine you convincing anybody that this is some sort of objective review of his work.

    Hey, I’m convinced. Does it escape you that someone might objectively evaluate a book and still come to the conclusion it’s nonsense?

  77. #77 IanBrown_101
    August 22, 2007

    ‘I bother to post this because I really don’t think that this battle has any real relevance, it is just a feud between two people.’

    This is increadible concern trolling.

    “Oh you meanie, you can’t be so nasty to the poor man (read: idiot living in a fantasy world) so just go and play nice now”

    Dear lord alive Jim, how are you supposed to deal with nutters if you can’t tell them they are wrong?

  78. #78 java
    August 22, 2007

    And you post over at the TO was unintelligible and you weren’t even privy to the fact that the debate wasn’t about evolution

    Wow. Learn grammar and spelling, then come back and talk about unintelligible again for me.

    if (syntax.isCorrect() && programmer.isGood())
    {
    truth = “java, now with correct boolean accessor method names”;
    }
    else
    {
    truth = “Visual Basic”;
    }

  79. #79 Dan
    August 22, 2007

    Ian Brown:

    Dear lord alive Jim, how are you supposed to deal with nutters if you can’t tell them they are wrong?

    Well, we wouldn’t want to hurt their feelings.

    After all, certified kooks who talk total shite 22 hours a day are people, too.

  80. #80 Alissa Jones
    August 22, 2007

    Didn’t Alberta Sparrow come up with a similar kind of book in Donnie Darko? 😉

  81. #81 Kseniya
    August 22, 2007

    This “Stuart Pivar” sounds like that native american indian tribe that was trying to legally claim that they invented Linux and were trying to claim intellectual property on Linux.

    I don’t suppose it was Wampanoag tribe of Bourne, Massachusetts, was it?

  82. #82 SP
    August 22, 2007

    Lifecode FYI: Those who want to know for themselves what the book lifecode actually says,
    may see http://www.aninconvenienttheory.com or http://www.selforganization.com
    SP

  83. #83 Rey Fox
    August 22, 2007

    And the world’s tiniest violin plays on.

  84. #84 Dave Thomason
    August 22, 2007

    I’m afraid I was Teleologically programed to believe in Teleology. 😉

    Or to quote someone else that must infuriate many:

    The idea of God is an absolutely necessary function of an irrational nature, which has [absolutely] nothing to do with the question of God’s existence. – Karl Jung, 1991

    What purpose faith?

    I like your web site, but I’d suggest a reading of Karl Popper’s “Conjecture and Refutation” by some of your corespondents before I’d ever publically claim to know something about the Philosophy of Science. I assume they’ve all read Thomas Kuhn. The list does get rather long, if you really do have an interest: Russell, Whitehead, Chomsky… Hell, Spinoza should keep you occupied for a few months, at least. Kant should still be read, you can skip Hegel, but Hiedegger should be read, and understood, by everyone, (Even if you doubt his sanity, and believe him to be a Nazi). Ever used the term “Occam’s razor,” by gosh & by golly, now you’ve got to read Medieval Philosophy, perhap’s a quick perusal of St. Thomas would suffice. Cogito ergo sum? At least Decartes can spit it out in less than 100 pages. Now, if you’ve read Newton, why not read Liebniz? Monads anyone?

    Unhappy yet? We’ve barely touched the existentialists, Nietzsche anyone? Karl Jasper’s “Shipwreck of Reason” is a must read for everyone who cares.

    It get’s worse, what educated person can claim not to have at least read parts of Plato. If you do that Aristotle follows. Neo-platonic ideation has so premated our culture as to make Plotinus indespensible. “Casting the nines?” Plotinus “enneads” (nines) is the work you want.

    Ever felt the urge to talk about “Angels dancing on the head of a pin?” Well then, you’ll be interested that the “principal of individuation” will get you in the groove, and darn, that gets us back to the Summa Theologica, and altough Thomas of Aquinas is considered a Saint, what work that is to read. Best to skip this indiviuation stuff, but then we have to ignore standing wave forms, and just what does it mean for something to be both a particle AND a wave? Nope, we need to understand the Dancing Angels even more than the Dancing bears at the Circus. Circus? Have we touched the Russians yet? Nope, well Skip the Englishman Marx, that economics stuff doesn’t work.

    But what about the external influence of enviroment on genetic expression? Does the economy count? I’m tempting to interject, “It’s the economy stupid!”

    But I’m feeling mecifull at the moment. We can stick to the physical stuff, but I’m not so sure we haven’t evolved in our very psyches, damn… Freud, Jung et al, that should take a few weeks, and I doubt many scientists can get through R.D. Laing, but give it a shot, it’ll make “One flew East, one flew West, one flew over the cuckoo’s nest…” ever so much more enjoyable.

    Have we touched modern analytic phiolosophy? No, well start with Quine because, “Causes falsities when preceded by its own quotation,” produces falsities when preceded by its own quotation. You get the idea, self-reference is a frightfull thing, especially when it involves commenting on its own creation, which as I’ve already stated seems awfully teleological, even if THAT idea has been refuted.

    Refuted by Whom?

  85. #85 academic
    August 22, 2007

    do you have a website which summarizes your “theory”?

    Sure enough : http://www.lifecodebook.info/

    It’s on a good start:

    “Prominent Scientists Reject Mainstream Genetics: Support New Theory of How the Human Body is Formed.”

    I didn’t read the book and I have limited expertise in the area. However what I read on that website suggested doubtful enough scientific practices.

    Take this introduction, presented as written by Stuart Pivar, for instance: “In a review of Lifecode, Robert Hazen calls the model plausible, worthy of publication and further study.”

    Robert Hazen never called the **model** worthy of publication. He never said either that the ideas expressed in the book were worthy of publications. He expressed interest for the idea that self-organisation may have some role in development (well, easy to understand, these are very cool ideas and worth exploring).

    On what he finds worthy of publication, his exact words are “I am not an expert in this area of topology and mechanics, but I’m sure there is a place for a more rigorous mathematical exploration of the relationships among such variables as length, width, viscosity, forces, and resultant segmented morphology. However, even the qualitative presentation is fascinating and seems worthy of publication. ” In other words, he says that what **seems** worthy of publication is the observations.

    He however insisted that (1) he would expect more systematic observations and (2) his opinion was was based on the evidence shown in the illustrations (when he didn’t have the knowledge to establish that these illustrations fitted real phenomena). “As drawn in the many fine illustrations, there does appear to be a correspondence between the segmented model forms of Plate 1 of the article and volume to early stages of embryo development. Plate 10 is especially dramatic and has some of the gratifying aesthetic quality typified by the best 19th-century natural history illustration.” He made sure, however, to express, in very nice terms, his surprise at not finding any sort of evidence other than 19th century style of illustration. He made sure indeed, to add: “It would be nice to see corresponding embryo photographs.”

    Yes, perhaps PZ review has been frank to the point of hurting the feelings of the author of this book. But if one person deserves to be sued it is the one that make false claims about the support expressed for the model and the significance of his theory (cf. “This new theory detailed in Lifecode may also be said to counter Intelligent Design by providing a more cogent account of evolution than does Darwinian natural selection.” — written by S. Pivar himself, it seems). At least, Sokal engaged in that kind of preposterous claims to prove a point. < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Sokal>

    For an informed opinion this (mine is really not), check out this, great review
    <
    http://www.ijdb.ehu.es/web/paper.php?doi=052099rg>
    Review of Lifecode, Int. J. Dev. Biol.

  86. #86 ak
    August 22, 2007

    Life according to Pivar:
    – Spiders are descendants of Polyps, which are in turn descendants of water snake toys.
    – Arms, claws, and wings are created as a result of a package of hot dogs being ripped apart.
    – Taking LSD while looking at MC Escher works for ten years (claiming this is a study of morphology) suddenly makes you an expert on evolution.

    Note: For those of you who don’t remember the toy, a water snake is a rubber tube filled with water. It had a tendency to slip out of your hand if you squeezed it.

    Interesting book? Possibly. Theories are always welcome, no matter how absurd.

    A valuable scientific work? No. Without a degree in any of the sciences and by suing a professor (to who you gave the book to review) you have proven yourself to be a bumbling fool.

  87. #87 academic
    August 22, 2007

    Review of Lifecode, Int. J. Dev. Biol.
    http://www.ijdb.ehu.es/web/paper.php?doi=052099rg

  88. #88 Steve_C
    August 22, 2007

    Jim is a crackpot!

    ooops.

  89. #89 NA
    August 22, 2007

    Ehhhh! I read the first 30/40 comments on this topic and no-one mentioned the fact that the spider in the figure has 10 legs!!! Woah! Isn’t there something wrong with that! Me thinks this book is bulls**t (if it is claiming to be anything but science fiction)!!!!

  90. #90 Sid
    August 22, 2007

    But I am curious about where he claims to have come up with these concepts. Does he have any observations at all?

    I would say his ideas come from the overuse of another kind of tube, one with him at one end and a load of smouldering weed at the other.

  91. #91 Minimoog
    August 22, 2007

    Well I do believe the world is coming to an end if people start publishing nonsense(non-science?:D) books and passing them off as valid argumentation. Even I see the flaws in this Pivar dude’s theory, and I’m just a piano player…

  92. #92 David Marjanovi?
    August 22, 2007

    No, the book is not “not even wrong”. It is wrong — observably wrong. Comments 48 and 75, among many others, are spot-on.

    Patten was an interesting chap, and decided that eurypterids evolved into cephalaspids

    Eurypterids are arthropods, apparently closely related to scorpions. Cephalaspids are armored jawless vertebrates. Patten’s idea — based on nothing but superficial shape — was surprisingly popular for decades.

  93. #93 David Marjanovi?
    August 22, 2007

    No, the book is not “not even wrong”. It is wrong — observably wrong. Comments 48 and 75, among many others, are spot-on.

    Patten was an interesting chap, and decided that eurypterids evolved into cephalaspids

    Eurypterids are arthropods, apparently closely related to scorpions. Cephalaspids are armored jawless vertebrates. Patten’s idea — based on nothing but superficial shape — was surprisingly popular for decades.

  94. #94 OsakanOne
    August 22, 2007

    I think if anything, this is a good demonstration of freedom of speech, allowing a lamen to explore the concept of evolution.

    I see it as he’s having fun with it and the works seem very artistic rather than very factual, visually.

    It looks nice. That’s the bottom line.

  95. #95 Arby
    August 22, 2007

    I cannot trust the opinion of someone who cannot even get the # of legs on a spider right. If he cannot properly observe and draw something which is real, living, and in existence NOW, then anything “theoretical” will be flawed in more severe ways.

    Unless….. This book is FROM THE FUTURE! Maybe Spiders WILL have 10 legs and we’re all morons.

  96. #96 Euler
    August 22, 2007

    The book I’d really like Mr. Pivar to write is… How he got someone to pay him to do a 10 year study involving a library of rare books and access to an extensive collection of natural history items. Sounds like exactly the line of work I’d like to be in.

  97. #97 Jack
    August 22, 2007

    @PZ:
    Thanks for the review – anyone who has an interest in science should be applauding the derision accorded this nonsense. It should never have been printed.

    Good luck with the lawsuit – I hope that rationality prevails and the frivolous suit is dropped posthaste. If you need money to help fight this boor then let people know – there’s no shame and I think you’d have a lot of support.

    @pseudonymous in nc:
    From what I remember of my topology classes a sockpuppet would be equivalent to a flat disc; whereas a torus would be a flat disc with a single hole through the center.

    So sockpuppet evolution cannot be explained with this theory. Shame. I was waiting with bated breath for that particular breakthrough.

  98. #98 The anti-Physicist
    August 22, 2007

    The Physicist isn’t.

    I practically dropped out of high school before I finally got my act together, and based solely on the biology and zoology classes taught at a high school level it’s plain to see that the author in question is a complete crackpot/moron and that his book is nothing more than the ravings of a lunatic with delusions of grandeur. My one year of “Introduction to Psychology” in high school is all the education necessary to realize this. It makes for fun flame wars though.

  99. #99 Aquaregia
    August 22, 2007

    Fortunately PZ doesn’t seem to attack Pivar anywhere in his post, just the book. Should keep him in the clear.

    always @*
    if ( target == author ) && ( insult == false ) begin
    libel = 1;
    end else begin
    libel = 0;
    end

  100. #100 dddddddd
    August 22, 2007

    Are there any mathematical models used in the book as explanation of the authors ideas?
    I think the idea of manipulating toroidal tubes to create lifelike forms is interesting, and wonder if the author found any underlying rules that created the most natural looking forms.

  101. #101 Jonathan Vos Post
    August 22, 2007

    “This is a book suitable only for use at clown colleges.”

    Then he has big shoes to fill!

  102. #102 dillo
    August 22, 2007

    What I see here is a frustrated mathematician who really, really wants to be a evolutionary biologist instead of the topologist he currently is. I’m guessing he figures that turning anemones to arachnids should be easy for a guy who can already turn a coffee cup into a doughnut.

  103. #103 Bob Calder
    August 22, 2007

    The Library of Congress (LOC) created a new code within the class of science books for works “critical of science” after the Dover decision. Behe’s books are now being put in that class. Unfortunately it is still on the “Science” shelves.

    I believe this book would be a good way to demonstrate to the folks at LOC that there are books that are demonstrably critical of reality. Shelving them close to books that examine the nature of things in a rigorous way is a disservice to the public.

    A book that controverts something the average person can see on videotape should not be too challenging for the LOC to understand.

  104. #104 CS Lewis Jr.
    August 22, 2007

    I’ll bet FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS you’re wrong, Mr. Science Facts-ist Guy. Your sick Darwinist lies make Steve Gould weep in Heaven.

  105. #105 Nigel D
    August 23, 2007

    Jim said:
    “You insulted this guy. This happens all the time on the internet and even in this thread. People don’t like being insulted. You managed to insult this guy to a point that he’s suing you. Suing you seems unreasonable to me, but you made it a point to insult him.”

    Actually, Jim, if you look back through the review, you will see that what actually happened was that PZ tore this guy’s ideas to shreds. That does not constitute any kind of attack on Pivar himself. Instead, PZ took a modest step towards make the world a saner place. Do you have a problem with that?

  106. #106 silvermine
    August 23, 2007

    This is one of the funniest things I’ve read all day. I love the fact that he doesn’t even know how fingers are formed. What do you want to bet he’s also a fan of the spermists and his next book will show little picture of the homunculus!

  107. #107 JRoch
    August 24, 2007

    if (syntax.isCorrect() && programmer.isGood())
    {
    truth = “java, now with correct boolean accessor method names”;
    }
    else
    {
    truth = “Visual Basic”;
    }

    ERROR: Method “isCorrect” in Line 1 references an unknown class or object.

    Besides, the truth can’t be VB if you’re using semicolons to end lines.

  108. #108 Inky
    August 24, 2007

    Looks like he spent a lot of time on illustrations

    and none on any sort of research whatsoever, not even looking at the cover of Gilbert’s _Developmental Biology_ text, which shows a lovely as shown by magnetic resonance microscopy. It’s beautiful.

    His illustrations? Fun for a sci-fi devo book. Ooooo the Tube Spider from URANUS!!!

  109. #109 Inky
    August 24, 2007

    *that’d be a lovely EMBRYO as shown …

  110. #110 John
    August 30, 2007

    The review kept clear of insulting the book’s author. The work itself seems to merit nothing more than “this guy’s a crank,” containing as it does demonstrable falsehood as its basis, but the reviewer avoids all personal attacks, ridiculing only the published work.

    I am content, and unimpressed by any of the subsequent concern-trolling.

  111. #111 jaim klein
    September 28, 2007

    Could it be that Pivar’s ideas hide a deep topological truth? i.e. they express, in a crude graphical form, the toroidal essense of organic development? As in a Klein bottle, there is no inside nor outside, and a spider leg is equivalent to an octopus’s tentacle? Borat dixit: “no”.

  112. #112 Andrew
    January 20, 2008

    I read almost every post (got to 100 and gave up) not one of you seemed to notice that Mr Pivar contradicts his first drawing of his 10 legged spider by saying that paired limbs all start off as a connected tube in the latter diagram…

    the spiders legs seem to be growing independantly…

    anyways yeah, sounds really plausable

    like Xenu sounds plausable

  113. #113 Rick Burnett
    December 13, 2008

    Direct from Richard Gordon’s review:

    “Stuart Pivar, we learn from Internet, is a high bidder for rare fossils, an art collector, “one of the co-founders of the New
    York Academy of Art & friend of Andy Warhol and Stephen J. Gould”, a businessman, aficionado of classical music, and
    Advisory Board member of the Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project. Only a latter day Renaissance figure could
    have conceived and written Lifecode. Out in the sticks of the Province of Manitoba, Canada, far from our shared Brooklyn
    origins, where I can wander 152 acres of my own wilderness with rare tall grass prairie, the biological rampage time-lapsed
    by our short, intense summers yields a different perspective on life. Yet Stuart Pivar and I have partly converged. …So Lifecode, flawed, jarring but
    thought provoking as it is, is worth reading and worth the price, even if it is just half and not whole.

    Like the art world where everything is subjective, Gordon’s review is puke spewed for nitwits that are looking for a coffee table book to look intellegent and is also self serving it seems in a Pivar wash my back and I will wash yours.

    Lastly I have experienced several educated at UC Irvine and I found them arrogant believing they know better than everyone else and the world should bow to their genius. I have also caught them in bald face lies and instead of an apology I was threatened with legal force against me. Maybe there is something in the water at UC Irvine.

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