Pharyngula

I’m sorry, Scott, but thinking you can engage Vox Day in a serious discussion of evolution is an act of hyper-optimistic lunacy. Hatfield has set the terms, and Day has replied … and his argument against evolution, if not nuts, is dishonest. He doesn’t believe evolution could have occurred because he doesn’t think theoretical predictions have been met.

Based on the information from Talk Origins, it could theoretically take as little as 20 years to forcibly evolve a species of mouse into a species of elephant given the rate of darwins observed in the laboratory and the number required for that level of transformation.

If you aren’t familiar with the unit Darwins, it’s a measure of the rate of evolutionary change —basically, if you increase a quantifiable measure of morphology by a factor of 2.7 over one million years, evolution has occurred at a rate of 1 Darwin. It’s an awkward number — because the paleontological perspective views a lineage over a very long period of time, short term periods of change are averaged over periods of stasis, so it doesn’t give you a good feel for possible rates of change over periods of time like a handful of generations. Talk Origins does have a short description of observed evolutionary rates:

In 1983, Phillip Gingerich published a famous study analyzing 512 different observed rates of evolution (Gingerich 1983). The study centered on rates observed from three classes of data: (1) lab experiments, (2) historical colonization events, and (3) the fossil record. A useful measure of evolutionary rate is the darwin, which is defined as a change in an organism’s character by a factor of e per million years (where e is the base of natural log). The average rate observed in the fossil record was 0.6 darwins; the fastest rate was 32 darwins. The latter is the most important number for comparison; rates of evolution observed in modern populations should be equal to or greater than this rate.

The average rate of evolution observed in historical colonization events in the wild was 370 darwins–over 10 times the required minimum rate. In fact, the fastest rate found in colonization events was 80,000 darwins, or 2500 times the required rate. Observed rates of evolution in lab experiments are even more impressive, averaging 60,000 darwins and as high as 200,000 darwins (or over 6000 times the required rate).

(I should mention that the papers I’ve read that get those remarkably high rates are ones where fast breeding microscopic marine invertebrates, for instance, achieve a 10% increase in size over several weeks of breeding, not sustained rates over long periods of time achieving huge increases.)

That should give you a rough feel for the reasonable rates of evolution: on the order of 1 to tens of darwins for paleontological data, observed rates over short terms of hundreds of darwins, and tens of thousands of darwins in specific, tightly constrained experimental situations (where I’d argue that darwins isn’t even a valid unit anymore). Now if I assume a large mouse, 1 cm at the shoulder, and a small elephant, 3 m at the shoulder, Vox’s theoretical experiment of a 300 times greater size in 20 years corresponds to an evolutionary rate of … 280,000 darwins. That’s pushing the limits hard, and also breaking the concept with some serious physical limitations — elephant-size mice are not going to breeding very fast. It would be silly to propose such a radical increase, and I really doubt that anyone on talk origins claimed it.

Oh, wait … if we look at the very next paragraph from that TO article

Note that a sustained rate of “only” 400 darwins is sufficient to transform a mouse into an elephant in a mere 10,000 years (Gingerich 1983).

That’s so darn close to what he demands that I have to assume this is where he got his mangled expectation. So Day takes a very high estimate for a sustained rate of evolution, divides the duration by 500, and then rebukes scientists for not replicating this theoretical experiment in the lab. Unless we greatly increase the period of indentured servitude for grad students, as well as the duration of human civilizations, I don’t see it happening.

Of course, if Day had read that article with something other than a desire to cherry-pick the arguments, he’d have also noticed that it actually references field observations and experimental measures of rates of evolution that are very high — not as high as he demands, and also in systems where the amount of change over measurable time scales isn’t absurd — and his argument is refuted by the very source he draw it from.

See what you’re in for, Scott? You’ve engaged an innumerate incompetent who will blithely make quantitative claims on subjects on which he knows nothing, and you’re going to have to make arguments based on a fairly broad knowledge of the scientific literature and considerable background explanation to refute him. All he has to do is confidently assert a lot of patently false statements. It’s the typical creationist debate, in other words.

Comments

  1. #1 Zombie
    August 15, 2007

    So Vox Day doesn’t believe in artificial selection or selective breeding… that’s all “forcible evolution” means, I would imagine.

  2. #2 Erasmus
    August 15, 2007

    Goddammit PZ I just burned a few brain cells reading the first 15 or so comments on VD’s page. I’m going to drink now and try to revive them.

  3. #3 Wikinite
    August 15, 2007

    Now if I assume a large mouse, 1 cm at the shoulder, and a small elephant, 3 m at the shoulder, Vox’s theoretical experiment of a 300 times greater size in 20 years corresponds to an evolutionary rate of … 280,000 darwins.

    This is of course not the real difference in volume between a mouse and an elephant, as they are both 3d creatures. Assuming the size factor is the same in all directions the real change is size is a factor of 300^3, or 27,000,000.

  4. #4 Rey Fox
    August 15, 2007

    Yeah, but Teddy’s got “raw intellect”, you see. He’ll give you mental salmonella.

  5. #5 John Marley
    August 15, 2007

    Paraphrase of second or third comment on Vox’s post:

    If we evolved from primordial ooze, how come there’s still primordial ooze?

    BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

  6. #6 PZ Myers
    August 15, 2007

    There are many problems with darwins as a measure. It uses change in a single phenotypic trait, which can be something like a single linear measure. Volume usually isn’t used.

  7. #7 Zeno
    August 15, 2007

    I’m always impressed by the degree to which evolution deniers are sealed off from the facts that refute their arguments. Old facts that refuted their arguments long ago. It’s their arguments that are fossilized.

    For example, one of the first commenters over at Vox Day’s blog (I wouldn’t waste my time trying to read them all) cites Jonathan Sarfati as an expert and says

    One of his [Sarfati's] main points is that, while mutations and natural selection do indeed result in specialization within a species over time, they do not result in DNA addition, a fundamental pillar in the primordial-ooze-to-humans theory. Adaptation, mutations and natural selection actually result in *less* DNA information in subsequent generations; not more.

    Haven’t these people noticed that not all species have the same number of chromosomes? These have variously split or merged over the eons and chunks of them have been duplicated. When first duplicated, the genes merely have redundancy. As mutations cause them to diverge, however, the originally identical genes can take on different functions. Information has been added.

    Commenters like the above are hung up on the idea that mutation means loss of information in the genome, which is not necessarily the case. They probably think that mutation represents a gradual erosion of the perfect genomes God gave us all in the garden of Eden. That’s why Sarfati’s foolish argument appeals to them.

  8. #8 Steve_C
    August 15, 2007

    It’s amazing how after you hang around the creationists a while you can almost predict what they’re going to do.

    It gets so tedious.

  9. #9 garth
    August 15, 2007

    dude, pygmys + dwarfs!

    um. that’s all i got today.

  10. #10 Keith Sader
    August 15, 2007

    Debating with creationists is like playing chess with a pigeon, no matter how well you set up the rules the creationist will fly in knock over all the pieces, cluck a great deal, crap all over the board, and fly off claiming victory.

  11. #11 ChrisD
    August 15, 2007

    You know, I’d have more respect for a God that was patient and knowledgeable enough to create us via natural laws and random mutations. It’s too bad that the latter leads to a contradiction in that very god concept, so clearly the random part must be wrong.

  12. #12 Bob L
    August 15, 2007

    I do think there’s a tremendous amount of irony involved when an evolutionist criticizes a creation scientist for the premise including the result.

    Creation scientist theories have predictable results?

    Oh I see, he’s a programmer. No wonder, his whole profession has nothing to do with anything real.

  13. #13 Shawn Wilkinson
    August 15, 2007

    Keith (#10), that was an entertaining analogy.

  14. #14 syntyche
    August 15, 2007

    huh… this guy fancies himself as a serious economist and the best he’s got is to apply linear extrapolation to a high-end measurement?
    This is not going to be pretty.

  15. #15 sailor
    August 15, 2007

    “Debating with creationists is like playing chess with a pigeon, no matter how well you set up the rules the creationist will fly in knock over all the pieces, cluck a great deal, crap all over the board, and fly off claiming victory.”

    At least the pigeon might leave an egg behind, a creationist will leave nothing but hot air.

  16. #16 Bisch
    August 15, 2007


    Paraphrase of second or third comment on Vox’s post:

    If we evolved from primordial ooze, how come there’s still primordial ooze?

    BWAHAHAHAHAHA!

    Read it again, brother. You got it wrong.

  17. #17 Steve_C
    August 15, 2007

    It doesn’t matter.

    Vox never gets it right.

  18. #18 FraserH
    August 15, 2007

    For some reason Firefox isn’t letting me access Vox’s comments page. Not even in a separate window. Having read some of the comments here from people who have accessed the comments, I doubt I’m missing out.

  19. #19 Scott Hatfield, OM
    August 15, 2007

    (Soundtrack: ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”)

    Mentally-unhinged Pollyanna reporting in! Your comments are much appreciated, but have no fear: the stakes are low. On one side, your humble servant, a high school science teacher. On the other, Vox Day. Even if I end up being disappointed by the level of discourse (which is unlikely–my expectations are low), I will no doubt have many visitors and meet some lovely people. Who knows? Maybe Vox and I will see more eye-to-eye than any imagine. We have no personal history, and the provocative topic of God’s alleged existence is off the table….Scott

  20. #20 Keith Sader
    August 15, 2007

    Shawn and Sailor – I stole that quote and probably regurgitated it badly. :-)

  21. #21 raven
    August 15, 2007

    Never really heard about the unit “darwin” before. This is either for specialists, esoteric, never caught on, or not really very useful.

    For the limits of evolution to steal Behe’s phrase, common examples would be the transition from common ancestor chimp/human which took 5 million years or the transition from wolves to chihauhaus and great danes which took 10,000 years and more likely far less than that.

    I’ve argued elsewhere that the rate limiting step in morphological evolution is not mutation rates but selection pressures. One sees that in the many cases of adaptive radiations into new ecospace.

  22. #22 Rosie Redfield
    August 15, 2007

    Am I right in thinking that the high rates of change seen in very short term experiments were achieved by recombining existing genetic variation for the trait? if so, we would expect the rate of change to plummet as soon as the standing genetic variation was exhausted. Further change would then occur at the very slow rate determined by the mutational generation of new variation.

  23. #23 Stanton
    August 15, 2007

    There is no way to exhaust genetic variation beyond the extinction of that particular population, or the arise of a situation that selects against the variation you’re looking at.

  24. #24 Kagehi
    August 15, 2007

    Oh I see, he’s a programmer. No wonder, his whole profession has nothing to do with anything real.

    Umm. No, see.. **Good** programmers try to figure out how to get machines to do things in ways that *require* an understanding of the real world. Genetic algorythms and evolution systems are fascinating for such people. *Bad* programmers, of the sort that do nothing but code web pages or the occasional bit of Java (more likely JavaScript, which is, as you point out, not something *real*, but merely an MS attempt to mimic the real, BADLY), couldn’t code anything that evolved, even in simulation, if their lives depended on it. Unfortunately, at this point, neither their lives, nor their livelyhoods require having such skills.

  25. #25 Kagehi
    August 15, 2007

    Oh, interesting note on the sort of “mouse to elephant” BS. Just read an article on invertebrates, where they tried to determine why you don’t find giant ones, like used to exist. Of course, the obvious answer is that more oxygen was around back then. But that’s incomplete. What they found is that, due to how they breath, the upper limit on size, if you *only* included the tubuals that oxygenate the main organs, is like 2 feet, but that if you instead look at the extremities, like legs, the number and size of them needed, at our current levels of oxygen in the air, would exceed the capacity of those limbs to contain *anything* other than oxygenation systems, let alone those systems themselves, before such a size could ever be achieved. In other words, the largest bug we should expect to see, based on the predictions, is exactly the size of the largest known bug that exists today. Anything bigger wouldn’t be able to oxygenate tissue in its limbs well enough to use them, or would be unable to provide the tissues in those limbs with enough oxygen to function.

    Point being? When you start mucking around with size, sometimes the issue isn’t *if* the size is possible, but how many other factors may start to become critical, as the size increases, that would make the larger size impractical, or impossible. To make an elephant out of a mouse would probably not require just making a big mouse, it would require circulatory systems, skeletal changes, dietary adjustments, lung function changes, and a whole slew of other adjustments, or, even if you could “make” a giant mouse, you would just end up with a giant corpse at some point in its growth cycle.

  26. #26 syntyche
    August 15, 2007

    For the limits of evolution to steal Behe’s phrase, common examples would be the transition from common ancestor chimp/human which took 5 million years or the transition from wolves to chihauhaus and great danes which took 10,000 years and more likely far less than that.

    My favourite example is the bat wing – its a fascinating evo/devo story. A little more BMP signaling during development here, a little less there – and you’ve got a wing out of what was going to become a standard tetrapod limb.

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1458926

  27. #27 grendelkhan
    August 15, 2007

    Okay, here’s my prediction: Vox will dodge like mad, display stunning ignorance, refuse to answer questions, and probably engage in some ad hominem. Scott will attempt to explain things in such a manner that a small child could understand. At the end, PZ and the commenters here will declare that Scott is the clear winner. Vox and his commenters will declare that Vox is the clear winner. Scott may or may not declare himself the victor, but will almost certainly not come out of this process any happier than he was going in.

    Kind of like the Sam Harris-Andrew Sullivan theism debate, but with someone way politer than Harris.

    A few notes on Vox’s opening salvo:

    Vox: But to place evolution on the same level of confidence as Austrian economic theory, let alone Newtonian physics?

    Didn’t Austrian economic theory give us supply-side economics? I mean, wow.

    My “stunning ignorance” prediction has already come to fruition:

    Vox: Of course, this has almost surely been done many times before with fast-breeding animals like fruit flies, one can only assume the absence of reported results is because they haven’t managed to turn it into anything but a mutated fruit fly yet.

    Of course, a fruit fly mutating into, say, a squid, is exactly what the theory of evolution predicts won’t happen. In a similar vein, here one of his commenters asks where all the chimaeras are.

  28. #28 Mena
    August 15, 2007

    That Vox Day sure is full of himself isn’t he? He thinks that biologist are “butterfly collectors” who can’t do math. I like bugs and I can do the math. There are plenty of us out here who can. What an ass. As for the posters at the site, I too couldn’t be bothered to read all of their posts. They are always the same thing, usually boiling down to “(S)he went to college to learn that? I didn’t need to go to college because I’m too smart and I learned everything that I need to know right here in BFE.”

  29. #29 eewolf
    August 15, 2007

    Interesting strategy for Day. It looks like he’s decided to argue against evolution by not discussing evolution at all.
    And his first argument seems to be: Hey, I once created this real “clever” analysis tool that really didn’t work and so evolution doesn’t work either.
    Scott is in for a tough ride. VDay’s view is narrow, he can’t see anything that is outside of his own slight world of economics.
    As mentioned earlier, he is also quite impressed with himself and quite likely to strike out when his tiny world is threatened.
    I am impressed with Scott’s optimism. He has a lot of courage and character. Good luck bro.

  30. #30 Kip W
    August 15, 2007

    If we evolved from monkeys, then how come there are still creationists? (BWAH, etc.)

  31. #31 woozy (science is hard)
    August 16, 2007

    #28
    He thinks that biologist are “butterfly collectors” who can’t do math. I like bugs and I can do the math.

    I’m a mathematician who can’t do the biology. Biology is *hard*! It’s SCIENCE! It’s real stuff and real stuff is hard!

    Day has to be the first person I’ve ever heard to claim either jokingly or seriously that *economics* is more rigorous than biology. That alone ought to dismiss him outright. Heck, family counciling is more rigorous than economics. (Okay, I’m joking and that was an unfair dig and mean, but come on! Biology is … brain surgery; genetic engineering; behavioral chemistry, etc. It’s real stuff! It’s *hard* stuff! Economics is … economics.)

    Um… by the way, where are the chimeras? Either natural or produced. Or to use the “just mutated fruitflies” phrase, just what should we expect in such lab conditions (plug in the numbers), and is it what was resulted?

  32. #32 EricP
    August 16, 2007

    Woozy,

    As someone studying both evolutionary biology and economics, I have to take issue with #31. Economics is definitely not as firmly based on experiment as biology. However, that doesn’t make it a waste of time (or easy, for that matter). Please don’t blame economics for Vox. From what I’ve read, he writes as much crack-pot economics as he does crack-pot biology.

    (also: economic theory has had a pretty major impact on evolutionary theory, which is pretty much why I’m studying economics)

  33. #33 Bob O'H
    August 16, 2007

    OK, let’s do the sums properly. From Fisher we have the Breeder’s Equation:

    R = h^2 S

    where R is the response to election (the change between generations), S is the amount of selection (i.e. the change within a generation), and h^2 is the heritability, the proportion of variation that is genetic and available to selection (the exact definition is more obscure).

    So, to calculate R: If Vox Day is right, the amount of change required (on the log scale) is log(300)-log(0.1). According to Wiki a mouse can have 5 to 10 generations per year, so let’s say 10. Then, the amount of change per generation needed is

    R = (log(300)-log(0.1))/(20*10)=0.02851891

    which is about a 3% increase per generation.

    Rather conveniently, this paper looks at variation in body size in mice on the log scale, from which we can estimate h^2 as 0.49. Hence, the amount of change required within a generation, S, is

    R/h^2 = 0.058

    or about a 6% increase due to selection. From some more sums (calculating the intensity of selection), this can be done if we cull 40% of the population each generation.

    So, it can be done if we are vicious enough, and if the genetic variation can mysteriously regenerate (in reality, this level of culling will fix the variation, at least for size, in a few generations).

    Bob

  34. #34 Ze Kraggash
    August 16, 2007

    Let’s try this mouse to elephant change with very simple assumptions. How much change in size is needed per generation to increase by a factor of 300 in 10,000 years? Small animals like a mouse have 5 to 10 generations per year (from Bob O’H). A larger animal might have one generation every 10 years. For simplicity, call it 1 generation per year over the 10,000 years.

    So, (1 + x)10,000 = 300.
    Then x = (300)1/10,000 – 1 = 0.00057
    That means that the required rate of increased size per generation is 0.057%.

    Even at the “big end”, 3 meters x 0.00057 = 0.17 millimeters per generation. This doesn’t seem beyond the realm of possibility if there is some selective advantage for large size.

  35. #35 csrster
    August 16, 2007

    Kagehi:
    “JavaScript, which is, as you point out, not something *real*, but merely an MS attempt to mimic the real, BADLY”

    Ok, I don’t want to get into language wars here but what on earth are you trying to say? What is “MS” (Microsoft? In which case a) you misspelt “M$” and b) Javascript was developed by Netscape) and what is “the REAL”?

    Ok, there’s a lot of crappy javascript out there, but there’s also some fairly cool stuff (like the Google web-toolkit material). The rule for computer languages should be the same as that for natural languages – don’t judge them by their most incompetent users.

  36. #36 woozy
    August 16, 2007

    As someone studying both evolutionary biology and economics, I have to take issue with #31.

    My apologies then. Didn’t mean to dis economics per se, so much as the weird idea that biology couldn’t possibly be as rigorous or complicated as economics, and thus dismiss evolution as speculative at best.

    Anyway, if he oversimplifies the math of his economics as he purposely oversimplifies the math of the mouse to elephant, I can’t believe that his economics is any good. (Of course, he probably doesn’t oversimplify the math on things he believes in.)

  37. #37 truth machine
    August 16, 2007

    “Goddammit PZ I just burned a few brain cells reading the first 15 or so comments on VD’s page. I’m going to drink now and try to revive them.”

    It’s rather sad to see Scott Hatfield posting numerous responses there, as if those people were not moronic ignoramuses on whom his words are wasted. Whether it’s some cretin saying that he doesn’t believe in evolution because cells aren’t constantly arising from ooze, or Vox Day claiming that the ToE declares that sharks don’t evolve, these deeply dishonest people are not reachable by facts or reason.

  38. #38 truth machine
    August 16, 2007

    Economics is definitely not as firmly based on experiment as biology. However, that doesn’t make it a waste of time (or easy, for that matter).

    Economic theory is, by and large, pseudoscience. It isn’t generally falsifiable because it’s prescriptive — economists propose policy (generally policy that favors those who pay economists to propose it — economics is fundamentally corrupt). And to the degree it is falsifiable, the falsification is ignored — human behavior is not what economists predict it to be, because their model is obviously blatantly flawed — as if there were no limbic system.

    Saying that economics is not as firmly based on experiment as biology is like saying that religion is not as firmly based on experiment as biology. Economics is firmly based on dogma, wishful thinking, and power politics.

  39. #39 truth machine
    August 16, 2007

    Assuming the size factor is the same in all directions the real change is size is a factor of 300^3, or 27,000,000.

    Um, have you ever seen a mouse or an elephant? The assumption is clearly false.

  40. #40 truth machine
    August 16, 2007

    *Bad* programmers, of the sort that do nothing but code web pages or the occasional bit of Java (more likely JavaScript, which is, as you point out, not something *real*, but merely an MS attempt to mimic the real, BADLY)

    You do know you’re an ignoramus, don’t you?

  41. #41 woozy (hypothetical! just hypothetical!)
    August 16, 2007

    To play devil’s advaquate, has anyone answered Vox’s “just a mutated fruitfly” question? Has anyone in a lab subjected a fruitfly to artificial selection to produce either another species of fruitfly or something not a fruitfly?

    Not knowing a damned thing about biology I honestly don’t know although I’m sort of guessing the answer is a “Duh, yeah.”

    The most frequent “argument” I hear against evolution is that no-one has supposedly ever observed a species evolving to another or in between species or “chimeras”.

    I did go and read the Talk Origins article and, not surprisingly, this argument was put to rest with countless examples in section 5.5. I somehow get the impression this just isn’t impressive “enough” to closed-minded creationists. “Species-schmecies, they’re still mice” (or “just mutated fruitflies”). Of course what they’d like to see (or they’d *not* like to see) is a fish turning into a turtle or a gill turning to a lung.

    Has any lab experiment been done, not to observe rate of change, but simply to create as big a “chimera” as possible. Say, turning a fruitfly into a mosquito. (Of course you can’t predict specific mutations so one couldn’t turn a fruitfly into an actual mosquito. But could one do an experiment to turn a fruitfly into something distinctly not a fruitfly and very much like a mosquito?) How long, theoretically, would such an experiment take? But then, hasn’t this been done a million times with plants? In our who knows how many thousands of years of dog breeding, what would it have taken to breed dogs into a totally seperate species?

  42. #42 woozy (hypothetical! just hypothetical!)
    August 16, 2007

    To play devil’s advaquate, has anyone answered Vox’s “just a mutated fruitfly” question? Has anyone in a lab subjected a fruitfly to artificial selection to produce either another species of fruitfly or something not a fruitfly?

    Not knowing a damned thing about biology I honestly don’t know although I’m sort of guessing the answer is a “Duh, yeah.”

    The most frequent “argument” I hear against evolution is that no-one has supposedly ever observed a species evolving to another or in between species or “chimeras”.

    I did go and read the Talk Origins article and, not surprisingly, this argument was put to rest with countless examples in section 5.5. I somehow get the impression this just isn’t impressive “enough” to closed-minded creationists. “Species-schmecies, they’re still mice” (or “just mutated fruitflies”). Of course what they’d like to see (or they’d *not* like to see) is a fish turning into a turtle or a gill turning to a lung.

    Has any lab experiment been done, not to observe rate of change, but simply to create as big a “chimera” as possible. Say, turning a fruitfly into a mosquito. (Of course you can’t predict specific mutations so one couldn’t turn a fruitfly into an actual mosquito. But could one do an experiment to turn a fruitfly into something distinctly not a fruitfly and very much like a mosquito?) How long, theoretically, would such an experiment take? But then, hasn’t this been done a million times with plants? In our who knows how many thousands of years of dog breeding, what would it have taken to breed dogs into a totally seperate species?

  43. #43 Josef Sábl
    August 16, 2007

    Creationist are idiots, just face it.

  44. #44 Josef Sábl
    August 16, 2007

    Creationist are idiots, just face it.

  45. #45 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2007

    My, but this is fun! Vox is now claiming that PZ is the one who can’t read or do math. (In the first two lines, around a quote, of his “UPDATE” reaction to this post.)

    He is really stepping in elephant dung on this one, pretending he is skirting mouse shit.

    I can just mostly reiterate the post and thread:
    Vox is the one not reading properly. He is shown data that current, thoroughly observed, evolution rates of traits exceeds historical, sparsely observed, rates in the fossil record. He ignores that this data is the verification of a prediction of max rates, and asks for greater rates.

    But there is a new gem here. PZ noted that Vox’s calculations overstates the given rates in darwins, and offers an explanation and a link to the definition. Vox, again showing that he can neither read nor do math, now confirms that he has mistaken an exponential rate for a linear.

    Vox made my Day.

  46. #46 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2007

    My, but this is fun! Vox is now claiming that PZ is the one who can’t read or do math. (In the first two lines, around a quote, of his “UPDATE” reaction to this post.)

    He is really stepping in elephant dung on this one, pretending he is skirting mouse shit.

    I can just mostly reiterate the post and thread:
    Vox is the one not reading properly. He is shown data that current, thoroughly observed, evolution rates of traits exceeds historical, sparsely observed, rates in the fossil record. He ignores that this data is the verification of a prediction of max rates, and asks for greater rates.

    But there is a new gem here. PZ noted that Vox’s calculations overstates the given rates in darwins, and offers an explanation and a link to the definition. Vox, again showing that he can neither read nor do math, now confirms that he has mistaken an exponential rate for a linear.

    Vox made my Day.

  47. #47 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2007

    For the limits of evolution to steal Behe’s phrase, common examples would be the transition from common ancestor chimp/human which took 5 million years

    And yet perhaps some or most traits weren’t under selection. A new study claims that skull differences between H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis is likeliest explained by genetic drift. (Based on an impressive 2524/20 sap/nea skulls/specimen and 1056 sap genetic samples.)

    (Then neandertals skulls wasn’t cold adapted, nor where our skulls especially adapted to speech. I assume this means the importance of the differences shrinks.)

    Bob O’H:

    Thanks for running through an illustrative application of the breeder’s equation.

    For those of us who have studied neither quantitative genetics nor population genetics, razib shows how “breed” quantitative genetics breeder’s equation out of population genetics, thus showing the nuts and bolts of it but not explaining in so much detail. (His earlier post in that series touches trait changes, though.)

  48. #48 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2007

    For the limits of evolution to steal Behe’s phrase, common examples would be the transition from common ancestor chimp/human which took 5 million years

    And yet perhaps some or most traits weren’t under selection. A new study claims that skull differences between H. sapiens and H. neanderthalensis is likeliest explained by genetic drift. (Based on an impressive 2524/20 sap/nea skulls/specimen and 1056 sap genetic samples.)

    (Then neandertals skulls wasn’t cold adapted, nor where our skulls especially adapted to speech. I assume this means the importance of the differences shrinks.)

    Bob O’H:

    Thanks for running through an illustrative application of the breeder’s equation.

    For those of us who have studied neither quantitative genetics nor population genetics, razib shows how “breed” quantitative genetics breeder’s equation out of population genetics, thus showing the nuts and bolts of it but not explaining in so much detail. (His earlier post in that series touches trait changes, though.)

  49. #49 Graculus
    August 16, 2007

    Commenters like the above are hung up on the idea that mutation means loss of information in the genome, which is not necessarily the case.

    Not exactly. Most Creationists have no idea what Shannon “information” actually is, and use the term indescriminately to mean whatever they want it to mean. Pin ‘em to a definition and then stomp on ‘em, it’s fun.

  50. #50 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2007

    woozy:

    In our who knows how many thousands of years of dog breeding, what would it have taken to breed dogs into a totally seperate species?

    Depends on how you define species, since we are discussing evolution of traits. But the most used definition for existing populations (above microbes) seems to be the biological species concept – that populations represent different species if they don’t crossbreed (by ability or choice, I think).

    So, how often does a grand danois breed with a chihuahua? Maybe you have your species already. (Oh, and if they don’t crossbreed, technically you would perhaps have to move them to an island without any other dog varieties to crossbreed with. But that is details.)

  51. #51 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 16, 2007

    woozy:

    In our who knows how many thousands of years of dog breeding, what would it have taken to breed dogs into a totally seperate species?

    Depends on how you define species, since we are discussing evolution of traits. But the most used definition for existing populations (above microbes) seems to be the biological species concept – that populations represent different species if they don’t crossbreed (by ability or choice, I think).

    So, how often does a grand danois breed with a chihuahua? Maybe you have your species already. (Oh, and if they don’t crossbreed, technically you would perhaps have to move them to an island without any other dog varieties to crossbreed with. But that is details.)

  52. #52 Alex
    August 16, 2007

    Mmm, doesn’t Vox Day’s mouse-into-elephant argument against evolution sound just as ridiculous as Cameron’s “crocoduck”. Vox says a mouse has never evolved into an elephant, so evolution is wrong. Cameron says no one’s ever seen a “crocoduck” so evolution is wrong.

    All that aside, Biology is not my strong suit but, barring one hell of a mutation, wouldn’t mice just evolve into…

    …more mice?

  53. #53 David Marjanovi?
    August 16, 2007

    a large mouse, 1 cm at the shoulder

    That is a very small mouse.

  54. #54 David Marjanovi?
    August 16, 2007

    a large mouse, 1 cm at the shoulder

    That is a very small mouse.

  55. #55 Kristjan Wager
    August 16, 2007

    You do know you’re an ignoramus, don’t you?

    truth machine, I find it ironic that you call someone an ignoramus after displaying a dazzling lack of understanding of economics.

    Economic theory is, by and large, pseudoscience. It isn’t generally falsifiable because it’s prescriptive — economists propose policy (generally policy that favors those who pay economists to propose it — economics is fundamentally corrupt). And to the degree it is falsifiable, the falsification is ignored — human behavior is not what economists predict it to be, because their model is obviously blatantly flawed — as if there were no limbic system.

    Economic theory is by nature descriptive – has been so since Adam Smith’s days (the ‘invisible hand’ was a description of how the market is self-adjusting). Due to the complexity of the subject, economics has a large number of build-in presumptions in the models, which some times are out of sync with reality (“rational consumer” and “transparent markets” are probably the most well-known), but they are surprisingly accurate, everything considered.

    Some politicians and economists tries to use economics prescriptive (most notoriously the Chicago School of Economics), but do so at their own perril.

    What would you think if I made such sweeping statements about other fields? The comments you made about economics is about as sensible as the comments about programming that you rightfully objected to.

  56. #56 Jud
    August 16, 2007

    Torbjörn (#46) – Since dogs and wolves are still inter- (intra-?) fertile, I don’t think you have your “biological species” yet. Dogs are most often considered a subspecies of wolves.

    Re javascript – Further to #35, not only was javascript developed by Netscape, but also (1) MS developed ActiveX in an attempt to outcompete/kill Netscape’s javascript and plugins; and (2) MS much later developed .Net, not javascript, in an attempt to outcompete/kill Sun’s Java.

  57. #57 Graculus
    August 16, 2007

    All that aside, Biology is not my strong suit but, barring one hell of a mutation, wouldn’t mice just evolve into…

    …more mice?

    Or it could evolve wings and be called “bats”.

    (OK, for the pedants, those were shrew-like, not mousey ancestors)

    That is a very small mouse.

    It’s amazing how few people are actually familiar with rather ordinary facts. Which reminds me, I have to check the trapline….

    So, how often does a grand danois breed with a chihuahua?

    That depends on the availability of stepladders.

  58. #58 raven
    August 16, 2007

    Torbjörn (#46) – Since dogs and wolves are still inter- (intra-?) fertile, I don’t think you have your “biological species” yet. Dogs are most often considered a subspecies of wolves.

    By some definitions of a species yes, others no. It is not so much whether dogs and wolves can interbreed but do they actually do so. And how often do chihauhaus and wolves breed anyway?

    A lot of species can interbreed rarely, african and asian elephants, horse and donkeys, donkeys and zebras, bengal cats and domestic cats and on and on. The lines between closely related species are blurry and don’t always fit into our human idea of nice orderly rules.

  59. #59 Kseniya
    August 16, 2007

    [Vox Day] is also quite impressed with himself and quite likely to strike out when his tiny world is threatened.

    Ohhhhh, yes. The Voice of God is very impressed with himself.

    I am impressed with Scott’s optimism. He has a lot of courage and character.

    Yeah. What I’ve seen of Mr. Hatfield here on Pharygula over the past year or so leads me to believe he’s a very fine fellow indeed. (For a puppy-beating evilutionist, that is.)

  60. #60 viggen
    August 16, 2007

    I have a question relevant to this debate that I hope someone would be willing to answer for me.

    What is the degree of change necessary for a scientist to accept that two segregated genetic lines with a common origin are no longer the same species? I mean supposing you were carrying out this in vivo experiment with Fruit Flies in the lab.

    Is it that a male from one line is no longer able to create viable offspring with a female from the other?

    In the wild, I have watched Fox squirrels have half-breed offspring with Abert’s squirrels and have seen various combinations of characteristics on apparently nursing females (meaning they’ve had pups, or are capable of breeding). From this, I would conclude that Fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) and Abert’s squirrels (Sciurus aberti) are genetically the same species, even though I know zoologists have given them different species names. Would Vox argue that they are actually the same species? I’m not measuring it professionally, but I’ve been watching this breeding occur by-the-by around my parents’ house for years and the squirrels in the area are definitely changing. For instance, I’m seeing lots of blonde Abert’s now, when they were always black before.

    What degree of change is needed in order to validate selective breeding? I suppose this is trotting up the old Great-Dane/Chihuahua argument.

  61. #61 Mena
    August 16, 2007

    If there’s corn, why is there still teosinte? This is as close to an elephant-mouse being created by humans as I could think of…

  62. #62 rjb
    August 16, 2007

    I’ll admit it, I took the bait and dove in. I know what the results would be, but the scientist in me wanted to see for myself what would happen if I tried to debate with the Vox crowd. Didn’t take long for Piltdown Man to occur. I tried to be very reasonable and just address the questions with clear and concise answers, and I even gave a personal example of how evolutionary theory is absolutely essential for my own work (since I was accused of not providing anything “new”).

    I think I’m done with my experiment now. I’ll watch the messages to see what happens to my posts, but I vow to stay away from now on.

  63. #63 Brownian
    August 16, 2007

    Raven and Torbjörn:

    Dogs can (and do) interbreed with wolves. The resulting ‘wolfdogs’ are an officially recognised breed.

    So currently, dogs fail the test for being a separate species.

  64. #64 wozoy
    August 16, 2007

    #54 and others.

    As a layman I found the Talk Origins article (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section5.html) section 5.5 “Stages of Speciation” to be very informative about this.

    The mouse-elephant comment is from section 5.7 “Morphological rates of change”. The gyst is that in general that evolution observed in the fossil record is much slower than one would expect from observations at the generational level. e.g. were the the rates of changed observed in a lab were to be sustained for 10,000 we would see mice evolving into critters as diverse as elephants.

    However as we don’t run these experiments for 10,000 years but rather a few months or years we only get mice. However these mice are changing in the few months or years ten times as quickly as the fossil record. Or so I interpret.

    Of course, to a lay person seeing mice mutate in a few months is not as impressive as seeing a honkin’ elephant emerging from an “evolution chamber” in a mere 10,000 years. Likewise watching a few pennies of interest acrue in a month at 7% is not as impressive as watching your money double in seven years. (One wonders what an observer over 10,000 years would actually think while watching the change. I imagine in the end he might say “Wasn’t it always an elephant?”)

    Okay, now my devil’s advocate question: Has anyone done a lab experiment in which the goal is not to measure change but generate as freaky a chimera as possible to impress the sceptics? What were the results?

  65. #65 rjb
    August 16, 2007

    Okay, now my devil’s advocate question: Has anyone done a lab experiment in which the goal is not to measure change but generate as freaky a chimera as possible to impress the sceptics? What were the results?

    The page is in japanese, but how’s this?

    http://dept.biol.metro-u.ac.jp/fly/www/images/UAS-eyeless.jpeg

  66. #66 rjb
    August 16, 2007

    Sorry, it didn’t really answer your question, Wozoy, but I thought it was a great picture anyway (and illustrates a cool molecular biology phenomenon).

  67. #67 wzooy (you can be Lisa's pet)
    August 16, 2007

    #55

    Can modern corn still hybridize with teosinte? We wanna see pig-boys, and fish with feet, and blood-sucking fruitflies! Give us *chimeras*, man!

  68. #68 Mena
    August 16, 2007

    rjb, you fought the good fight but these people are right up there with moon landing hoaxers, grassy knoll conspiracists, and the wierdos who think that the US was behind the 9/11 attacks. They are the tin hatters who have had the most staying power, now that the flat earthers have been sent on their way. You just can’t teach these people what they are determined not to learn. I skimmed that thread, I have no idea what the “Cher” stuff was about but apparently name calling is considered a valid argument over there. Maybe that’s what happens when brains are stuck in third grade mode for life. They really aren’t worth talking to, resources need to go elsewhere, like toward science education for people who want to learn and to keep science from being corrupted by woo in the classrooms.

  69. #69 raven
    August 16, 2007

    From this, I would conclude that Fox squirrels (Sciurus niger) and Abert’s squirrels (Sciurus aberti) are genetically the same species, even though I know zoologists have given them different species names.

    When two geographically or ecologically closely related but distinct species overlap, hybrid zones are common. What this means taxonomically depends on the hybrids. If they are of low fertility or less adapted than the parents, they have little significance.

    One mode of speciation can be caused by hybrids that are different enough from both parents to occupy a distinct ecological niche or eventually outcompete one of the parent species. It isn’t common but it is known to happen.

    The lines between closely related species can be blurry and taxonomists don’t always agree either. Some are lumpers and some are splitters. These days the splitters seem to be most common.

    In the western mountains, two related tree species are found. They live at different altitudes and have different tolerances for soil and rainfall. In between is a large zone where only hybrids with a selective advantage are found and neither species grows in the wild. So is this two species, three species, or something like a ring species? Matter of judgement really.

  70. #70 rjb
    August 16, 2007

    Mena,

    Yeah, I knew what the outcome would be, but I just wanted to try, just once, just to see what would happen. Now that my curiosity is piqued, though, I’m kind of following through on a new tack. I’m asking them what explanatory power ID or creationism can give me for my research? Why should two radically different muscles, with radically different functions, share a developmental profile? Evolution from a common progenitor works wonderfully, but I think this is a major stumbling block for “design”. They do different jobs, shouldn’t they be “designed” differently? If I want to be an IDer or creationist, what can I use to help me solve this problem?

  71. #71 Rey Fox
    August 16, 2007

    “If I want to be an IDer or creationist, what can I use to help me solve this problem?”

    Goddidit.

  72. #72 rjb
    August 16, 2007

    Rey,

    Sure would save me some time and sleepless nights, and lots of reading of anatomical papers about earthworms that really aren’t what you would call page-turners…

    So, maybe that would help :/

  73. #73 raven
    August 16, 2007

    Raven and Torbjörn:

    Dogs can (and do) interbreed with wolves. The resulting ‘wolfdogs’ are an officially recognised breed.

    So currently, dogs fail the test for being a separate species.

    It really takes more than a few hybrids produced by human breeding to claim that. By that criteria, horses and donkeys, bonobos and chimps, SE bengal cats and domestic cats (the parents of the “bengal cat” breed of domestic cat), dogs, wolves, and coyotes, bobcats and lynxes, and so on would all be considered the same species. In many definitions of species, words like naturally occurring or interbreeding population(s) are used precisely to limit the artificial or rarely produced and biologically low significance hybrids.

    Wolf dogs BTW, are terrible pets. In many states including mine, they are illegal.

  74. #74 raven
    August 16, 2007

    Okay, now my devil’s advocate question: Has anyone done a lab experiment in which the goal is not to measure change but generate as freaky a chimera as possible to impress the sceptics? What were the results?

    You mean the Frankenstein experiments?

    Some natural experiments have been done. Where do you think creos and Death cultists came from? How freaky is freaky enough? LOL

  75. #75 Wikinite
    August 16, 2007

    Assuming the size factor is the same in all directions the real change is size is a factor of 300^3, or 27,000,000.

    Um, have you ever seen a mouse or an elephant? The assumption is clearly false.

    That was part of the point. The 300 times the size based on shoulder height is a ridiculous measurement as it in no way takes into the account the difference physiology. And, using the same assumption, it produces an equally (and obviously ridicuolus result), although it is closer in magnitude to the elphant to mouse mass ratio. I’m suprised he didn’t use a giraffe as his example.

  76. #76 cleek
    August 16, 2007

    Chimeras? what about the Geep ?

  77. #77 Mena
    August 16, 2007

    viggen (#54): Remember that the interbreeding requirement only hold true for the lucky species that have sexual reproduction. The subject isn’t cut and dry like you would expect and there are some minor differences of opinion about what makes up a species (as you can see from the comments here) and in a species that is wide spread you may also see variations in phenotypes. For example, the environment in Florida is different than it is in Maine so animals on either end may show traits that are better for living in their environment and gene flow between them is highly unlikely. There may also be individuals along the length of the habitat which are less like either extreme. These are called ‘clines’. At some point the Maine population could cease to be able to interbreed with the Florida population at all and therefore you would have distinct species.
    wzooy (you can be Lisa’s pet) (#61): Not so much a chimera as a species created by humans. Sorry! Maybe someone can get Davros on the line. ;^)
    As for the geep, that’s kind of creepy. Sometimes accidents happen in captivity but in the lab is just eeeew.
    rjb (#64): I would love to see the answer to that but my guess is that the question will continue to be ducked while they claim that they are all wise and knowing and will continue to simply insult you and anyone who doesn’t believe in their fantasies. Wishful thinking isn’t part of the scientific method but that doesn’t stop them from including it.

  78. #78 Mena
    August 16, 2007

    Arg, bad bad me for not closing the tag:
    http://www.hotspots.hawaii.com/Wolphin.html

  79. #79 Jud
    August 16, 2007

    raven wrote: “A lot of species can interbreed rarely, african and asian elephants, horse and donkeys, donkeys and zebras, bengal cats and domestic cats and on and on. The lines between closely related species are blurry and don’t always fit into our human idea of nice orderly rules.”

    Yep, which is why the whole “Micro-evolution is true, but macro-evolution can’t happen” thing is so funny – calls up images of bacteria, etc., suddenly stopping mutations in their tracks whenever some cladistics conference draws a new species line somewhere.

  80. #80 rjb
    August 16, 2007

    Mena,

    Well, I was insulted, and in latin even!! Boy are they smart!! I was accused of making an ipse dixit argument. Granted, I had to look that up, but it made me chuckle when I saw the definition (an unsupported assertion). Oh the irony!!

    Basically, I got a bunch of AiG stuff shoved at me, and some ID stuff saying that “well, ID is OK with common descent”. But that still doesn’t answer what good does it do me to postulate magic in my work.

    I do think I’m done over there, I’ve grown tired of it. I’m sure I’m not convincing anyone of anything. But I must say that aside from the latin snide comment, I wasn’t directly called any names (aside from a methodological naturalist, but I’m OK with that one). It was an interesting experience though.

  81. #81 wzoogy
    August 16, 2007

    ravin, what I mean by “freaky” would be something that is *significantly* different from the original population. Creationists keep saying there is no evidence of on species evolving into another, that part of me wants to say “frig it; they want to turn a mouse into an elephant– okay give me funding for 10000 years and I’ll turn the mouse into … something”.

    I guess part of my frustration is what would be significant enough to be convincing. How long would it take to force a guppie to grow legs? Or would it still be considered a mutated guppy with legs.

  82. #82 Great White Wonder
    August 16, 2007

    What I’ve seen of Mr. Hatfield here on Pharygula over the past year or so leads me to believe he’s a very fine fellow indeed

    A bit too proud of himself. But we all have our faults.

  83. #83 Rey Fox
    August 16, 2007

    I prefer when the argument gets turned around, as in: If you don’t believe “macroevolution” happens, then you are implicitly stating that there’s some boundary beyond which genomes cannot be changed. Thus, the burden is on you to tell me where that is, or at least why no one has found such a boundary yet.

  84. #84 Kseniya
    August 16, 2007

    Indeed we do.

  85. #85 Sam
    August 16, 2007

    In the second item on Scott’s blog (well, part one if you ignore the prologue), I had a bit of a one on one with one of the posters on Vox (if username is something to go by). I tried to keep it simple and clear and it didn’t turn out into a slanging match (yay), but I am no PZ. Any comments from the more experienced commenters?

  86. #86 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    August 16, 2007

    Hey, Rey, I have asked that question of creationists many times and never got an answer, either. And rjb, if you want to see this whole thing played out ad nauseum as it has been for a couple of decades you should check out the talk.origins or the alt.talk.creationism newsgroups.

    The goofy Hatfield/McCoy debate is nothing new, and nothing more prone to insults than is found on a daily basis at t.o.

    But the Wilkins pun threads make the whole thing worth it.

  87. #87 Ick of the East
    August 17, 2007

    It wouldn’t matter in the slightest if a radically new species was created in a lab. You know what the answer would be…
    “Well sure! You used a lab! Now do it naturally!”

    And wouldn’t wolves/chihuahuas be considered a good example of a ring species? A wolf can breed with dogW, can breed with dogX, can breed with dogY, can breed with dogZ, can breed with a chihuahua. But remove WXYandZ and you have two animals, the wolf and chihuahua that can not breed.

    Perhaps at first only because of physical differences. But with continued separation because of many other factors.

  88. #88 Scott Hatfield, OM
    August 17, 2007

    Great White Wonder:

    A bit too proud of himself. But we all have our faults.

    (with a wan smile) It must be true, or else why would I be sifting through the threads for any reference to my ongoing exchange with Vox? Well, you know what they say about pride. Hopefully I’ll acquit myself reasonably well and not have a ‘fall’.

  89. #89 Andrew
    August 17, 2007

    re: economics

    Vox isn’t just talking about economics, he’s talking about AUSTRIAN economics. I’m not surprised Vox supports it. Austrian economics IS pseudoscience, and is basically the creationism of economics.

    I’m no economist, but my understanding of the philosophy behind Austrian economics is that it basically says-“mainstream economic models predict that people will behave in economically rational, predictable ways. Empirical data shows that people don’t always behave in the predicted economically rational way. Therefore, we should ignore real world data and just make a bunch of nonfalsifiable propositions”

    Seriously. Austrian economists reject the scientific method and empirical testing. Doesn’t this “research program” sound familiar?

  90. #90 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 17, 2007

    Great Dane, d’oh!

    Jud:

    Cry wolf won’t help – see raven’s comment (#52) or Ick’s (#81).

  91. #91 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    August 17, 2007

    Great Dane, d’oh!

    Jud:

    Cry wolf won’t help – see raven’s comment (#52) or Ick’s (#81).

  92. #92 Jud
    August 17, 2007

    Yes, I agree with Raven, see #73.

  93. #93 MpM
    August 18, 2007

    Creating a chimera in the lab is not only a bad proof for evolution, it creates a good argument for ID – a “designed” species. Don’t feed the sickness. Laboratories are great places to study, test and measure the mechanisms behind evolution. The fact that nature does NOT give us chihuahua-wolves, fits more with the facts supporting evolution, (wolf eats chihuahua) than the circus act of a strange mating.

  94. #94 wgozxn
    August 18, 2007

    But chimerae would make such fun house-pets. I’d like a lap-elephant that eats apple cores.

  95. #95 Keith Douglas
    August 19, 2007

    There are *two* branches of economics, often intertwined. One can be called “descriptive economics”, the other “normative”. If descriptive economics were more than a protoscience with many pseudoscientific pockets, normative economics would be a technology.

  96. #96 gopherpzer
    March 8, 2008

    chubby cheekeed gopher little paul u suck fat chupmunk chipmunk man you fat fuck go to death

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