Pharyngula

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The intelligent design creationists are jubilant — a paper has been published that shows that organisms were front-loaded with genes for future function! It describes “‘latent’ or ‘preexistent’ evolutionary potential” in our history, they say.

One small problem. The paper says nothing of the kind. It does mention latent potential, but it means something entirely different from something that is ‘front-loaded’, which is a sneaky little elision on the part of the creationists. There isn’t even the faintest whiff of a teleological proposal in the paper at all, which makes me wonder if they even read it, or if, as seems more likely, they’re simply incapable of comprehending the scientific literature.

So let’s take a look at what the paper is actually about, and you’ll see that it in no way supports the self-serving cheering of the creationists.

First, though, a little background that will be familiar to many of you, especially if you’ve read Gould’s Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). The process we’re looking at is the increase in size and complexity of life over time, a subject near and dear to the heart of creationists who see it as a predestined pattern driven by intent, but also of great interest to legitimate biologists, who have found that no, it is not purposeful at all, but a natural consequence of chance variation.

Here’s an analogy to get the right model into your head. Imagine a busy bar that closes at 2am, and sends all the drunks out the door to walk home. Since scienceblogs was so unfair to our Australian readership last night, let’s imagine it is an Australian bar, and a million brain-blitzed Australian drunks spill out the door and start walking determinedly down the street. There are a few properties at play here. One is that this street happens to be paralleled on the right by a wall, so the drunks can’t stagger too far in that direction. The other is that on the left is a wide-open sheep pasture which provides no obstacle to their progress that way. Another is that they are all initially aimed straight down the street, but because they are drunk, they stagger every once in a while and veer off a few degrees to the left or the right, entirely by chance.

You’re hovering overhead in a helicopter. What do you think you will see?

The mob will proceed down the street, but as it goes, it will spread out gradually to the left. The majority will stagger right and left with equal frequency, and wobble roughly down the street. There will be a subset that will, by chance, stagger left a little more than to the right, and they’ll drift off into the sheep pasture. Some may veer more to the right than the left, but they’ll just bounce into the wall and get straightened out that way.

No drunk Australian has a preference to stroll into the sheep pasture. There is no intent to end up there. But some do, just by the odds. You, in your helicopter, can even look at the shape of the sprawling mob and make useful calculations about drunk Australian kinetics and make predictions about the aggregate trajectories of strolling drunkards, although you wouldn’t be able to predict the pattern of an individual drunk.

This is the general model for how size and complexity vary over time. The direction of the street is time, and wandering out farther and farther into the sheep pasture is like getting larger or more complex. There are other details that the analogy does not cover, however. There may be advantages to wandering to the left — it gets you out of the crowded mob of stumbling drunks. There may be intrinsic factors that limit how far a lineage can drift to the left, as well. Insect respiratory systems, for instance, create a kind of internal wall that limits how large they can get. There may also be external barriers that can be discerned by looking at the shape of the expanding mob.

Hop back into the helicopter and look down. What if the left edge of the mob doesn’t expand exactly as you mathematically expected? What if it stops at some other barrier not visible from your vantage point? Perhaps there is a population of venomous Australian crocoducks lurking out there, or roving herds of carnivorous wallabies, and although we can’t see them from up here, we do see that the drunks don’t expand beyond a certain point.

Now that is the point of this new paper by Payne and others. They have taken a big picture examination of the distribution of fossil sizes over Earth’s history, and asked whether the range has varied smoothly over time, as you’d expect if the outer bound were simply diffusing to higher levels. And the answer is no, it is not, there are a couple of discrete jumps in the maximum size that imply limits to earlier expansion that were overcome at specific periods in history. There was a wall of some sort to the left of the staggering mass of life, and they speculate a bit about what it might have been.

Here’s the summary diagram of the results. The log of the volume of the largest fossils identified for a period are plotted on the Y axis, against time on the X axis. It is not a smooth curve, obviously — there are two large upward lurches, one about 2 billion years ago and another over half a billion years ago.

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(Click for larger image)

Sizes of the largest fossils through Earth history. Size maxima are
illustrated separately for single-celled eukaryotes, animals, and vascular
plants for the Ediacaran and Phanerozoic. The solid line denotes the trend in
the overall maximum for all of life. Increases in the overall maximum occurred
in discrete steps approximately corresponding to increases in atmospheric
oxygen levels in the mid-Paleoproterozoic and Ediacaran-Cambrian- early
Ordovician. Sizes of the largest fossil prokaryotes were not compiled past 1.9
Gya. Estimates of oxygen levels from Canfield and Holland are
expressed in percentage of PAL. Phan., Phanerozoic; Pz., Paleozoic; Mz.,
Mesozoic; C, Cenozoic. Red triangles, prokaryotes; yellow circles, protists; blue squares, animals; green diamonds, vascular plants; gray square, Vendobiont
(probable multicellular eukaryote).

How do we explain these sudden upward surges in maximum size? Unsurprisingly, it isn’t by postulating a being of unimaginable magical or technological power who visits Earth at that time and inoculates his chosen species with size boosting genes. There is absolutely no evidence for that, and no need to invent such a silly hypothesis. Instead, there are two very good explanations that are actually supported by measurements and observations (and strangely, scientists prefer those kinds of explanations). One is a change in the environment, and the other is an intrinsic change in a subset of life.

The environmental change is illustrated in the chart. The periods when the maximum organism size increased are correlated with periods when free oxygen levels in the atmosphere increased. Basically, the atmosphere was modified by the byproducts of organic metabolism in a way that allowed aerobic organisms to grow to a larger size — Earth accumulated enough rocket fuel in its atmosphere that some organisms could use to burn and grow. This is actually a fairly old story; we’ve been teaching about the oxygen increase in introductory biology for at least the last decade that I’ve been doing it.

The other part of the explanation is the one that has made our poor confused creationists so giddy, I’m afraid. The authors say,

These size steps coincide with, or slightly postdate, increases in the concentration of atmospheric oxygen, suggesting
latent evolutionary potential was realized soon after environmental limitations were removed.

Ah, the realization of latent evolutionary potential. Did you know that you have latent evolutionary potential? Sure. If we put you and your family and friends in a novel environment, and let the generations tick by, we’ll discover that certain sets of traits will become more prominent as selection and drift take their toll. The phrase does not imply that there is a purposeful arrangement of genes in your body that are there with a preexisting intent to allow you to thrive in a particular situation. You are complex, you have many properties that may in your current situation be superfluous or useless, but could be utilized in different situations.

You see, we have a good idea of exactly what intrinsic capabilities contributed to the ‘latent potential’ that led to certain lineages growing larger at those two transitions, and they both have natural precursors. We don’t need a designer to explain the shifts, because the changes are expressions of known properties!

The abrupt increase in the Paleopterozoic, for instance, is the product of growth in size of the relatively recently evolved eukaryotes. You’ve probably heard of the endosymbiote hypothesis: eukaryotes are the product of a merger of multiple prokaryotic organisms into a single whole. Single celled organisms combined, with different specializations — organelles in our cells called mitochondria, for instance, are thought to be descendants of an incorporated prokaryote. Our mitochondria have the primary function of burning carbon and oxygen to produce energy. This was “latent evolutionary potential” that could be exploited by eukaryotes as oxygen availability rose. And so, following the rise of increasing oxygen concentrations, the size of some eukaryotes staggered upwards to a new maximum.

The second surge in the beginning of the Phanerozoic was also a consequence of a property with precursors in the existing single-celled populations: multicellularity. This is another biological property rich in “latent evolutionary potential”. Again and unsurprisingly, simply combining multiple cells into one organism is a fast-track to larger organismal size, and we see multiple lineages exploring this capability, many of which failed and died out, such as the Ediacaran fauna, and others in the Cambrian that expanded rapidly. Multicellularity itself is not an abrupt, binary choice. We have precursors: modern choanoflagellates show that protists can find selective advantage in transient assemblies, colonial organisms show the virtues of more permanent arrangements, and creatures like sponges exhibit cooperativity and specialization in internal function. Chance creates the potential, and selection can drive an agency-free promotion of greater expression of that potential.

I must emphasize that this is not a paper endorsing any form of intelligent design creationism, and the creationists’ appropriation of its conclusion depends entirely on their distortion of its contents. Here is the authors’ full conclusion.

Although increase in maximum size over time can often be
accounted for by simple diffusive models, a single
diffusive model does not appear capable of explaining the
evolution of life’s overall maximum size. Approximately 3/4 of
the 16-orders-of-magnitude increase in maximum size occurred in 2 discrete episodes. The first size jump required the
evolution of the eukaryotic cell, and the second required
eukaryotic multicellularity. The size increases appear to have occurred when ambient oxygen concentrations reached sufficient concentrations for clades to realize preexisting evolutionary potential, highlighting the long-term dependence of macroevolutionary pattern on both biological potential and
environmental opportunity.

The way the creationists have abused that is by pretending that this implies that the evolution of the eukaryotes and of multicellularity had to have been purposeful events. This is simply not true. All this is saying is that the limits of growth are properties of both organismal and environmental constraints, and that we can map those out by looking at the fossil record.


Payne JL, Boyer AG, Brown JH, Finnegan S, Kowalewski M, Krause RA Jr, Lyons SK, McClain CR, McShea DW, Novack-Gottshall PM, Smith FA, Stempien JA, Wang SC (2009) Two-phase increase in the maximum size of life over 3.5 billion years reflects biological innovation and environmental opportunity. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 106(1):24-7.

Comments

  1. #1 sjburnt
    January 14, 2009

    We expect them to do this.

    I just come here to learn words like ‘elision’.

    Thanks!

  2. #2 Albatrossity
    January 14, 2009

    But if front-loading is true, and there is a trend toward larger organisms, why are there still so many bacteria?

  3. #3 Phaedrus
    January 14, 2009

    You’re kidding, right – releasing thousands of drunken Australians and only expecting some of them to “wander” into the sheep yard? You wouldn’t be able to keep the buggers out of there with a cattle prod.

  4. #4 Glen Davidson
    January 14, 2009

    Of course, if there were no “pre-existing evolutionary potential” they’d be crowing that evolution is a lie. It certainly couldn’t happen without evolutionary potential.

    See, they can always come up with predictions for ID that will turn out to be correct, provided, of course, that they are the entailed predictions of non-teleological evolution.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  5. #5 Ranson
    January 14, 2009

    Awesome paper! I think a way of incorporating the “latent potential” into your example would be to posit a smaller,older wall that blended into the field, that still prevented movement beyond a certain point. As the drunks stumble down the street, they come upon a point where the aged wall has begun to crumble, and, finally, vanish altogether. At this point, the spread leftward may continue, having surpassed that particular limiting factor. They have simply come to a place where there was nothing to stop the expansion.

    Again, you said it just as well; I just wanted to extend the metaphor. I’ll have to look up this paper for further examination.

  6. #6 Sigmund
    January 14, 2009

    “No drunk Australian has a preference to stroll into the sheep pasture.”

    You’ve obviously never met my cousin.

  7. #7 PGPWNIT
    January 14, 2009

    I know it’s fun to argue with creationists, but it is pointless.

    It’s the giant’s drink of biological science.

  8. #8 Jesse
    January 14, 2009

    I think its important to point out that these stochastic wanderings also result in decreased size (depending on environmental selection pressures), but that the overall trend is increased size.

  9. #9 dmso74
    January 14, 2009

    If it wasn’t for that stupid term “latent evolutionary potential”, this paper would not have received any attention at all. It is just a rehash of things we have known for years. and if it wasn’t for the authors using the Track I submission (submitting through a PNAS member) it never would have been published in PNAS. PNAS should eliminate that archaic Track I that lets boring stuff be published just bc the authors are buddies w a PNAS member. and I can think of no better way to begin that elimination than by commenting on a blog :)
    /rant off

  10. #10 damnedyankee
    January 14, 2009

    How do we explain these sudden upward surges in maximum size? Unsurprisingly, it isn’t by postulating a being of unimaginable magical or technological power who visits Earth at that time and inoculates his chosen species with size boosting genes. There is absolutely no evidence for that, and no need to invent such a silly hypothesis.

    Kirby cosmology takes another hit.

  11. #11 mayhempix
    January 14, 2009

    “Since scienceblogs was so unfair to our Australian readership last night…”

    Not to mention Argentina… there is another continent down here you know.

  12. #12 co
    January 14, 2009

    The other is that on the right is a wide-open sheep pasture which provides no obstacle to their progress that way.

    Should be “[...] on the left [...]“

  13. #13 Nerd of Redhead
    January 14, 2009

    Very intersting article. Makes perfect sense from an evolutionary point of view.

    Of course, idiots can always twist things their way.

  14. #14 mayhempix
    January 14, 2009

    Does that also mean Creationists and IDrs aren’t front-loaded with stupidity?
    Could have fooled me.

  15. #15 Valis
    January 14, 2009

    You’re kidding, right – releasing thousands of drunken Australians and only expecting some of them to “wander” into the sheep yard? You wouldn’t be able to keep the buggers out of there with a cattle prod.

    Reminds me of the old joke “How does an Australian find a sheep in tall grass? Very satisfying…”

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist…

  16. #16 S.Scott
    January 14, 2009

    I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you! Who would think that the environment could have an impact on evolution??

  17. #17 James F
    January 14, 2009

    Par for the course. Rather than doing their own research, they misinterpret other people’s. Cue the pointing and laughing.

  18. #18 JackH
    January 14, 2009

    “but a natural consequence of chance variation”.

    no-one waits on chance, man. we haven’t been relying on chance variations for like a coupla billion years. am currently reading ‘the global brain’, by Howard Bloom which suggests we learnt the value of working together back in our bacterial days and have been using this to our advantage ever since.

    bacteria can remember things and even utilize focus groups when necessary (however amongst most bacteria, focus groups are seen as terribly passe). some would argue we’ve been getting less intelligent ever since we went multi-cellular.

  19. #19 highlycaffeinated
    January 14, 2009

    #18: I would think cretinists are proof positive of that argument…

  20. #20 Tualha
    January 14, 2009

    From a comment on Uncommon Descent: “The exciting thing here is that ID researchers should be able to isolate 1) the genes that preserve front-loaded mechanisms when they?re not being used and 2) frontloaded genes that have yet to be expressed. This is truly an exciting direction in research, but don?t expect the evolutionists to pick up on it with any enthusiasm.”

    Well, we would, if any “ID researcher” ever actually did research and found something interesting.

  21. #21 Kobra
    January 14, 2009

    Every time I reead one of your peer-reviewed research blog posts, I feel like taking a biology class even though I don’t need it for my major.

  22. #22 Christie
    January 14, 2009

    I’m amazed the drunk Australians can stumble. They don’t just find a cozy patch of road to curl up and puke on?

  23. #23 Christie
    January 14, 2009

    From a comment on Uncommon Descent: “The exciting thing here is that ID researchers should be able to isolate 1) the genes that preserve front-loaded mechanisms when they?re not being used and 2) frontloaded genes that have yet to be expressed. This is truly an exciting direction in research, but don?t expect the evolutionists to pick up on it with any enthusiasm.”

    Waitaminute… there are ID researchers?

  24. #24 TigerHunter
    January 14, 2009

    @11: There’s a ten-hour time difference between Argentina and Australia…

  25. #25 Brad
    January 14, 2009

    Does that also mean Creationists and IDrs aren’t front-loaded with stupidity?

    I don’t think so. Everyone is front-loaded with the potential for stupidity. How and if it manifests itself depends on environmental factors. Some people hitch their ego to a god, others to a political party or sports team and so on.
    And some hitch themselves so hard they’d literally rather die than admit they were wrong.

  26. #26 Holbach
    January 14, 2009

    Of course the moronic rabble will now try to prove that their demented brains were front loaded with the god gene to enhance their evolutionary dominance over the lower organisms. So when they became conscious of thought they discovered that their imaginary god was always there to prove their higher status in the scheme of all that evolved later. My, isn’t religion just a glorious explainer of the weird and outrageous? So atheists once had the god gene, but it was recalled because of a malfunction in evolutionary rationalism? And the religious afflicted insist that they are right even when they can think otherwise. Incredible.

  27. #27 Curiosity
    January 14, 2009

    What? This blog is about science? I never knew….

    (Dripping with sarcasm, just in case some of you didn’t pick it up)

  28. #28 Deepsix
    January 14, 2009

    From the link, I found this comment entertaining:
    “The exciting thing here is that ID researchers should be able to…”

    “ID researchers”…hehe, good one!

    Seems to me, “ID researchers” simply take someone else’s research, and then misinterpret it.

  29. #29 Ray Ladbury
    January 14, 2009

    Could we improve the drunk-Aussie model by assuming the sheep pasture is initially bounded on the left by a barbed wire fence. Then at some point, the fence broadens out another 100 meters and the Aussies realize their full leftward potential, and likewise once more.

    James F. said, “Par for the course. Rather than doing their own research, they misinterpret other people’s. Cue the pointing and laughing.”

    Oh, come on James, is that fair. I mean, after all, they don’t have a scientific theory of their own, so it’s not like they can make any sorts of verifiable predictions. I’ve shown elsewhere that you can use the Akaike Information Criterion to show the information content of ID is zero–due to the infinite number of post hoc adjustable parameters.

  30. #30 Anon
    January 14, 2009

    “Drunk Australian kinetics”… there is a redundancy there, somewhere.

  31. #31 mayhempix
    January 14, 2009

    Posted by: Curiosity | January 14, 2009 1:39 PM.
    “(Dripping with sarcasm, just in case some of you didn’t pick it up)”

    We probably missed it due to the overwhelming stupidity that covered it up.

  32. #32 D. C. Sessions
    January 14, 2009

    Ah, but as long as you’re punning your analogies …

    One limit on the left is that square root in the pasture.

    However, one is left to wonder about the poor sheep when a million Aussies take out on their drunkard’s walk. Think of the sheep!

  33. #33 druidbros
    January 14, 2009

    Of course the IDbots think the paper says something else. Thats how they got to where they are today. Misinterpreting the written word is their strong point. The sad part is they have to continue to lie to themselves to continue to exist. They are not front loaded to be stupid – they just continue to choose stupid.

  34. #34 Holbach
    January 14, 2009

    Christie @ 23

    What a hoot, ID researchers! Perhaps they will confer doctorates on them and then they can be in league with biblical “scholars” and “doctors” of theology. All front loaded with genes aplenty to bamboozle the religion demented rabble. More researchers needed to muck and mire the whole sordid irrational miasma!

  35. #35 Helfrick
    January 14, 2009

    LOL @ #3

    Cephalopods came into existence during the Pz era? I like it.

  36. #36 Conor H.
    January 14, 2009

    Does anyone remember the similar creationist uproar about an article a while back regarding the genes for development of hands and fingers? Maybe something to do with whales? I was thinking about it last night, but I couldn’t remember. Can anyone enlighten me?

  37. #37 Eamon Knight
    January 14, 2009

    This would another example of the “etymolatry” of ID/Creationists — sieze on a term as vindication of their POV, while ignoring all context.

    @#23: Well, kudos to the commenter for proposing a way to test ID. But it’s the IDiots whom I don’t expect to be picking it up any time soon — they’re too busy writing press releases, lecturing in churches and suckering school boards inot getting themselves sued, to actually spend time in the lab.

  38. #38 AnthonyK
    January 14, 2009

    Hey, what’s this science post doing on your opiniated, liberal, pro-commie blog? ;)

  39. #39 Noni Mausa
    January 14, 2009

    Quick question, VERY roughed-in so don’t get all teknikle on me:

    …we all know that if you move largish animals to isolated islands, they tend to become miniaturized (e.g. Shetland ponies, Dexter cattle, miniature elephants, Key deer).

    If you move the now shrimpy animals back to the mainland, do they biggify again?

    Noni

    (Yes, I know the first two are domesticated. Work with me here.)

  40. #40 Na
    January 14, 2009

    I’m sure someone’s said this already (I’m a new lurker, and haven’t read comments yet) but this

    ” Far from the gradual progression over much time which one would expect from a Darwinian explanation, however, this increase was not incremental, but occurred in two very large steps, involving about a million times increase in size over very brief periods of time.

    And things didn?t just get bigger, but much more complex as well: ”

    … Aren’t they forgetting that life also got smaller? I mean, humans aren’t exactly bigger than dinosaurs. Or did I miss something? (I’m also not a scientist and haven’t read the actual paper)

  41. #41 Holbach
    January 14, 2009

    AnthonyK @ 38

    You can’t see the science for the nonsense?

  42. #42 AnthonyK
    January 14, 2009

    I love the idea of a minature elephant, where can I get one? Or will it take an island and a few million years to produce? Unfortunately, I have neither…

  43. #43 Kagehi
    January 14, 2009

    Hmm. So.. “Me find round rock. Round rock roll better on big hill I just found. Rock must be designed for hill!” Yeah, genius logic there CDesign Proponentsists…

  44. #44 James F
    January 14, 2009

    Ray Ladbury #29

    Oh, come on James, is that fair. I mean, after all, they don’t have a scientific theory of their own, so it’s not like they can make any sorts of verifiable predictions. I’ve shown elsewhere that you can use the Akaike Information Criterion to show the information content of ID is zero–due to the infinite number of post hoc adjustable parameters.

    Never! No quarter! Yarr!

    But seriously…it seems like there’s a sort of knee-jerk, low-level class of celebratory misinterpretation that’s confined to UD, stuff that even Casey Luskin doesn’t waste time spinning. Doesn’t it?

  45. #45 Dennis
    January 14, 2009

    Hmmm- if they have problems comprehending empirical thinking- I think they would have a problem with reading a published paper.

  46. #46 E.V.
    January 14, 2009

    Starwalker is the deluded Charlie Wagner. “What an incredible load of horseshit… ,” is his way of saying, “I’m too stupid (and deluded) to know I’m stupid.”

  47. #47 Steve_C
    January 14, 2009

    Wow. Assholes with reading comprehension problems. Shocker.

  48. #48 E.V.
    January 14, 2009

    Say goodbye, Charlie – er – Starwalker.

  49. #49 Richard Harris
    January 14, 2009

    PZ, … a million brain-blitzed Australian drunks spill out the door and start walking determinedly down the street.

    This could be construed as racist slander. Why didn’t you use , … a million confused Creationists spill out the door and start walking erratically down the street?

  50. #50 Hank Fox
    January 14, 2009

    I was under the impression the main obstacle to the unrestrained expansion of wandering Australians is drop bears.

  51. #51 AnthonyK
    January 14, 2009

    UH huh, we sure did Charlie. That’s us told then. Nice to see that you’ve convinced yourself that we’re all wrong. Try some sites which are about belief, and argue with yourself on them – or make your own up! Oh, wait…

  52. #52 ennui
    January 14, 2009

    If a subset of drunken Aussies keeps taking stochastic left turns, will they eventually start to travel back through time? ;-)

  53. #53 E.V.
    January 14, 2009

    was under the impression the main obstacle to the unrestrained expansion of wandering Australians is drop bears.

    …just as jackalopes are to Texans.

  54. #54 Richard Harris
    January 14, 2009

    Noni Mausa @ # 39
    …we all know that if you move largish animals to isolated islands, they tend to become miniaturized …

    It isn’t just that large animals sometimes evolve to be smaller, but also small ones sometimes evolve to be larger.

  55. #55 KnockGoats
    January 14, 2009

    Lying moron alert! Lying moron alert! “Starwalker” is Charlie Wagner. Sod off, Wagner, you lying moron. You know you’re not wanted here, you disgusting crust of dried-on pigshit.

  56. #56 Ray Ladbury
    January 14, 2009

    James F. Says: “But seriously…it seems like there’s a sort of knee-jerk, low-level class of celebratory misinterpretation that’s confined to UD, stuff that even Casey Luskin doesn’t waste time spinning. Doesn’t it?”

    Actually, I’ve run across the same sort of desperation to pounce on any result among climate denialists, relativity denialists, crystal healers… Isn’t it funny how nobody ever says, “Niels Bohr was wrong!!!!” I think quantum mechanics has it about right: you make the math sufficiently complicated that the average anti-science type just says “Oh F*ck it!” and go on with your science.

  57. #57 Helfrick
    January 14, 2009

    @Richard Harris

    Can Australians be considered their own race? Sure, they talk funny, but is that enough?

  58. #58 Nerd of Redhead
    January 14, 2009

    Charlie, why aren’t you writing your paper to Nature so you can show the whole world your brilliance, instead of infesting Pharyngula?

  59. #59 KnockGoats
    January 14, 2009

    Nice paper. Perhaps what’s most significant is that there are just these two “bursts” of size increase (if you can have a burst lasting hundreds of megayears). If there had been another between these two, for example, that might indicate that either the evolution of eukaryotes, or that of multicellularity, was a two-stage process. I guess it’s possible either burst could be resolved into two or more as fossil finds accumulate.

    IDiots are clearly well on the way to pure parasitism – this evolutionary transition generally being accompanied by the shrinkage of the brain in metazoans, of course.

  60. #60 PZ Myers
    January 14, 2009

    I’m just curious — has anybody tried to leave a comment on Uncommon Descent to point out that their interpretation is fallacious? I’m wondering if everyone has simply given up on them, or whether they’re still just heavily censoring comments.

  61. #61 Tulse
    January 14, 2009

    So I’m guessing that the UD folks just do keyword searches on bio papers, and whenever one of the keywords pings (like “latent” or “design”), they triumphantly announce success without bothering to actually read the paper.

  62. #62 E.V.
    January 14, 2009

    Reading Charlie is like watching the first few episodes of American Idol. I just can’t figure out if he’s the loony talentless attention whore or the humiliatingly clueless git who’s firmly convinced of his own brilliance in spite of his mortifyingly obvious tone deafness.

  63. #63 E.V.
    January 14, 2009

    It’s amazing how it’s like Starwalker was never here, isn’t it?

  64. #64 AnthonyK
    January 14, 2009

    Come on then evilutionists, where’s my fucking minature elephant? I’ve promised the kids one for Christmas (though admittedly this year’s crocoduck was something of a disappointment)

  65. #65 Travis
    January 14, 2009

    What ungrateful kids! I would give my right arm (I am a lefty, the right one is pretty useless anyway) for a crocoduck.

  66. #66 Cannabinaceae
    January 14, 2009

    I’m almost disappointed when trolls/flames get deleted and I can’t make out exactly what prior posts people are referring to when they slam a creation-jismist. Still, who wants to waste time reading anti-information?

    I’m happy to slam dorks who (metaphorically) tattoo “No, I really don’t have a clue” on their foreheads (the real mark of a beast), then emit almost-sentences inspired by actual evidence or argument, and to endorse dork-slamming by those who are masters (that would be the folks with the “OM,” yes?).

    Just being an asshat is not what PZ is asking us for. One would have to read with comprehension to get this clue.

    Oh, and just in case this slips by any dorks, I suspect I am referring to someone whose ‘nym is “Stardork” or something.

    As to the paper; I almost feel the desire to read it. But it’s not directly related to my thesis, so, at this point, I can’t invest the time. Posting a comment in the middle of a busy day, of course is directly related. Subtly, but directly.

    The creation-jismists seem to be operating from a sub-cabalistic* point of view. Dredge up some combination of orthographical scratchings from some source, rearrange them until they can make a bad joke, then say (for some reason) “gotcha.”

    *To be actually cabalistic they’d have to be able to count reliably.

  67. #67 Jadehawk
    January 14, 2009

    Starwalker is the second moron who thinks throwing random, substanceless insults is a clever way to “make us taste some of our own medicine”

    in fact, it just makes them look like little kids throwing a temper tantrum. maybe if there was some actual point behind the invective…

  68. #68 Tulse
    January 14, 2009

    To heck with a plain old miniature elephant, I’m hoping for a shaggy mini-mammoth! They’d be much more cuddly!

  69. #69 Sarah Langford
    January 14, 2009

    We usually save the sheep jokes for our neighbours in New Zealand. The bar described must be in Canberra, it’s the only city I can think of urban enough to have an impassable wall on one side of a street while having a sheep paddock on the other side. However, our population is only just over 20 million so really to have a million people in a bar it would need perhaps to be in Sydney or Melbourne (as Canberra’s total population is just over 300 000).

    I found this post really interesting and definitely useful for expanding my limited understanding of science. I’m an English teacher – (yes, we speak English down here)so I appreciate the analogies.

  70. #70 Rob Jupp
    January 14, 2009

    Am I the only person to wonder why Kiwis have been left out of all this talk about sheep?

  71. #71 Ted Powell
    January 14, 2009

    maybe if there was some actual point behind the invective…

    I think our recent visitor has some sort of conceptual difficulty with the distinction between argument (civil or otherwise) and abuse. This might help: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDjCqjzbvJY Or not…

  72. #72 Randy
    January 14, 2009

    Here’s another story using “latent” and “evolution” in the same breath… but in a more scientific way.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090112/sc_livescience/superpredatorshumansforcerapidevolutionofanimals;_ylt=AtDJlIRn_xptgsJH0aMe846yvtEF

  73. #73 Robert W
    January 14, 2009

    I am memorizing this for an upcoming visit with my fundamentalist, the-earth-is-3,000-years-old, relatives who have no doubt heard about this paper and will want to misrepresent it and box my into a corner.

    Now I will re-read it.

    Thanks, PZ!

  74. #74 Breakfast
    January 14, 2009

    Tulse @68 —
    Oh my goodness. Shaggy little mini-mammoths. By the powers of cloning, let it be so!

  75. #75 Greg Peterson
    January 14, 2009

    My immediate reaction to this whole notion of frontloading is theological: Why on earth would an all-powerful being use such a bizarre, inefficient method of creating humans? To the IDers who might respond with various versions of “Who says the intelligent designer is all-powerful?” and “Who says the IDer had humans specifically in mind?” and “Who is to say HOW an IDer can choose to create?” I can only scoff at the insincerity. Rhetorical devices, all. The vast majority have in mind one thing, and that’s rescuing the god of Genesis from being turned into obscure, pointless powder by the juggernaut of actual knowledge. ID is a rickety prop for a toppling structure, at best. So be honest, ID advocates: Why the hell would a competent, much less omniscient and omnipotent, designer use such a clumsy, chancy, inefficient and bloody system to create beings “in his image” that he could later rescue from a pre-ordained “fall”? Beyond scientific vapidness, it lacks any philosophical cohesion as well. It’s like the Noah’s ark story: Set aside for an instant all the issues with animal care and geographic distribution and hydraulics and stuff…you’re saying an all-powerful being tried to cure evil with a FLOOD?! This front-loading malarky strikes me as being on roughly that level of theological sophistication, like the next, natural question just didn’t occur to them.

  76. #76 J.D.
    January 14, 2009

    Wait a minute, if the IDiots are so joyous over this paper supposedly proving front loaded evolutionary potential, that means they must embrace the fact that life including humans evolved from ancestral forms. They would have to embrace that humans evolved from an ancestral primate even if they stupidly think that the ancestral primate was full of front loaded human potential genes just waiting to be expressed by some glorious signal from the big invisible sky daddy. This strikes me as cognitive dissonance on the IDiots part, ya think they would really embrace human evolution from ancestral primates? Perhaps some of them, I guess it is something of an improvement over the zap-poof cretins. Not much but something….

  77. #77 ad
    January 14, 2009

    Rob Jupp: Kiwis being small flightless birds are too hard to get a grip on.

  78. #78 Jivlain
    January 14, 2009

    I’m amused to discover that the first comment over at UD is one advocating voting for Watt’s Up With That for the weblog awards, in hopes of preventing PZ from winning…

    But great article!

  79. #79 Dr. Matt
    January 14, 2009

    From a comment on Uncommon Descent: “The exciting thing here is that ID researchers should be able to isolate 1) the genes that preserve front-loaded mechanisms when they?re not being used and 2) frontloaded genes that have yet to be expressed. This is truly an exciting direction in research, but don?t expect the evolutionists to pick up on it with any enthusiasm.”

    He’s this close to understanding why scientists ignore ID, but he doesn’t quite put the pieces together. Yes, some forms of ID could be construed as making unique predictions about the real world. It would revolutionize our understanding of biology if predictions from ID were borne out by research. But nobody, not even the creationists, seems interested in performing the necessary research. Could it be, just maybe, that there’s nothing to find and everyone already knows it?

  80. #80 faux.mulder
    January 14, 2009

    a buddy of mine, and a frequent reader of this blog, had a similar sort of incident recently.

    he and others put out a paper on global warming. it was quickly pounced upon by many as real scientific evidence that there is no human factor involved.

    a local (toronto) radio station picked up on this, and invited buddy to a powwow.

    over beers, he explained to the station’s rep. that the paper said nothing of the kind, and in a polite way, suggested that people were merely reading into the report what they wanted to hear, not what was actually written.

    so, no further interest in interviewing him.

  81. #81 Tristan
    January 14, 2009

    Ummm… am I the only one who had to re-read the title of this post a couple of times?

  82. #82 James F
    January 14, 2009

    J.D. (#76),

    The cdesign proponentsists who aren’t YECs or OECs either accept common descent as part of their ID views or are relativists like Steve Fuller (and presumably PR man Robert Crowther, who identifies as a “libertarian agnostic”) who think all sorts of views, be they well-supported or totally cuckoo, are valid with respect to evolution.

  83. #83 Rey Fox
    January 14, 2009

    “”The exciting thing here is that ID researchers should be able to isolate 1) the genes that preserve front-loaded mechanisms when they?re not being used and 2) frontloaded genes that have yet to be expressed.”

    Yes, someone tell Luskin to get his ass out of the lobbying chair and into the lab to do some gene isolatin’. They’re sure to find Yahweh’s signature in the double helix somewhere.

  84. #84 Rey Fox
    January 14, 2009

    Tristan: One of the big hurdles for getting my Wildlife Biology degree (hello gravy train) was how my eyes would glaze over every time I read the word “stochastic”.

  85. #85 Tulse
    January 14, 2009

    Wait a minute, if the IDiots are so joyous over this paper supposedly proving front loaded evolutionary potential, that means they must embrace the fact that life including humans evolved from ancestral forms.

    Excellent point, J.D. — the paper certainly flies in the face of the notion of no “macroevolution”, that speciation doesn’t occur. The whole point of the paper is tracking changes in species evolution over time, and not evolution within species — the paper makes no sense if one denies that species can evolve from other species. Intellectually honest individuals would recognize this profound contradiction in using this paper as evidence for ID, but it’s long since past I’ve considered most IDiots to be intellectually honest.

  86. #86 Pete Cockerell
    January 14, 2009

    I’ve uploaded a simple Javascript simulation of the Australian drunks scenario to my little-used website:

    http://peter-cockerell.net/drunk.html

    It should run on Firefox and WebKit-based browsers like Safari and Chrome. Not IE though…

  87. #87 Tristan
    January 14, 2009

    Tristan: One of the big hurdles for getting my Wildlife Biology degree (hello gravy train) was how my eyes would glaze over every time I read the word “stochastic”.

    My problem was more with the word “organismal” and a mind resting somewhere around the level of the gutter.

  88. #88 Jadehawk
    January 14, 2009

    lol, good simulation

  89. #89 E.V.
    January 14, 2009

    The PZ’s new troll control gewgaws must be working, Charlie Wagner hasn’t slipped back in under the fence yet.

  90. #90 hje
    January 14, 2009

    It definitely takes a front loader to dispose of all the IDist BS.

  91. #91 HumanisticJones
    January 14, 2009

    Loved the analogy with the Drunken Australian Kinetics. I’m now hoping for a situation to use it in a conversation. Also since no one seems to have done it yet…

    If evolutions are genetically front-loaded for bigger size, how is it there are PYGMIES + DWARFS?

  92. #92 Don
    January 14, 2009

    What a great little script!

    And I love the way it repeats, as the 10 pm pub closes, then the midnight pub, then the 2 am pub………..

    and also:
    “This could be construed as racist slander. Why didn’t you use , … a million confused Creationists spill out the door and start walking erratically down the street?”

    Because drunk Aussies are a great analogy.

    It’s not slander if it’s true, is it?

    ;-)

  93. #93 Hambydammit
    January 14, 2009

    Great blog! Thank you for taking the time to explain this to those who aren’t familiar with how to read a scientific paper.

    I’m astonished at the number of people who don’t understand the very basics of evolutionary theory, but it’s obvious that many do not because even a basic understanding ought to make the “latent potential” argument a non-issue.

  94. #94 Donnie B.
    January 14, 2009

    You need a sound track for that simulation. “Waltzing Matilda”, perhaps?

  95. #95 africangenesis
    January 14, 2009

    faux@80,

    What was the paper?

  96. #96 Brain Hertz
    January 14, 2009

    I think you’re missing the point, PZ. It’s not that these guys are incapable of understanding the research, it’s that they don’t want to.

    With apologies to Andrew Lang, they use research the same way that a drunk uses a lamppost: for support rather than for illumination.

  97. #97 CG
    January 14, 2009

    I’m a new lurker but I just had to chime in on this one… I too want a mini mammoth. You could keep it cool in the summer in a kiddie pool with ice! I imagine though it would be a little like owning a Sheltie, a never ending battle of brushing and shedding.

  98. #98 Betz
    January 14, 2009

    @#66 Regarding troll-comment deletions:
    Instead of out-and-out removing comments, maybe a viable alternate scheme would be to change their text to match the background color. If someone really wanted to read them they could mouse-drag over to highlight teh stupid the hidden text.
    On second thought, they’ve been tinkering under hood of SciBlog enough already.

  99. #99 llewelly
    January 14, 2009

    Na, #140:

    … Aren’t they forgetting that life also got smaller? I mean, humans aren’t exactly bigger than dinosaurs. Or did I miss something? (I’m also not a scientist and haven’t read the actual paper)

    I don’t think there were any dinosaurs more massive than a blue whale (although some were longer). But go back and look at the graph, which PZ posted. There are a number of downward excursions. The overall trend is upward, but it’s not monotonic. So yes life did get smaller at times.

  100. #100 David White
    January 14, 2009

    STOCHASTICS AND CREATIONISM

    Greetings PZ,

    Chad Orzel was kind enough to answer the following ?Uncomfortable Question,? perhaps you and other Sciencebloggers might wish to weigh in as well or even help me start a poll. This is obviously not a debate for the classroom, but one which those of us who can might enjoy taking to outfits like the Discovery Institute.

    Question: Ever entertained the notion that attacks on true science from the creationism/ID propaganda machine might be vitiated by exposure of their great and inexplicable theological heresy (gasp!) dating all the way back to William Paley? Am I just whistling in the wind, or am I showing everyone the hidden exhaust ports of the anti-evolution Death Star?

    I?ve tried to explain this radical viewpoint here:

    Intelligent Design Rules Out God?s Sovereignty Over Chance

    http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=34289

    ?What proponents of so-called intelligent design have cynically omitted in their polemic is that according to Biblical tradition, chance has always been considered God’s choice as well.?

    This whole topic may make atheist intellectuals wince, but it eliminates the fundamentalist argument against ?accidental evolution? for any honest and open-minded believers, and scores a creationist home turf point for a change that can?t be legitimately talked away through any amount of Discovery Institute crab-walk.

  101. #101 Chris Nedin
    January 14, 2009

    Hey, I predicted this would happen, on Dec 31 2008!

    Do I get a prize?

  102. #102 Sauceress
    January 14, 2009

    Tristan

    am I the only one who had to re-read the title of this post a couple of times?

    You mean “Orgasmal size over evoluionary time is a constrained stochastic property”?

    Makes perfect sense!

    @Rey Fox

    how my eyes would glaze over every time I read the word “stochastic”.

    I hear ya! Still happens to me ten years on.

    Y’all (sp.?) really shouldn’t underestimate the power of drunken determination of an Aussie!

    http://www.satirewire.com/news/jan02/australia.shtml

  103. #103 Kel
    January 14, 2009

    Perhaps there is a population of venomous Australian crocoducks lurking out there

    Always got to watch out for those, though they aren’t quite as dangerous as drop bears.

  104. #104 Brownian
    January 14, 2009

    @ Greg Peterson:

    My immediate reaction to this whole notion of frontloading is theological: Why on earth would an all-powerful being use such a bizarre, inefficient method of creating humans?

    He sure does put a lot of effort into looking like he doesn’t exist at all, doesn’t he?

    @ Tristan:

    Ummm… am I the only one who had to re-read the title of this post a couple of times?

    Stop being a braggart. Some of us are quite happy if we can read the title of a post like this just once.

  105. #105 Nec_V20
    January 14, 2009

    There is a nasty rumour floating around that Australians are living proof that Englishmen interfered with kangaroos.

  106. #106 Pete Cockerell
    January 14, 2009

    Don@92

    Interestingly the “pulses” of people leaving the pup turn into a steady stream after a while. I like to think this is simulating the introduction of 24-hour licensing laws, but I’m sure some statistician will put me right…

  107. #107 PZ Myers
    January 14, 2009

    I often don’t get many comments on my science posts, but I think I’ve finally discovered how to fix that: throw in a few jokes about Australians.

  108. #108 Brownian
    January 14, 2009

    There is a nasty rumour floating around that Australians are living proof that Englishmen interfered with kangaroos.

    Is that what the kids are calling it these days?

    “Honey, seeing you in that little black dress tonight sure put me in the mood for some interferin’!”

  109. #109 brasidas
    January 14, 2009

    For a rough overview of pygmy mammoths and elephants, one could look at Insular Dwarfism (or Dwarf Elephant) on Wikipedia.

    Pygmy mammoths were found on islands in California, Alaska and Siberia (there as recently as 4000 years ago – if only they’d hung on a bit longer :().

    Pygmy elephants lived on Mediterranean islands, ie Crete, Cyprus, Malta and Sicily, etc, and in South East Asia. Once again, some of these lasted almost into historical times.

    Cool!

  110. #110 Wowbagger
    January 14, 2009

    I often don’t get many comments on my science posts, but I think I’ve finally discovered how to fix that: throw in a few jokes about Australians.

    <Australian Accent>That’s another bloody outrage! Someone’s really asking for a booting.</Australian Accent>

  111. #111 Tulse
    January 14, 2009

    The problem with the real pygmy mammoths is that they were 1.5-2 metres tall, and weighed about a ton — not very practical when it’s housebreaking time (unless one means “housebreaking” literally). I want something the size of a Labrador (or perhaps St. Bernard).

  112. #112 Noni Mausa
    January 14, 2009

    Many of you want a pet mini-mammoth. In the words of the immortal Fort, “be careful what you ask for.”

    Even at a meter at the shoulder, they would weigh 2-300 lbs I should think. They are as smart as us. Worse, they have a “hand”. Bye-bye ice cream. They need to eat constantly. Bye-bye house plants. They are extremely social. Bye-bye privacy. And they shed.

    Plus, the males have a wicked case of PMS now and then.

    Admittedly in a head-to-head contest a baboon would probably be a worse pet, but Minimuth would put a serious dent in any marriage — or house.

    Noni

  113. #113 Brownian
    January 14, 2009

    The problem with the real pygmy mammoths is that they were 1.5-2 metres tall, and weighed about a ton–not very practical when it’s housebreaking time (unless one means “housebreaking” literally).

    Pshaw. 1.5 m and weighs a tonne? That’s barely your average Wal-Mart shopper.

  114. #114 Nec_V20
    January 14, 2009

    I can’t resist – the post has reminded me of something from my misspent youth:

    The sexual life of the camel
    Is stranger than anyone thinks
    For at the height of the mating season
    He likes to bugger the Sphinx
    But the Sphinx’s posterior sphincter
    Is clogged by the sands of the Nile
    Which explains the hump on the camel
    And the Sphinx’s inscrutable smile.

  115. #115 Kel
    January 14, 2009

    That image of drunken Aussies is pretty accurate really, though it’s missing the fighting and screaming.

  116. #116 AnthonyK
    January 14, 2009

    Sigh. Sorry children – the interweb says they’re too big and would eat all daddy’s plants. What about a little giraffe, the size of a spaniel? Or a small tiger, the size of a….hey, wait a minute! And stop feeding the crocoduck!
    Seriously though, anyone know if elephants can – or do – um pleasure themselves…you know? Just wonderin’

  117. #117 jose
    January 14, 2009

    “The way the creationists have abused that is by pretending that this implies that the evolution of the eukaryotes and of multicellularity had to have been purposeful events.”

    So do they accept that eukaryotes came into existence through evolution and cells evolved into multicellular organisms?

  118. #118 NFPendleton
    January 14, 2009

    ID/Creationism is one of those damned harmful parasites science can’t seem to shake. I suggest jock itch cream.

  119. #119 ngong
    January 14, 2009

    The exciting thing here is that ID researchers should be able to isolate 1) the genes that preserve front-loaded mechanisms when they?re not being used and 2) frontloaded genes that have yet to be expressed. This is truly an exciting direction in research, but don?t expect the evolutionists to pick up on it with any enthusiasm.

    Successive posts go on to correct this error of understanding. The “front-loaded” thing, apparently, is an algorithm somehow embedded in the DNA. Is it possible this algorithm has a name that begins with the letter “e”?

  120. #120 Kel
    January 14, 2009

    The bar described must be in Canberra, it’s the only city I can think of urban enough to have an impassable wall on one side of a street while having a sheep paddock on the other side. However, our population is only just over 20 million so really to have a million people in a bar it would need perhaps to be in Sydney or Melbourne (as Canberra’s total population is just over 300 000).

    Sheep paddocks in Canberra, what you talking about?!?

  121. #121 Lord Zero
    January 14, 2009

    Chris Nedin. man, you deserve the prize indeed.
    Its so fun and sad. Geez, i wonder if they would
    ever quote me. I gotta be careful while writing then.

  122. #122 Peter McKellar
    January 14, 2009

    PZ,

    whatever works ;) we aussies have pretty thick skins, and if we don’t its time to get callouses.

    I liked the analogy. Two comments however.

    1. Aussies don’t have pastures or fields, just paddocks (although on retirement you may be “put out to pasture”

    2. The whole left paddock issue totally ignores such things as “how pretty are the sheep?”. Beer goggles are an evil thing :(

  123. #123 Wowbagger
    January 14, 2009

    Here in South Australia you don’t have to drive very far from Adelaide’s CBD to find paddocks with grazing animals – but we’ve also got quite a few alpacas, which are far more attractive than sheep…

  124. #124 Peter McKellar
    January 14, 2009

    Kel

    “Sheep paddocks in Canberra”. Yep. A different city and one I know well (20years).

    Like Washington it is a created city – by government mandate. There was nothing there in 1901 but sheep farms. As the city grew the farms were overrun by houses. Some remain and the planners tend to think some should.

    In Canberra you cannot own land – it is all 99yr leasehold which makes planning much easier – there are never NIMBY issues – you don’t technically own your backyard. It is a very interesting city.

  125. #125 clinteas
    January 14, 2009

    Tsk tsk PZ,

    when will the Australian bashing ever stop??
    Youre being terribly rude and impolite,by making fun of our habit of veering off course after ingesting large amounts of cooling liquids,which are required in summer here to cool our large brains down.
    Sheep paddocks,thats another 4000km over the pond,Ichty will have found that out by now..:-)

    Yeah,but that doesnt really fit the creozombie agenda,now does it?

  126. #126 druidbros
    January 14, 2009

    And, just an FYI, they are not allowing any comments which point out their massive error. Go figure. But we could cause someone more work if we had some visitors go try !

  127. #127 mayhempix
    January 14, 2009

    @clinteas, wowbagger

    At least PZ acknowledges Australia.
    I guess that makes him a South American Denier.

  128. #128 mayhempix
    January 14, 2009

    “but we’ve also got quite a few alpacas, which are far more attractive than sheep…”

    Since they have longer legs does that make it easier or more difficult?

  129. #129 Wowbagger
    January 14, 2009

    Since they have longer legs does that make it easier or more difficult?

    Well, it means they run faster. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. But if you’re in South America surely you can’t be too far from a saucy alpaca or two?

  130. #130 Arnosium Upinarum
    January 14, 2009

    Creationists are ALL ABOUT promoting the notion of planning or preparation to achieve some preconcieved goal.

    That’s how they ‘prove’ the necessity of the existence of their ‘God’.

    Here’s how their ‘reasoning’ goes: by presuming FIRST that a ‘Creator’ must be responsible for EVERY effect (one can be pretty sure that they really DO believe that everything that happens is the ‘will’ of some conscious agency), they retroactively require every event that happens to be the consequence of a ‘preordained’ – or, from the standpoint of the conscious agency, a ‘preconceived’ – ‘plan’.

    They WILL NOT accept the alternative idea that things might happen without conscious assistance.

    This is the whole crux of the matter, because anyone with an honest mind can tell that THEY DO NOT CARE about any natural or physical processes that may be involved. To them, God controls everything: either He created those physical laws which He must ABSTAIN from altering if they are in fact the product of His Creative Perfection, or He created His laws to subsequently control them through a constant program of divine intervention – by a kind of meddlesome revionary self-censorship or editing. No creationist of the fundamentalist stripe ever bothers to appreciate that these considerations would make Him a pretty incompetent and indecisive fellow…hardly meriting the notion of perfection so often attributed to Him.

    That would constitute an admission of flawed thinking. And Men of God couldn’t possibly admit to such disgrace, could they?

    Creationists insist that EVERYTHING is due to magic…which is simply the easiest way to preserve an authoritative say-so while remaining stubbornly, gloriously ignorant.

    Ignorance has its perqs.

    Anyone catch the latest bin Laden tirade? He mentions al-Qaida was prepared to fight “for seven more years, and seven more after that, then seven more.”

    Why the bullshit? What’s wrong with just saying “twenty-one”, if that is REALLY the number one has in mind? REALLY? Oh no. That would be too succinct. The SOB knows that its more dramatic to be obfuscatious. He has to couch it in cute “holy” form, and sevens are usefully sacred. Just calling out blackjack wouldn’t sound nearly magical enough. The mystical aura would be lost in the immediate clarity of it.

    It appears assholes have something in common other than a belief in “the same God” after all.

  131. #131 Greg Laden
    January 14, 2009

    You’re hovering overhead in a helicopter. What do you think you will see?

    A bunch of nervous sheep?

  132. #132 mothra
    January 14, 2009

    Use a term like ‘latent evolutionary potential’ and the IDiots clutch the misunderstanding to their hearts. Yet, exaptation, co-option, or even, spandrel embody all or parts of the same concept and have been in contemporary research and secondary literature. The concept has been around for 150 years, Darwin used the term pre-adaptation. The IDiots sure blew a research opportunity this time. :)

    I guess if you state it simply enough and use the right words, Idiots, with their latent ability to haltingly read, find their pyrite eggs. Perhaps this took so long because they never read thick books or understand thin papers.

  133. #133 mayhempix
    January 14, 2009

    “But if you’re in South America surely you can’t be too far from a saucy alpaca or two?”

    Naw… I’m in Buenos Aires. Lots of cows though on the pampas.
    They just don’t measure up to alpaca, or even sheep.
    The methane ruins the mood.

    We also have nandus which I guess you would describe as a latin ostrich.
    You could say they are saucy but watch out for kicks. They are very fickle.

  134. #134 John Morales
    January 14, 2009

    I was a bit taken aback at the “16-orders-of-magnitude” claim. On a quick check I make the difference in length between prokaryotes and whales to be about 8-9 orders, so I guess they’re talking about size as a volumetric , not linear magnitude.

    Am I confused?

  135. #135 tresmal
    January 14, 2009

    PZ asked (#60) about commenting at UD. I submitted this comment:

    If you want to know what the evil darwinists think of this click here*
    Hint. They’re amused.

    REEEjected!
    *”here” being a link to this page.

  136. #136 mythusmage
    January 15, 2009

    “Impassable wall”? Sir, please remember just what you are speaking of. No determined Aussie would let himself be stymied by anything impassable. No determined drunken Aussie would even notice. What you need are Nebraskan Prohibitionists with anti-liquor literature and generator powered bullhorns.

  137. #137 Craig McClain
    January 15, 2009

    First I should probably introduce myself…I am one of the authors on the study (I also blog at Deep Sea New). I have to say I amazed, and never thought in my wildest dreams, that the paper would ever be used as evidence for ID. Let me say that it clearly DOES NOT do any such thing. PZ has done an excellent write up of what the paper actually shows and there is no need for me to reiterate any of it. Thanks PZ!

    I will respond to a few of the comments

    If it wasn’t for that stupid term “latent evolutionary potential”, this paper would not have received any attention at all. It is just a rehash of things we have known for years. and if it wasn’t for the authors using the Track I submission (submitting through a PNAS member) it never would have been published in PNAS. PNAS should eliminate that archaic Track I that lets boring stuff be published just bc the authors are buddies w a PNAS member. and I can think of no better way to begin that elimination than by commenting on a blog

    Actually the paper’s acceptance and attention is because of its novelty. Indeed before this post I had not even remembered that we used the term latent evolutionary potential. What the paper does for the first time ever is quantitatively document how life on earth, through its entire history, achieved larger and larger sizes. It is not a rehash of things we already know. In actuality the paper provides both novel insights and changes the way we view body size evolution. For example, I believe that many biologists, including myself, would have predicted before the paper increases in size to be both more gradual and constant. The paper also show the importance of increases in organizational complexity and oxygen. Whereas the relationship of size and oxygen is both predicted and evidence exists for this in modern assemblages (including my own work), to my knowledge it has never been so intrinsically linked in the fossil record over such a broad scale. Moreover, as I recall none of us are ‘buddies’ with the editor and I will also add the paper was peer reviewed.

    … Aren’t they forgetting that life also got smaller? I mean, humans aren’t exactly bigger than dinosaurs. Or did I miss something? (I’m also not a scientist and haven’t read the actual paper)

    Indeed! As PZ mentions above under a diffusive, passive evolutionary model we expect the increases in maximum size, but we would expect decreases in minimum size. Over time the overall range in body size would increase, i.e. an expansion into the size evolutionary space. Here we only look at the largest species for each time interval. Given the vagaries of the fossil record, we are much more likely to accurately quantify and know the largest size. However, the smallest organism from each time interval is likely unknown or even unknowable.

  138. #138 Seth
    January 15, 2009

    Craig-

    Perhaps you can explain why you and your evolutionist fellow-travelers claim that the maximum size of life has increased since the Neoproterozoic, when the largest Halletstonian Sea Zoria (http://hszoria.com/)which lived more than 540 million years ago, was over twice the size of a Blue Whale? As usual, evolutionist fantasies are wrecked on the shores of cold, hard truth. Also, send me my toothbrush.

    Yours in Truth,
    Seth

  139. #139 Craig McClain
    January 15, 2009

    Your belief in the Hallestonian Sea Zoria will wreck your career.

    Craig

    PS Buy a new toothbrush…I sent yours to Behe

  140. #140 Seth
    January 15, 2009

    Could it get more wrecked? Look at the company I’m keeping. It occurs to me that the existence of the Sea Zoria also invalidates our energetic trend stuff. Surprised the PNAS editor missed that angle.

    -Seth

  141. #141 Brownian
    January 15, 2009

    Seth, that’s not a toothbrush–it’s a fossilised Barbapoppa. Please let Mike know that if he doesn’t pay for all that acid soon, I will be forced to reveal his location to my creditors.

    You are a good man, and thorough.

  142. #142 Seth
    January 15, 2009

    This aggression will not stand, man…

  143. #143 Auntie Em
    January 15, 2009

    What a fantastic analogy Prof. Myers – is it too late to enroll in your classes?

  144. #144 Zarquon
    January 15, 2009

    Did someone want mini mammoths, or mimmoths?

  145. #145 Wayne Robinson
    January 15, 2009

    As an Australian, I feel that I must protest about the great number of puerile and offensive comments concerning Australians and unnatural and disgusting relations with certain four-footed animals of the wooly ovine kind. I think that the tendency to cast aspersions on an entire nation to be a sign of an immature and idiotic mind. And anyway, everyone knows that it is the New Zealanders who have unnatural relations with their sheep.

  146. #146 Joel #2
    January 15, 2009

    Drunk Australians? Nah. Drunk New Zealanders? Hide the sheep.

  147. #147 Peter Ashby
    January 15, 2009

    everyone knows that it is the New Zealanders who have unnatural relations with their sheep

    And your Sheilas, Mate.

  148. #148 Chris Ryan
    January 15, 2009

    Any biologist worth his bushy beard and leather elbow patches would know that New Zealand is the land where the men are men and the sheep are nervous. Not God’s (sorry I should say unnameable designer’s) own country – the wide brown land of OZ!

  149. #149 druidbros
    January 15, 2009

    Well they booted me after two comments over at the ID blog -which they didnt post. And I didnt even cuss at them. They cannot take ANY contrary comments. Sad.

    I would love to see if Craig McClain gets booted too.

  150. #150 Johnny
    January 15, 2009

    ?The moment a person forms a theory his imagination sees in every object only the traits which favor that theory.? (Thomas Jefferson)

    Creationists further exasperate this situation by exchanging theory for superstition.

  151. #151 bastion of sass
    January 15, 2009

    I don?t understand what all the fuss about orgasmal size is about.

    Of course orgasmal size would be a major factor in evolutionary development over time.

    An individual who has the biggest orgasm is naturally more likely to want to have sex, hence enhancing his or her procreational chances.

    And anyone who looks at the design of humans can see that for most of us, our orgasms are ?frontloaded” in our jeans, so what?s the issue?

    An increase in size of the orgasm over time would be such a tremendous advantage to those who possess that ability that?.

    What? Excuse me? It?s ?organismal size??

    Oh, well?never mind.

  152. #152 Deepsix
    January 15, 2009

    “This aggression will not stand, man…” ~ Seth

    Heh, I wonder if anyone else recognized the quote.

  153. #153 James F
    January 15, 2009

    dmso74 (#9) wrote:

    If it wasn’t for that stupid term “latent evolutionary potential”, this paper would not have received any attention at all. It is just a rehash of things we have known for years. and if it wasn’t for the authors using the Track I submission (submitting through a PNAS member) it never would have been published in PNAS. PNAS should eliminate that archaic Track I that lets boring stuff be published just bc the authors are buddies w a PNAS member. and I can think of no better way to begin that elimination than by commenting on a blog :)
    /rant off

    I have to rise to the defense of Craig McClain (#137). This paper was not submitted by communication by an Academy member (what used to be called Track I) but by direct submission (formerly Track II).

    Furthermore, while the review process is easier and faster for communications (in essence, you pick your own editor) and contributions (the Academy member selects 2 to 3 reviewers for his or her own work), the PNAS editorial board approves all accepted papers, and the impact factor of PNAS is one of the highest among general science journals. Keep in mind that boring papers reflect badly on the Academy member associated with them; there is a self-selection at the outset. As someone who has published in PNAS, I feel that if anything, their standards are getting tougher. The new letters section allows public criticism (and subsequent defense by the author) of recent papers. And if all else fails, all papers are identified as direct submissions, communications, and contributions, so folks like dmso74 can ignore the latter two categories to their heart’s content. ;-)

  154. #154 Sauceress
    January 15, 2009

    #145 Wayne Robinson

    And anyway, everyone knows that it is the New Zealanders who have unnatural relations with their sheep.

    The voweless Kiwi neighbours fancy sheep? Why wud anyone thunk thut?

    AdultsheepFinder.com
    New Zealand’ s #1 Internet Dating Site
    http://www.adultsheepfinder.com/

  155. #155 ngong
    January 15, 2009

    Craig McClain…

    Have you considered the possibility that you and your fellow researchers are out of touch with your subconscious minds:

    The authors indirectly acknowledge [design] by postulating their ?latent evolutionary potential.? This is a significant, though indirect and possibly even unconscious admission that something besides standard Darwinian mechanisms must have been involved.

    (from “Uncommon Descent”)

    You might start with primal scream therapy.

  156. #156 Hugh M.
    January 15, 2009

    Whilst I do not feel qualified to criticise, I have spent many hours involved in amateur research in a related field, and I believe that you may have overlooked an important factor that impacts your model directly. Namely the symbiotic relationship that exists between Aussies, paddocks and the bizarre hybrid that they call the Ute. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utility_vehicle)

    Over the course of my research, I have directly observed many such diasporas. I can tell you that even much smaller events than you describe are almost invariably associated with at least one Ute. The availability of adequate pasture seems to be a key element here, with an increased probability of Ute activity closely correlated to any increase in paddock size or proximity.

    Under normal conditions, this Ute – Australian interaction is rather benign, in fact I believe it may even assist dispersal. This is not the full story, however. This normal activity depends on a delicate balance of factors that I do not yet fully understand. When this balance is disturbed, the relationship becomes more chaotic (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burn_out). And a process of feedback may be initiated (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Car_surfing), until a tipping point is reached which results in circle work (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_Work).

    Now it may be that I am merely a Gumby, but I feel that you cannot describe adequately the migration of drunken Aussies without at least touching on the subject of Utes.

    Now, err, about those sheep, mate…

  157. #157 Sili
    January 17, 2009

    No drunk Australian has a preference to stroll into the sheep pasture.

    Unlike the Welsh, you mean?

    Did someone mention tiny elephants? (Be sure to search the archives for “mr tusks”.)

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