On BioScience and Life and Such

Posts Tagged ‘creationist’

Hitting three peeves with one stone

In Uncategorized on October 11, 2008 at 10:36 am

post to news.thinkgene.com

Everyone’s talking about their pet peeves, I thought maybe I should too. Here are three of them

1. Labeling DNA with unknown function as “junk”

2. Scientists in ivory towers and on top of their high horses.

3. Holding back on scientific arguments in fear that someone will use them in an unscientific way.

The two last ones are really about how scientists communicate with the rest of the world, and I’ll get back to that

The post that lets me comment on these issues all at the same time is: Scientists Cynical use of “Junk DNA” at Michael Eisens blog (I know the post is rather old, but it is new to me). Coincidentally his post allows me to sum up my recent “junk” posts and the “creationist terror” post.

Quotes for each peeve

Unfortunately, for initially practical reasons, a disproportionate amount (surely in excess of 90%) of research has focused on protein-coding genes, fostering the faulty impression – amongst scientists as well as science writers – that the ~3% of the human genome that is protein-coding contains > 90% of the function.

This is good…..if it means what I mean: that labeling DNA of unknown function as “junk” by default is wrong. Which it most certainly is. For more on this topic, see my 6 post discussion with Larry Moran (1,2,3,4,5,6).

But, then Eisen starts criticizing the press release for the fact that they used this “junk” term:

They work on non-coding DNA precisely because they know it is NOT junk. So why, when it’s time to make a pitch to the local press officer, do they fall back on this old bromide? It obviously appeals to writers – who love it when they can pitch a story as overturning orthodoxy. It seems minor, but pegging it this way leads to some really attrocious misrepresentations of current biological knowledge.

This is bad, because of two reasons. Firstly, the term is not wrong, it’s used on a piece of DNA with an previously unknown function. A lot of this DNA is currently labeled “junk” by the “junk-people“. The only wrongdoing here is that they didn’t specify that regulatory elements have been known for some time, – that’s hardly a grave error. On the contrary, phrasing it like this in the press release underscores and highlights that much of what we previously labeled as “junk” in fact isn’t. That is really, really good, in fact it’s an excellent way of enlightening the public that non-coding DNA isn’t necessarily “junk”. Secondly, when scientists communicate with the rest of the world it is important to use terms that will not serve to alienate. Only to a certain extent of course, because oversimplification can easily distort the true message. But, this press release is not an example of oversimplification. The critique of these news-pieces constitutes nitpicking, and strengthens the view of scientist as locked inside ivory towers or sitting on top of their high horses. There are plenty of examples of press releases that is misrepresenting science, are inaccurate or just plain wrong. The over-hyping of imminent cures for cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer are good examples of bad science news reporting, and this happens almost daily all over the world. Another example is getting statistics all wrong in reporting on genetic tests (there are however, initiatives to try and fix this situation. You are hereby encouraged to go see HelixGene, I also strongly recommend you to join if you can help, or report bad news coverage of science if you find any).

Towards the end of the post I find my third pet peeve:

A second, and less obvious, problem is that this view has played into the hands of the intelligent design crowd.


And every time a new study comes out reporting that “junk DNA” is not junk, the ID’ers jump on it as validation of the predictions of ID. It’s hooey of course, but we needn’t give them the opportunity.

Which shows us Eisen is a victim of creationist-terror (see my previous post on this topic), and it makes me sad that we as scientists do not have the guts to stand up against this terror. We must feel free to express whichever valid scientific argument we find relevant in a given topic or field. That some of us don’t makes me really, really unhappy….

Are you Suffering under the Creationist Terror Regime

In Uncategorized on October 8, 2008 at 9:23 pm

post to news.thinkgene.com

Then free yourself……now !!

While reading “Postmodern evolution?” (a Nature News feature by John Whitfield) I found myself ripped out of the general feeling of bliss (caused by the fact that evo-devo is finally gaining some momentum). Because, first I read this:

Günter Wagner, an evolutionary theorist at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, puts up a slide bearing the words ‘Postmodern Synthesis’. Pigliucci is moved to make an editorial suggestion from the floor: “I’d really rather we didn’t use that term.” Wagner says the slide was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but Pigliucci is worried about the impression the word creates: “If there’s one thing we don’t want, it’s for people to get the idea that there’s a bunch of evolutionary theories out there, and that they’re all equal.”

So, …. are we all forced into silence by the creationists ? The advice is not to use a term because it illuminates that there are new ways of thinking about an existing (and accepted) theory. We cannot speak in fear of being misinterpreted ? Such a coward attitude !

And then to make things worse, towards the end I read this:

…the dominant political concern was a fear of attack from fundamentalists. As Gould discovered, creationists seize on any hint of splits in evolutionary theory or dissatisfaction with Darwinism. In the past couple of decades, everyone has become keenly aware of this, regardless of their satisfaction or otherwise with the modern synthesis. “You always feel like you’re trying to cover your rear,” says Love. “If you criticize, it’s like handing ammunition to these folks.

Well, discussing in this cover-up manner will in my opinion, provide even stronger ammunition. Science is not about keeping your silence, quite the contrary.

Sometimes accusations of damaging the Darwinistic cause are used by scientists towards other scientist, – an indication of a societal reign of terror. To illustrate, here’s a comment to Oliwia Judsons blog post on Hopeful Monsters:

A “jumpy sort of evolutionary process” explains the complex organism’s sudden appearance, because there isn’t fossil evidence? Be careful or you’ll soon be agreeing with the Intelligent Design folk that there is such a thing as irreducible complexity. And “so far the data are suggestive rather than definitive”? Well, that opens a whole another box of problems, doesn’t it, Ms. Scientist Judson? Speculative articles such as these masquerade as science and do great harm to the whole field.— Posted by Charles M

Many are, of course aware of the situation, but nevertheless ends up bowing in fear of creationist attack (again from the Nature News feature):

” So don’t criticize in a grandstanding way, says Coyne: “People shouldn’t suppress their differences to placate creationists, but to suggest that neo-Darwinism has reached some kind of crisis point plays into creationists’ hands,” he says.

The glue holding a regime of terror together, are terrorized people. But, why be afraid, – facts are on our side. We are free to safely discuss the implications of these facts. There is no danger in this.

So please, please, stop holding your arguments back. It does not serve the cause of solidifying evolution as a fundamental force in biology. Speaking clearly on all scientific views of evolution theory on the other hand will, and holding back only makes things worse.