So what else is new?

In a classic bit of strange understatement, Gizmodo reports that HeLa cells are weird.

Recent genomic sequencing on the popular "Kyoto" HeLa line reveals known errors common to cancer cells like extra copies of certain chromosomes, but also shows unexpected mutations like strong expression of certain genes and segment reshuffling on many chromosomes.

Uh, “recent”? HeLa cells were isolated from a cancer. Cancer cells have these common features, like genomic instability, aneuploidies, and loss of cell cycle control that we all know about. These particular cells were selected for properties that differ from healthy undisrupted human cells.

I also don’t know anyone studying them as models for humans (although I have heard animal rights people claim they’re adequate substitutes for mice, which is just as ridiculous).

So no surprises, and no understanding of cell culture research. We’re done!

How about if we just retire Dollo’s Law altogether?

Earlier this month, there was a flurry of headlines in the pop-sci press that exasperated me. “Have scientists discovered reversible evolution?” was one; “Evidence of Reverse Evolution Seen in Dust Mites” was another. They failed because they always tried to express a subtle idea in a fluffy way that screwed up a more fundamental concept in evolution — it was one step forward in trying to explain a legitimate science paper, and ten steps back in undermining understanding of evolution. This was just awful:

Researchers who deny the idea that evolutionary traffic can only move forward saw their arguments bolstered this week with the publication of a study suggesting that house dust mites may have evolved from free-living creatures into full-time parasites, only to abandon that evolutionary track and go back the way they came, reverting to the free-living creatures that live invisibly in your carpet, bed, and other places in your home that it’s probably best not to think about them living.

“Evolutionary traffic can only move forward”? Please, define “forward” in this context for me. Evolution doesn’t have a direction. You can talk about a temporal sequence of historical changes in a gene, for instance, but from the point of view of the process, there’s no “forward” or “backwards”, only change over time. Is a genetic deletion a backwards step? Is a duplication a forward step? If a mutation changes a cytosine to an adenine, is that going forward, and if there is a revertant, a mutation that changes that adenine back to a cytosine, is that going backwards? I keep hearing this talk about directions, and it doesn’t even fit into my understanding of the process of evolution. Direction is always something people infer retrospectively.

The paper all this comes from, Is Permanent Parasitism Reversible?–Critical Evidence from Early Evolution of House Dust Mites, by Klimov and O’Connor, isn’t that bad, but still it has some bits that annoy me.

Long-term specialization may limit the ability of a species to respond to new environmental conditions and lead to a higher likelihood of extinction. For permanent parasites and other symbionts, the most intriguing question is whether these organisms can return to a free-living lifestyle and, thus, escape an evolutionary “dead end.” This question is directly related to Dollo’s law, which stipulates that a complex trait (such as being free living vs. parasitic) cannot re-evolve again in the same form. Here, we present conclusive evidence that house dust mites, a group of medically important free-living organisms, evolved from permanent parasites of warm-blooded vertebrates. A robust, multigene topology (315 taxa, 8942 nt), ancestral character state reconstruction, and a test for irreversible evolution (Dollo’s law) demonstrate that house dust mites have abandoned a parasitic lifestyle, secondarily becoming free living, and then speciated in several habitats. Hence, as exemplified by this model system, highly specialized permanent parasites may drastically de-specialize to the extent of becoming free living and, thus escape from dead-end evolution. Our phylogenetic and historical ecological framework explains the limited cross-reactivity between allergens from the house dust mites and “storage” mites and the ability of the dust mites to inhibit host immune responses. It also provides insights into how ancestral features related to parasitism (frequent ancestral shifts to unrelated hosts, tolerance to lower humidity, and pre-existing enzymes targeting skin and keratinous materials) played a major role in reversal to the free-living state. We propose that parasitic ancestors of pyroglyphids shifted to nests of vertebrates. Later the nest-inhabiting pyroglyphids expanded into human dwellings to become a major source of allergens.

It’s actually rather interesting that these mites have a phylogenetic history that shows some dramatic changes in lifestyle. Parasitism is a specialized pattern that typically involves a loss of shedding of generalized abilities that allow for autonomous living; they can get rid of functions that won’t be needed in the conditions they’ll be living in. A mammalian parasite is swimming in a sea of nutrients provided by the host; it can lose genes for the synthesis of many amino acids, for instance, and still survive because it’s immersed in those amino acids, provided by the mammalian bloodstream. But that makes it difficult to leave the parasitic life — if it moves out to the more limited diet available in the external world, it may find itself starving to death, unable to synthesize essential building blocks. Yet here they have evidence that mites shifted from parasitism to free-living.

But I have two complaints. One is this framing as a refutation of Dollo’s Law — I really don’t give a damn about Dollo’s “Law” at all. The second is that they haven’t really shown any evidence of molecular/genetic reversibility.

I just roll my eyes at papers that talk about Dollo’s Law anymore. Do people realize that it was a macroevolutionary hypothesis formulated in the 1890s, before anyone had a clue about how genetics worked, much less how genetics and evolution worked together? It was a reasonable prediction about how traits would distribute over time. A horse, for instance, runs on a single robust toe on each leg, the other digits reduced to vestigial splints; Dollo’s law says that those splints won’t re-expand to reform toes identical to those found in horse ancestors. Why, he didn’t know.

A modern understanding of the principle, informed by the underlying genetics, would instead say that a complex character involving multiple genetic changes and relying on a particular background for its expression is statistically unlikely to be reconstituted by stochastic changes in a different genetic background, in exactly the same way. It’s not a ‘law’, it’s a consequence of probability.

The authors have only found reversion to an ancestral pattern on a very coarse scale: there are a great many ways to be a free-living organism, and there are a great many ways to be a parasite. They can say on a very gross level that mites have changed their niches in their evolutionary history, but they can’t claim there has been an evolutionary reversal: if we compared the ancestral free-living form (pre-parasite phase) to the modern free-living form (post-parasite phase), I have no doubt, and there’s nothing in the paper to contradict me, that there would be significant differences in form, physiology, biochemistry and genome, and further, that the parasitic phase would have left evolutionary scars in that genome.

Dollo’s Law is archaic and superficial, and I have no problem agreeing that Klimov and O’Connor have refuted it. But the more interesting principle, founded in a modern understanding of microevolutionary and genetic events, has not been refuted at all — it’s just confusing that we’re still calling that Dollo’s Law, and that we mislead further by talking about a direction for evolution and ‘reversibility’ and all that nonsense. The only source of direction in this process is time’s arrow, and that doesn’t go backwards.

How not to read a graph

This ought to be on Skepchick’s Bad Chart Thursday. The Daily Mail — hey, why are you already groaning? — put up a graph to prove that global warming forecasts are WRONG. They say:

The graph on this page blows apart the ‘scientific basis’ for Britain reshaping its entire economy and spending billions in taxes and subsidies in order to cut emissions of greenhouse gases. These moves have already added £100 a year to household energy bills.

The estimates – given with 75 per cent and 95 per cent certainty – suggest only a five per cent chance of the real temperature falling outside both bands.

But when the latest official global temperature figures from the Met Office are placed over the predictions, they show how wrong the estimates have been, to the point of falling out of the ‘95 per cent’ band completely.

Now here’s the graph. Let’s see if you can detect where they mangled the interpretation.

mailgraph

(Note: I haven’t looked to see whether the underlying data is correctly presented. I’m only examining the Mail’s ability to read their own chart.)

One error of interpretation is the claim that the ‘predictions’ were plotted in retrospect…as if the scientists had just made up the data. That’s not true — what they did was enter the same kinds of measurements available in the past as we have now, plug them into the computer as inputs, and let it generate predictions. This is an important part of testing the validity of the model — if it gave a poor fit to past data, we’d know not to trust it. That it worked well when giving the past 50 years worth of data is a positive result.

The big error of interpretation is to look at that graph and claim it demonstrates a “spectacular miscalculation.” To the contrary, it shows that the predictions so far have been right. As Lance Parkin says,

It’s an argument presented entirely in their own terms, using only data they presented, framed in language of their choosing. It’s been spun and distorted and shaped as much as they possibly can to get the result they want to get and it still says that the scientists who have consistently and accurately predicted that the world is warming were right. That’s their best shot? It’s rubbish.

Need a cleanser after seeing that? Here are ten charts interpreted correctly and demonstrating the reality of climate change.

People actually read the Daily Mail in the UK, huh? I guess it’s like the US’s Fox News…unaccountably popular.

Nightmare fuel

It’s morning here, so it’s probably safe to post this now. I read this article just before bed last night, and then I had a nightmare.

I dreamt that I walked into my classroom, and 50 pairs of eyes all turned to me, and they were all wearing Google Glass, and there were all these little red cyborg lights blinking at me. And there I was torn between the horror of my every word and expression being uploaded to Google’s servers, and…wanting one myself.

Don’t worry, though, I knew it was a dream, so I just flooded the whole room with salt water and shorted out their gadgets, and then I turned them all into mermaids and we…well, you don’t need to know.

But still! After the conversation about privacy yesterday, it was a bit worrisome.

Adam Merberg on grazing and Allan Savory and TED

I wish I’d seen Adam Merberg’s excellent takedown of Allan Savory’s TED talk on “greening the deserts” before I wrote my own. Merberg provides a history of Savory’s career that’s remarkably detailed for its relative brevity, with a couple of damning quotes by Savory, including this one:

You’ll find the scientific method never discovers anything. Observant, creative people make discoveries. But the scientific method protects us from cranks like me.

Merberg offers perhaps the best summation of both Savory’s attitude and the pseudoscientific impulse I’ve seen:

Savory argued at TED that Holistic Management “offers more hope for our planet, for your children, and their children, and all of humanity.” What Savory does not tell us is that there is the distinct possibility that if we try to implement those ideas, we will fail. In this case, he will tell us that we misunderstood his ideas. How comforting it will be to know that his ideas were correct, as they always have been!

Also of interest, Merberg offers a sampling of credulous responses from people who pride themselves on being skeptical, including this one:

In Shermer’s defense, it may be that suspension of credulity isn’t really a guy thing.

One of the more interesting parts of Merberg’s piece is his conclusion, where he directs certain uncomfortable questions at TED:

In December, TED responded to concerns that independent TEDx authorized events were “dragging the TED name through the mud” by sending a letter to “the TEDx community” warning that bad science could lead to revocation of the TEDx license. The letter also included some advice for identifying bad science. I can’t help but think that Savory’s work should have raised concerns for anybody familiar with that list. At the least, Savory’s work “has failed to convince many mainstream scientists of its truth,” much of it “is not based on experiments that can be reproduced by others,” it comes from an “overconfident fringe expert,” and it uses imprecise vocabulary to form untested theories.

Of course, TED has no contractual incentive to apply the standards it sets for TEDx organizers to its own talks. However, the letter emphasizes that “your audience’s trust is your top priority,” and I think it’s fair to ask what TED did to respect that trust in this case. Did they research the science behind Allan Savory’s ideas? Are they satisfied that his talk amounts to “good science”? If Savory’s talk had run at a TEDx event, would that event’s license have been revoked? Now that TED has reined in TEDx, perhaps its next move should be to look in the mirror.

Go check it out.

I, for one, welcome the Internet surveillance state

Well, not really, but I figure I better say so. Google is listening.

Something to consider: the convictions in Steubenville were obtained with the assistance of the flood of data from cell phones. Bruce Schneier considers the implications of constant technological monitoring.

So, we’re done. Welcome to a world where Google knows exactly what sort of porn you all like, and more about your interests than your spouse does. Welcome to a world where your cell phone company knows exactly where you are all the time. Welcome to the end of private conversations, because increasingly your conversations are conducted by e-mail, text, or social networking sites.

And welcome to a world where all of this, and everything else that you do or is done on a computer, is saved, correlated, studied, passed around from company to company without your knowledge or consent; and where the government accesses it at will without a warrant.

Welcome to an Internet without privacy, and we’ve ended up here with hardly a fight.

Are you ready for a world with diminishing privacy? The more difficult question might be…is this a bad thing? The examples given are a little bit on the trivial side — but does it matter if Google, or anyone, knows what sort of porn you like? A little bit more openness might mean an end to shame and sanctimony — but I think the real concern is that selective openness is the danger. If everyone’s porn preferences were known to everyone else, it wouldn’t be a weapon…but if shame continues to fester in the culture at large, then corporations and institutions and individuals with privileged information can use it for unsavory purposes.

Also, I don’t think corporations have porn habits (that we know about!) that could be exploited, so it’s a little asymmetric. Corporations do have extensive financial information that they closet away, though — so if they get to follow our kinks and peccadilloes, do we get access to their shady transactions? That might be a fair trade. Which probably means it couldn’t possibly happen.

Hamza Tzortzis is playing gotcha with Lawrence Krauss now

After that debate between Tzortzis and Lawrence Krauss that was overshadowed by the disgraceful anti-egalitarian exhibition of Muslim misogyny, iERA is now trying a new tactic: they’re releasing tiny snippets of the debate that they believe they can spin into anti-Krauss sentiment. Here’s a perfect example, Krauss’s reply to a question about the morality of incest.

The audience gasped when Krauss said it’s not clear to him that incest is wrong, and then he went on to argue that there are biological and societal reasons why incest is not a good idea, but that he’d be willing to listen to rational arguments for sexual and emotional interactions between siblings, for instance…not that he’d encourage such behavior. It’s a nuanced and complicated reply in too short a time, but otherwise, he’s not wrong.

But you know what Tzortzis is thinking: this is a perfect clip to play to the dogmatic mob, his people, who don’t do complicated and nuanced, and don’t care about rational arguments, only absolute dictates.

I’d add two other arguments that might sink in.

One is that religions also rationalize incest. Here’s the Protestant Christian example:

Since Eve was made from one of Adam’s ribs [Genesis 2:21-22], she would have been a clone of Adam and, had there been any genetic mutation in Adam, this would have been reproduced in Eve and expressed in their offspring. However, we may reasonably conclude that there were no mutations, and the very first commandment given to them was “to be fruitful and multiply” [Genesis 1:28]. However, the business at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil took place long before there were any children.

The account then continues where God confronted the guilty pair at the tree, but they did not confess their guilt or plead for forgiveness [Genesis 3:1-13]. God then cursed the serpent, imposed reproductive difficulties upon Eve and “cursed the ground for [Adam’s] sake” [Genesis 3:17]. From that moment, everything that Adam – and mankind since – ate had grown in the cursed ground. Cell by living cell, Adam began to very slowly change from his initial state of eternal perfection to mortal imperfection, and he finally died at the age of 930 years [Genesis 5:5]. Nevertheless, Adam and Eve’s immediate offspring would have been very close to physical perfection while brother-sister marriages were the only unions possible! Further, according to the genealogies given in Scripture, pre-flood longevity was about the same as that for Adam, so families were very large compared to those of today. Brother-sister unions were not only unavoidable, but they undoubtedly became traditional and expected.

Catholics make a similar argument.

Incest was not a problem for the immediate descendants of Adam and Eve. It became a problem when the deterioration of the gene pool meant that there was an increased likelihood that the offspring of the unions of near relatives would inherit physical or mental problems. Adam’s immediate descendants inherited perfect or nearly perfect genes, so the unions of near relatives were not a problem. Besides, near relatives were the only people who existed.

Muslims, too.

it is a known fact that legislation differs from one Shari’ah to another, while the principles and beliefs remain the same in all of them. So, making of portraits was allowed in the Shari’ah of Sulayman (peace be upon him) but is prohibited in our Shari’ah. Similarly, making prostration of salutation was permitted in the Shari’ah of Yusuf (peace be upon him) but is illegal in ours. Also, war booty was prohibited for nations before us but it is completely legal for us. The Qiblah of people before us used to be towards Bayt Al-Maqdis, but for us it is towards Ka’bah. In a similar way, marriage between brothers and sisters was permitted in the Shari’ah of Adam (peace be upon him) as opposed to those that came afterwards. The following is a clarification on the issue by Haafidh Ibn Katheer, who said:

Allaah allowed Adam (peace be upon him) to marry his daughters to his sons for necessity. Every couple used to have a boy and a girl. Hence, he married the girl of one couple to the boy of another. This is said by Suddi regarding what has been narrated by Abu Maalik and Abu Salih, from Ibn ‘Abbas, by Murrah from Ibn Mas‘ood and by other companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that Adam did not have (in his grandchildren) a baby boy unless it was accompanied by a girl, so he married the male of a couple to the female of another, and the female of a couple to the male of another

So apparently their absolute moral prohibition against incest isn’t quite so absolute after all. A good Muslim can fuck his sister if Allah tells him to.

But the other example I’d give is current, and it’s done all the time. Ever looked at a purebred Arabian horse’s pedigree? It’s an incestuous nightmare, and it’s encouraged — it’s even regarded as a good thing to reinforce good stock with a moderate amount of inbreeding.

Here’s an example of a horse pedigree. Notice what’s going on?

horsepedigree

Look at Pie’s Joseph, for instance. He is the product of a breeding between Wood’s Jay and Wood’s Jay’s granddaughter, Wood’s Chili.

Pie’s Joseph was then bred with his own niece, Pie’s Lady I, and they had a daughter, Pie’s Lady II. Pie’s Joseph was than bred to his own daughter to produce a son, Blue Joe, who is also his grandson.

Let’s not even get into cows and pigeons. Here’s a quick glimpse at the sordid sex life of Favorite:

cowpedigree

Are you squicked out yet? You shouldn’t be. This stuff is going on on farms all over the world. The biological prohibition isn’t quite as strong as you might think — if you want extremes of a phenotype, as you might in agriculture, trying to achieve selective homozygosity for specific traits might actually give you an advantage.

We tend to not want that kind of result in human crosses…although, if you think about it, an unscrupulous nation could embark on a breeding program for athletic ability that would benefit from a multi-generation pattern of incest…

But this all highlights a common problem: get into a debate with fanatics and ideologues like the iERA mob, and they will actually hold it against you if you actually consider the complexities of reality. We like both complexity and reality; how can you argue with someone who comes in with a bias that what you regard as virtues are sinful, and demands that the universe fit itself to their false simplicities?

I support the #tooFEW project

Hey, we all know what atheists, gamers, tech people, and scientists have in common: underrepresentation of minority viewpoints and the presence of indignant white male gatekeepers. Now we get to add another category: wikipedia editors. In that great common resource that gets used all over the place as a quick entry to basic concepts, only 15% of the editors are women. The Feminists Engage Wikipedia project sounds like an excellent way to correct that, by educating more women in how to edit wikipedia and increase the range of contributions.

Note that this is a positive effort. No one is proposing to go in and destroy the patriarchal power structure of wikipedia or anything like that — they are simply trying to get more individuals from wider backgrounds to add topics of interest. All good, right? Exactly in the collaborative spirit of wikipedia?

You’d think so, but they’re already getting pushback. A few people are resentful and think that the initiative will lead to lots of inconsequential topics to clutter up wikipedia — how dare someone think a black feminist writer might be worthy, when we’ve got to document every episode of My Mother the Car? The guys are getting busy strategizing.

sinfest_strategizing

Those of you who are interested might follow Moya Bailey on her blog and on twitter…and participate!

(Thanks to Dana for making me aware of this!)

The Genetic Code is not a synonym for the Bible Code

Oh, boy. The Intelligent Design creationists are all excited about a new paper that purports to have identified an intelligent signal in the genetic code.

Here’s a new paper that can be added to the growing stack of intelligent-design articles in peer-reviewed journals. Even though the authors do not use the phrase “intelligent design,” their reasoning centers on the detection of an intelligent signal embedded in the genetic code — a mathematical and semantic message that cannot be accounted for by a natural cause, “be it Darwinian, Lamarckian,” chemical affinities or energetics, or any other.

I’ve read the paper by ShCherbak and Makukov, and by golly, the Discovery Institute flack really has accurately summarized the paper: it does explicitly and clearly claim to have identified evidence of design in the genetic code! That’s newsworthy in itself, that the creationists can accurately summarize a scientific paper…as long as the results conform to their ideological expectations.

Unfortunately, what they’ve so honestly described is good old honest garbage.

Here’s the short summary of what they do: they jigger the identities of the amino acids coded for by each codon into a number, a nucleon sum. What is that, you might ask? It’s determined by adding up the number of protons and neutrons in the amino acid, which is simply the mass number of the compound. Further, you can distinguish the amino acid into it’s R group, and the atoms that make up the peptide chain proper, which he calls the B group, for standard block. The mass number of the B group is always 74, except for proline, so he transfers a hydrogen from the R group to the proline B group to bring it up to 74, and by the way, did you notice that 74 is two times 37, which is a prime number? Now if you take all the three-digit decimals with identical digits (111, 222, 333…999), and sum their digits (111=3, 222=6, 333=9, etc.) you get the quotient of the number divided by…37!!!1!!

Are you impressed yet? This is simply numerology, juggling highly derived quantities that have little to do with functional properties of the molecules to come up with arbitrary numerical relationships, and then claiming that they’re somehow significant. They also play games with the sums of the mass numbers of just the R groups for certain codons, adding or subtracting the B number, finagling things until they get numbers that are evenly divisible by their magic prime number of 37, etc. It’s pure nonsense through and through.

But every once in a while, something sensible emerges out of the murk. Here’s the logic of their argument:

To be considered unambiguously as an intelligent signal, any patterns in the code must satisfy the following two criteria: (1) they must be highly significant statistically and (2) not only must they possess intelligent-like features, but they should be inconsistent in principle with any natural process, be it Darwinian or Lamarckian evolution, driven by amino acid biosynthesis, genomic changes, affinities between (anti)codons and amino acids, selection for the increased diversity of proteins, energetics of codon-anticodon interactions, or various pre-translational mechanisms.

(1) is simply saying that there must be a pattern of some sort — if the code were purely random assignment of arbitrary nucleotides to each amino acid, it wouldn’t be much of a sign — it would suggest that the sequence is noise, not signal. (2) is the really hard part, the one where you’d have to do a lot of work: you’d have to show that natural processes did not contribute to the pattern. They do not do that. They can’t do that. They take a different and curious tack.

They literally argue that because organizing the code by their nucleon sums makes no sense and has no reasonable functional consequences…therefore it must be an artificial and intentional feature. I’ve heard this argument before. It’s called the Chewbacca defense. Ladies and gentlemen, think about it: that does not make sense! If nucleon numbers show a mathematical pattern of any kind in their relationship to codons, you must accept the existence of a designer.

However, if we can show a natural property that leads to the organization of the genetic code, then I’m afraid their argument evaporates. Even more so than building an argument on the Chewbacca defense, that is.

There’s a very good discussion of the genetic code in Nick Lane’s book, Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, and I’ll briefly summarize it.

First, there is a pattern to the genetic code! No one has ever denied that; it’s obviously not the case that amino acids are randomly assigned to trios of nucleotides. Here’s the code:

geneticcode

Let’s look at one amino acid, glycine (Gly), down in the bottom right corner. The genetic code is degenerate: that means that most amino acids have multiple combinations of nucleotides that can specify them. Glycine’s codes are GGU, GGC, GGA, and GGG. Do you see a pattern? The code is actually GG_, where the third position has a lot of slack or wobble, and any nucleotide will do. We see similar cases where just the first two nucleotides are sufficient to specify leucine, valine, serine, proline, threonine, alanine, and arginine. Even with the other amino acids, there are some constraints; CA_ can identify histidine or glutamine, but if the third letter is a pyrimidine (U or C), you get histidine, while if it’s a purine (A or G), you get glutamine. There are patterns all over the place here! So of course ShCherbak and Makukov could find evidence of significant organization.

But there’s more. There are other rules associated with this pattern.

In the synthesis of these amino acids, biochemistry typically modifies a raw starting material. The first letter of the codon says something about the biosynthesis of the associated amino acid.

If the first letter is:
• C, then the amino acid is derived from alpha-ketoglutarate.
• A, then the amino acid is derived from oxaloacetate.
• T, then the amino acid is derived from pyruvate.
• G, then the amino acid is derived in a single step from simple precursors.

The second letter of the codon is correlated with chemical properties of the amino acid.

If the second letter is:
• A, then the amino acid is hydrophilic.
• T, then the amino acid is hydrophobic.
• G or C, the amino acid has an intermediate hydrophobicity.

Wait…so there’s a pattern to the genetic code, and that pattern is associated with the physical properties of the amino acids? Why, that makes sense. Chewbacca is routed! The most likely origin of the code lies in likely catalytic properties of dinucleotides; pairs of nucleotides in ancient organisms were initially functioning as proto-enzymes before they were incorporated into strings of coding information. At least that provides a historical physico-chemical route to the particular code we now have that does not require weird numerological masturbation.

It’s rather pathetic that the Discovery Institute thinks this is a beautiful piece of science. It’s not. It’s nonsense. But look how the DI spins this story:

How will evolutionists respond to this paper? It’s hard to see how they could dismiss it. Maybe they will try to mock it as old Arabian numerology, or religiously inspired (since Kazakhstan, which funded the study, is 70% Muslim). Those would be unfair criticisms. The authors have Russian names, certified doctorates, and wrote in collaboration with leading lights in the West. Or perhaps critics could argue that the authors hail from a foreign country whose name has too many adjacent consonants in it to take them seriously.

No, it appears the only way out for Darwinists would be the “Dawkins Dodge.” You may remember that one from the documentary Expelled, where Dawkins admits the possibility of panspermia for Earth, so long as the designers themselves evolved by a Darwinian process.

What’s most notable about this paper is the similarity in design reasoning between the authors and the more familiar advocates of intelligent design theory. No appeals to religion or religious texts; no identifying the designer; just logical reasoning from effect to sufficient cause. The authors even applied the “design filter” by considering chance and natural law, including natural selection, before inferring design.

If Darwinists want to go on equating intelligent design with creationism, they will now have to take on the very secular journal Icarus.

I didn’t even consider the religious or ethnic basis of this study; it didn’t come to mind at all. It is clearly simple stupid numerology, though. Look at the rationale given for all of the conclusions, which consist entirely of mathematical manipulations of arbitrary derived properties of the molecules, to arrive at a claim of prime number significance.

We certainly don’t need to invoke panspermia. Nothing in the genetic code requires design. and the authors haven’t demonstrated otherwise.

I am most amused by the cute parallelism of claiming surprise that the authors of this paper use “design reasoning” similar to that used by American Intelligent Design creationists. They’ve been slinging this slop for decades; why be impressed that another set of Intelligent Design creationists in Kazakhstan are using the same tired tropes?

I’m also not impressed with the failure of implementation of their logic. OK, they have a ‘design filter’ that they apply, but so what? Their methods failed to recognize a well-known functional association in the genetic code; they did not rule out the operation of natural law before rushing to falsely infer design.

And that last bit…I don’t care what journal it was published in. The prestige of a journal does not confer infallibility, and even the best of journals will occasionally publish crap. They will be especially likely to publish garbage when they stretch beyond the expertise of their reviewers. Icarus is a journal of planetary science that publishes primarily on astronomy and geology. This particular paper conveniently falls between the cracks — it’s a weird paper full of trivial arithmetical manipulations for arcane purposes with no scientific justification for any of its procedures. I don’t know how it got accepted for publication, other than by boring the reviewers with its incomprehensible digit fiddling.

One last thing: don’t rush to claim a secular purpose behind this work. It’s already been appropriated by freaky strange religious fanatics and lovers of the bible codes. You can’t blame shCherbak directly for this weirdo’s interpretations, but certainly he isn’t far from his temperament.

The facts presented on this site, when combined with those now revealed to us by shCherbak, constitute invincible evidence of the truth of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, and of the Being and Sovereignty of their Divine Author.

Yeah, numerology. Nothing but wanking over tables.


Larry Moran has more — it turns out that Uncommon Descent and Cornelius Hunter also liked this paper. Flies are drawn to shit, I guess.