Modeling metazoan cell lineages


A while back, I criticized this poorly implemented idea from Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute, a thing that he claimed was a measure of organismal complexity called Ontogenetic Depth. I was not impressed. The short summary of my complaints:

  • Unworkable idea: There was no explanation about how we could implement and test the idea, and despite promises at the time, Nelson still hasn’t produced his methods.
  • False assertions and confusing examples: He claims that all changes in early lineages are destructive, for instance, which is false.
  • Bad metaphors: He uses a terribly flawed metaphor of a marching band to explain how development works; I’d say that it’s a better example of how development doesn’t occur.
  • No research: Which is really a major shortcoming for a research program, that no research is being done.

Recently, Nature published a paper by Azevedo et al. that superficially might resemble Nelson’s proposal, in that it attempts to quantify the complexity of developing organisms by looking at the pattern within their early lineages. The differences are instructive, though: this paper clearly explains their methodology, presents many of the limitations, and draws mostly reasonable conclusions from the work. It is an interesting paper and contains some good ideas, but has a few flaws of its own, I think. My main objections are that its limitations are even greater than the authors mention, and there are some conclusions that are driven by an adaptationist bias.

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Loooong day

The Café Scientifique was very well done and informative tonight—so where were all you guys? Of course, what the event really meant was that it’s nearly 9:00, I’ve been running around all day, the alarm goes off tomorrow morning at 5:45AM, I teach at 8:00, and somehow I’ve got to explain MHC and T-cell receptors to a class full of sleepy students…and I’ve scarcely cracked the textbook today. So I’m tuning out for a while, to return again after a brief night’s rest.

Another Tuesday, another Café Scientifique

We’re having another Café Scientifique here in Morris this evening—come on down! Nic McPhee of the Computer Science discipline (who also has a weblog, Unhindered by Talent) will be discussing “Privacy, security, and cryptography: What happens to your credit card number on-line, and is that e-mail really from your boss?“. It is open to everyone, of course, and is being held at the local coffeeshop, the Common Cup, from 6:00 to 8:00 this evening.

Another reason to visit Washington state this summer

Besides being my boyhood home and the place where most of my relatives live, they’re finding dead Humboldt squid washing ashore in Puget Sound. Paradise!

Dan Penttila has been walking Washington’s beaches for more than 50 years, made a career of studying small fish born there, and knows pretty much what to expect.

But he could hardly believe it when one day in January, he stumbled over a squid, a species normally found in the warm waters off Mexico and Southern California: the Humboldt squid.

I wonder if the FSM is Danish?

I am put to shame—the flying spaghetti monster gets far more entertaining hate mail than I do.

I learned this from an account in USA Today about the FSM, which also has this beautiful jewel of a quote:

“It’s too bad that they’ll get attention for this sort of drivel when we have a robust scientific research program that the media doesn’t seem to want to write much about,” Discovery Institute spokesman Robert Crowther said in an e-mail interview.

A “robust scientific research program”? Hee hee…I had no idea they had such comedians at the DI.

I guess nobody likes Bruce Willis

So…I went to that Bruce Willis movie I mentioned earlier. It was OK, a rather predictable cop thriller in which he does his usual schtick of getting beat up and bloodied and shot, while still defeating the bad guys at nearly every turn—but at the same time he doesn’t do the hokey super-cop stuff we saw in the Die Hard movies. At least I was pleasantly surprised, as I went in to it with low expectations.

I mentioned that we usually don’t have a problem with obnoxious people here, though, and that was true tonight, but for a different reason: I was the only person at the movie.

There I was, front row center, in a lovely old art deco movie theater, big screen, popcorn, the works…and it was all just for me. It was much nicer than you’ll get with your usual home theater set up.

Eight good essays on Mooney

There is a most excellent online seminar on Mooney’s Republican War on Science going on over at Crooked Timber. The usual gang is reviewing it, with the addition of the inestimable Tim Lambert and Steve Fuller. Wait a minute…Steve Fuller? That Steve Fuller? Steve Fuller. Steve Fuller!


I saw some glimmers of some interesting ideas at the start of Fuller’s ultimately long-winded essay, but they expired even before he started defending the “positive programme behind intelligent design theory” and collapsed into tired pro-creationism mode. When he called George Gilder and Bruce Chapman “technoscience sophisticates”, two people who know no biology and are proud of it, yet rail against basic evolutionary biology, I gave up. I don’t know what a contemptible pseudoscientific poseur like Fuller is doing in there, actually—maybe they should have invited Tom Bethell or some similar anti-science crank in, to give even better balance.

Oh, well. You can skip over that one. The rest of the online seminar is much more sensible.

The virtues of the small town movie theater

Kung Fu Monkey has an excellent rant about the theater experience, and how it is ruined by loudmouths and cell phones.

I just have to say that since I moved to Morris, I love going to the movies. I’ll even go to bad movies. And it’s all because the ambience has completely changed. Rogers recommends bringing back real ushers to silence the kibitzers and chatterers and inconsiderate babblers, but we’ve got something better: everyone in the theater knows everyone else. Nobody gets to make a public nuisance of themselves and then vanish into the anonymity of the crowd.

He’s exactly right. The community experience, the ability to just watch a movie and enjoy it, is the number one factor that has me going back over and over again, even when they’re showing garbage on the screen. I mean, seriously, I’m actually considering going to the theater this week to watch that lame Bruce Willis vehicle, 16 Blocks. I don’t even like Bruce Willis movies.