Wells’ false accusation against Randy Olson

The Discovery Institute is stepping up their smear campaign against Randy Olson and Flock of Dodos, and the biggest issue they can find is their continued revivification of Haeckel’s biogenetic law. They’ve put up a bogus complaint that Olson was lying in the movie, a complaint that does not hold up, as I’ll show you.

First, though, let’s simplify the debate. The Discovery Institute position is that any text that shows Ernst Haeckel’s ancient diagram of various embryos is guilty of fraudulently distorting the evidence for evolution. They have accused scientists of a conspiracy of lies, of using this known false diagram to buttress evolutionary theory.

If this were the case, then the worst case of mass market fraud around would have to be Wells’ own Icons of Evolution: it contains 4 versions of the Haeckelian diagram, including the original, and talks about it for 28 pages. Obviously, this is a criminal conspiracy to promote phony evidence for evolution.

Wait, wait, you protest: Wells’ book was explaining that Haeckelian recapitulation was wrong, and that there were both errors and intentional misrepresentations of embryos in that old work. That should be acceptable.

I would agree, except that the textbooks Wells is damning in Icons often do exactly the same thing! Those that do mention Haeckel and his biogenetic law do so as an example of a historically significant error. Some go on to explain what was correct and what was wrong in his ideas, but basically all are merely pointing out that here was an interesting but failed explanation from the late 19th century, that nonetheless exposes an interesting phenomenon that needs to be understood.

I would add that progress in evolutionary biology has led to better explanations of the phenomenon that vertebrate embryos go through a period of similarity: it lies in conserved genetic circuitry that lays down the body plan. Intelligent Design creationism has contributed absolutely nothing to either refuting Haeckelian ideas, which was the product of working biologists at the end of the 19th century, nor has it generated any better, testable explanations for the conservation of embryonic body plans.

Now what about the Discovery Institute’s claim that Olson was lying about Haeckel’s representation in modern texts?

Olson concedes that the drawings are fraudulent, but he states on camera that “you don’t find them” in recent textbooks. In one scene, Olson hands Kansas attorney (and Darwin critic) John Calvert a recent biology textbook and challenges him to find Haeckel’s drawings in it. Taken by surprise, Calvert can’t do it. Afterwards, Olson displays a 1914 textbook containing the drawings but claims they haven’t been used since then. The film then compares Icons of Evolution to a supermarket tabloid.

I’ve warned you all before that you should never, ever trust a creationist’s quote of a scientist—it will typically be taken out of context and distorted. This is no exception. Did Olson say you can’t find Haeckel’s diagram in any textbook? Yes, but they chopped off a significant part of what he said.

(I’ve taken this partial transcript from my copy of the Flock of Dodos DVD. It starts about 54 minutes into the start of the movie.)

Olson: there is a second part to his book [Icons of Evolution], which is the accusation that Haeckel’s drawings continue to be used in text books…

Calvert: What Haeckel did with his drawings is that he ignored this huge difference in the top…

Olson: Right, right

Calvert: and then he misdraws them so that they really do look…

Olson: He’s a hundred and twenty years ago it’s so far in the past, there’s no relevance to what’s taught today in embryology courses…

Calvert: Well and the biology textbooks, that’s what you find…

Olson: No, you don’t find it, there’s no trace other than a mention that once upon a time Haeckel came up with this idea of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny

Whoops. The DI is caught in another distortion. You don’t find Haeckel’s diagram in textbooks except as historical background.

Let’s go on with the rest of this section—it’s one of my favorite parts of the movie.

Calvert: Well that’s what Wells’ work was was to review biology textbooks…

Olson: Right, right

Calvert: …and he found repeated use of these images.

Olson: I notice that you’ve got an intro bio text right there. I’m sure we could pull it out and look at what they’ve got for Haeckel’s law

Calvert: I don’t think…I mean Jonathan is…I know Jonathan and…uhh…and I’ve looked at the textbooks myself. I haven’t…I can’t say that I’ve done an analysis for Haeckel’s embryos. I mean if you want…

Olson: Let’s take a look at that textbook right there and when we look up if they’ve got Haeckel in there well this will be interesting

[There are several cuts in the following section—they’re spending a bit of time poring fruitlessly over textbooks.]

Calvert: Is that a college book or is that…

Olson: Yes it is. Well, college and high school I think…it’s a question of how they even spell Haeckel…

Calvert: [gesturing to someone to bring him another text book]See the blue one.

Olson: They don’t even mention Haeckel in here.

Calvert: Look under embryo…

Olson: Not even mentioned in this text it’s so far in the past…

Olson: biogenesis…but no, they don’t even have it.

[There’s a brief interlude where Olson interviews Dr Donal Manahan of USC, who explains that they only present these things in a historical context. He also interviews James Hanken of the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology.]

Hanken: You’d see Haeckel’s embryos as a kind of historical…you know, they’d be in the introductory section of the book when they’re taking about the history of evolutionary biology. Nobody was teaching from these things anymore.

As is rather plainly said, Olson, Manahan, and Hanken are all saying you can find this figure in textbooks as part of the historical background, as they are. This is called teaching the controversy (have you heard of it?). At one time, there was a valid debate in the biological community about embryonic recapitulation as a component of evolutionary change, and it’s worth talking about the evidence that was used for it, and the refutation of it, as an example of the process of science.

It is not used as evidence for evolution as Wells claims, in response to a comment left here by Olson.

But if Haeckel’s drawings were just a “crusty artifact from the world of science history,” they wouldn’t still be used in textbooks as evidence for Darwinian evolution.

I teach evolution and development. I took courses in the subject as an undergraduate in the late 1970s. Haeckel has not and never has been during my career taught as “evidence for Darwinian evolution.” That would be rather absurd, since these textbooks that Wells complains about honestly teach Haeckel’s ideas as obsolete.


  1. notthedroids says

    Nice fisking.

    Haekel’s name sets off properly calibrated bullshit detectors just as surely as the 2nd law of thermodynamics (when used in relationship to evolution).

  2. Ian H Spedding FCD says

    It occurs to me is that what we could use is a TV show that is the biological equivalent of Mythbusters. Something that eviscerates all the ID/creationist claims about evolution. Put a black beret at a rakish angle on PZ and he could do a passable imitation of Jamie and maybe rope in Richard Dawkins as his partner…

  3. says

    Yes, he does, and I have.

    He misrepresents them all. The real kicker: he grades them, and gives them an “F” if they use Haeckel’s diagram…and a “D” if they use actual photos!

  4. quork says

    In one scene, Olson hands Kansas attorney (and Darwin critic) John Calvert a recent biology textbook and challenges him to find Haeckel’s drawings in it.

    That is wildly distorted, as PZ notes. The books are Calvert’s, not a particular book selected by Olson. It is in Calvert’s office, and the two of them go through a number of books on Calvert’s shelves. Just more Creationist bearing of false witness.

  5. Bob O'H says

    historical backgroundteaching the controversy

    Let me get this straight. What you’re saying is that ID can be taught, in 120 years time, right? Enquiring minds want to know.


  6. Crudely Wrott says

    Desperation coupled with conviction is a deadly mix. What we are seeing here is the continuation of a downward spiral, like the drain in a privy, emptying, flushing, going down. Present indications are for a continuing display reflecting actual conditions. Good, I say, good.

  7. Winston says

    “Nope, sorry, only if it is a legitimate scientific controversy. ID doesn’t qualify — no science.”

    ID doesn’t qualify, but fradulent drawings do?

  8. rrt says

    ID doesn’t qualify, but fradulent drawings do?

    As an example of the history of evolutionary theory and of how not to do science? Absolutely. And I’d have no problems working ID into textbooks in THAT context. But, oddly enough, I think Wells wouldn’t agree.

  9. says

    Recapitulation Theory was a hypothesis pursued by a number of notable scientists, prompted by observations from an unimpeachable source: Karl Ernst von Baer, not Haeckel. It was eliminated by the work of legitimate scientists.

    So yes, it was genuine work on a phenomenon that has been repeatedly confirmed. It was far more substantial than ID.

  10. Ahcuah says

    OK, I got out my old high school biology textbook. It’s a BCCS (Biological Sciences Curriculum Study) book from 1968; my recollection is that it part of the massive science response to Sputnik. It has a Haeckel-like illustration (p. 584) with drawings for Man, Pig, Salamander, and Chicken (5 stages shown, with the last stage the adult). Here’s what the text says:

    Embryology also gives us clues to paths of evolution. The similarities of embryological development among multicellular animals were intensively studied during the latter half of the nineteenth century. These studies led to the conclusion that the embryonic development of the individual repeated the evolutionary history of the race. Thus, it was thought to be possible to trace the evolutionary history of a species by a study of its embryonic development. This idea was so attractive as to gain the status of a biological principle.

    Today the idea of embryonic resemblances is viewed with caution. We can see and demonstrate similarities between embryos of related groups, as shown in Figure 31-13. However, while a certain amount of recapitulation is unquestioned, the old idea that a human passes through fish, amphibian, and reptile stages during embryonic development is not correct.

    Looks like Wells is full of crap to me.

  11. Ahcuah says

    OK, I couldn’t help myself. I also just got out my son’s high school biology text (he’s a senior this year). It is the text for AP Biology in one of the suburbs of Columbus, OH.

    No Haeckel. No embryo comparisons (but there are two really neat drawings showing the stages of sperm penetrating the eggs: one for a sea urchin, one for a mammal).

    Anyways, I am quite impressed. The book is about 1200 pages long, with an 80 page unit on “Mechanisms of Evolution” and a 200 page unit on “The Evolutionary History of Biological Diversity.” Plus lots of other good stuff.

    [My son’s current plans are to major in molecular genetics in college.]

  12. jim halsey says

    I’ve warned you all before that you should never, ever trust a creationist’s quote of a scientist–it will typically be taken out of context and distorted.

    I would just like to second PZ’s observation above. In my high school and university days back in the 60’s I was a very militant fundamentalist (having been raised as a “premillenial, dispensational, Bible believeing Christian”). Though I don’t like to admit it, I did help bring to our local university campus creationist speakers and programs. I read all their books such as “The Genesis Flood” and so on and so forth.

    However, having read a number of quotes from evolutionary scientists contained in creationist books I began to get a bit curious. I tracked down original sources for several of these quotes and was very astonished to find that in every case the evolutionist had been quoted out of context or his ideas distorted. I found that creationists distorted the scientific method by making it sound as if disagreements between various scientists as to specific points of evolution here or there meant that the entire theory of evolution was in doubt and could not be true. It was shocking to see how they claimed, as just one example, Gould’s theories of punctuated equilibrium as being a support for creationism.

    More and more I turned from reading what creationists said “about” evolution and evolutinary biologists to reading the sources themselves. Needless to say, it was an eye opening experience and was a big factor in my struggle out of fundamentalism.

    The lesson I took away from those years was never, ever to take what a creationist says about science or a scientist at face value. It is almost a sure bet that what they say is either due to gross(or diliberate)misunderstanding, a distortion, or outright lie.

    I feel a real debt of gratitude to people such as Richard Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Karl Zimmer, Sean Carroll, Daniel Dennett, Ernst Mayr, Matt Ridley,and many others from whose writings I have learned an incredible amount.

  13. Matt says

    I think it would be very valuable to scan the appropriate sections of the “offending” texts that the DI references and put them online. I’m surprised it hasn’t already been done.

  14. Art says

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, Patrick Frank (author of “On the Assumption of Design”, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 – 130) gave an AOL discussion (the same one that was informed by Wells that retinoic acid is not a morphogen) the following. Enjoy.

    For convenience I’ll summarize my findings here:

    I looked at 15 books in total. Where Haeckel’s drawings appeared, that fact is noted. Where comment on Haeckel or his law is given, I have quoted the text faithfully, or in one case summarized, to give the flavor of the commentary.

    Of the 15 books, only 5 show Haeckel’s drawings, two in whole, three in part.

    Of those 5, only one presents the biogenetic law uncritically, and that book is the 1937 H. C. Skinner, T. Smith, F. M. Wheat “Textbook in Educational Biology”.

    The other 4 of these 5, along with another 7 that actually mention Haeckel, either dismiss Haeckel’s laws as crude or incorrect, or else critique them in the sense that embryos resemble one another at early stages, but that adaptational pressures have obscured or removed most of the similarities.

    Four textbooks didn’t mention Haeckel at all, or the biogenetic theory.

    The first three entries below, arranged by ascending publication date, are among Pepcis’ list, though the last two are later editions.

    Note that not one of the three support Pepcis’ accusation of fraud propagation. In every case, Haeckel’s law is critiqued, and Storer, et al. end with “Thus there is no precise recapitulation.”

    Notice also that even texts written in the 1920’s discussed the biogenetic law critically, noting the adaptationist pressures on embryos as causative of differentiation among them. That means even before the 1960 date shouted by Pepcis, the biogenetic law was under general critical review in biology.

    In all cases, even where Haeckel’s drawings appear, the representation of what they indicate is critically given and the biogenetic law is rejected as either wrong or a crude approximation.

    There is a clear distinction to be made, therefore, between the presentation of Haeckel’s drawings and the propagation of a myth, most especially deceitful myth, about them.

    There is no apparent evidence of a conspiracy to deceive or of a propagation of myth about Haeckel or his law among biologists.

    However, evidently the reverse is true among creationists, since the evidence doesn’t support their claim. Meaning either they didn’t research the evidence (as Pepcis clearly did not), or else they LIED about it.

    One last comment: In Simpson’s book, item number 11 below, I have included their footnote 8. In that footnote, they explicitly state that one of two reasons why they are discussing Haeckel’s law at all is because some mention of it still occurred in biology and they wanted to be sure that students understood that it is incorrect. Very damaging evidence of a conspiracy to deceive, that.

    Here are the findings and emphases were in the originals:


    E. O. Dodson “Evolution: Process and Product” (Reinhold Pub., 1960)

    p. 46, 47 include Haeckel’s drawings.

    p. 45: “Ernst Haeckel brought this field into prominence in the immediate post-Darwinian period with his Biogenetic Law, which states that “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny”. He believed that embryonic states corresponded to ancestral adults. … Recapitulation does occur, but not as Haeckel thought, for resemblances are chiefly between embryos, not embryos and adults, and embryos, too, have adaptive problems.”

    P. 51, under the heading: “Difficulties of the Biogenetic Law: “[T]here was much unsound biology associated with the Biogenetic Law, and few aspects of evolutionary science have been so heavily attacked in recent years. The reasons are simple enough. The recapitulation theory assumes that embryos need only repeat the past … Actually embryos must cope with a hostile environment even as do adults. … [M]utations can effect embryonic as well as
    adult stages, and these, too, are subject to natural selection, so that embryonic adaptations become part of the normal pattern of development.”

    T. I. Storer, R. C. Stebbins, R. L. Usinger and J. W. Nybakken “General Zoology” 6th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 1979)

    p. 270 shows Haeckel’s drawings for fish, chicken and human.

    p. 271 “The theory of recapitulation, or biogenetic “law”, of Haeckel (1834-1919) stated that an individual organism in its development (ontogeny) tends to recapitulate, or repeat, the stages passed through by its ancestors (phylogeny). Von Baer’s “laws” provide a more accurate statement. The pattern of embryonic development in a group of related animals may contain features reflecting their past, but many innovations are superimposed that often
    obscure the ancestral pattern, Thus there is no precise recapitulation.”

    Charles Darwin “The Illustrated Origin of Species” Abridged and edited by Richard Leakey (Hill and Wang, Pub., 1979)

    p. 213 shows Haeckel’s drawings of dog, bat, rabbit and human are shown.

    The legend to that picture is: “Embryos of the dog, bat, rabbit and man, at three stages in their development, as illustrated by Ernst Haeckel in 1891. Only in the final stages do the embryos reveal their identity. Darwin correctly surmised that this is because the mutations that produced the changes between them during their evolution tended to be late-acting. Haeckel, on the other hand, formulated the misleading dogma that every individual must
    go through the whole evolutionary process of its species during its development, or “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny.”
    Other surveyed books

    L. L. Woodruff “Foundations of Biology” (The Macmillan Co., 1923)

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings.

    p. 364 provides evidence supporting the “… so-called Recapitulation Theory or Biogenetic Law”. However, the discussion is reasoned in terms of supporting data, including examples of the embryonic transition from as 2-chambered heart (as in fish) through a 3-chambered heart (as in reptiles) to a 4-chambered heart (as in birds and mammals), progressive development of the neural tube to the brain, and so forth.

    Also, a comparative illustration of three embryos at an equivalent stage of development is shown for fish, bird, and human. However, they are not Haeckel’s drawings.

    W. M. Smallwood “A Textbook of Biology” (Lea & Febiger, Pub. 1924)

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings and no mention of Haeckel or biogenetic theory, recapitulation theory, or law of phylogenesis at all.

    G. G. Scott “The Science of Biology” (Thomas Y. Crowell, Pub. 1925):

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings:

    P. 410: “Haeckel, in 1874, accepted this [biogenetic] theory completely. It is known as Recapitulation Theory or Law of Phylogenesis, which is that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny – that is an animal in its development goes through stages indicating or representing its ancestors … [discussion of the theory follows] … Though there is some truth in this theory, yet embryological history does not show all details of ancestral
    history. Special conditions of development necessitate special structures … The application of the so-called law of phylogenesis is limited indeed.”

    P. 526: “…[S]ome enthusiasts like Haeckel applied this so-called law [of Phylogenesis] too widely…”

    W. J. Dakin “The Elements of General Zoology” (Oxford U. Press, 1927)

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings and no mention of Haeckel at all in the book, no mention of biogenetic law or law of phylogenesis.

    H. C. Skinner, T. Smith, F. M. Wheat “Textbook in Educational Biology” (American Book Co., 1937)

    p. 396 Includes Haeckel’s drawings.

    “About sixty years ago, Ernst Haeckel stated “Ontogeny is a short recapitulation of phylogeny”. This means an individual is a brief resume of the evolution if its race.”

    (This is the only text I found uncritically accepting of Haeckel’s law)

    R. R. Erlich and R. W. Holm “The Process of Evolution” (McGraw-Hill) 1963.

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings.

    p. 66 under the heading “Modification of the Developmental System”: “Of all the phenomena of morphogenesis, none has received more attention from evolutionists than so-called recapitulation … [i.e.,] each organism goes through a condensed version of its phylogenetic history … This generalization was originally called the biogenetic law by Haeckel and is often stated as “ontogeny recapitulations phylogeny”. This crude interpretation of
    embryological sequences will not stand close examination however. Its shortcomings have been almost universally pointed out by modern authors, but the idea still has a prominent place in biological mythology.”

    T. J. Parker & W. A. Haswell “A Text-book of Zoology” (Macmillan & Co.) 6th ed. 1964.

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings.

    p. 2 contains the only mention of the biogenetic law in the book: “‘Ontogeny,’, wrote Garstang in 1922 (in reference to … the so-called Biogenetic ‘Law’ of Haeckel) ‘does not recapitulate Phylogeny: it creates it.'”

    George Simpson & William S. Beck “Life: An Introduction to Biology” (Harcourt, Brace & World Pub., 1965)

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings.

    p. 240, under the heading “Supposed Recapitulation”: “Early evolutionists, especially E. H. Haeckel (1834-1919) rephrased that generalization as the principle of recapitulation: “ontogeny repeats phylogeny” … It is now firmly established that ontogeny does not repeat phylogeny. [footnote 8]”

    Footnote 8: “You may well ask why we bother with principles that turned out to be wrong. There are two reasons. In the first place belief in recapitulation became so widespread that it is still evident in some writings about biology and evolution. You should therefore know it does not really occur. In the second place, this is a good example of how scientific knowledge is gained. Von Baer and Haeckel were not flatly or wholly wrong. They made
    successive approximations to truth, and our present closer approximation is based on their accumulation of facts and attempts at explanation.”

    C. A. Villee and V. G. Dethier “Biological Principles and Processes” (W. B. Saunders Co., Pub., 1976)

    p. 295 shows Haeckel’s drawings of fish, chick, pig, and human.

    p. 295: “… Ernst Haeckel in 1866 … developed his theory that embryos, in the course of development, repeat the evolutionary history of their ancestors in some abbreviated form. This idea, succinctly stated as “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” stimulated research in embryology… It is now clear that the embryos of the higher animals resemble the embryos of lower forms, not the adults, as Haeckel believed.
    [In recapitulation, however] the embryo eliminates some steps and alters or distorts others … The concept of recapitulation must be used with due caution, but it can be helpful in understanding … curious and complex patterns of development.”

    W. L. Smallwood & P. Alexander “Biology” (Silver Burdett Co., Pub., 1981)

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings, no mention of Haeckel, the biogenetic law, or recapitulation theory in embryos.

    I must say, though, that the book devotes only 2 pages to evolution and looks like a really poor text book.

    W. K. Purves, G. H. Orians & H. C. Heller “Life: the science of biology” (Sinauer Assoc., W. H. Freeman Pub., 1992)

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings, no mention of Haeckel, no mention of biogenetic law.

    This text book looks excellent and is heavy on evolution. One entire chapter is devoted to embryology and animal development, but no mention at all of the biogenetic law.

    C. P. Hickman, jr., L. S. Roberts, A. Larson “Integrated Principles of Zoology” (Wm. C. Brown, Pub., 1997) 10th ed.

    No inclusion of Haeckel’s drawings.

    p. 161, under the heading “Ontogeny, Phylogeny and Recapitulation”: “… Haeckel gave his generalization: ontogeny (individual development) recapitulates (repeats) phylogeny (evolutionary descent). This notion became known simply as recapitulation or the biogenetic law. Haeckel based his biogenetic law on the flawed premise that evolutionary change occurs by successively adding stages onto the end of an unaltered ancestral ontogeny…”

    Pictures of embryos of fish, bird, reptile and human are given showing similarities among them, but the drawings are not Haeckel’s.

  15. says

    This was a major point of contention in the biology textbook approval process in 2003 at the Texas State Board of Education. Wells and the Discovery Institute made headway claiming the books were “wrong” and, specifically, factually in error. This is important because the Texas legislature years ago stripped the board of authority to politick on much of the book, instead leaving them with the power only to complain if a book is factually wrong.

    A cadre of distinguished biologists from UT and other Texas schools talked to the textbook publishers and got them to substitute photos of embryoes that made the points they wanted to make.

    I predict it Haeckel will again be a target of the anti-evolution crowd when the books come up for approval this next time. And, I’ll wager, Wells will be pushing the same old, disproven claims.

  16. Keanus says

    To address this claim of the DI one should look at high school biology texts, not college, my reason being that only they are seen or studied (hopefully) by a significant portion of the adult population. And being produced in a more commercial process and often with authors who are not professional biologists, they are wrong more often. Of the textbooks mentioned in I recognize only one, the Smallwood/Alexander text from Silver-Burdette, as at the high school level, although I know nothing off the top of my head about the texts that appeared in the ’20’s and ’30’s.

    From my years as a science text book editor with Prentice-Hall and Addison-Wesley (roughly from 1965 to 1980), I know that some authors sought to include Haeckel’s drawings in their books. For those texts for which I bore responsiblity, they usually didn’t make it, but I’m sure some did. Unfortunately, I have no copies of those texts to review so I can’t say how the drawings or Haeckel were treated. The only one I currently have is a 1990 edition of Worth Publishing’s Curtis book, Invitations to Biology, for non-majors I recall, and it puts Haeckel in the proper place.

    Since the early ’80’s the textbook business has undergone very rapid consolidation, so that today there are only three major publishers of K-12 books (consolidation has not hit college publishing as hard). Of those the remain I suspect that few mention Haeckel in anything other than an historical context. But pre-1980, there are surely texts that one can find that include Haeckel in a central position. They may never have sold many copies, but that they existed would be grist for the DI PR machine.

  17. John B says

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, Patrick Frank (author of “On the Assumption of Design”, Theology and Science, Volume 2, Number 1 / April 2004, pp. 109 – 130) gave an AOL discussion (the same one that was informed by Wells that retinoic acid is not a morphogen) the following. Enjoy.

    Thanks, Art.

  18. Herb West says

    Geez PZ, don’t argue this one. You win some, you lose some. This one you lost in a big way. Haeckelian recapitualtion was in Molecular Biology of the Cell for crying out loud. And no, it wasn’t described as an historical error.

    Cell 3rd Ed. p 32: “In terms of anatomy, furthermore, early developmental stages of animals whose adult forms appear radically different are often surprisingly similar; it takes an expert eye to distinguish, for example, a young chick embryo from a young human embryo (Figure 1-36).” The figure is Haeckel’s drawings.

    p 33: The Haeckel section ends with: “[T]he embryos of different species so often resemble each other in their early stages and, as they develop, seem sometimes to REPLAY THE STEPS OF EVOLUTION.”

    For anyone that doesn’t own a copy of the textbook, go to Amazon.com, look up Molecular Biology of the Cell 3rd Edition, clik the look-inside-the-book link and search for Haeckel.

  19. Carlie says

    Herb, let’s re-emphasize that statement properly. “as they develop, SEEM SOMETIMES TO replay the steps of evolution.” Not that they do, they SEEM SOMETIMES TO. That’s very different than recapitulation theory, which stated that they do indeed actually go through those steps, not that they just look like it. Know what you’re talking about before you write it in all caps.

  20. Gary Hurd says

    Following the suggestion of Herb West, I went to the Amazon.com site and searched the Molecular Biology of the Cell 3rd Edition for Haeckel. The first observation I made was that the online search is from the 1989 edition, not even the 1999 edition cited by West.

    There are two references to Haeckel, each used an illustration “(After E. Haeckel, Anthropogenie, oder Entwickelungsgeschichte des Menschen. Leipzig: Engelmann, 1874.)” The first was in the section “From Single Cells to Multicellular Organisms …”

    The illustration caption read, “Comparison of the embryonic development of a fish, an amphibian, a bird and a mammal. The early stages (above) are very similar; the later stages (below) are more divergent. The earliest stages are drawn approximately to scale; the later stages are not.”

    The accompanying text suggests that the mutations affecting the early stages of development are more likely to be lethal than mutations altering the late stages of development. The second citation was in the section “Morphogenetic Movements and the Shaping of the Body Plan.” The same figure and caption were used. The accompanying text states that the basic vertebrate body plan is shared by embryos at the stage that the somites are forming.

    There is not any discussion, or even mention of Haeckel’s theoretic interpretations.

    Wells of course insists that the Haeckel drawings are radical frauds without any basis in reality, and that any use of any sort is “proof” of the vast evil athiest conspiracy to destroy morality. This from a man who worships self-proclaimed gods named Moon.

  21. Herb West says

    Gary – The Third Edition is indeed online. The Third edition of Molecular Biology of the Cell is the book shown in the DI movie, not the second edition.

  22. says

    You don’t get it. Haeckel is in the textbooks — in the introductory, historical sections. That’s what Olson clearly said.

    Finding examples of Haeckel’s figure in the introductory, historical section of a textbook does not show he’s wrong, it shows that he was right.

    Wells lies when he claims that Haeckel is used in contemporary textbooks to support evolutionary theory. It isn’t. It wouldn’t even make sense to use it that way — Haeckel was speculating about how evolution worked before we had a science of genetics.

  23. Herb West says

    PZ, I agree with you’re last statement that it doesn’t make sense. Nonetheless, The Cell does in fact cite Haeckel’s drawing as evidence of genetic similarity between species.

    The Cell (p 32): “Molecular studies, to be discussed later, reveal an astonishing number of developmental resemblances at a fundamental genetic level, even between species as remotely related as mammals and insects. In terms of anatomy, furthermore, early developmental stages of animals whose adult forms appear radically different are often surprisingly similar; it takes an expert eye for example, to distinguish to a young chick embryo from a young human embryo (Figure 1-36).” The Figure is Haeckel’s drawing.

    It doesn’t make sense. But there it is.

  24. Gary Hurd says

    I disagree with Herb West’s assertion that “The Cell does in fact cite Haeckel’s drawing as evidence of genetic similarity between species.” The authors observed that mutations altering the early stages of development are more likely to be lethal than those altering late stages of development.

    Rather than using embryos to support common decent with modifiaction, they correctly apply evolutionary theory to understand features of embryonic development. They use noncontroversial parts of Haeckel’s illustrations. These identical observations could be supported from other graphics.

  25. richCares says

    just finished reading the section in question and find that Gary Hurd is correct. Herb West is streching a non issue.
    Come on, admit it, Wells is a fraud.

  26. Gary Hurd says

    Thanks Rich for the check-see. A gross problem is that creationists don’t seem able to understand subtle points. The text, “Molecular Biology of the Cell 3rd Edition” does use a variation of Haeckel’s illustrations which they correctly cite. They do not use them in the manner that Wells claims. Nor did they use them merely “historically” as PZ claimed.

  27. Lee says

    More “critical thinkers” who refuse to employ critical thinking (and at Cornell no less)…


    In Futuyma’s Evolutionary Biology (3rd edition © 1998) Haeckel’s faked drawings are actually reproduced without any note to show they are fake (see below). Although there is some discussion in the text of problems with Haeckel’s biogenetic law, the drawing is presented as factually correct.

    So let me get this straight. The biology book expressly states (unequivocally, in words!) that there are problems with Haeckel’s biogenetic law, but the (equivocal) picture is presented as factually correct. Yes, that must be it! We must put an end to this conspiracy perpetrated by textbook writers who present false information to children in the form of pictures while hiding the truth where the children will never find it — IN THE TEXT!

    Seriously, read the text below the figure

    The text is unequivocal on the matter,

    Still, the biogenetic law is honored more often in the breach than the observance, and it is certainly not an infalliable guide to phylogenetic history.

    I know absolutely nothing about biology, but even a cursory amount of digging around reveals who is correct in this “controversy.”