Don’t do it!

Whirled Nut Daily has announced that the Ark of the Covenant has been discovered and is going to be unveiled in Rome! I urge any of my Italian readers to close your eyes and don’t look, because we all know what will happen when the Ark is opened.

You know this is serious—WND even illustrates their very scholarly article with a photo taken from the Indiana Jones movie.

King of all science media! Or, craigslist for crackpots?

There are science crackpots, and then there are journalist crackpots. Suzan Mazur is a strange writer who runs about trying to convince the world that there is going to be a revolution in evolutionary biology…but her sources tend to be fringe figures like Stuart Pivar, or she relies on mangling quotes from people like Massimo Pigliucci or Richard Dawkins. Her theme, as you might guess from her fondness for Pivar, is that structuralist tropes are going to replace genetic/molecular explanations for development.

That is complete nonsense.

Apparently, she reads Pharyngula (hi, Suzan!), where, to her delight, she discovered Vincent Fleury, a fellow crackpot. She scurried off to procure an interview with Fleury, which turns into a weird complaint session about me mixed with boosterism for overhyped flaky science.

Suzan Mazur: PZ Myers, the Howard Stern of sciencebloggers, recently reviewed your paper Clarifying tetrapod embryogenesis, a physicist’s point of view, which was published in The European Physical Journal: Applied Physics. It appears Myers is increasingly doing a pas de deux with the physical approach to evolutionary science, trying to reposition himself now that a paradigm shift is afoot. In essence, so he can maybe say, well I knew it all the time.

Last week he praised D’Arcy Thompson and Brian Goodwin, saying he found Goodwin’s work “thought-provoking”. What is your response to Myers tactics?

Oooh, “the Howard Stern of sciencebloggers”…I’m going to have to renegotiate my contract with Seed so I can get $100 million/year, and once I do, I’ll start live-blogging strippers!

As usual, though, Mazur gets the science all wrong. There will be no paradigm shift. I am confident that there will be a gradual integration of more developmental biology into evolutionary theory, a process that is going on right now, but that this will require no radical re-evaluation of theory — evo-devo is exciting and opens up new areas of productive research, but it doesn’t turn the world upside-down. It’s a specific subset of evolutionary theory, not a replacement. As for structuralism, it has its place, too, and this isn’t some sudden ploy by me — you can find me writing about it in 2003 and 2004, for example. Again, it will not replace the molecular/genetic approach to development, but it can supplement it.

Look at this bit of amateur psychologizing:

Vincent Fleury: Well that’s fine. But I have a problem with this fellow. He uses a very rhetorical technique. He starts off with some smooth positive statement and then progressively trashes the paper. I’m not so sure it’s sincere.

Suzan Mazur: It’s his way of saying I love you. He knows he can’t maintain his present ground, so he’s increasingly introducing the newer evolutionary science, however he can. He projects himself as a bully so he won’t look like a sissy when he has no choice but to go with the flow.

There’s a simpler explanation than some strange conspiracy theory where all of evolutionary biology is trembling on the verge of collapse and I’m trying to dance on the edge of the avalanche. How about this one: Fleury’s paper was very poor. It proposes a mechanism that he does not support with any evidence, and implies that we need to throw out a huge and useful body of knowledge. It was far too long, and larded with superfluous information that he largely ignored in his conclusion. He relied on the fact that he published a paper on biology in a physics journal, where he could bamboozle a body of reviewers with no knowledge of the scientific discipline being discussed.

That’s why I trashed the paper — because it deserved to be trashed.

It’s really that simple.

And no, Fleury’s work does not represent the “flow” of modern biology. It’s more like a small stagnant eddy far from the major currents of research. If I were trying to position myself in the vanguard of science, I guarantee you that I wouldn’t be trying to cozy up to the likes of Fleury or Pivar or Mazur. That’s the crackpot club.

(via Wilkins, who is clearly angling to be my Baba Booey)

I get email

I’m getting a sudden surge of hate mail, and most of it seems to revolve around the Daniel Hauser case. I assume something I wrote has been reposted somewhere frequented by morons.

Anyway, these are a bit weird. Some people really hate chemotherapy, I think, because it has them extremely upset. So upset that I’ve put some examples below the fold, because they use very naughty language.

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Guess who else won toys from Eric Hovind?

The list of winners of iPods of various flavors from Creation Science Evangelism:

Third place: Kirby Hobley, who created a post on the atheist sub-group of Reddit.

Second place: Richard Haynes, of Atheist Nexus.

First place: PZ Myers of you know where.

Good grief, the atheists won a clean sweep! It’s brilliant marketing, reaching deep into the very community that will most fiercely mock his message.

The return of Stuart Pivar

Last week, I received an ominous email from Stuart Pivar.

Dear PZ,

The work of my lab has been subject to questions and harsh criticisms, some reasonable, some not. The scientific ones are dealt with in a new book On The Origin Of Form, Evolution by Self-Organization, an alternative to the natural selection paradigm, This is a substantially expanded presentation of the self-organization model previously published.

I welcome your assessment. If you are convinced now of its plausibility, as are many others, I solicit your participation in the dissemination of the idea for further investigation. A copy is on its way. Meanwhile, please see

Uh-oh. Pivar, you may recall, is the fellow who tried to sue me for FIFTEEN MILLION DOLLARS two years ago, all over my review of his book, Lifecode. That tends to damp my enthusiasm for any more books from him.

I did not reply. He sent me an update a few days later, anyway.

Dear PZ,

The new book presents a model of self organization amplified well beyond that shown previously, addressing, among many other issues, the reasons that the idealized models are inconsistent with parts of observed embryology. Many prominent scientists have now accepted the plausibility of the model.

If you plan to comment publicly kindly view this new material. You will probably find the premise plausible
as well.



Plausible? It must have undergone significant revision, then, since in its earlier incarnation, it was best described as surreal and absurd. Then the book arrives in my mailbox; you can even preorder it on Amazon now, and just look at the encomiums published on the cover!

“Stuart Pivar’s book, On the Origin of Form, contains ideas that deserve full scientific scrutiny, especially in light of the turmoil roiling evolutionary biology at present. Pivar is presenting, in a series of brilliantly rendered graphical diagrams that show his interpretation of how modifications of a torus shape can generate a vast panoply of biotic form, a new theory of morphogenesis…. This is a seismic event for science. Conventional evolutionary biologists are right to be very worried about this, because it has the potential to trigger the complete collapse of Modern Synthesis Biology.”
–Mark A. S. McMenamin, PhD, Paleontologist, Professor of Geology, Chair of Earth and Environment, Mount Holyoke College

“This is the discovery of the connection between the laws of physics and the complexity of life.”
–Murray Gell-Mann, PhD, Distinguished Fellow, Santa Fe Institute, Nobel Laureate

Oh freakin’ boy.

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