More noise from that perfectly respectable cephalopod RNA editing paper with the bad press release. This time it comes from Quartz.
It turns out these impressive abilities may originate at the molecular level. Researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel and the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Massachusetts, published a paper on April 6 illustrating that octopuses and their relatives, squid and cuttlefish, can readily change the way they use their DNA. Rather than using their genetic code as a blueprint to build the proteins they need to survive, cephalopods use it more like guidelines.
“This may explain why they’re such good problem solvers,” Clifton Ragsdale, a neurobiologist at the University of Chicago unaffiliated with the paper, told Scientific American.
NO IT DOESN’T! If a paper came out that announced that neurons get more of their ATP from glycolysis (which is actually often the case), would you then declare that you’ve figured out how humans got to be so smart? No, you wouldn’t, because the mechanism is so far from the outcome. LeBron James likes Fruity Pebbles, that must be the secret of his basketball skills!
RNA editing is a mechanism that allows the proteins produced by genes (and also, and probably to a greater extent, the non-coding RNAs) to acquire different sequences over time, just like mutations to the nucleotide sequence would. It tells you nothing about the complex sequence of historical events that led to the emergence of greater intelligence.
Also, “Rather than using their genetic code as a blueprint to build the proteins they need to survive, cephalopods use it more like guidelines” is just wrong and implies so much nonsense. Who or what is following these “guidelines”? They make it sound like squid take their genetic output and consciously adjust it to suit some vaguely understood better goal. Post-transcriptional processing is chemistry, too!
I’m also chattering away to a tiny audience over on Mastodon (I’m @firstname.lastname@example.org, if you’re interested), so I figure I’ll also put my comments there over here, so you can argue with me.
It’s annoying because the study doesn’t address the question everyone thinks it does. It’s clear that most people are reading the press release, not the paper, and can’t understand the science behind it.
It’s a bad translation problem.
So now I’m wondering about #scicomm responsibilities. SJ Gould & Dawkins made masterful contributions to the public understanding of science, but they also separated everyone from the source material for their ideas, to the point everyone credits them completely for their evolutionary views.
You have to get down to the root to see the problems. Great communicators seem at their best explaining the twigs and leaves.