Yet another pseudoscientific fraud


A while back, this guy Nathaniel Jeanson sent me a copy of his book, Replacing Darwin, and sent a few email suggestions that we debate or that he appear on my YouTube channel. I glanced at the book, saw that it was rank drivel, trying to reconcile young earth creationism with modern science. I looked up Jeanson, and found a fundamentalist fanatic who went to all the trouble of getting a Harvard biology Ph.D. while ignoring all the science he was supposed to learn, and that he was now employed by Answers in Genesis. I knew enough. I ignored him, didn’t reply to any of his emails, and stuffed his bad book onto a shelf with a lot of other creationist trash*.

My approach was perfect. He hasn’t pestered me since.

Unfortunately, he has continued to write bad books. His latest is an abomination called Traced: Human DNA’s Big Surprise, in which he claims to have figured out how all the peoples of the world arose…from the 8 people on Noah’s Ark, of course. There’s no way he could derive that from honest, accurate population genetics, or the actual data from modern molecular genetics (IT DOESN’T FIT), so he’s relying on cramming badly interpreted science into an absurd hypothesis derived entirely from a few chapters in the book of Genesis. Fortunately, an actual scientist has reviewed the book.

Nathaniel Jeanson’s Traced: Human DNA’s Big Surprise (2022, Master Books) offers virtually no surprises. This is not a science book. It is a work of fundamentalist religious propaganda dressed to appear scientific. Jeanson attempts to employ an analysis largely of his own invention on a narrow sampling of the human genome – extant Y-chromosome samples borrowed from other studies. These doctored genetic patterns are mapped onto historical events in an attempt to prove to the reader that all human beings are the descendants of the three sons of Noah – Shem, Japheth, and Ham. Jeanson’s views on world history are adolescent, Western-centric, and almost entirely focused on conflict and his science amateurish and divorced from any established methodology in molecular population genetics. In the end Jeanson, like all good science denialists, ends up ostensibly proving to the reader what he believed to begin with. Traced is a book working within his contractual obligations to his employer (the evangelical, conservative Christian ministry, Answers in Genesis) to promote a narrow, legalistic, literalist reading of the King James Bible and a Christian culture war agenda. It is not a science book. It is not a sober, informed historical account. It is a proselytizing work of pseudoscientific apologetics covered with a thin veil of carefully selected empiricism in an attempt to give his ideas the credibility he apparently craves.

I bet it’s on sale at the Ark Park, though.

He may have a Ph.D. in biology, but…you know that biology is an immensely broad field, right? Getting a degree in one area does not mean you are qualified to discuss in detail another area. That’s what Jeanson is doing, using his irrelevant credentials to hop over and mangle a sub-branch of biology he has no credentials in.

The science in Traced is, like that of his previous book, sloppy, contrived, and completely divorced from any semblance of rigorous methodology in the field of either history or population genetics. This should be no surprise. Jeanson has absolutely no training in these fields. His PhD never dealt with the subjects he is now researching at his job at the Answers in Genesis ministry. As I have observed in my assessment of Replacing Darwin, Jeanson appears to be making up methods as he goes and in doing so makes what I would consider embarrassing mistakes – mistakes easily avoided by taking the time to read even basic textbooks in the fields of molecular systematics and population genetics.

That made me wonder what his actual degree is in, and to my immense shame, it’s cell and developmental biology. Goddamn. He’s another Jonathan Wells.

I want you to know that developmental biology is not an easy sub-discipline of biology. It’s just one where there a number of old school faculty focused on classical embryology and experimental manipulation of embryos, which are good and interesting topics, but which also don’t require that you learn any population genetics or evolutionary biology in general. It’s just that the good ones do try to learn more, especially since evo-devo has become prominent, and they don’t go into careers with anti-science organizations to misrepresent that which they don’t understand.

Another thing about this review: it turns out, entirely unsurprisingly, that Jeanson and AiG are eurocentric bigots.

Jennifer Raff has a new book out now on the peopling of the Americans (Raff. 2022. Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas. Twelve. Hachette Book Group. New York.) and like any good scientist should she addresses the problem from multiple disciplines from genetics to archaeology to anthropology. Reading Raff alongside Jeanson reveals how different their two worlds are. Raff is multidisciplinary and scholarly with a dual PhD in anthropology and genetics and a publication record in these disciplines commensurate with her professional experience. Jeanson’s attempts at answering questions about human history are almost entirely uninformed by any professional expertise in any relevant discipline, his methods are amateurish, he has no record of publishing in these fields, he ignores long-standing and well-established data. But perhaps the most striking difference is the great care and respect Raff takes when dealing with the history of people outside of her ethnic and cultural identity contrasted with the ham-handed way in which Jeanson deals with culture, ethnicity, and issues pertaining to race.

Jeanson’s approach to history reminds me of my own thoughts about human history as an adolescent boy – views of history that an appetite for knowledge and eventual experience with other cultures compelled me to outgrow pretty quickly. In Jeanson’s view of human history war is entirely central. Virtually every movement of people he describes is the result of violent conflict. Aggressors are everywhere and every geographical feature is either a fortification or invitation to invasion.

Jeanson is liberal with pejorative labels for entire cultures, sometimes with a wink enclosing these labels in quotations and sometimes not. He describes the people of Mongolia as “barbarians” and “…the long-standing enemies of China.” (using quotes to hopefully insulate the reader from thinking he thinks they are barbarians, pgs. 117-119). He paints simplistic descriptions of otherwise complex people using terms such as “primitive” (pgs. 159-160). He uses stereotypical tropes such as when he says, “The diverse peoples of East Asia all resemble one another.” (pg. 115).

Yeah. Go read Origin, a terrific book by a qualified scientist on her area of expertise, without a load of baggage from racist white people.

I predict, though, that we’re going to hear a lot more from Jeanson, given that AiG is promoting him heavily and that his views align so nicely with the bloc of Republican ignoramuses that have become so vocal in recent decades, and no one listens to qualified scientists on anything anymore.

*That shelf (actually a couple of shelves) is overburdened right now, and I might have to start dumping books. Some of them I would never give away to a library, and others are curiosities with no educational value at all. I might start giving away to my patrons on Patreon, where at least they’d go to people smart enough to not take them seriously. Maybe I’d balance them by giving away a few good books, too.

Comments

  1. hillaryrettig1 says

    found a fundamentalist fanatic who went to all the trouble of getting a Harvard biology Ph.D. while ignoring all the science he was supposed to learn, and that he was now employed by Answers in Genesis.

    More than a waste; Harvard trained someone whose goal is to undermine the entire scientific mission. And he probably deprived a more worthy student of a spot.

    Isn’t there any way to spot these bad actors early on? Hard to believe there weren’t clues.

  2. raven says

    It is a proselytizing work of pseudoscientific apologetics covered with a thin veil of carefully selected empiricism in an attempt to give his ideas the credibility he apparently craves.

    It is cargo cult science.

    Mimic the appearance of science without actually having anything to do with…science.

    Routine creationist lies.
    If their religion was true, they wouldn’t need to lie all the time about everything.

  3. StevoR says

    That shelf (actually a couple of shelves) is overburdened right now, and I might have to start dumping books. Some of them I would never give away to a library, and others are curiosities with no educational value at all. I might start giving away to my patrons on Patreon, where at least they’d go to people smart enough to not take them seriously. Maybe I’d balance them by giving away a few good books, too.

    If memory serves, a great many years ago you found a very dramatic way of getting rid of a book or so. Or maybe just a few pages thereof with some stael crackers ..

  4. StevoR says

    ..his book, Replacing Darwin,

    What? he wants tobecoem a port?

    And I don’t mean a fortified wine but the state capital of the Northern territory of Oz.

    Come sail your ships from outta him and burn your creationists down..
    We make a lil’ history baby, but can we learn, is allowed?

  5. whheydt says

    My sister used to maintain a section of her library under the heading of “Psychoceramics”.

  6. robro says

    …went to all the trouble of getting a Harvard biology Ph.D

    Not a great testament for Harvard, I suppose.

  7. StevoR says

    @5 : Or .. does he think we Aussies should historically have stuck with or go back to Port Essington :

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Essington

    Instead?

    Never actually been to Darwin myself but aside from the tropical climate, whcih anywhere nearby is gunna share & many places get worse, I can’t see what’s so bad about it..That cdesign proponentism OTOH .. (https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Cdesign_proponentsists )

    Also, this dude supposedly studied biology yet still thinks they worship Charles Darwn and his original theory? Yeeesh..

  8. says

    If, as the fictional obscenity that is the bible contends, everyone alive today descended from the alleged 8 people on the ‘alleged ark’, could that explain why most humans are so imbecilic today: Would that make us all fatally inbred ?!?!?! Having limited biological knowledte, I need an expert like Prof. Myers to clarify.

  9. says

    Of course, mutations over millenia might cause genetic diversity. But, then (thinking bad science-fiction stories) are we all deranged mutants? LOL
    In spite of my twisted humor, I do appreciate gaining new and often important info from reading Prof. Myers and (most of) the commenters here.

  10. Walter Solomon says

    it turns out, entirely unsurprisingly, that Jeanson and AiG are eurocentric bigots.

    AiG has been promoting the “Curse of Ham” (not Ken Ham though that would be appropriate) for years now. Then they’ll turn right around and claim evolutionary science is racist without missing a beat.

  11. pick says

    Hello PZ,

    My college developmental biology course was fascinating. Thanks so much for doing what you do!

  12. Rich Woods says

    @shermanj #9:

    Couldn’t humanity be described as descending from just five of the people on the ark? Five lineages plus a small scattering of mutations which might make it into the next generation?

  13. says

    Why can’t a university revoke a degree, for dishonesty?

    I don’t understand these people at all – it’s like a cargo cult: “having a PHD grants me +10 credibility!” They’re wasting an opportunity to get an education. Woo hoo. Big Whoop.

  14. says

    Walter Solomon: “AiG has been promoting the “Curse of Ham” (not Ken Ham though that would be appropriate) for years now. Then they’ll turn right around and claim evolutionary science is racist without missing a beat.”

    Best example of pure racial hypocrisy: At the “creation museum” one of Dumb Idiot Ham’s putrid attractions, there is a plaque which shows a map that depicts the descendants of Ham, one of Noah’s sons, migrating to Africa after the Flood ended. In the Ark Encounter, there is a mannequin woman who’s claimed to be the wife of Ham who bears the appearance of an African woman.

    Both displays harbor a long debunked Christian myth which claims that all black people are direct descendants of Ham whose son Canaan was cursed by Noah right after Ham “saw” his father Noah in his nude drunken state and sodomized him along with his wife who is also Ham’s mother (according to The Talmud). The curse is to have Ham’s descendants be enslaved to the descendants of Shem, whose wife are apparently of Middle Eastern descent, and Japeth, whose wife is of European descent. This has been debunked when it is revealed that none of the original Hebrew text ever mentioned anything about their skin color or ethnic background; they all appeared to be Middle Eastern Caucasian people living in the Middle East and nowhere else.

    This long debunked myth, however, have been used numerous times as a justification for the enslavement of blacks from first the Muslims, then the Europeans for a long time. Apparently, Dumb Idiot Ham wants to keep the Christian myth alive through his putrid attractions to show that he’s a White Supremacist who hides his true colors and his hypocrisy through his thin, watery anti-racist “One Blood, One Race” rants.

  15. says

    I asked:
    Why can’t a university revoke a degree, for dishonesty?

    Thinking more: coming out as a full blown creationist almost certainly means that his dissertation was falsified. Unless his dissertation was creationism, in which case he’d have never been granted his doctorate. Right?

  16. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @17:

    coming out as a full blown creationist almost certainly means that his dissertation was falsified

    You know enough about developmental biology to make that call? I don’t. Do tell.

    Long ago, I met a YEC who got her astronomy PhD studying quasars. Weird, right? But if her thesis contributed to our knowledge, so what? You’d recommend revoking her degree while keeping whatever contribution she made?

  17. Walter Solomon says

    Owosso Harpist @16

    Thank you for providing that. I’m aware of the Noah’s Ark exhibit. Mind you I’ve never been to the Creation Museum nor do I attend on going but I’ve seen walk-throughs of the place which featured that terrible exhibit.

    The YouTuber Gutsick Gibbon has an infornative and entertaining video where she tours the Creation Museum and Ark Park and points out all of the misinformation.

  18. nomdeplume says

    @17 @18 My impression is you could get away with doing a PhD in Developmental Biology while payong only lip service to evolution. But to get away with it through all the undergraduate years in Harvard Biology doesn’t say much for their grading scheme. Or are they too scared to fail creationist cretins because “religious belief”?

  19. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#18:
    You know enough about developmental biology to make that call? I don’t. Do tell.

    Bite me. All you need is some basic understanding of the process. Stop it with the silly pseudoskepticism.

    A phd is granted based on a dissertation that presents some original work. In History it’s supposed to be publication-worthy. Then the candidate defends it to a thesis committee of other faculty. Maybe developmental biologists shortcut the fol de rol and are less concerned with the thesis being defensible than Historians? At Harvard? Sure. Maybe developmental biologists award PhDs by having a candidate select from an array of Cracker Jack boxes, some of which contain a “congrats, Dr!” Badge. But I doubt it and so do you.

  20. says

    Long ago, I met a YEC who got her astronomy PhD studying quasars. Weird, right? But if her thesis contributed to our knowledge, so what?

    I actually know someone in a similar situation; currently working as a secretary and not professing their degree. The question of whether the thesis was valuable is interesting but secondary: a degree is an institutional certification that someone has met the criteria to go forth and represent themselves as having graduated from that school. Someone who gets a degree then doesn’t go around representing themselves as “holding a PhD from Harvard” is not doing anything to make Harvard a laughingstock, but someone who deliberately got the degree with exactly that in mind? Sure, revoke their degree. They are not qualified to represent themselves as holding a PhD anymore.

    That reasoning ought to be obvious without my having to write it in big letters in crayon for you, or maybe do you have a PhD from Harvard?

  21. raven says

    Or are they too scared to fail creationist cretins because “religious belief”?

    I vaguely remember when this guy came out of the closet as a creationist using Harvard as a disguise.

    Harvard refused to say a word about him whatsoever.
    Wasn’t much they could do really.
    If they criticized or attacked him, he and the fundies would just scream, “Freedom of Religion” and “Persecution”.
    He does have a legal right to believe in his fundie xian nonsense.

    In the larger picture, when 99% of real scientists believe the Universe is 13.8 billion years old and one crackpot, who is a self described religious cultist and fanatic, says it is 6,000 years old and Noah had a Big Boat, the kook doesn’t much matter. It is quite clear that he starts with his religious beliefs and makes stuff up to fill in the backstory.

  22. says

    A hundred years ago, a creationist could have gotten a degree in developmental biology.

    To get such a degree now would require that the person at some point had lied about the science. There’s not much we can do about that, since someone could lie and pretend and explain the scientific position without accepting it. A creationist with a Harvard biology degree has implicitly confessed to dishonestly misrepresenting his understand of the subject.

    As we all know, though, being a liar does not conflict at all with being a Christian.

  23. John Morales says

    Marcus @22, I’m with Rob on this one.
    And so should you be, given your own claim:

    … a degree is an institutional certification that someone has met the criteria to go forth and represent themselves as having graduated from that school.

    Also,

    They are not qualified to represent themselves as holding a PhD anymore.

    You think they’ve failed to meet your imaginary criterion. But you don’t make the rules.

  24. Rob Grigjanis says

    Marcus @21: What Jeanson, or my acquaintance, did to earn their degrees stands on its own. What they do afterwards can be accepted, or dismissed, on its merits.

    Hate to break it to you, but your ‘reasoning’ is horseshit. If you get a PhD in particle physics, and then say you thought it was all nonsense, it doesn’t detract from what you did. It detracts from your future credibility.

    As far as the progress of science is concerned, “what they had in mind” is irrelevant. It’s only important to petty twits like you.

  25. nomdeplume says

    @24 Yes, that’s what I meant. I guess you could get a PhD by doing a purely decriptive thesis involving novel techniques. But you’d have had to lie your way through all the undergraduate biology courses to get to that point.

  26. Rob Grigjanis says

    @24:

    To get such a degree now would require that the person at some point had lied about the science.

    Not sure where the lie comes in. The acquaintance I mentioned in #18 was a YEC. She studied quasars, the nearest of which is 600 million light years away. Does that mean she lied about the science, or had some weird ideas about it? The weird ideas never informed her work, AFAIK (her committee should have caught it if so, I would trust). She never trumpeted her beliefs, but neither did she lie about them. She just refused to discuss the apparent contradictions. Maybe she just loved the work, and either accommodated or compartmentalized her beliefs. Why would anyone care?

  27. nomdeplume says

    @28 You can’t “refuse to discuss the apparent contradictions” in science – you are thinking of politics and religion.

  28. Rob Grigjanis says

    nomdeplume @29: Oh, the irony. The science speaks for itself. Twits saying what you can or can’t discuss is politics.

  29. says

    I can see a couple of conceivable routes by which a Creationist could genuinely earn a post-graduate degree in science which they Believe to be bullshit.

    One: By regarding the science—all the data and such—as a philosophical puzzle with no bearing on Reality. Basically, by approaching science much like a devoted Star Trek fan approaches discussions of the (fictional!) science and technology of the Enterprise.

    Two: By regarding the science as an intellectual construct which, while fitting the data, is nonetheless wrong. I believe this is the view of YEC Todd Wood.

  30. says

    #28: You’d know better than I what or what doesn’t need to be accepted by someone studying quasars. I’m talking about biology. Evolution is so deeply integrated into almost all of biology that it would be impossible to avoid it.
    Possible exceptions: maybe some branches of biochemistry and biophysics where you’re totally focused on current processes, and don’t need to consider any historical aspect of the work. Even there, it’s a huge stretch; how do you study channel proteins, for instance, without doing comparative work and looking at functional evolution?
    Developmental biology is not a field where you can close your eyes to evolution.
    Also, since he is currently actively misrepresenting the field of molecular genetics, that is, lying, it would be unlikely that he worked his way through grad school without lying.

  31. Jazzlet says

    Rob Grigjanis @various#
    Surely lying eg to pass exams is a problem in any discipline? Science depends on the honesty of it’s practioners, and when they are caught out lying there are penalties depending on the level of deceit. In the case of Jeanson, as he has chosen to work for AiG he has essentially thrown away his credibility as a developmental biologist, and any career in serious science, so the penalties are bad book reeviews and that he is not taken seriously by scientists with integrity. But I don’t think it would be unreasonable to review the awarding of his degrees, asking him to come in and explain how he passed when he must have lied about the science as he saw it.

  32. says

    Nah, once you’ve cleared the hurdles, finished the work, and gotten a committee of experts to sign off on your degree, you and they are done with each other. No takesie-backsies.

    I think too many committee members do not take their responsibilities as seriously as they should.

  33. John Morales says

    PZ, you yourself have stated you don’t compromise your grading based on a student’s religious or political beliefs, as I recall. So, if he’d been in your class and grasped and understood the lessons to your satisfaction, surely your grading would reflect that.

    Perhaps those committees are doing the same thing.

  34. StevoR says

    @ Owosso Harpist :

    “Apparently, Dumb Idiot Ham wants to keep the Christian myth alive through his putrid attractions to show that he’s a White Supremacist who hides his true colors and his hypocrisy through his thin, watery anti-racist “One Blood, One Race” rants.

    Yup. Thinly veiled white supremacy with a fig leaf that reveal his utter ignorance about blood types and revealing you wouldn’t want him giving blood transfusions.

    The mythological account also raises the question over well, who raised Ham and what lead him to think literally raping two drunken old people – his parents (!) – was okay? I mean he was in the ark with the others, Presumably he wa srasied with and by his parents and family so, guess theyfaield to raise him ethically and well? What I wonder was Ham side of the story?

    Wiki-checks :

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ham_(son_of_Noah)

    ) An incident involving Ham is related in Genesis 9:20–27:

    And Noah began to be an husbandman, and planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.

    And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him. And he said, “Cursed be Canaan;”

    Which raises the question of how Noah knew it was Ham given his unconscious state at the time and the presence of other suspects -presumably they told him? Also why Noah then curses Ham’s son, not the man himself.

    The Talmud deduces two possible explanations, one attributed to Rabbi Abba Arikha and one to Rabbi Samuel, for what Ham did to Noah to warrant the curse.[6]

    According to Abba Arika, Ham castrated Noah on the basis that, since Noah cursed Ham by his fourth son Canaan, Ham must have injured Noah with respect to a fourth son. Emasculating him thus deprived Noah of the possibility of a fourth son.

    According to Samuel, Ham sodomized Noah, a judgment that he based on analogy with another biblical incident in which the phrase “and he saw” is used. In Genesis 34:2 it reads, “And when Shechem the son of Hamor saw her (Dinah), he took her and lay with her and defiled her.” With regard to Ham and Noah, Genesis 9 reads, “22] And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. [23] And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.”[7] According to this argument, similar abuse must have happened each time that the Bible uses the same language. The Talmud concludes that, in fact, “both indignities were perpetrated.”

    Although the story can be taken literally, in more recent times, some scholars have suggested that Ham may have had intercourse with his father’s wife.[8] Under this interpretation, Canaan is cursed as the “product of Ham’s illicit union.”[9]

    The wikipage also notes that Ham being percieved as black seems to have started in the 17th century and that “Ham’s descendants are interpreted by Flavius Josephus and others as having populated Africa and adjoining parts of Asia.””

    Which given geography suggests, er, the Levant and Arabia and maybe as far as Iraq and Iran and Turkey? Which are typically considered Semitic atleats partly a swellas persian and Turkish.. Huh.

    Also, vey minor thing but I prefer using South West Asian over “Middle eastern to add specificity and avoid the eurocentric / Americocentric relative description. But again, minor personal preference there.

  35. StevoR says

    I gather Honorary degrees can be revoked so why not one’s achieved by deception under false pretences? I dunno really but seems to me that having the sanction of saying we’re taking your degree back since you reject the science its based on and are actively opposing the real science is reasonable.

  36. brightmoon says

    I don’t understand people like Jeanson or Purdom or Wise at all . I figured out that humans were animals by the time I was 8 and that we were related by the time I was 10 . No one told me, it’s that obvious. I based that solely on being told we were vertebrates and mammals and seeing some land vertebrate arm bones compared to a human’s . Creationists with real degrees just look delusional to me !

  37. leerudolph says

    Presumably it is knowable who served as Jeanson’s thesis advisor and committee members? I seem to recall that that information is included in the archival version of the thesis, which is usually available from the granting institution. For that matter, by the same token the exact content of the thesis itself is knowable. Why doesn’t someone look all that up?

  38. birgerjohansson says

    I am coming late to the party.
    OT or at least going off on a tangent.

    -What is the general opinion about Gregory Stock, who is advocating human germline GM?
    From what I have read, his scientific credentials seem good, the controversy is about the whole “alter human DNA” thing.

  39. birgerjohansson says

    Maybe Henrik Schön can get a new job in USA. Or as a British tory politician.

  40. evodevo says

    @#32 – yes. this. Intellectual Dishonesty is nothing new. When I was taking Comparative Anatomy as a Zoology undergrad in the early Sixties, we had two sisters taking the class who were self-confessed fundies. Now evolutionary thought permeates this subject through and through, and one time in lab someone asked one or the other of the sisters how they could reconcile their studies with their beliefs. She said it was easy…all they did was feed back the relevant info on exams, BUT THEY DIDN’T BELIEVE IT…..they were going for a degree in some health field or another, and then on to missionary work. This was necessary for that degree, so they were enrolled. I ran into this mindset a LOT – these courses were required for pre-med, and if you wanted to go to Africa or wherever as a medical missionary, you took them. Fundies can compartmentalize with the best of them lol – they passed the course exams, so….I often wonder what is going on with those two today…

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