The appalling inanity of Denyse O’Leary

See this person? She’s the biggest, most ignorant idiot at the Discovery Institute, which says a lot, since she’s in competition with Michael Egnor.

Denyse O’Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Human Soul: What Neuroscience Shows Us about the Brain, the Mind, and the Difference Between the Two (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

She occasionally pops up on Evolution News & Views with articles that are stunning in their stupidity and written in the style of a third grade book report. Her latest effort is titled Will the Octopus Ever Find Its Place in the Evolutionary Tree?

Here you go, Denyse. Here’s its place in the evolutionary tree.

That turns up in less than 30 seconds with a google search. Scientists know where the octopus fits in the evolutionary tree. Really, Denyse is a clueless moron.

She then continues to throw out a series of non sequiturs based on her total ignorance of the subject she is writing about.

Just why the octopus — a short-lived, solitary, invertebrate exotherm — should seem as intelligent as a monkey has become quite the puzzle in recent years. Typical evolutionary explanations don’t really work. The octopus’s biological inheritance is precisely the type that we don’t associate with intelligence. For one thing, it is much more closely related to clams than to monkeys.

Uh, right. That’s true. Cephalopods are more closely related to clams than to monkeys. So? People are more closely related to hagfish than they are to cephalopods. This means absolutely nothing.

What about the fact that the octopus has nine brains? Well, do nine invertebrate brains add up to more intelligence than one? That’s a question worth asking because it probably wouldn’t work with grasshoppers or worms. That is, both types of life form have brains but it isn’t clear how an installation of nine of them in a single individual would be any smarter than just one.

The octopus does not have 9 brains. It has a network of distributed ganglia in addition to a central ganglion.

Our nervous system is more concentrated in a large brain, but we also have a substantial network of ganglia, an autonomic nervous system, and an enteric nervous system. Grasshoppers and worms also have a chain of ganglia. What is her point? I don’t think she knows.

Naturally, the octopus has been singled out for a lot of research attention and a recent genetic find has attracted attention: A detailed genetic analysis found that the common octopus has 2.8 billion base pairs of genes…

For comparison, humans have about three billion. Chimpanzees have about the same. Is a large genome a necessary factor in advanced intelligence? It’s too early to be sure but the researchers hope to advance investigations into “more distantly related molluscs such as clams or snails” — species hardly known for intelligence. That might provide a more focused comparison.

Again, what is her point? We have 3 billion base pairs in our genome, so do chimpanzees, so do mice. Axolotls have 32 billion base pairs. There is no correlation between number of base pairs and intelligence. She hasn’t done the most basic, crude level of research to answer the question.

Some other finds about octopus intelligence in recent years give us some sense of why one researcher wondered if the species had an extraterrestrial origin. As PBS tells it,

The unique nature of octopus intelligence has sparked a rather peculiar debate recently: A group of researchers … has suggested that an octopus’ mind might seem so foreign because it may be alien. The hypothesis, published in 2018, states that octopus evolution may have arisen, in part, because of a retrovirus (a type of RNA virus) delivered to Earth by an asteroid during the Cambrian explosion about 541 million years ago.

Oh god. She’s digging deep into the fringe, loony brigade — she’s citing sources from the panspermia mafia, which are not at all credible. When you’re citing people who claim Squids are from SPAAAAAAAAACE!, you lose.

Now she’s just going to throw more shit at the wall, but nothing is going to stick.

Anyway, here are some of the other finds researchers puzzle over:

Many sources have noted that each arm of an octopus can communicate with other arms, bypassing the brain. But, says behavioral neuroscientist and astrobiologist Dominic Sivitilli (who does not think that octopuses are aliens!), it’s even more complex than that: “There are tens of thousands of both chemical and mechanical receptors in each sucker,” he says. “To put that into perspective, each of your fingertips has a few hundred mechanical receptors.”

So octopuses have a well-integrated nervous system and a rich sensory repertoire, therefore…what? We’re supposed to be surprised that they exhibit complex behaviors? I don’t even know what she’s arguing anymore.

Such a system of information-gathering seems fundamentally different from that of the intelligent mammals we know. That raises a question. Are comparisons in intelligence between octopuses and, say, mammals even meaningful?

Another factor that may be linked to high cephalopod intelligence is gene editing…

Hey, I just finished a week of lecturing to my students about post-translational and post-transcriptional modification of gene products. Every organism does it. Cephalopods have one flavor of post-transcriptional modification that they use extensively, which is interesting, but not the game changer Denyse imagines, and it has nothing to do with differences in intelligence. I don’t think she has any idea what’s going on in molecular biology.

In February of this year researchers got a look at octopus brain waves and found out, in one reporter’s words, that their brains behave in an “alien” way…

This is what scientists like to call an “active research area.” It is anyone’s guess whether the octopus will ever find its way into a tidy evolutionary tree. Perhaps it’s not wise to wade in with that goal foremost in mind.

I already did that, see the top of the post.

I am totally mystified about why the Discovery Institute continues to promote someone as obviously dumb and uneducated as Denyse O’Leary — she can’t even write well, despite her degree in English. My current hypothesis is that they keep her around because her existence is an affront to intelligent people everywhere — you know, the Darwinian thought police like P. Z. Myers. Alternatively, a simpler hypothesis might be that all the people managing the Discovery Institute are just as stupid as Denyse O’Leary, she’s simply worse at masking it in front of the public.

The toxic man-children want to fight

This is so childish and ridiculous — Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are going to stage a fight. The Italian government has offered to host it in the Colosseum. If it happens, it’s only going to be good for comic effect.

I don’t think it will demonstrate their competence at running their bloated, broken businesses — quite the opposite. I wouldn’t watch it.

Unless, that is, they bring in a Minnesota Man to hurl Skittles at them while they wrestle. That’s the extra oomph of absurdity I’m gonna need here.

I guess that’s one method of wealth redistribution

I guess we could impose a stupidity tax.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) proposes a $14,500 civil penalty against an airline passenger for allegedly interfering with flight attendants who instructed him to wear a face mask and stop consuming alcohol he had brought on board the aircraft.

On a Dec. 23, 2020 jetBlue Airlines flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York to the Dominican Republic, the passenger crowded the traveler sitting next to him, spoke loudly, and refused to wear his face mask, the FAA alleges. Flight attendants moved the other passenger to a different seat after they complained about the man’s behavior.

A flight attendant warned the man that jetBlue’s policies required him to wear a face mask, and twice warned him that FAA regulations prohibit passengers from drinking alcohol they bring on board an aircraft. Despite these warnings, the passenger continued to remove his face mask and drink his own alcohol, the FAA alleges.

A flight attendant issued the passenger a “Notice to Cease Illegal and Objectionable Behavior,” and the cabin crew notified the captain about his actions two separate times. As a result of the passenger’s actions, the captain declared an emergency and returned to JFK, where the plane landed 4,000 pounds overweight due to the amount of fuel on board.

I have no sympathy for this fellow, but I generally feel he’s going to be paying the price for his own idiocy for most of his life, and the main purpose of such a fine is to dissuade him from harming others.

Maybe first class is a more useful wealth tax? Charge the rich extravagantly for privilege of a few inches of space in a tin can, with freely available Airplane Wine.

My first day really hanging out with arachnologists

Good morning from the arachnid meetings! I had a busy day yesterday, soaking in new knowledge and trying to absorb it, and boy is my brain tired. This is a whole new experience for me.

When I go to zebrafish meetings, there is one thing you know for sure: everyone is going to be working on pretty much the same highly inbred organism, raised in similar sterile institutional environments, and when there’s a subtle difference in some individuals, everyone wants to jump on it and dissect out the causal mechanism. These meetings are…the opposite of that. The exact opposite. Everyone is confronting this massive diversity of form and species, and diverse forms within species, and trying to map it out without recourse to stuff I would have thought routine. You’ve got some oddball individual? Cross it with others, clone it, breed it up into a large working population, figure out what genes are involved. Grind it up, sequence it, tell me what nucleotides are responsible.

You can’t do that when trying to puzzle out a few hundred species living in natural environments, and it’s not even the approach most people want to take. Yesterday I got to sit through lots of taxonomy talks where the number of claws on the foot of 1800 species (or is it 800 species? Depends on who did the naming) there are. I’m left wondering whether all of this is allelic, or even just developmental noise, and no one is even looking at that aspect of the problem, because they can’t. They’re just drowning in data.

I think the answer is that we’re going to have to train an army of 10,000 arachnologists, give each of them multi-million dollar grants for the indefinite future, and turn them loose. The problems are so big that that’ll give them a reasonable start.

Oh, also, most of yesterday seemed to be talking about Opiliones, non-spider arachnids. The fact that this was an arachnology meeting, not limited to mere spiders, was thrust into my face repeatedly. Fine. I’m here to learn stuff I don’t know, so go ahead, throw all the exotic arthropods at me willy-nilly.

There were a few talks that fell into my comfort zone. There was some stuff on sex determination pathways in Parasteatoda tepidariorum, all preliminary, but with enough connections to known pathways in Drosophila and mice that I could see roughly where it was going and where interesting surprises would lurk. There was a long session on nothing but circadian rhythms in diverse spider species that had me wondering lots of things, like why there aren’t a hundred labs working on this one problem.

Spider circadian rhythms are freakishly weird, unlike what you see in other animals. The endogenous rhythm is wildly variable in different species, some running on a 16 hour clock, others on a 29 hour clock. That’s part of the opportunity in spiders — so many species, and you can just toss one in a testing apparatus and get lots of data. They also exhibit different patterns when free-running, sometimes changing their periodicity. They just don’t care about phase shifts, recovering with surprising rapidity from jet lag. Everyone is trying to figure out why they’re so different from other animals; I’m thinking maybe the answer is simple, that they’re uncoupled from any need to maintain a rhythm, and that what we’re seeing here is the vestiges of an evolutionary relic that’s being retained for its coupling with other pathways, but that doesn’t really do anything for a circadian clock anymore. It’s a lot of broken clocks, all broken in different ways.

But what do I know? Put more experts to work on the molecular signaling pathways in spiders, I say.

Today is more of the same strangeness — the whole morning is dedicated to silk. That’s another phenomenon unique to spiders, and sure to leave me reeling. In a good way.

I think there’s also another taxonomic session coming up. I’m mainly going to that for the disruptive confusion it induces in my brain. It’s like taking random drugs all day long, although I won’t be going home with a filthy systematics habit, a little adventurousness for a week is fine.

Jacob Wohl may have Smolletted himself

Jacob Wohl, the right-wing dumbass who strolled through a pleasant neighborhood in Minneapolis and declared it a “no-go zone” infested with terrorists, has come out with a “documentary” about his terrifying experience. He even claimed to have received an online death threat from a gay Hispanic diversity coordinator! Except that, because he’s one of the dumbest people on the internet, he used one of his own fake accounts to send it to himself.

He reported that threat to the police! So now the Minneapolis police are looking into it as a false report of a crime. It’s kind of amazingly idiotic: he included video shots of the “threat” in his own “documentary”, and also included shots of him filing a police report. He committed a crime and recorded every step of it. He is so helpful to the police.

Even his own good pal, Ali Alexander, who accompanied him on this field trip, is now desperately distancing himself from Wohl, slamming his friend publicly.

“It confirms that he’s not operating at a level where there’s useful misinformation, but kind of stupid, vanity-filled, ego-fueled disinformation,” Alexander said. “And that won’t look good for Jacob.”

I saw the videos Alexander and Wohl made during their visit, and while he may not have been responsible for a fake police report, he certainly was an enthusiastic participant in spreading “stupid, vanity-filled, ego-fueled disinformation”.

Oh no! The libs castrated the cookies!

I am totally confused now. Tammy Bruce is on Fox News with Tucker Carlson arguing that gingerbread cookies are obviously male.

So, uh…they have penises? Or Y chromosomes? Or higher testosterone levels? Those are the usual criteria these loons use to argue for the inviolability and absolute rigidity of the male/female binary. Cookies don’t have any of those.

Are they finally admitting that gender is a social construct, that in the absence of biological markers they get to dictate by convention what sex a piece of baked dough is?

Also, Tucker Carlson has been spiritually neutered. But we all already knew that.