The things that remind people of me…

They all seem to be demonic, or tentacled, or both. I am always flattered to get the email from people saying, “I found this stinking pile of slime covered with maggots, and I thought immediately of you!” (really, I am flattered—it’s nice to be associated with the weird and unusual.) However, I have to assure you that I don’t actually look anything like this handsome hunk of tentacles, although you’ll have to take my word on it—you won’t find any photos of me sans clothing to confirm that.


Also, my wife doesn’t look anything like this sexy spawn of Cthulhu*. She’s much hotter, even if she lacks a chitinous crust or suckers.

*Warning: that link is to a page with photographs of a “nude” model, but she is sort of clothed in spikes and shells and other oddments. Links from that page are not really work safe—they get weirder, but much more overtly mammalian.

Creationist email: the asymmetry misconception


I throw away a lot of creationist email; most of it is ranty and weird, or pious and dull, so it isn’t worth dealing with. Every once in a while (but sadly, not that often) one is polite and asks a simple question, and then I feel compelled to reply. If it’s short and sweet, I’ll just fire off a one-liner—for instance, when I was asked why I reject Intelligent Design creationism, I could simply say that I haven’t seen any evidence for it.

Some are a little more persistent, requiring a little more effort to answer, so they get posted here. I’ll answer this one to some degree online, tell the person where to find it, and let the commenters chew on it some more. Be nice and pretend this fellow is sincere, OK?

Here’s his question:

Thank you for your reply that there is no evidence for design. I am trying
to figure out as an impartial person why scientists say there is no
evidence for design.

I think species should have evolved first with only one eye. After
realizing that one eye cannot create depth perception, nature would have
generated another eye following thousands of years of evolution. We know
this is not true. Someone or something already knew that one eye would not
be enough.

Please tell me what is wrong with my theory?

I’ve seen this question before.

That’s right, it’s a Pinkoskiism!

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An anniversary, of sorts

Once upon a time, about two years ago, I dissected a claim by Paul Nelson that he had an objective measure of developmental complexity that he called “ontogenetic depth”. I thought it was very poor stuff: no repeatable methods, no clear description of exactly what he was measuring, and actually, it looked like he was just plucking numbers out of thin air.

Note that today is 29 March 2006. On 29 March 2004, Nelson left a comment on the post, promising to address the issues I brought up.

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Modeling metazoan cell lineages


A while back, I criticized this poorly implemented idea from Paul Nelson of the Discovery Institute, a thing that he claimed was a measure of organismal complexity called Ontogenetic Depth. I was not impressed. The short summary of my complaints:

  • Unworkable idea: There was no explanation about how we could implement and test the idea, and despite promises at the time, Nelson still hasn’t produced his methods.
  • False assertions and confusing examples: He claims that all changes in early lineages are destructive, for instance, which is false.
  • Bad metaphors: He uses a terribly flawed metaphor of a marching band to explain how development works; I’d say that it’s a better example of how development doesn’t occur.
  • No research: Which is really a major shortcoming for a research program, that no research is being done.

Recently, Nature published a paper by Azevedo et al. that superficially might resemble Nelson’s proposal, in that it attempts to quantify the complexity of developing organisms by looking at the pattern within their early lineages. The differences are instructive, though: this paper clearly explains their methodology, presents many of the limitations, and draws mostly reasonable conclusions from the work. It is an interesting paper and contains some good ideas, but has a few flaws of its own, I think. My main objections are that its limitations are even greater than the authors mention, and there are some conclusions that are driven by an adaptationist bias.

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Loooong day

The Café Scientifique was very well done and informative tonight—so where were all you guys? Of course, what the event really meant was that it’s nearly 9:00, I’ve been running around all day, the alarm goes off tomorrow morning at 5:45AM, I teach at 8:00, and somehow I’ve got to explain MHC and T-cell receptors to a class full of sleepy students…and I’ve scarcely cracked the textbook today. So I’m tuning out for a while, to return again after a brief night’s rest.

Another Tuesday, another Café Scientifique

We’re having another Café Scientifique here in Morris this evening—come on down! Nic McPhee of the Computer Science discipline (who also has a weblog, Unhindered by Talent) will be discussing “Privacy, security, and cryptography: What happens to your credit card number on-line, and is that e-mail really from your boss?“. It is open to everyone, of course, and is being held at the local coffeeshop, the Common Cup, from 6:00 to 8:00 this evening.

Another reason to visit Washington state this summer

Besides being my boyhood home and the place where most of my relatives live, they’re finding dead Humboldt squid washing ashore in Puget Sound. Paradise!

Dan Penttila has been walking Washington’s beaches for more than 50 years, made a career of studying small fish born there, and knows pretty much what to expect.

But he could hardly believe it when one day in January, he stumbled over a squid, a species normally found in the warm waters off Mexico and Southern California: the Humboldt squid.