Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Casey Luskin is The Wedge

There's a multimedia element to my post this time around. Well, an annotated YouTube video. Trust me, the stupid isn't nearly as compelling until you watch it.

Discovery Institute front-man Casey Luskin appeared on Fox News' rather conservative "Fox and Friends" show recently to warn us all that we're being hoodwinked by them mainstream science types. Biology textbooks, Luskin claims, neglect to incoproporate any scientific evidence which "contradicts Darwin". Apparently, the teaching of evolution in American schools (and perhaps elsewhere) is plagued with inaccuracies. This quite modest plague apparently consists of two items which, if you can believe it of a God-fearing institution, are total bullshit. Isn't it strange how the people raising this most important issue also happen to be peddling Intelligent Design, a crudely-disguised version of Creationism. The presenter correctly identifies that the teaching of evolution is a "white hot" issue. I guess the failure of the show to bring on someone from say, the other side of the debate, to speak on the show may have something to do with that "and Friends" bit of the show title.

First up in the non-torrent of non-issues is the apparent inclusion of the debunked "Haeckel's Embryos" illustrations in biology texts, which I have to admit I have never seen presented as factual. Of course, what Luskin does not mention is that the point that Haeckel's admittedly fabricated drawings of vertebrate embryos compared side-by-side has in fact been fully validated by genuine embryology work. This work has shown that we can find common combinations of morphological traits between the embryos of the vertebrate species. We gain an insight that we don't always get from comparing adult organisms. It is this modern and well researched take on Haeckel's work is what we typically find in biology texts. And it is that science which actually upsets Luskin and company who, it is repeated so many times as to be suspicious, do not want to teach your kids creationism. For definite. Okay?

Second, the ghost of a recent New Scientist article (which screamed Darwin Was Wrong from the front cover before going on to essentially admit that he... wasn't wrong) is summoned to frighten us. The article discussed the phenomenon of horizontal gene transfer (HGT), whereby genetic material can pass from one species to another without descent. HGT makes a mess out of the lineage of the bacteria because they make such transfers quite frequently. However, Casey Luskin would like us to believe that this has proven wrong the concept of the tree of life entirely. But HGT is quite remarkably rare amongst species bigger than the single-celled organisms that live in in the humid forests of Luskin's substantial eyebrows. The awkward truth that Luskin and other ID proponents need to explain is why when we arrange bigger, multicellular species by the combinations of common traits they posses, we get a tree shape. That's just how their traits are distributed, the tree is not a human fabrication and it is certainly not under threat. It's taught as a part of evolution because when it comes to the animals and plants we see around us, it's very much real and relevant.

Luskin's entirely unchallenged arguments are aired here, with some added annotations from yours truly.


marnix said...

still, it's sad that new scientist can't even go for some degree of hyperbole for fear of handing ammunition to the ID camp - i know they did, but i bet they wished they hadn't by now

nicedaydesigns said...

They Mr.Man tag you're it...check out my blog to see what I'm blabbing on about.
Hope all is well with you

Owlfarmer said...

It never ceases to amaze me that folks can take research and data completely out of context and/or betray their own ignorance about scientific processes and then use their distorted understanding to bolster cockamamie ideas.

So many people didn't even bother to read the New Scientist article (and nonetheless latched onto the title) that you kind of have to want to smack NS for using the title in the first place.

Something like "A new model for evolution" would be awfully tame, and certainly not as exciting as "Darwin was wrong," but think of the angst it would have prevented.

rhiggs said...

Hi there,

Check out this email debate I had with Luskin last year.

BTW I'm an immunology postdoc working in Dublin, although I am moving to a new job in London next month. Am I correct in thinking you may be employed in a similar discipline in Maynooth?

Which lab?

Paul Moynagh?

Bernie Mahon?

Am I way off?

(I linked here from a comment you left at Pharyngula about Maynooth)

Counsel said...

While I am a biologist, i find little need to resort to calling people "stupid," "misled," or other terms. Rather, I present facts and evidence-these speak more to the point. I do try to avoid the 5-yr old tactic (my 8-yr old no longer acts that way) of intimidation or disgrace to support my beliefs by calling other people's thoughtts as "stupid." See how doing that just "makes you want to go after me" regardless of the point's validity? You can not "Will" someone to your way of thinking. Sinking to name-calling just makes the name-caller look bad-regardless of how well the facts are presented... Educate rather than ridicule...