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Fast, Furious and Irrelevant: Darwinists Reply to Ann Gauger on Human Origins

David Klinghoffer

Science and Human Origins.jpgSince I posted a little video of Biologic Institute’s Ann Gauger speaking about genetic evidence for Darwin’s Tree of Life, Darwin defenders have replied in a fury of online posts.
First came the “Gotcha!” discovery that the obvious green-screen image we used in the video — depicting a lab much like the one where Dr. Gauger works, a photo we bought from Shutterstock — was…an obvious green-screen image. The technique is standard in documentary filmmaking, especially on a budget. Panda’s Thumb and Ars Technica fussed about that, followed by others. How anyone could imagine the photo had not been layered in I do not know.
Jerry Coyne added his own voice to suggest — though the University of Chicago evolutionary biologist doesn’t say why this idea would enter his mind — that the image had not been purchased but “taken — perhaps illegally.” For Coyne, as for other Darwinists, libel is an adequate substitute for rational argument.
On the Biologic Facebook page, our old friend the science writer Carl “I would prefer not to read Science and Human Origins before criticizing its arguments” Zimmer brandished the observation that Ann’s most recent publications have been in the peer-reviewed journal BIO-Complexity, which evidently can’t truly be counted as “peer-reviewed” because it’s associated with Biologic Institute. Zimmer, who still hasn’t read the book, complains that Science and Human Origins does not report on original lab research from Biologic. (Actually it does — Gauger and Axe 2011.)
University of Toronto biochemist Larry Moran and University of Washington biologist Joe Felsenstein leaped on the fact that Gauger in the interview discussed things in a loose and conversational manner, without technical distinctions — after all, she was conversing with an interviewer; that she discussed homoplasy in the context of common ancestry, but did not mention phylogenetics; that she said the problem of homoplasy is a closely held “secret” when researchers are well aware of it.
On Biologic’s Facebook page, Ann replied cordially:

1. Joe Felsenstein is right, I was talking about both population genetics and phylogenetics, though without making the distinction. It was in the context of the Science and Human Origins book, human evolution, and my critique of Ayala’s 1995 “Myth of Eve” paper.
Ayala mixes both phylogenetics and coalescence in this paper, so it is a bit disingenuous to suggest that the fields never interact. And both fields depend on the idea that lineages of common descent exist. Sequence similarity is the main evidence for common descent.
2. About homoplasy: it means similarity of a trait or genetic sequence not due to common descent. We recognize it when we have other strong reasons for thinking the organisms can’t come from the same lineage.
A number of posts discuss its relevance to phylogenetics and inferences of ancestry.
I don’t think you [Ann’s interlocutors] would have liked the conclusion better if I had made it clear homoplasy was a problem for phylogenetics, not population genetics. It’s a problem for evolutionary theory.
3. About homoplasy being a hidden secret: it’s hidden from non-specialists. The technical literature is aware and trying to deal with it. Just see the post “Confusing Similarity with Evolutionary History” for a discussion of two mainstream articles 12 years apart. But you would not know this from listening to Dawkins or any other evolutionary evangelist.

Finally, PZ Myers weighed in to demand that Dr. Gauger affirm that she is not a Young Earth Creationist. Besides being very bizarrely off-topic, the question is one that somebody could raise only if he had not read SHO, which frames its argument everywhere in terms of the standard timescale of life’s history, or anything at all truthful about the book.
Wow. Do you notice something peculiar that these replies have in common?
That’s right, they have done everything but answer Gauger’s actual argument in Science and Human Origins that forms the backdrop to the 2-minute video interview excerpt about the book. Carl has a hard time with books and no one else who attacked the video clip seems to have read SHO, but as Ann notes above, she thoughtfully summarized her main point from the video in a short post, “Confusing Similarity with Evolutionary History,” that is well within the range of Carl Zimmer’s attention span.
Ann asks whether

the basic premise of descent with modification as the explanation for the evolution of phyla is false? New molecular characters may provide no relief, particularly if homoplasy, defined as similarity of independently evolved characters, is widespread. Similarity loses its usefulness as an evolutionary trace when homoplasy enters the picture.

Go ahead and take a look, gentlemen. Let us know what you think.
By the way, I am still offering free review copies of Science and Human Origins to Zimmer or any or all of the aforementioned Darwin defenders if anyone wants to take up the challenge of responding to Gauger, Axe and Luskin on the merits of their arguments as opposed to nibbling around the margins at irrelevancies. You can reach me by clicking on Email Us at the top of the page.