Discovery Institute Shill Strikes Out
Note to Discovery Institute shill Casey Luskin:
To prevent future embarrassment when “critiquing” scientific papers, please look up the words you don’t understand.
The word “eponymous” means “named after.”
A couple weeks ago Louisiana passed a new science education act that promotes “critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including, but not limited to, evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” Along with the regular textbook, the law states, teachers “may use supplemental textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner.” The law “shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.”
What the law does not make clear, however, is how schools will determine whether the extra instructional material is good science or nonsense. There is nothing in the law that would keep a teacher from introducing a bogus non-argument about gravity and the revolution of the planets.
I was reminded of this sad fact when I read a post published today by Casey Luskin, a staffer at the Discovery Institute, an outfit that promotes intelligent design. Luskin has been one of the leaders of the Discovery Institute’s efforts to get so-called “academic freedom” bills passed in states around the country. He personally testified in Louisiana in favor of their new education bill. When he’s not busy with politics, Luskin writes posts at the Discovery Institute’s “Evolution News and Views” site, where he “critiques” research on evolutionary biology, claiming to find major flaws. But his critique make as much sense as the falling-or-revolving challenge to gravity.
The subject of the post is a 375-million-year-old fossil that helps reveal the transition of our ancestors from the water to land, known as Tiktaalik. I’ve written about Tiktaalik here, and you can get more details from the book Your Inner Fish, written by Neil Shubin, one of Tiktaalik’s discoverers. (Here’s a review I wrote in Nature.)
Luskin claims that Neil Shubin calls Tiktaalik a fish with a wrist, but “from what I can tell, Tiktaalik doesn’t have one.” The bulk of the post is taken up by Luskin’s fruitless search for a diagram or some other helpful information, either in Shubin’s book or the original papers. He is frustrated not to find a picture showing a wrist on Tiktaalik compared to the wrist of a tetrapod (a land vertebrate). This sort of “evidence” leads Luskin to conclude that Shubin has something to hide. “In the end, it’s no wonder Shubin chose not to provide a diagram comparing Tiktaalik’s fin-bones to the bones of a real tetrapod limb,” he writes.
Instead, Luskin is forced to read a scientific paper. He writes:So we are left to decipher his jargon-filled written comparison in the following sentence by sentence analysis:Um…Shubin did give them. They are called the intermedium and ulnare. (I just double-checked, for example, in Vertebrates by Ken Kardong, on p.332.) Shubin and his colleagues found two bones in the limb of Tiktaalik that bear a number of similarities to the intermedium and ulnare in the tetrapod wrist–in terms of their arrangement with other limb bones, for example. That’s why Shubin and company refer to the bones in Tiktaalik’s limb by the same two names. They are homologous–in other words, their similarities are due to a common ancestry.
1. Shubin et al.: “The intermedium and ulnare of Tiktaalik have homologues to eponymous wrist bones of tetrapods with which they share similar positions and articular relations.” (Note: I have labeled the intermedium and ulnare of Tiktaalik in the diagram below.)
Translation: OK, then exactly which “wrist bones of tetrapods” are Tiktaalik’s bones homologous to? Shubin doesn’t say. This is a technical scientific paper, so a few corresponding “wrist bone”-names from tetrapods would seem appropriate. But Shubin never gives any.
So Luskin wants to know what bones in the tetrapod limb are homologous to Tiktaalik’s intermedium and ulnare. The answer is…the intermedium and ulnare. He has unwittingly answered his own question. Now, perhaps Luskin got tripped up in Shubin’s “jargon-filled” writing. But that doesn’t change the facts–merely Luskin’s understanding of them.
I remain skeptical about the Discovery Institute’s version of “intelligent design,” but this story is pretty good evidence in favor of stupid design.