Scientific Censorship and Evolution

Wolfgang Wuster bss166 at clss1.bangor.ac.uk
Thu Mar 30 04:43:00 EST 1995


On Wed, 22 Mar 1995, Richard Milton wrote:

> 
>              Scientific Censorship and Evolution
>              ===================================
> 
> The article below was commissioned in February 1995 by the 
> British weekly newspaper,"Times Higher Education Supplement" 
> to appear in March 1995.  It has been censored because it 
> challenges, scientifically, the empirical foundations of the 
> neo-Darwinist theory of evolution.

As we will discuss, it does not challenge anything.
> 
> The article was "spiked" by the THES Following a campaign against 
> it by Richard Dawkins, of Oxford University.

Translation: it was subjected to peer review and found to be lacking in 
rigour.
> 
> In the interests of freedom of speech, and so that such attempts 
> at censorship cannot succeed, I am placing the article in the 

Translation: I am entitled to utter uninformed opinions wherever I please. 

> public domain without copyright restriction and am posting it as 
> widely as possible on the Internet.  I also attach a copy of my 
> letter to the editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement 
> saying why I believe this article should be published.
> 
> I apologise to those who feel that this is off-topic for their 
> news group, but I believe there is an issue of scientific 
> censorship involved here that affects us all equally -- even 
> if you disagree with the conclusions in my article.

It has nothing to do with censorship, simply with the fact that your 
article is bad science, based on ignorance and therefore does not deserve 
publication, as will be shown by the following examples:

[snip]

> basements, as further research has shown them to be flawed or 
> misconceived.
.... which goes to show that the scientific establishment is perfectly 
willing to admit mistakes and correct them.

[description of chart of horse evolution deleted]
> 
> Simpson plainly believed that his evidence was incontrovertible 
> because he wrote, 'The history of the horse family is still one 
> of the clearest and most convincing for showing that organisms 
> really have evolved. . . There really is no point nowadays in 
> continuing to collect and to study fossils simply to determine 
> whether or not evolution is a fact.  The question has been 
> decisively answered in the affirmative.' [2]
> 
> Yet shortly after this affirmation, Simpson admits in passing 
> that the chart he has drawn contains major gaps that he has not 
> included: a gap before "Eohippus" and its unknown ancestors, for 
> example, and another gap after "Eohippus" and before its supposed 
> descendant "Mesohippus". [3]  What is it, scientifically, that 
> connects these isolated species on the famous chart if it is not 
> fossil remains?  And how could such unconnected examples 
> demonstrate either genetic mutation or natural selection? 

Of course there are gaps! What do you expect from the fossil record and a 
sequence of fossils with millions of years between fossils??? 
Furthermore, nobody has ever claimed that these horses tell us anything 
about genetic mutation and natural selection. They do tell us something 
about the evolutionary history of a lineage. The fact that the original 
interpretation was oversimplistic was unknown at the time. It is now 
known that the evolutionary history of the horse family was more complex, 
with reversals and parallel evolution in a number of lineages. However, 
this is not the same as calling a series of fossils "unconnected". They 
are all part of the evolutionary history of horses, which can be 
recognised by anyone with palaeontological training. 

> > Even though, today, the bones themselves have been relegated to 
> the basement, the famous chart with its unproven continuity still 
> appears in museum displays and handbooks, text books, 
> encyclopaedias and lectures.

Sloppy lecturers and textbook editors do not invalidate a  
theoretical framework.
> 
> The remarkable "Archaeopteryx" also seems at first glance to bear 
> out the neo-Darwinian concept of birds having evolved from small 
> reptiles (the candidate most favoured by neo-Darwinists is a 
> small agile dinosaur called a Coelosaur, and this is the 
> explanation offered by most text books and museums.)  Actually, 
> such a descent is impossible because coelosaurs, in common with 
> most other dinosaurs, did not posses collar bones while 
> "Archaeopteryx", like all birds, has a modified collar bone to 
> support its pectoral muscles. [4]   Again, how can an isolated 
> fossil, however remarkable, provide evidence of beneficial 
> mutation or natural selection? 
It is not claimed to provide evidence of beneficial mutation or natural 
selection, it does provide evidence of the history of the birds and their 
reptilian cousins. In archaeological terms, you are asking a fragment of 
Roman pottery to explain the full set of Roman business tax laws. 
> 
> Neo-Darwinists were quick to claim that modern discoveries of 
> molecular biology supported their theory.  They said, for 
> example, that if you analyse the DNA, the genetic blueprint, of 
> plants and animals you find how closely or distantly they are 
> related. That studying DNA sequences enables you to draw up the 
> precise family tree of all living things and show how they are 
> related by common ancestry.
> 
> This is a very important claim and central to the theory. If 
> true, it would mean that animals neo-Darwinists say are closely 
> related, such as two reptiles, would have greater similarity in 
> their DNA than animals that are not so closely related, such as a 
> reptile and a bird.
> 
> In 1981,  molecular biologists working under Dr Morris 
> Goodman at Ann Arbor University decided to test this hypothesis.  
> They took the alpha haemoglobin DNA of two reptiles -- a snake 
> and a crocodile -- which are said by Darwinists to be closely 
> related, and the haemoglobin DNA of a bird, in this case a 
> farmyard chicken.
> 
> They found that the two animals who had _least_ DNA sequences in 
> common were the two reptiles, the snake and the crocodile.  They 
> had only around 5% of DNA sequences in common -- only one 
> twentieth of their haemoglobin DNA.  The two creatures whose DNA 
> was closest were the crocodile and the chicken, where there were 
> 17.5% of sequences in common -- nearly one fifth. The actual DNA 
> similarities were the _reverse_ of that predicted by neo-
> Darwinism. [5]
> 
You aptly display your complete ignorance of evolutionary theory and 
systematic practice. Go to a library, pick up a dictionary, and check out 
terms such as "cladism".

Morphologists have known for some time (well before Goodman's work) that
crocs and birds share a more recent ancestor than either does with snakes.
The idea that crocs and snakes are "more closely related" is based on
outdated systematic practice, which looked at overall similarity and
"level of organization"  rather than at the phylogeny (evolutionary
descent) of the taxa concerned. The difference is that the birds have
undergone a period of rapid evolutionary change relative to their
ancestors, whereas crocodiles have remained more or less unchanged for
hundreds or millions of years, and thus have what might be called a
"reptilian level of organization"  (ectotherms, low metabolic rate, etc.),
which snakes also have. This "level of organization" is a primitive
feature, and therefore cannot be used to infer relationship. You should
look at some post-1950s texts on evolutionary theory before criticising
something which you do not understand. 

Incidentally, this discussion about reptiles and birds has nothing to do
with neo-Darwinism, which is a theory relating to the evolutionary
process. Your examples are about philosophies of classification, a
different kettle of fish altogether. 

> Even more baffling is the fact that radically different genetic 
> coding can give rise to animals that look outwardly very similar 
> and exhibit similar behaviour, while creatures that look and 
> behave completely differently can have much in common 
> genetically. 

....which represents a nice example of how evolution by natural selection 
results in convergent adaptations for a given ecological niche. 

> There are, for instance, more than 3,000 species of 
> frogs, all of which look superficially the same. But there is a 
> greater variation of DNA between them than there is between the 
> bat and the blue whale.
So?
> 
> Further, if neo-Darwinist evolutionary ideas of gradual genetic 
> change were true, then one would expect to find that simple 
> organisms have simple DNA and complex organisms have complex DNA.  
> In some cases, this is true. The simple nematode worm is a 
> favourite subject of laboratory study because its DNA contains a 
> mere 1,000 nucleotide bases. 

As someone else has pointed out this figure is completely wrong. 1000 base 
pairs make on moderate-size proteins. Nematodes are simple, but they are 
not that simple.

> At the other end of the complexity 
> scale, humans have 23 chromosomes which in total contain 3,000 
> million nucleotide bases. 
> 
> Unfortunately, this promisingly Darwinian progression is 
> contradicted by many counter examples.  While human DNA is 
> contained in 23 pairs of chromosomes, the humble goldfish has 
> more than twice as many, at 47.  The even humbler garden snail -- 
> not much more than a glob of slime in a shell -- has 27 
  ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^  a great malacologist in the making!
> chromosomes.  Some species of rose bush have 56 chromosomes.

So? Since most DNA in any organism is junk anyway, and multiple copies of 
the same gene don't constitute greater complexity, your examples are 
completely irrelevant.

> So the simple fact is that DNA analysis does _not_ confirm neo-
> Darwinist theory.  In the laboratory, DNA analysis falsifies neo-
> Darwinist theory.

Since you neither understand neo-Darwinism, nor present examples which 
have anything to do with neo-Darwinist theory, this point is demonstrably 
nonsense.

> > An even more damaging blow to the theory was the discovery that 
> the very centrepiece of neo-Darwinism, Darwin's original 
> conception of natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, 
> is fatally flawed.

Here we go again.... Pick up some of the more recent (post 1940s if you 
can manage) books on evolution to read all about this. Also look at some 
of the books on the creation/evolution controversy, where all this is 
discussed at length.

> The answer is that the only way to define the fit is by means of 
> a post-hoc rationalisation -- the fit must be "those who 
> survived". While the only way to characterise uniquely those who 
> survive is as "the fit".  The central proposition of the 
> Darwinian argument turns out to be an empty tautology.

Bovine scatology. Fitness can be defined in terms of good design. For 
example, if you are exposed to cold, having insulation will prevent the 
cold from reaching you. This can be defined as fitness in this context. 

[snip]

> George Simpson, professor of paleontology at Harvard, sought to 
> restore content to the idea of natural selection by saying; "If 
> genetically red-haired parents have, on average, a larger 
> proportion of children than blondes or brunettes, then evolution 
> will be in the direction of red hair.  If genetically left-handed 
> people have more children, evolution will be towards left-
> handedness.  The characteristics themselves do not directly 
> matter at all.  All that matters is who leaves more descendants 
> over the generations.  Natural selection favours fitness only if 
> you define fitness as leaving more descendants.  In fact 
> geneticists do define it that way, which maybe confusing to 
> others.  To a geneticist, fitness has nothing to do with health, 
> strength, good looks, or anything but effectiveness in breeding." 
> [7] 
> 
> Notice the words; "The characteristics themselves do not directly 
> matter at all."  This innocent phrase fatally undermines Darwin's 
> original key conception: that each animal's special physical 
> characteristics are what makes it fit to survive: the giraffe's 
> long neck, the eagle's keen eye, or the cheetah's 60 mile-an-hour 
> sprint.
> 
> Simpson's reformulation means all this must be dropped: it is not 
> the characteristics that directly matter -- it is the animals' 
> capacity to reproduce themselves. The race is not to the swift, 
> after all, but merely to the prolific. So how can neo-Darwinism 
> explain the enormous diversity of characteristics?

What was meant by that phrase is that *whichever characteristic confers a
reproductive advantage* will be selected for. A cheetah which runs faster
will catch more prey, and thus will have more energy available for
reproduction than a cheetah which is less successful at capturing prey.
There are an awful lot of ways of making a living out there, and hence
there are an awful lot of different animals doing just that. Physical
characteristics are, in evolutionary terms, a means to an end. 
> 
> Not
only are neo-Darwinist ideas falsified by empirical research, 
> but other puzzling and extraordinary findings have come to light 
> in recent decades, suggesting that evolution is not blind but 
> rather is in some unknown way _directed_. The experiments of 
> Cairns at Harvard and Hall at Rochester University suggest that 
> microorganisms can mutate in a way that is beneficial. [8] 
> 
> Experiments with tobacco plants and flax demonstrate genetic 
> change through the effects of fertilisers alone. [9] 

Notice that these "anti-Darwinian" papers cited under [8] and [9] 
appeared in Nature (still edited by the "book burning" Maddox) and other 
fine international scientific journals. Uncensored. 

> Experiments 
> with sea squirts and salamanders as long ago as the 1920s 
>appeared to demonstrate the inheritance of acquired 
> characteristics.[10] 

.... such as ink injection into the limbs? 

[more comments on alleged censorship in biology deleted]

There may be some valid criticisms of Neo-Darwinism around. It may be true
that the reaction to such criticism is sometimes exaggerated and
oppressive. However, it should also be noted that the cry of "censorship" 
often rings out loudest when bad science is not published for the reason
that it is quite simply, err, bad science. 

The current article is based on total ignorance of basic evolutionary
principles. It would have been a great discredit to the THES had they
published this piece. 

Dr. Wolfgang Wuster
School of Biological Sciences, University of Wales, Bangor.







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