Jack Krebs posted Entry 2381 on June 16, 2006 09:06 AM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2376

An AP story this morning discusses a new fossil find in China of an early bird, Gansus, from about 100 million years ago. The headline reads “Bird fossils in China called a missing link in evolution.”

Now this is a neat find, and I urge you to read the story, but I’d like to discuss the headline as an example of the way the popular press mischaracterizes science sometimes, and adds to public misconceptions about evolution.

For example, a fairly typical response has occurred over at Uncommon Descent, where one of Dembski’s blogging group writes, “I guess I just don’t get it. Why has the missing link in bird evolution just been found, when I have been assured for years that there is overwhelming evidence in the fossil record that the enigma of bird evolution was already solved?”

One of the problems with press stories about science is that most of the time they add a “hook” about the significance of the story that is misleading in some way. In particular, the phrase “missing link” implies the mistaken idea that certain kinds of creatures have some special transitional status. But that is not true. Every fossil find is a link between earlier and later creatures, and they are all missing until they are found. The phrase “missing link” implies, especially to that part of the public that has doubts about evolution, that somehow the particular find in question is of a special creature whose existence somehow now “proves evolution.”

This is exceedingly simplistic: no one in science has ever claimed that “the enigma of bird evolution”, or any other aspect of evolution, has been “solved”; nor does anyone in science believe that any one find will “prove” evolution. The fact that evolution has occurred has been established by the accumulation of many, many thousands of pieces of individual evidence, of which this find is just one more.

One of the significant things here, is that Gansus, like the earlier find this year of Tiktaalik roseae, was found at the time and in the place that we would have expected, based on what we know already about bird evolution. In that sense it is a piece of the puzzle that fits in the right place: it is not a “rabbit in the Cambrian.”

Notice what the article says,

“Most of the ancestors of birds from the age of dinosaurs are members of groups that died out and left no modern descendants. But Gansus led to modern birds, so it’s a link between primitive birds and those we see today,” Lamanna, a co-leader of the research team, said in a telephone interview.

Previously there was a gap between ancient and modern species of birds, and “Gansus fits perfectly into this gap,” added Jerald D. Harris of Dixie State College in Utah.

In the “Evolution 101” class I gave last April, a two-evening talk to the layperson about evolution, I emphasized that we should stop using phrases like “missing link” because of the misconceptions it engenders. Notice the two quotes above: Lamanna simply says “it’s a link”, not a “missing link”: good for him. Harris says, “There was a gap between ancient and modern species …”. If might have been better (and I am not faulting Harris, because I know that newspaper reporters respond best to brevity) if he had said “there was a gap in our knowledge of ancient and modern species …” This would have made it clear that what is in doubt about this or any other evolutionary problem is the details about what happened, not whether evolution happened.

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Comment #106027

Posted by Gerard Harbison on June 16, 2006 9:48 AM (e)

A couple of notes.

First, this find beautifully corroborates Feduccia’s prediction that the common ancestor to modern birds is likely a transitional shorebird. Gansus was known from a hindlimb since 1981, and the limb morphology suggested a shorebird, but this is still corroboration. Feduccia’s in a small minority on the bird/dinosaur link, but on much of the rest, his Origin and Evolution of Birds is invaluable.

Second, Creation-Evolution headlines’ article on this find is particular execrable. They call Gansus a ‘duck’; they claim the find is a ‘known species appearing much earlier than already thought’ (Gansus has always been assigned to the Early Cretaceous), and they mock the idea that birds survived the KT extinction (most of them did not; the enanthornithines did not, and there was a major genetic bottleneck in the ornithurines). A shorebird, able to travel to find food, living largely off shoreline detritus and small shoreline scavengers, likely in the tropics, would be exactly the kind of species one would expect to survive a major catastrophe.

Comment #106028

Posted by dre on June 16, 2006 10:03 AM (e)

this is tangential, and i know i should know, but who is “DT” that is moderating uncommon discount, and how long has he (she?) been making playground threats to posters? “Wanna see me turn YOU into a missing link?” my goodness…

Comment #106030

Posted by bsb on June 16, 2006 10:21 AM (e)

What is ancestral about Gansus? What about Gansus isn’t modern? This is simply an old skeleton from an extinct species that is no different from the birds we see today. This “modern” bird is exactly what creationists would expect because from our perspective, all animal families were complete from the beginning (eg. Cambrian Explosion, modern forms in ancient layers).

Comment #106031

Posted by steve s on June 16, 2006 10:30 AM (e)

Me, I was just surprised to see that FoxNews had a science section. Believe it or not, for years they were the only major news org without one. Anyway, you can see where some of the confusion creeps in. Gil and FoxNews refer to it as ‘the’ missing link, while the scientists are quoted saying it’s ‘a’ missing link.

Comment #106032

Posted by steve s on June 16, 2006 10:34 AM (e)

Comment #106028

Posted by dre on June 16, 2006 10:03 AM (e) | kill

this is tangential, and i know i should know, but who is “DT” that is moderating uncommon discount, and how long has he (she?) been making playground threats to posters? “Wanna see me turn YOU into a missing link?” my goodness…

Nobody over there has a science education. DS is a retired computer technician in Texas whose job is to ban people who veer from the party line. Other people on that site have no degrees, or degrees in law, engineering, or some other non-science field.

Comment #106033

Posted by stevaroni on June 16, 2006 10:38 AM (e)

You have to be philosophical about all this “missing link” stuff.

The subtleties of “We found this new fossil, C and it fits neatly between A and B, but it’s interesting because we expected more of X than Y” don’t make for a good headline.

Years ago, our opponents discovered the seductive appeal of the simple, easy to explain, answer. So as long as news items have to be simplified into a 200 word blurb, I’m happier with “Link found”, a positive statement, than “Scientists puzzled about Y, expected X” which is far more technically interesting, but makes it sound like the new evidence is somehow problematic.

This year has brought a bumper crop of well-publicized new finds, and if the casual reading public wants to go no deeper than “missing links piling up”, I’m OK with that.

Comment #106035

Posted by Jeffery Keown on June 16, 2006 10:43 AM (e)

Modern forms in ancient layers? Which forms, please.

Comment #106036

Posted by k.e. on June 16, 2006 10:49 AM (e)

Only slightly OT
Retired professor tracks down rodent thought to be extinct

Comment #106039

Posted by 2hulls on June 16, 2006 11:05 AM (e)

steve s - “Other people on that site have no degrees, or degrees in law, engineering, or some other non-science field.”

C’mon, steve - engineering a non-science field? Why did I study all that thermo, chemistry, physics, etc.? Dern - I could’ve been drinking more beer!

As an engineer lurker on this site since the Kitzmiller decision, who considers himself pretty well versed in general science topics and especially in the science roots of engineering, I’ll accept an apology. No, I’m not a “scientist”, and certainly not a biologist, but you should be comforted in knowing that good engineers out here rely on our understanding of science every minute of every day.

Otherwise, keep up the good work.

Dave

Comment #106041

Posted by fnxtr on June 16, 2006 11:10 AM (e)

bsb:

This is simply an old skeleton from an extinct species that is no different from the birds we see today. This “modern” bird is exactly what creationists would expect because from our perspective, all animal families were complete from the beginning (eg. Cambrian Explosion, modern forms in ancient layers).

If it’s an extinct species does that mean macroevolution occured? Or was a mistake made with this species and it had to be removed? Are you using “family” in the traditional taxonomic sense? If you are, where’s the dividing line between micro- and macro- within families?

Comment #106042

Posted by steve s on June 16, 2006 11:11 AM (e)

some engineers are scientists. No argument there. But there is a big difference between a science degree like chemistry, biology, or physics, and an engineering degree. I know lots of engineers from college–at one point I had three engineer roommates–and they’re not scientists.

Comment #106044

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 16, 2006 11:14 AM (e)

Not only journalists, but also many scientists, tend to hype their finds. It’s always an ego-boost, and more importantly a benefit to the grants process, to have people think that their find fills an especially large gap. I’m not saying this was the case here–from the little we read from the paleontologists themselves, they appear to be putting out little enough hype.

OK, basically we all know about the hype from various quarters. Krebs posts in order to educate lurkers, mostly not the various bloggers and commenters. My question–why doesn’t Dembski ever appear to be informed? Why does the humdrum creation of hype sucker him in repeatedly?

He’s off making the same lame comments that the typical creo-morons do every time that the gaps becomes smaller. In fact the media reports can be fairly confusing to the naive (I’m being charitable with my examples), so I wouldn’t be surprised to see DaveScot and AFDave fall for journalistic hype/nonsense. And sure, I’m not surprised that Dembski does either, but it is to his shame that he either writes as if he were taken in so that he can whine ridiculously (but effectively), or that he really is so ignorant that he doesn’t know any better.

At least he’s close to getting one thing right:

Dembski wrote:

Sigh. I’m apparently too stupid to understand Darwinian logic.

Uncommon Descent, June 16, 2006.

He may not be too stupid to understand “Darwinian” logic, but he puts on a pretty good show of not understanding evolutionary science and its methods in the least. And evidently he doesn’t understand journalistic logic either.

I really can’t say whether or not he is putting on his followers, who generally are too stupid even to recognize what is “Darwinian logic” and what is hype (they wouldn’t be creationists if they did). But it is certainly plausible that one as ignorant of science as he is really does not know the difference between journalistic hype and true science any better than his followers are.

After all, none of his work reflects scientific knowledge. He did seem to think that his early NFL and EF stuff really was scientific, apparently without his noticing the need to work with empirical data. He appears to have a truly abysmal lack of knowledge of what is actually published in journals, and probably mostly does get his “knowledge” of evolution from the media.

Well, OK, Dembski shows his appalling incompetence once again. What’s new? True, but we really should not forget just how egregious his mis-education of others is, for he surely could do better if he had any desire to understand what he is talking about. It is not clear to me that he is particularly bright, but he seems capable of understanding reasonably complex subjects, hence he could learn to recognize media hype, vs. “Darwinian logic”, had he the desire to educate his believers decently.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #106045

Posted by Thomas R. Holtz, Jr. on June 16, 2006 11:16 AM (e)

As for the use of “modern” in the context of the press releases/news reports: the authors were trying to avoid the (admittedly complex) taxonomic terminology of paleornithology. Gansus is, based on phylogenetic analysis of the new data, the oldest recovered member of Ornithurae (the clade containing all living birds [Neornithes], Ichthyornis, and Hesperornithiformes. Ornithurae and closely related taxa (together, the Ornithuromorpha) represent one of the speciose branches of post-Jurassic birds; the other being the Enantiornithes (“opposite birds”). Enantiornithes seem to have been the more common of the two lineages during the Cretaceous (especially among land birds).

It retains some features present in extinct Cretaceous birds that are lacking in modern birds (e.g., it has non-heterocoelous presacral vertebrae), but in general has many derived features. However, the Cretaceous toothed bird Ichthyornis shares even more derived features with Neornithes (the clade of all living birds) than does Gansus.

Comment #106046

Posted by steve s on June 16, 2006 11:19 AM (e)

hey Glen:

Sigh. I’m apparently too stupid to understand Darwinian logic.
Filed under: Intelligent Design — GilDodgen @ 10:23 pm
Comments (21)

Comment #106047

Posted by George on June 16, 2006 11:22 AM (e)

dre wrote:

this is tangential, and i know i should know, but who is “DT” that is moderating uncommon discount, and how long has he (she?) been making playground threats to posters? “Wanna see me turn YOU into a missing link?” my goodness…

That would be DaveScott, as he’s known on UD. In fairness, he’s actually parodying himself on that thread (who would’ve thought?). He’s in the habit of threatening and banning dissenters on UD with cheesy one-liners signed “ds”. In the UD thread on AtBC this habit’s been parodied with threats coming from “dt”: DaveTard.

Comment #106048

Posted by Jack Krebs on June 16, 2006 11:26 AM (e)

I want to support 2hullis here. It’s a mistake to draw a firm line between scientists and engineers (or doctors - another related profession.) Engineers of whatever type have to learn a lot of science. I’m sure the extent to which someone absorbs the big picture and appreciates the subtler elements of gaining scientific knowledge varies by person, but I think that is true of scientists also.

So I suggest we not throw the baby out with the bath water. I regularly get thanked by people in the engineering and medical fields for defending evolution, not because they use it, are responsible for teaching it, and do anything to contribute origianl knowledge, but just because they support good science and the overall scientific enterprise.

Comment #106049

Posted by steve s on June 16, 2006 11:30 AM (e)

I would definitely call engineering and medicine science related. And some engineers and some doctors are scientists. But I don’t think an engineering degree is a science degree. And I consider the number of anti-evolutionists who are engineers and doctors to be evidence for this. But this thread should be about Gansus, so I’m not going to pursue it further.

Comment #106050

Posted by dre on June 16, 2006 11:37 AM (e)

george, thanks for the clarification.

i’m aware of davescot’s antics, and i’ve seen him addressed as “davetard” before. i guess i just never would have thought he’d acknowledge his own ridiculous character or the low regard in which he is held.

now i know.

Comment #106051

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 16, 2006 11:39 AM (e)

steve s - “Other people on that site have no degrees, or degrees in law, engineering, or some other non-science field.”

C’mon, steve - engineering a non-science field? Why did I study all that thermo, chemistry, physics, etc.? Dern - I could’ve been drinking more beer!

I would have to say that engineering by definition is a non-science field. It is, of course, supported by science, and a good engineer has to be educated in physics and other science areas.

What seems to be important in the confrontations with creationist engineers is that engineers don’t particularly need to learn the scientific method. They do the labs, and certainly are taught some things about science’s methods, but if they don’t particularly care to learn what science is all about, they really don’t have to.

I think that engineers in general sometimes come in for attacks on these forums which are not deserved. Of course DaveScot and his ilk are causal in this. The fact of the matter is that an engineer who is intellectually honest and interested in science has a good leg up on understanding science from his training, while the DaveScots of this world have a lot of technical training that they are able to confuse with science, thus to avoid scientific methods completely and to take up ID.

I think of engineers as being much like physicians in this way. Physicians and engineers have enough science training that they could well deal competently with science, and enough technical training of which they are (rightly) proud that they may arrogantly claim to be expert in opinions which have not come via science at all.

I hate to see either group rubbished in general, but the fact that neither physician nor engineer training is aimed at producing scientists does mean that both groups supply pseudoscience with a disproportionate number of recruits. The majority in both groups is fairly sane and committed to sound science, yet a minority in both groups finds pseudoscience to fit with the way they work well enough that they feel no need to abandon nonsense.

Various pressures upon the actual scientists does keep the level of pseudoscience among them generally low–at least in the areas within which the scientists work. Mostly, those who receive actual “science degrees” really do have to understand science and its methods in order to get their degrees.

So that while engineers and others may very well be competent in science, there are no great barriers to taking up pseudoscience among engineers (well, most would have trouble if they abandoned the physics that relates to their designs, but denying evolution generally has no repercussions in their work). There are actually quite a number of barriers for those with science degrees, and especially for practicing scientists, that tend to prevent their adoption of pseudoscience.

Obviously the barriers do not always work (Wells). On the whole, though, science and its participants maintain their integrity through formal and informal sanctions against BS.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #106052

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 16, 2006 11:47 AM (e)

steve wrote:

hey Glen:

Sigh. I’m apparently too stupid to understand Darwinian logic.
Filed under: Intelligent Design — GilDodgen @ 10:23 pm
Comments (21)

Thanks for clearing that up. I guess I see WD at the top, as well as credit for the blog going to him in the search engines and in the headings of Uncommon Descent, and forget that others do blog there as well.

Of course Dembski does remain responsible for the BS that occurs on his blog, but is not as responsible as if he were the actual author. That is to say, he shouldn’t allow GilDodgen to tell lies about science, yet, whether or not he would write the same things, he does give Gil the green light to misrepresent science.

Oh well, so it goes at UD. I apologize to anyone who was misled for my lack of attention to detail and for misattribution.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #106053

Posted by steve s on June 16, 2006 11:53 AM (e)

Dembski only drives the Short Bus on the Information Superhighway. Much of the noise is made by the passengers.

Comment #106054

Posted by 2hulls on June 16, 2006 11:55 AM (e)

steve s - “I know lots of engineers from college—at one point I had three engineer roommates—and they’re not scientists.”

In your original statement, you said “non-science” not “non-scientist”. I agreed I’m not a scientist. But being put in the same “non-science” category as lawyers was clearly uncalled for and either uninformed or arrogant. Since you had three engineer roomates to inform you, what does that leave? :)

So, no apology?

Otherwise, keep up the good work - and I’ll keep up mine. If you knew what it was, you’d thank me for having a science AND engineering education.

Dave

Comment #106057

Posted by steve s on June 16, 2006 12:01 PM (e)

Nothing to apologize for.

Comment #106061

Posted by GuyeFaux on June 16, 2006 12:21 PM (e)

Glen Davidson wrote:

He did seem to think that his early NFL and EF stuff really was scientific, apparently without his noticing the need to work with empirical data.

The wonderful thing about the NFL and the EF is that they are mathematical theory, not scientific ones. As such, they can be explicitly disproved. Scientific theories on the other hand always have a quantity of evidence for or against them, and therefore cannot ever be said to be disproved or proved completely.

From
Wolpert’s rebuttal

So if Dembski had managed to use the geometry of induction properly to quantify that some search algorithm occurring in the biological world had, somehow, worked better than all but the fraction 10^{-50} (say) of alternative algorithms, then there would be a major mystery concerning the modern biological mantra. This would be true regardless of whether neo-Darwinists had performed the proper rituals in settling on that mantra.

However, Dembski does not do this.

Comment #106062

Posted by Todd on June 16, 2006 12:22 PM (e)

There is a big difference between “using science” and “being a scientist”. I have been trained in both science and engineering (in my field people commonly go into both), and in my experience engineering is not science. It uses information gained by science, but it does not use the same processes used by scientists to develop practical applications. Science’s goal is to learn about the universe. Engineering’s goal is to apply that information to solving problems in human society. Engineers must understand the knowledge gained by science, and they must understand the needs of society, but a detailed understanding of how science gains its information is not really relevant to the engineering field. That is not to denegrate engineering. Ultimately the vast majority of scientific knowledge would be of no consequence without engineering. Engineers are generally the ones who translate scientific discoveries into useful applications. However, due to today’s specialization in careers an understanding of how scientific knowledge is obtained is not really relevant to using it effectively for societal gain, thus these aspects seem to be largerly ignored by engineering. That does not mean that engineers can not learn such things on their own, but it is not a standard component of an engineering education as far as I have seen.

And the basic problem is that unless you are going into biomedical engineering/bioengineering, environmental engineering, or agricultural engineering a detailed knowledge of biology and evolution are not very important to an engineer, so they do not seem to be emphasized. That does not mean that no engineer is knowledgeable on biology or evolution, but it is not something you should expect an engineer to know by default (unless they are in a biology-oriented engineering field).

Comment #106068

Posted by 2hulls on June 16, 2006 12:33 PM (e)

steve - why are you acting so arrogant? I of course don’t know you personally, so I can’t conclude you actually are arrogant, but you’re not helping your case.

Hey - I’m on your side! I am not a troll or a detractor to the usual good information I’ve come to enjoy reading on this site. I have increased my knowledge of biology, science, and evolution doing so. I’ve used information from this site, probably including information directly from you, to counter IDiots’ and YEC’ers assertions elsewhere.

You insulted consciencious engineers comparing us to having equivalent (low)science knowledge as lawyers. That is just about as mind boggling as some ID claims and accusations I’ve heard. Perhaps you know less about what we do and need to know than you think you do.

Please consider embracing your allies rather than alienating them.

Dave

Comment #106070

Posted by Britton Cole on June 16, 2006 12:38 PM (e)

As an engineer, I’d have to agree that most engineers do not think like scientists. Echoing Todd, we know science and we use science, but we don’t do anything to discover new knowledge and develop theories. We’re problem solvers rather than critical thinkers. In university, we even had a very well-respected hydrology prof who was a Climate Change denier (no Creationists afaik). But do give us some credit; we have boatloads more scientific knowledge than a lawyer or whatever.

Comment #106071

Posted by Jack Krebs on June 16, 2006 12:40 PM (e)

Hmmm - we seem to have lost sight of the original topic here. There have been some good comments made here, and I definitely agree with 2hulls that despite any differences among different fields which investigate and/or use science, it is counter-productive (and wrong) to stereotype any profession and to alienate individuals who support our cause.

For what it’s worth, I’m a tech director and a math teacher - should my thoughts about and support for science be discounted?

So anyway, does anyone have anything to say baout this subject of accurately portraying the significance of new fossil finds to the public?

Comment #106073

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 16, 2006 12:45 PM (e)

You insulted consciencious engineers comparing us to having equivalent (low)science knowledge as lawyers. That is just about as mind boggling as some ID claims and accusations I’ve heard. Perhaps you know less about what we do and need to know than you think you do.

Why so down on the science knowledge of lawyers? While most lawyers aren’t highly trained in science, it is not rare to find some that are. What is more, most would at least be able to find the flaws in ID, since they have been trained to treat data with more respect and “due process” than your average slob/creationist (ok, lawyers are also trained to get around treating data with respect and due process–my point being that they have to know how to treat evidence properly even when they don’t do so).

There are strengths and weaknesses across the professions. I would not automatically take a lawyer or an engineer to be competent in biology, but I wouldn’t discount the possibility in either one.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #106074

Posted by 2hulls on June 16, 2006 12:49 PM (e)

Jack - “does anyone have anything to say baout this subject of accurately portraying the significance of new fossil finds to the public?”

Perhaps the point I’ve been trying to make actually fits this very topic. Sometimes it seems some folks in the “science” community need a charisma transplant. Too much talking down to outsiders. Perhaps there ought to be some PR folks to help communicate with journalists.

Remember, (trying really hard NOT to stereotype) most journalists became journalists because they didn’t like math and science.

Dave

Comment #106078

Posted by 2hulls on June 16, 2006 12:59 PM (e)

Glen - “Why so down on the science knowledge of lawyers?”

I guess I’m guilty as charged for doing my share of over generalizing. My apologies to science educated/minded lawyers. Lawyering DOES require - based on my daily interaction with them - a strong, ability in logical thought. Those that also have a science aptitude are that much better off. But unless they also were educated in some science field or field that required a strong science foundation, I have never met one that can compare science-wise to a typical engineer. Which takes me back to my original question to steve.

I think most would agree that engineers typically have and need a stronger science foundation than attorneys do be competent in our work.

OK, I’ll stop now.

Dave

Comment #106079

Posted by GuyeFaux on June 16, 2006 1:00 PM (e)

Remember, (trying really hard NOT to stereotype) most journalists became journalists because they didn’t like math and science.

Same reason people become ID advocates.

Comment #106082

Posted by Glen Davidson on June 16, 2006 1:07 PM (e)

krebs wrote:

So anyway, does anyone have anything to say baout this subject of accurately portraying the significance of new fossil finds to the public?

One problem in finding anything to add is that you pretty much nailed it.

Nothing is going to change in media coverage, though. NYT generally reports science fairly well, and perhaps other outlets are doing somewhat better. But it will never do to write a headline, “Another fossil has been found to add to the large number of intermediates between reptiles and birds that we already knew”. Incremental knowledge does not grab attention, even though the recent find counts for a significant increment.

krebs wrote:

Harris says, “There was a gap between ancient and modern species …”. If might have been better (and I am not faulting Harris, because I know that newspaper reporters respond best to brevity) if he had said “there was a gap in our knowledge of ancient and modern species …” This would have made it clear that what is in doubt about this or any other evolutionary problem is the details about what happened, not whether evolution happened.

I don’t know. This is the only part where I might quibble a bit, and mostly I’m commenting on it because you wanted to get more into the original groove. Harris was certainly referring to a “fossil gap” (I assume that he’s a paleontologist) or “information gap”. And since he was out there looking for more fossils, surely his work implies that there was only a knowledge gap.

After all, there are gaps in the fossil record, but sensibly there are no real gaps in the genetic data. We have reptile information in bird DNA, and any number of modifications and additions to that information.

One can be too careful with language, certainly.

Actually, I’m not sure that “link” is the absolute best term for this or any other find. How can we know if any species is the “true link”, and not simply part of the adaptive radiation in which the actual link occurred? In many ways, it doesn’t matter, which is why we treat archaeopteryx almost as if it were the ancestor of modern, when it almost certainly was not.

Still, I don’t know if “intermediate” would convey to the public the knowledge that Harris wanted to impart, and presumably the particulars of how science thinks of intermediates would not be of much interest to either reporter or the public. So “link” might have been the word to use, even if I think it has its problems.

Glen D
http://tinyurl.com/b8ykm

Comment #106092

Posted by GuyeFaux on June 16, 2006 1:26 PM (e)

In terms of headlines, we gotta keep in mind that the author of the article rarely comes up with the headline for the article. Usually, the “science guy” writes the article and his editor picks the most attention grabbing headline.

From the New York Times:

Duck Look-Alike Reveals Birds’ Evolution

as if we were totally in the dark about it until the discovery. On the other hand, the introduction in the actual article says something much weaker:

Filling a gap in the evolution of birds, scientists have dug up fossils …

Comment #106095

Posted by AJ Milne on June 16, 2006 1:45 PM (e)

Remember, (trying really hard NOT to stereotype) most journalists became journalists because they didn’t like math and science…

Speaking as a member of Advocates for People With Biology Degrees Who’ve Worked as Reporters and Rather Like Math and Who Have Taken Graduate Math Courses to Work in Their Current Rather Math-Intensive Fields (the mighty APWBDWWRRLMWHTGMCWTCRMIF lobby), I’m just gonna say ‘Now you’ve insulted my demographic’.

We’ll be petitioning your government about this shortly. All three of us.

Seriously: re reporters, in my experience, it varies. I think a lot of what generates shallow, disinterested he said/she said science coverage too easily highjacked by pseuds like the ID crowd is in the natures and habits of very media (in the technical sense–as in the daily general interest press is a medium, television news is a medium, radio is a medium). Part of that’s institutional habit, part of it may be intrinsic to the mechanism of delivery; I suppose that’s a larger discussion. But for illustration: a daily reporter who, covering this stuff, stops to think about representing the science really well is gonna have to work twice as hard to make the story crackle, win the editors’ approvals. One who sticks in ‘missing link’ and moves on gets the rubber stamp. Scientifically, it’s terrible, lazy, so on. I’d say it is aesthetically, too, but I tend to see those as part of the same thing. From the institutions’ perspectives, however, it’s ‘efficient’. ‘Businesslike’. And so on.

No, this isn’t good for the public understanding of science, and it speaks poorly of the culture of journalism (and perhaps the culture at large). But I’m just saying: it’s quite possible the reporter’s scientific understanding is slightly better than gets onto the page. It’s partly institutional effects that dumb it down.

Re engineers: I work with a lot of these. Scientific acumen, from my (presumably limited) ability to assay it, is, again, I’d say, all over the map, from the very generally good to the sadly mediocre. There are engineers out there who do a lot of research, in practical terms, and I think have the pure science ethos as pretty intrinsic to what they do: observations first, hypotheses that seek to unify them, experiments built to negate those, refine and repeat and don’t ever get more sure of yourself than the error bars warrant. It tends to concern more the behaviour of rather manufactured parts of our world than do the pure sciences, but I think it’s fair to say it’s still essentially science–a building up of knowledge starting with the presumption there’s a lot we don’t know and would like to. But yeah, on the flip side, there are people whose careers don’t require them to think that way–or who have, rather, pursued careers that don’t require this–the ones whose work allows them to apply what they do know rather more repetitively.

Anyway. My five cents.

Comment #106097

Posted by Aagcobb on June 16, 2006 1:50 PM (e)

Filling a gap in the evolution of birds, scientists have dug up fossils …

Of course, what should really be pointed out is that this find created two new gaps, between Gansus and the previously oldest example of Ornithurae on one hand, and between Archeopteryx and Gansus on the other. Only an intelligent designer can explain the ever growing number of gaps between all the new transitional fossils!

Comment #106110

Posted by Pal_sch on June 16, 2006 2:30 PM (e)

Well, it seems that some new services can tell the story with style and accuracy at least.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5085686.stm

Comment #106116

Posted by Aagcobb on June 16, 2006 2:51 PM (e)

Well, it seems that some new services can tell the story with style and accuracy at least.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5085686.stm

The British write English so well, you’d think they invented the language!

Comment #106121

Posted by fnxtr on June 16, 2006 3:37 PM (e)

The British write English so well, you’d think they invented the language!

That’s what happens when you (or we, once removed) ‘borrow’ the good ideas from everybody else.

What I find most heartening is that the people who do the digging are no longer entirely in the “I wonder what’s in here” mode, and more like “Well, if we expect X, it’s probably… here.” And there it is.

Still waiting for ID to make a prediction which is later confirmed.
About anything.
Ever.

Comment #106134

Posted by mike syvanen on June 16, 2006 4:42 PM (e)

One of my pet peeves is the vehement objection to the term ‘missing link’.

I will grant that there is a certain lack of precision in that term and that it really doesn’t have much utility in the scientific literature, but it does communicate a scientific idea that has meaning to the public. The case of Gansus is as good a missing link as any other. In fact it was ‘missing’ in the sense that in spite of 150 years of scientific fossil collecting, it wasn’t found until now. It also fills a gap between Archaeopterex and modern birds. (The other primitive birds from the mid-cretaceous were the so-called opposite birds that apparently went extinct along with the dinosaurs, Gansus has the bone configuration of modern birds). Thus it has linking status.

The only minor problem with the term is that it implies that Gansus lies on a line that leads to modern birds (of course, of course, it could be an extinct side linkage that just shares some traits with modern yada yada yada).

I am not sure why there is such an aversion to the term ‘missing link’. This goes back farther than the rise of cladistics which is a taxonomic system that abhors any intermediates. It may be related to nasty and negative propaganda that the creationist leveled against missing links causing more sensitive folks to instinctively shy away. If so, let us not let our enemies define our vocabularly

Comment #106163

Posted by steve s on June 16, 2006 5:17 PM (e)

Comment #106068

Posted by 2hulls on June 16, 2006 12:33 PM (e) | kill

steve - why are you acting so arrogant? I of course don’t know you personally, so I can’t conclude you actually are arrogant, but you’re not helping your case.

Hey - I’m on your side! I am not a troll or a detractor to the usual good information I’ve come to enjoy reading on this site. I have increased my knowledge of biology, science, and evolution doing so. I’ve used information from this site, probably including information directly from you, to counter IDiots’ and YEC’ers assertions elsewhere.

You insulted consciencious engineers comparing us to having equivalent (low)science knowledge as lawyers. That is just about as mind boggling as some ID claims and accusations I’ve heard. Perhaps you know less about what we do and need to know than you think you do.

Please consider embracing your allies rather than alienating them.

Dave

My comments on lawyers and engineers and scientists wasn’t arrogant–if I were to start opining about law, my opinions wouldn’t be any better than BarryA (a lawyer at UD)’s opinion of evolution. I honestly have no idea why you think I’m being arrogant by saying this, but this thread is clogged enough as it is. There’s a whole thread over at AtBC about why engineers are more likely than scientists to be creationists, and if you want to discuss this further, let’s do so over there.

Comment #106172

Posted by anonymous on June 16, 2006 5:23 PM (e)

Jack Krebs wrote:

It’s a mistake to draw a firm line between scientists and engineers (or doctors - another related profession.)

Of course, there are individual doctors and engineers who understand science.

But, from my interactions with them, I find it very hard to believe that most MDs really understand the scientific method.

Actually, I have more respect for engineers than MDs. And the one time I interacted with an MD who I thought had a properly analytic mind, it turned out…he had been an engineering major as an undergrad.

Comment #106179

Posted by AD on June 16, 2006 5:42 PM (e)

With regard to the engineering, lawyer, doctor thing, here’s the view from someone who works with all three:

1) In all three professions, people are trained to be authorities on the topic they are experts with regard to. This often leads to them being able (deliberately or not) to come across as experts in everything they talk about because of their conduct and bearing.

2) A good number of engineers, doctors, and even lawyers know a large amount about science and understand it very well.

3) A good number do not.

4) Thus, while any member of this group is likely to be able to talk like an authority or plausibly likely to make claims about science, it is entirely possible that they either are or are not actually an authority. The possibility should be entertained and, when appropriate, accepted or dismissed.

Generally, this sort of field overlap is true in many areas. For instance, I’m not a structural engineer, but because of my job, I know quite a bit about structural engineering and have been asked to speak on the basis of expertise with regard to it before.

Hopefully we can let this die now, or have I clouded the argument with clear thought and fact-based reasoning?

Clearly I’d be a piss poor creationist.

Comment #106185

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on June 16, 2006 5:54 PM (e)

all animal families were complete from the beginning (eg. Cambrian Explosion

Um, where can I see a mammal fossil in the Cambrian explosion?

Or a bird?

Or a plant of any sort whatsoever?

Or a land organism of any sort whatsoever?

You KNOW that ID is dead when it is reduced to repeating thirty-year old creation ‘science’ arguments. (shrug)

Comment #106187

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on June 16, 2006 5:59 PM (e)

So anyway, does anyone have anything to say baout this subject of accurately portraying the significance of new fossil finds to the public?

Alas, Dembski and the IDers are simply parroting the old YEC “Gish’s Law”, which states “the number of missing fossil transitions is directly proportional to the number we already have”.

For every transitional we find, there are now TWO new gaps. So, the more we find, the more the nutters will want to see.

Of course, if there is even ONE transitional, just ONE, then creationism is dead. (shrug)

Comment #106194

Posted by Bruce Thompson GQ on June 16, 2006 6:21 PM (e)

[A] fairly typical response has occurred over at Uncommon Descent, where one of Dembski’s blogging group writes, “I guess I just don’t get it.”

This is followed, several comments later, by

“I can make YOUR confusion disappear, pal.” -dt

Gansus was about the size of a modern pigeon, but similar to loons or diving ducks, the researchers said [bold added].

Gansus yumenensis? I thought it was Gameses yummyensis.

If so, a number of modern species have been described. These species appear to fall into at least 3 groups based on complex organic compounds found on the skins of Gameses sp.. These compounds can be identified by mass spectrophotometery and used to infer the evolutionary relationships between the different species. There is a roasted crispy grouping with or without a sweet/fruity coating, and an alcohol coated group. The roasted crispy trait appears to be ancestral and retained in all the groups examined while the coatings are derived traits and specific to each group.

While some overlap in coatings (Roast Duck Breast with Molasses Whiskey Glaze) is seen in some species, laboratory crosses between the different species have failed to produce any hybrids. The occurrence of the 2 derived traits in a single species may represent either a species early in the evolution of coatings before the 2 traits diverged or an example of convergence in this species. Additional taxonomic information is required before these 2 competing hypotheses can be differentiated.

Current habitat ranges overlap between many species. For example, Peking Duck may be found in many major cities but this seems to be a relatively recent phenomena and may represent an invasive species.

[W]e found dozens, including some almost complete skeletons with soft tissues.

We have taken a similar approach to Dr. Mary Schweitzer and her T. rex, with putative fossilized forms of G. yummyensis. Our initial approach was to have this years pledge class lick the fossil specimens directly, but they were unable to distinguish any of the complex organic compounds. Removing the matrix to release residual any organic compounds is proving difficult. The acidification required to remove inorganic material destroys any organic compounds. We could be forced to rely on morphological features of the coatings themselves such as cranberry and apple seeds or kiwi seeds at markers for these fruits in the coatings as indirect evidence for a particular species.
Known extant forms of G. yummyensis are:

1. crispy
Blackend Black Duck
General Tso’s Duck Breast
Peking duck
Duck Breast Provençale
Spicy Roast Duck

2. Sweet/fruity coating
Spice-Rubbed Duck Breast with Cranberry-Apple Chutney
Grilled White Pekin Duck Breast with Kiwi Fig Salsa
Roast Duck with Apple Dressing
Honey Duck

3. Alcohol based coating
Roast Duck Breast with Molasses Whiskey Glaze
Moonshine Duck
Roast Duckling with Sherry

4.Not yet classified
Buffet Wild Duck

You’re right about one thing though, the discovery itself adds little to science. Close to nothing, really. –ds

While you may complain that it adds little to science, mine adds a great deal to dinner.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Comment #106213

Posted by Kevin from nyc on June 16, 2006 9:23 PM (e)

As a PM/BA/SA in Financial Services with a BA in Math I have to say that I’ve studied plenty about science in the last 25 years even if I’m not a “sceintist”

better to use the generic “some people” are blathering idiots that know nothing about how science works rather than picking on engineers.

Comment #106243

Posted by Henry J on June 17, 2006 12:53 AM (e)

Bruce,
Yeah, but I bet it still tastes like chicken… :)

Henry

Comment #106248

Posted by Shaffer on June 17, 2006 4:13 AM (e)

As an engineer-lurker on PT for quite some time, I feel comfortable to chime in and emphatically support the statement that Engineering is most certainly a non-science field. Engineers make use of science all the time, but that doesn’t mean that training in engineering is equivalent to training in science in general.

Yes, I took a ton of science courses in college, but my feeling is that these courses were by and large taught to an audience of technicians that made use of the work of scientists without necessarily teaching how to distinguish between good science and bad science. Highly skilled and generally very intelligent technicians, no doubt, but technicians nonetheless. By and large, the science that I was taught involved taking a set of equations and applying them to word problems of varying complexity. Never once did I truly apply the scientific method in an engineering class.

Example: as an electrical engineering student, I had to take a course in Modern Physics. The physics majors referred to this particular course, derisively, as “Modern Physics for Non-believers,” but the reality was, the reverse was true. The course was structured so that it essentially required you to be a “believer” in the sense that, by and large, we took the equations that we were taught as a matter of faith. I learned quite a bit about how to apply E=MC^2, and a great many of its ramifications, but very little about how Einstein applied the scientific method to generate that equation. Engineers (and others, most likely) learn to accept these equations because we can verify them in the lab, and to us, that becomes science. This is probably a contributing factor in why engineers appear to be so over-represented amongst creationists: what we learn to be “scientific” has much less to do with the application of the scientific method and much more to do with learning to verify something in a lab. When it comes to something like common descent, which obviously cannot be directly tested for, it can be quite a stretch, for someone that’s been taught this sort of science-as-lab-based-faith, to see it as scientific in the sense that something like gravity is scientific. I myself long questioned the degree to which evolution really counted as a truly scientific theory until I took the time and effort to educate myself on the matter.

I don’t see how saying that engineering isn’t science is an insult. It doesn’t mean that engineers are incapable of doing science or of applying scientific thought any more than pointing out that engineering isn’t English implies that all engineers are illiterate.

I don’t mean to derail the thread any further with such a long comment, but there are definitely parallels to the topic, because the presentation of science in the media has an effect on the perception of science in the general population, just as the presentation of science in the classes I took affected my perception of science as an engineer. In both cases, being vague and/or sloppy can, I think, be very detrimental, particularly when embroiled in a political fight against people that appear to be trying to re-define the rules of science. It’s an uphill battle when so many people don’t know the difference between what is and is not a scientific statement.

Comment #106256

Posted by the pro from dover on June 17, 2006 6:59 AM (e)

this is a test

Comment #106260

Posted by the pro from dover on June 17, 2006 7:36 AM (e)

Ignore the test post. As a doctor I’d like to chime in about our science education and its relation to the scientific method. All medical students are expected to know about Osler’s principles. Sir William Osler was the founder of the department of Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His priciples dealt with how doctors should treat symptoms. In medicine patients come to you with symptoms. You take a history and perform a physical exam. If this is done correctly it should lead you to a differential diagnosis (a group of possible illnesses that could explain your findings). Using your knowledge you can stratify these possible diagnoses from more to less likely. Then you can use screening tests to rapidly eliminate some of these possibilities and then finally use specific diagnostic tests to come to the right conclusion. Once the diagnosis has been made the illness is treated and the expectation is that the symptoms that brought the patient to you in the fist place will go away. This was opposed to the idea that when patients came to you with symptoms you figured out what medicine/operation will make the symptoms better and not worry about the underlying cause. No matter what field a doctor winds up practicing they all must take clinical courses in internal medicine and they all learn this method.It is a form of theory building and hypothesis testing. Not to be catty but if you end up being a dermatologist you can look at a rash and figure out which potency of stroid cream or ointment will make it go away and as long as you dont miss melanoma or secondary syphilis etc. it may not matter what the etiology is at all, but for an internist such as myself these principles are the bedrock of my work. As I have posted before I know doctors who use these principles all the time yet don’t believe in evolution or in the scientific method when it comes to speciation and want your children to be taught intelligent design in your public schools. Go figure. So when President Frist appoints James Dobson to be secretary of HEW don’t be surprised.

Comment #106267

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on June 17, 2006 8:49 AM (e)

Why do so many engineers fall all gaga over ID “theory”? Because, I think, each of us tends to picture god in our own image. If cows had a god, it’d be a Super Cow. If ayatollahs (or ayatollah-wanna-be’s, like the fundies) have a god, it’s a Super Ayatollah. And if design engineers have a god, it’s a Super Design Engineer.

Comment #106285

Posted by k.e. on June 17, 2006 10:37 AM (e)

mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm;Duck.

Bruce …..if you ever open a restaurant please let me know.

Comment #106286

Posted by Kim Boone on June 17, 2006 10:46 AM (e)

Does it taste like chicken?

Comment #106287

Posted by steve s on June 17, 2006 10:56 AM (e)

Comment #106267

Posted by ‘Rev Dr’ Lenny Flank on June 17, 2006 08:49 AM (e) | kill

Why do so many engineers fall all gaga over ID “theory”? Because, I think, each of us tends to picture god in our own image. If cows had a god, it’d be a Super Cow. If ayatollahs (or ayatollah-wanna-be’s, like the fundies) have a god, it’s a Super Ayatollah. And if design engineers have a god, it’s a Super Design Engineer.

Lenny, this is the smartest thing you’ve ever said. To ex technician Davetard, god is a technician. To ex-mathematician Dembski, god’s an information theorist. To ex-biochemist Behe, god’s a protein manipulator. To ex-physicist Heddle, god’s a physical law tuner. Yeah, I think you’ve got something, there.

Comment #106293

Posted by Arden Chatfield on June 17, 2006 11:26 AM (e)

Yeah, but I bet it still tastes like chicken… :)

The odd thing is that rabbit tastes far more like chicken than duck does. Oh well.

Comment #106294

Posted by k.e. on June 17, 2006 11:29 AM (e)

On the engineer bashing:
Yes well thats all very well but god still would have had to have engineers surely now? Great Gatsby ….….…..God would HAVE to have been a great organizer RIGHT?

I mean even if he had gazillions of designers ,all they would have done is hang out with the girls in down in admin making snide remark about how nerdy the big G’s techy engineering crew were. Of course SOME would have liked to hop into bed with the big G given the chance. Think of those genes and all the glory not to mention the (guilt)jewels. As an unreconstructed engineer I a apologize.

Comment #106301

Posted by k.e. on June 17, 2006 11:37 AM (e)

Ahhh; A grasshopper enlightenment moment.

let us all rejoice.

Steve s you have woken up to the fact that all gods are projections….Alleluia

Comment #106319

Posted by Bruce Thompson GQ on June 17, 2006 1:42 PM (e)

Bruce …..if you ever open a restaurant please let me know.

At dinner and before ordering, customers will be required to answer 3 questions”:
1. What is your name?
2. What is your quest?
3. What is the proposed phylogenetic history of Gansus yumenensis?

Correct answers receive 10% off dinner. Incorrect answers will still receive dinner.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Comment #106332

Posted by 'Rev Dr' Lenny Flank on June 17, 2006 5:16 PM (e)

At dinner and before ordering, customers will be required to answer 3 questions”:
1. What is your name?
2. What is your quest?
3. What is the proposed phylogenetic history of Gansus yumenensis?

Just don’t ask me what my favorite color is ….

Comment #106338

Posted by sanjait on June 17, 2006 6:07 PM (e)

I have a quick question that someone here may be able to answer. Is there any comprehensive website or database that tracks fossil finds in a way that crossreferences them to the putative tree of life? If so, where can I find it?

If not, I think such a website would be a valuable tool for both educating the general public and as a quick reference for all students of evolutionary biology.

The way I envision it, it begins with a phylogenetic supertree, based only on known shared genes among all organisms (for simplicity’s sake, ignoring for a moment lateral gene transfers). This could be and has been relatively easily generated by utlizing known sequences in the database, and could be expanded and refined automatically when new sequences and organisms are discovered.

Graphically, this would be overlaid on top of a timeline. This would not be an automated process, but rather a rough one, with both molecular clocks and fossil evidence being utilized to place the tree branching points at the appropriate location along the time axis.

From that, the branching points and links between them would be the major points of interest, with a hyperlink leading to a file for each point and branch. For each known fossil find then, we would attempt to fit them onto our projected tree. Of course, some fossils would clearly be terminal branches, and would require the creation of a new file. Each file could contain any sorts of information on the organism, including descriptions, pictures, and explanation of the reasoning for it’s placement, fun facts, acknowledgment of controversial elements, relevant literature references, etc.

Of course, this last step would be enormously labor intensive. I imagine it being set up as a sort of wiki, where various users could enter information on different known points as they learn about or discover them. Access would have to be managed by someone and limited to known scientists, to prevent vandalism by ID/Creationists. The end product however, should be an ever-expanding database accessible to all that shows what we know about evolution and how we know it, and what still is left to be learned.

So again, my questions are; has anyone done anything like this? And if not, would someone, please? The closest thing I’ve found is the tree of life project ( http://tolweb.org/tree/ ), but I imagine something a bit rougher, with a greater emphasis on the branching points and links than the end points. I think if there was a good reference to where a lay person could easily find which links are “missing” and which ones have been found, that would help people to understand how in fact we know that evolution is real.

Comment #106342

Posted by David B. Benson on June 17, 2006 6:49 PM (e)

Engineers, doctors, lawyers, etc. and science — Well yes, unless they attend a university that has general education requirements which include a semester of biology. That won’t be much, but at least they’ll be exposed to the theory of biological evolution and some of the supporting evidence…

Comment #106345

Posted by Bruce Thompson GQ on June 17, 2006 8:00 PM (e)

To conclude:

Unlike ID, my hypothetical

1. Used observations to make predictions.
2. Suggested research to differentiate between competing hypotheses.
3. Reported failed experiments.
4. Suggested alternative methodologies to gather additional data.

Although preliminary, I suggest I’ve accomplished more biology than ID theorists have in the past decade.

As a final note, no one suggested the obvious extension to my work, an important area of research that should be considered in light of leftovers, DUCK SOUP or, if your prefer the original.

Delta Pi Gamma (Scientia et Fermentum)

Comment #107321

Posted by peter on June 21, 2006 9:43 PM (e)

One doesn’t necessarily have to be formally trained in a scientific discipline to have a good understanding of the various fields. Knowledge can come from personal interest and private study - from having a brain and a mind of one’s own.

In any case, most people accept evolution as fact without an intensive understanding of the biology, physics and chemistry at play. Even on a strictly observational and intuitive level, evolution makes more sense than any creationist ID mumbo jumbo.

Peter

PS: The Missing Links were a great band!!

Comment #107322

Posted by peter on June 21, 2006 9:46 PM (e)

One doesn’t necessarily have to be formally trained in a scientific discipline to have a good understanding of the various fields. Knowledge can come from personal interest and private study - from having a brain and a mind of one’s own.

In any case, most people accept evolution as fact without an intensive understanding of the biology, physics and chemistry at play. Even on a strictly observational and intuitive level, evolution clearly makes more sense than any creation-science-YEC-ID mumbo jumbo.

Peter

PS: The Missing Links were a great band!!

Comment #107327

Posted by Sir_Toejam on June 21, 2006 10:25 PM (e)

Even on a strictly observational and intuitive level, evolution makes more sense than any creationist ID mumbo jumbo.

except when the intuition is being utilized by a creationist, whereupon evidently it’s the exact opposite.

Intuition is based on current and past knowledge and experience; if the majority of your knowledge comes from arguing biblical narratives… well you get the idea.