Darwinian Just-So Story Criticized

first_imgWhen Young and Brodie & son published their article “How the Horned Lizard Got its Horns,” (see 04/01/2004 headline), they apparently meant it as a bit of April-fool joke, not a real Kipling-style just-so story.  Several respondents in the Sept 24 issue of Science,1 however, either didn’t think it was funny or concluded the story was just-so after all:William R. Fouts (Nevada State) was not amused by the Kipling reference, because he viewed their paper as “an important example of natural selection in the wild” and thought the title was a poor choice of words.  He thought they should have examined the possibility of preadaptation: i.e., maybe the horns grew out of a nub that once upon a time appeared on the back of the lizard’s neck.John H. Christy (Smithsonian) thinks the authors did not prove that the longer horns function in defense against shrike predation.  In his opinion, therefore, the authors’ explanation for the adaptive function of the horns is still a just-so story.R. Yosef described how shrikes actually kill their prey, and then whimsically remarked, “I suggest that the parietal horns developed as a defense against shrike attacks to the nape region and not against their being impaled after they are dead,”  because clearly, “it does not make evolutionary sense for a trait to be incorporated into a prey species, as a result of a predator’s behavior, that results in all cases in its death (i.e., the impaling stage).”The authors thanked the respondents for their insights on issues they claim were not discussed in the original paper due to space limitations.  But then he chided them for not getting the joke: “The title of our paper was meant as an allusion to the Just So Stories of Kipling, which are often used as a shorthand criticism for unsubstantiated adaptive arguments.  It is a bold statement, and we thought it so clearly over the top that it would not be taken as a literal explanatory title.”  (Emphasis added in all quotes.)1Letters to the editor, Science, Vol 305, Issue 5692, 1909-1910, 24 September 2004, [DOI: 10.1126/science.305.5692.1909b].Here was a rare, valiant attempt at providing just one clear, unambiguous association between a trait and a survival advantage, and even their fellow evolutionists were not convinced.  So what are the rest of us supposed to think about the validity of adaptive stories in the Darwinian tradition?    The critics’ points were pointless as far as helping Darwin.  A nub turns into a horn, right.  Silly.  For support of the “preadaption” or “exaptation” hypothesis, Fouts refers to the panda’s thumb and tetrapod limbs (see 04/05/2004 headline).  How does said nub get into the genome and developmental pathways, and become established in the population before it functions in defense?  Darwinism allows no foresight, yet Fouts argues:Perhaps the role of preadaptation in evolution is of great importance and is deserving of more widespread appreciation.  Given the possibility of a preadaptation scenario in the evolution of crown horns in horned lizards, I find it ironic that Young et al. commented on the weakness of “just-so stories” and also chose a title that reads remarkably like the titles of Kipling’s stories.  Until presented with evidence suggesting that the horns were mere nubs until the onset of shrike predation, I will remain convinced that “How the horned lizard got its horns” is a poor choice for what is presumably meant to be an informative title.Sheesh, think the authors; can’t a guy take a joke?  Their response undermines the hope of proving a trait arose by evolution:The question of whether any horns on the head of horned lizards existed before shrike predation drove them to elongated states (i.e., were “preadapted”) is an interesting one, but one that is only answerable through comparative analyses with full phylogenetic information and ancestral environmental conditions.  Although we have not performed such an analysis and could probably never reconstruct the ancestral predation conditions, it is worth noting that of the 13 species of horned lizards currently extant, P. mcalli has the longest relative horn lengths and belong to the most derived species group, while some other species in the genus (e.g., P. douglassi) have virtually no parietal or squamosal horns (i.e., the nubs mentioned by Fouts).So how did the nub-challenged lizards get along?  If nubs are cool, every lizard would want some, especially when the shrikes are dive-bombing down on their necks.  Yikes!  Shrikes!  Man your nub stations!  (Or do they say, “lizard your nub stations”?)  It’s survival of the nubbiest.  May the best nubs win!    The authors agreed with Christy’s comments, but in so doing, again undermined any hope of providing a Darwinian explanation for anything:Christy correctly points out the two primary shortcomings of any covariance analysis of selection: It is impossible to rule out every unknown unmeasured character that could drive the observed selection, and covariance analyses usually cannot assign a mechanism of selection because they are not manipulative studies.Yosef didn’t get it, either.  Of course they didn’t mean that selection acted after the lizard was impaled on the tree; they merely assumed that longer horns prevented attacks in the first place.  Obviously, they couldn’t ask the shrikes how they feel about the effectiveness of the horns, so they relied on personal experience.  Visualize the scientist at work: “When attacked or grasped, flat-tailed horned lizards stab their spines into the offending object.  In the case of human fingers, this behavior often results in bleeding and immediate release of the lizard.”  Ha!  This obviously means they evolved to ward off junior-age kids.    So yes, as entertainment, the original article and the criticisms are “clearly over the top.”  Why do you think the Darwin Party is so sensitive to the charge of storytelling?  Guilty conscience?  We feel honored to be included among those who, in the spirit of promoting good science, often use the phrase “just-so stories” as a “shorthand criticism for unsubstantiated adaptive arguments.”  Grab your baloney detector and join the fun.(Visited 29 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

In Brains, Size Is Not All that Matters

first_imgTwo recent science articles indicate that scientists should be careful before inferring intelligence from brain size (picture).  PhysOrg reported on work to uncover the genetic basis of microcephaly – reduced brain size in humans.  “The cerebral cortex in particular has undergone a dramatic increase in surface area during the course of primate evolution,” the article claimed, yet acknowledged uncertainty about the causes and effects involved.  “One particularly interesting feature of this new discovery is that the strongest links with cortical area were found in regulatory regions, rather than coding regions of the genes,” one researcher said.  No causal links were drawn between more regulation and intelligence, nor brain size and intelligence.  If the presence of mutations produces the disability of microcephaly, it does not follow that the absence of mutations will produce higher intelligence.    In the animal kingdom, consider the capabilities of a creature with one of the smallest brains on earth: the honeybee.  The “amazing bee brain” was discussed in another article on PhysOrg.  “Their brains are tiny – about the size of sesame seeds – and yet the behaviour of the humble honey bee is so advanced it has scientists scratching their heads in disbelief.”  Packed into that tiny space is the ability to calculate distance and foraging efficiency independently, and communicate that information accurately to other members of the hive through an elaborate dance.  This also presumes processing the input of visual, olfactory, auditory, taste and touch senses.  Another article the next day on Science Daily discussed the complex maneuvers they perform on landing.  A researcher is “optimistic that he will eventually be able to use his discoveries in the design of novel flight control systems.”    The first honeybee article discussed the “complex processing” that occurs in the bee brain.  “Through their dance behaviour we get a window into bee psychology and perception,” said Dr Andrew Barron of Macquarie University.  “Bees are beautiful little animals with great personalities – and we’re only just getting a sense of how smart they really are.”Update Dec 24: an article on PhysOrg announced, “Ladder-walking locusts show big brains aren’t always best.”  Here’s another insect with a tiny brain that can perform complex tasks, such as using visual cues for limb placement.  “The study sheds new light on insects’ ability to perform complex tasks, such as visually-guided limb control, usually associated with mammals.”  Dr. Jeremy Niven of Cambridge said, “This is another example of insects performing a behaviour we previously thought was restricted to relatively big-brained animals with sophisticated motor control such as humans, monkeys or octopuses.”  Later, he said, “Big-brained mammals have more neurons in their visual systems than a locust has in its entire nervous system, so our results show that small brains can perform complex tasks.  Insects show us how different animals have evolved totally different strategies for doing similar tasks.”  If controlling four legs in a mammal is complex, imagine coordinating six legs in an insect, eight in a spider, or dozens in a millipede.  The article ended by saying that “insects are often the inspiration for limb control in robotics.”Human engineers pride themselves on packing more power into less space: music players, cell phones, computer chips and memory have shrunk dramatically in size since the 1960s.  Why should the size of the human brain figure so prominently in human evolution stories?  There has been a dark history of racist ranking by early Darwinists based on brain size.  Even though that is taboo today, there is a kind of prehistorical racism that persists: Lucy, Ardi, Homo erectus, Neanderthals and other alleged human ancestors are often ranked in intelligence by skull capacity.  How do they know that Homo erectus didn’t have a superior CPU packed into less space?  There have been cases of humans doing just fine with small brains.  Whales are not necessarily more intelligent for having brains much larger than ours.  It’s not the size, the container or the materials; it’s the programming.Amazing factoid:  Packed into your cerebrum are more connections than all the electrical appliances on earth.Stupid mythoid:  It all just happened by evolution.(Visited 9 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Monday Morning Design Cheer

first_imgStart your week with nuggets of good news about all the things inventors are learning from animals, plants, and the human body.Cicada hygiene:  In “Learning anti-microbial physics from cicada,” PhysOrg reports on biomimetic research at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). “Inspired by the wing structure of a small fly, an NPL-led research team developed nano-patterned surfaces that resist bacterial adhesion while supporting the growth of human cells.”  Cicada wings are covered with nanoscopic pillars that pierce the cell membranes of microbes.Brain ICT:  There’s brain-inspired Information and Communication Technology coming, Science Daily promises.  “What if next-generation ICT systems could be based on the brain’s structure and its cognitive and adaptive processes?,” the article begins. “A groundbreaking paradigm of brain-inspired intelligent ICT architectures is being born…  Stemming from the premise that the brain is an ideal model for information processing, in recent years we have witnessed multiple examples of bio-inspired systems, which have eased progress in different ICT areas.”Eel submarine:  The Swedish are nervous about what’s been lurking under their ocean detectors.  They may be seeing new-model autonomous subs that wriggle like eels.  PhysOrg reports what’s going on:Work by the Russian and the Allied militaries to develop underwater devices for information gathering are currently underway. Their aim is to reach areas which are difficult or even impossible for divers to reach; to inspect and clear mines on the sea floor, or even combat enemy scuba divers. The existing effort undertaken trains guard-dolphins; however, animal-rights-activists have opined that using dolphins for military reasons is inhumane, and may harm the world’s ecology as rivals might seek to eliminate the threat by killing off the species. Hence, alternative strategies have been put in place to develop unmanned underwater systems as the replacement for military-trained dolphins.To be able to be operable remotely, small, sophisticated and intelligent enough to operate autonomously underwater, these devices must be flexible, and able to operate in narrow spaces like a snake. Inspired by Anguilliform fish, due to their superior flexibility compared to the other fish forms, a team in Singapore has developed and built a prototype for an eel-like robotic fish. A snake-like form also gives the Anguilliform Robot amphibious potential, owing to the similarity in undulatory locomotion in water and on solid ground.Plant leaf solar panels:  Work is proceeding apace to mimic how plants collect sunlight for energy.  In “Mimicking photosynthesis with man-made leaves,” PhysOrg reports on progress at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. “Scientists have long been trying to emulate the way in which plants harvest energy from the sun through photosynthesis,” the report begins.  Prototypes are getting better, but the scientists caution that “it will be some time before artificial photosynthesis becomes commonplace in such systems, because the process requires considerable further research and development.”  This is after years of trying.  An Australian team recently boasted achieving 40% efficiency with a special filter on commercial solar panels.Plant fuel cells:  In “Toward a low-cost ‘artificial leaf’ that produces clean hydrogen fuel,” the American Chemical Society describes efforts to harvest hydrogen from sunlight instead of natural gas.  Hydrogen is considered a prime fuel for future clean-burning fuel-cell vehicles. Their inspiration is “a green approach to making hydrogen fuel that copies plants’ ability to convert sunlight into a form of energy they can use.”Shipworm biofuels:  Shipworms are marine bivalves that have caused grief to sailors for thousands of years because of their ability to drill into wooden ships for food.  Their reputation as the “termites of the sea” has taken a good turn, though, now that PhysOrg announces that scientists are studying them to learn about the enzymes they use to digest wood.  It might turn into a new source of biofuels.Cell circuits:  Building computers with biological circuits instead of silicon and wires is a tantalizing goal.  MIT News reports that a “new device could make large biological circuits practical.”  They’re not building the circuits from scratch, but learning how to commandeer living cells to do their bidding.  “Innovation from MIT could allow many biological components to be connected to produce predictable effects,” the article says, including search-and-destroy against cancer cells.  PhysOrg calls synthetic biology and genetic engineering “Two of the most exciting areas of science and technology” right now. Large-scale bioengineered logic gates and synthetic biocircuits “will enable a range of applications that include biosensors, gene expression control, cell motility, programmable gene circuits for cell physiology control, and other sophisticated gene circuits.”Mussels of steel:  This one is not so much about biomimetics (imitating a natural design) as discovering that an animal beat humans to a design.  “Mussel’s calcitic shell growth adheres to physical laws familiar from processes used to optimise steel,” an article on PhysOrg announces. Max Planck scientists found something surprising about these common tidepool animals:The scientists found that the calcite crystallites in the outer prismatic layer develop in a very similar manner to that of crystallites observed in metals, and in line with materials theories. Accordingly, a number of large crystallites continue to grow, displacing smaller grains, which gradually shrink. The results show clearly that the mussel, a living organism, employs processes that are similar to those used to optimise steels.The article proceeded to attribute this design to evolution: “Evolution has produced many biological materials – a treasure trove for science,” the report says. “These natural materials often possess extraordinary mechanic properties and are ideally adapted for their purpose.”  Evolution, they failed to remember, is a purposeless, aimless process.  The researchers were amazed at this particular adaptation, but did not have any applications in mind.Bird & bee waterproofing:  “Birds do it.  Bees do it.  Even the leaves on the trees do it,” Robert F. Service says in Science Magazine.  What is “it”?  Shedding water.  Ever notice how birds and insects manage to fly in the rain?  It’s because their feathers or exoskeletons are coated with “superhydrophobic” surfaces.  “In recent years, scientists have jumped into the game,” he says, describing the latest invention: a “bed of nails” surface that makes droplets bounce right off, repelling liquids as different as oil and water.  A video clip shows drops bouncing like basketballs off the tiny nail-shaped pillars. They can see this trick leading to waterproof walls and surgical devices that don’t get wet or interfere with blood.  PhysOrg has another piece on this subject, describing attempts at UCLA to make an “omniphobic” unwettable surface; see paper in Science Magazine.  Science Daily talks about other efforts that may lead to graffiti-proof walls and the end of car washing.Gecko wallclimber:  A “biomechanist” has produced gloves that let you walk up glass.  Science Magazine has a video you can watch of a demonstration (won’t kids love this).  The BBC News also shows the 70-kg climber, and says the product can be used hundreds of times.  What’s new about the gecko, somewhat of an Icon of Biomimetics, is that the gecko doesn’t have to be alive to stick.  Scientists found that a dead gecko can adhere to smooth surfaces just as well as a live one, based on the physical properties of its toepads (see Science Daily).Common sense robots:  Would you befriend a robot that was programmed with common sense?  PhysOrg describes attempts by several robotics teams to mimic that profoundly human quality.  Whether they succeed or not, that’s the goal.Don’t you feel better already?  Doesn’t this put a spring in your step? (except, perhaps, for that one dumb comment, “Evolution has produced many biological materials – a treasure trove for science.”)  Design imitates design, and designers imitate designers.  That’s common sense. (Visited 18 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Steve Nash Announces Seventh Charity Soccer Showdown

first_imgToday two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash announced the seventh edition of his popular charity soccer match, the Steve Nash Foundation Showdown, to return on Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in New York City.Showdown is a fast-paced, competitive soccer match featuring NBA and professional soccer players, joining forces to support the Steve Nash Foundation’s work to benefit underserved children. All proceeds from Showdown ticket sales will benefit the Foundation’s early childhood education platform, Educare.“It’s amazing that we’re in our 7th year already,” said Nash. “The crowd, the players, our sponsors, the people behind the scenes – Showdown’s become such a specific yet all-inclusive happening, and I can’t wait to get back out there this year. The game is so competitive, even when something about it comes up during the season or I see a photo of a past Showdown, I just get that same excitement. This will be the third time we’ve played during a World Cup summer, so it’ll be great to be part of that energy, too, especially with a soccer fan getting to play with us.”For the first time, Steve & the Foundation are offering one lucky winner a chance to play in the game – through Prizeo, fans can donate at levels starting at $10 to enter to win a trip to New York City, a two-night hotel stay at the SIXTY LES, and a walk-on cameo with the pros – and a host of other memorabilia. More details at SteveNash.org/Showdown and at Prizeo.com/SteveNash.This year’s Showdown kicks off at 6:30pm, with the best of two sports worlds competing at Sara D. Roosevelt Park in the Lower East Side (at Chrystie and Stanton Streets). The next day, ticketed fans will be invited to gather for a Showdown World Cup Viewing Party to watch Team USA play Team Germany in a Group G Stage game.Showdown is sponsored by CyberDust, Umbro, JetBlue, Major League Soccer, Jawbone, and Phebe’s Tavern & Grill.Past Showdown rosters have included NBA players Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs), Chris Bosh (Miami Heat), Jeremy Lin (Houston Rockets), Klay Thompson (Golden State Warriors), and international and MLS soccer pros Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls), Alonso (Liga Veteran), Robbie Rogers (Los Angeles Galaxy), Salomon Kalou(Lille), Claudio Reyna (USA World Cup Team), Patrick Vieira (Manchester City), Giuseppe Rossi (Fiorentina) Javier Zanetti (Inter), Sammy Amoebi (Newcastle), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Oguchi Onyewu (Malaga CF), and Rod Fanni (Olympique de Marseille).Tickets and VIP packages to Showdown and the Showdown World Cup Viewing Party are available at SteveNash.org/Showdown. Live insights into this year’s lineup, archived materials and prizes (including autographed merchandise) will also be announced through the @SteveNashFdn twitter handle.last_img read more

Alli hails special HeungMin Son

first_imgTottenham forward Dele Alli has praised teammate Heung-Min Son as “a special talent” after the South Korean scored a beautiful curler in their 2-0 win at Leicester.Son sent a curling shot to the top left corner of the post to break the deadlock in the first half and Dele Alli’s diving header ensured Tottenham all three points at the King Power Stadium on  Saturday.“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy and it’s at times like that you need someone to produce a little magic and Sonny certainly did that,” Alli told the club’s website when asked about Son’s goal.harry maguire, manchester UnitedMaguire says United need to build on today’s win George Patchias – September 14, 2019 Harry Maguire wants his United teammates to build on the victory over Leicester City.During the summer, Harry Maguire was referred to as the ultimate…“It’s something he works on every day after training, that exact finish, coming in off the right and whipping it in. No-one was surprised when it went in.“It’s a special talent. A lot of players don’t have that. A lot of players are very one-footed but Sonny is someone who can do it.“It’s difficult for defenders because you don’t know which way to send him because as he showed tonight if you put him on his left foot he can hit it sometimes better than his right, so it’s difficult.”last_img read more

Javi Gracia pleased with important Watford win

first_imgJavi Gracia was pleased with what he described as an important Watford win despite a late scare from Cardiff City in their 3-2 triumph.Gracia felt the Hornets were good value for the three points and that the result did not reflect the control his side had of the game.The Golden Boys rattled in three goals thanks to Gerard Deulofeu, José Holebas and an exquisite third from Domingos Quina.What to expect from Watford V Arsenal? Taimoor Khan – September 8, 2019 Arsenal are set to take on Watford this weekend and the game is definitely going to be quite a peculiar contest between two sides…“We were very pleased with the result because we have played many games recently and we didn’t get the reward we maybe deserved then,” the Head Coach disclosed to the club’s website.“It was a very important victory and we can analyse the game after knowing we have played well. We have played well for 70 minutes, scored three goals and in that period their keeper was amazing. We have suffered a bit in the last part of the game, but we have had control of the game and we deserved the victory.”“I am happy with the way we have attacked today,” said Gracia. “Everyone knows it is difficult to attack Cardiff as they are tight and are strong in all the challenges. They win a lot of second balls and it’s not easy to create and find spaces to attack. Today we have done that well during that period.”last_img read more