April 20, 2002 | David F. Coppedge

Findings vs Surmisings in Evolutionary Biology

51; What part of the following story is a finding, and what is a supposition?  Science Daily told about work by Julie Baker (Stanford) and a graduate student who set out to discover the evolutionary origin of the mammalian placenta.  They evaluated differences between placentas and eggs of a number of different animals, and told stories about how they came to be – but the article spoke of all the above as “findings.”
    Consider, for instance, the paragraphs right before the statement that refers to them as these findings:

They found that the placenta develops in two distinct stages.  In the first stage, which runs from the beginning of pregnancy through mid-gestation, the placental cells primarily activate genes that mammals have in common with birds and reptiles.  This suggests that the placenta initially evolved through repurposing genes the early mammals inherited from their immediate ancestors when they arose more than 120 million years ago.
    In the second stage, cells of the mammalian placenta switch to a new wave of species-specific genes.  Mice activate newly evolved mouse genes and humans activate human genes.
    It makes sense that each animal would need a different set of genes, Baker said.  “A pregnant orca has different needs than a mouse and so they had to come up with different hormonal solutions to solve their problems,” she said.  For example, an elephant’s placenta nourishes a single animal for 660 days.  A pregnant mouse gestates an average of 12 offspring for 20 days.  Clearly, those two pregnancies would require very different placentas.

The shift between descriptions of observable organs in living animals and evolutionary stories about their relationships is seamless.  Clearly Baker never watched one animal’s placenta evolve into another type of placenta.  She also spoke in Lamarckian terms, suggesting that an animal’s need was sufficient to produce the effect.  Yet all the research was labeled as findings.
    Charles Q. Choi on Live Science took the evolution angle further.  He said the placenta is “rather reptilian” in its ancestry, “new research suggests.”  He also used the word findings for suppositions: “These findings suggest the placenta initially evolved when early mammals found new uses for genes they inherited from their reptile-like ancestors.”  Yet he admitted repeatedly that much remains unknown, and had just quoted Baker saying, “The placenta is this amazing, complex structure and it’s unique to mammals, but we’ve had no idea what its evolutionary origins are.”  He himself said in the opening paragraph, “Scientists have no clue, either, at least insofar as evolution is concerned.”  How cluelessness can be called a finding was left unexplained.  Yet in spite of the admitted ignorance, Choi did not hesitate to title his entry, “Gooey origin of human placenta revealed.”

Baker found living, functional, designed placentas that meet the needs of each animal perfectly.  She did not find evolution.  She did not find anything about evolution.  Instead, she lost something: common sense.
    Evolutionists get away with murder.  They murder rationality in their mythoids but no science reporter takes them to court.  Except here.  Repurposing genes – did you catch that little infraction?

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Categories: Mammals

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