January 30, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Mouse to Elephant? Just Add Time

How do you evolve a mouse into an elephant?  Just add 24 million generations.  But you can shrink it back down in just 100,000 generations.  This and other eyebrow-raising stories have been told in the secular science media recently.

Monash University published the mousephant story alongside a photo of a jolly professor, Dr Alistair Evans, holding a mouse skull in his fingers with an elephant skull towering behind him.  For those who move past the headline, this admission needs a megaphone: “Dr Evans, an evolutionary biologist and Australian Research Fellow, said the study was unique because most previous work had focused on microevolution, the small changes that occur within a species.”  The original paper is in PNAS (January 30, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1120774109).

So, did Prof. Evans actually watch a mouse-sized mammal evolve into an elephant with a controlled lab experiment?  No, he just assumed the evolutionary time scale of fossils, and divided the millions of years into generations based on the lifespan of the organisms involved.  Well, then, did he use a sliding scale from mouse lifetime to elephant lifetime?  If so, was it a linear rate, exponential rate, or chaotic rate?  It wouldn’t have mattered, because he didn’t cover a law of nature that makes predictions.  “While mammals got steadily bigger after the dinosaurs disappeared,” the article claimed, “the rates at which they did so varied among the groups.”  Whales, for instance, evolved into giants at twice the rate of land mammals, while primates seem to have limits on how big they can evolve.  (See diagrams on PhysOrg and Live Science, which both dutifully regurgitated the story without criticism.)

For the exceptions, just-so stories were ready in the wings:

  • Post-dinosaur era:  “It’s a classic story of taking advantage of a new opportunity — the vacant landscape devoid of dinosaurs.
  • Whales: “Dr Erich Fitzgerald, Senior Curator of Vertebrate Palaeontology at Museum Victoria and a co-author, said changes in whale size occurred at twice the rate of land mammals.  This is probably because it’s easier to be big in the water – it helps support your weight,” he said.
  • Primates: “There seems to be some intrinsic maximum rate that each order evolves at, which may have something to do with the basic construction or physiology of each group,” Evans wrote. “So it may be really hard to be built like a primate and get very big.

The science media got embarrassed by a peer-reviewed paper that shouldn’t have been.  Several sites uncritically posted a press release from Case Western Reserve University that alleged to be a “theory of everything.” Erik Andrulis claimed that the earth is alive and so is the solar system.  Andulis, an otherwise legitimate biochemist, wove his tale of “gyres” and “macroelectrogyres” that circulate in lifelike patterns.  Jesse Emspak exposed the“crackpot theory” of on Live Science.  It’s not clear if Andrulis was pulling a hoax, but if so, Emspak said the incident “reveals the dark side of peer review,” a process that is supposed to eliminate bias and nutty ideas, but doesn’t always succeed.  Meanwhile, PhysOrg and Science Daily both pulled the links to the story.

PhysOrg, however, did not pull the link on a prophecy that 2012 could be the year we find extraterrestrial life, or another that announced the discovery of a new clue on the chemical origins of life.  Nor did Science Daily pull its tale that cave critters in underwater caves in the Bahamas could reveal truth about life beyond earth, or the one claiming that the nature of prejudice and aggression in men and women can be summed up as “It’s evolution.”  New Scientist, meanwhile, kept their weird tale about how to catch a date in the multiverse.

Dr. Alistair Evans calls himself an “evolutionary biologist.”  To demonstrate that his title is not an oxymoron, he needs to go out into the woods, take off his clothes, and let natural selection act on him.  Otherwise, if he uses his mind, he is an intelligent design biologist in spite of himself.

What if the weirdos took over science?  What if by sheer power of numbers, they were able to get their nonsense published with alacrity, while denying a hearing to those outside their party?  What if peer review is a sham?  What if mice-sized animals never evolved into elephants?  What if there is no multiverse to go dating in?  What if men are not more aggressive because of evolution, but because of misuse of well-designed traits due to true moral evil?  What if creatures in sea caves have nothing whatsoever to do with life in outer space?  What if there were no millions of years for dogs to evolve into whales?  What if the ones calling creationists nuts are the real nuts?  What if nuttery has been reclassified as science?  What if passive citizens let the nutters get away with this?  What if they laughed loud and long, instead, and were able to shame the nutters out of the science lab and back into the Cartoon Network?  What if scientific integrity really meant what the words mean, instead of consensus groupthink?  What if people understood that integrity implies absolutes?  What if the restoration of moral absolutes led to a new scientific revolution?

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