September 28, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Silly Darwin Stories Never Rebuked by Big Science, Big Media

If you pledge allegiance to the Darwin Party, you can get away with pure nonsense and call it “science.”

Drugging an Octopus for Darwin

Octopuses given mood drug ‘ecstasy’ reveal genetic link to evolution of social behaviors in humans (Science Daily). Does Johns Hopkins University have smart scientists? They do, except when they talk about evolution. Then common sense and reason fly out the window. They can play games in the lab with helpless animals, giving them drugs, and say things like the following, probably laughing out loud behind the scenes under the influence of Darwine. Read no further than the opening paragraph, because there is no way science could support this notion:

By studying the genome of a kind of octopus not known for its friendliness toward its peers, then testing its behavioral reaction to a popular mood-altering drug called MDMA or ‘ecstasy,’ scientists say they have found preliminary evidence of an evolutionary link between the social behaviors of the sea creature and humans, species separated by 500 million years on the evolutionary tree.

Any science fan unfamiliar with BS (Big Science) and BM (Big Media) these days might expect that rational academics would rush to condemn this study and its conclusion. Did that happen? No. On the contrary, leading journals and editors embraced it! The Editors of Nature announced, “Octopuses on ecstasy just want a cuddle.” Did any condemnation follow? No. They ramped up the perhapsimaybecouldness index with their own inebrieted speculations: “The findings suggest that serotonin played an important part in social behaviour in the common ancestor of octopuses and vertebrates, whose branches on the family tree separated more than 500 million years ago.” The other standard science news sites joined the Darwin chorus line:

Scientists gave octopuses ecstasy and it revealed a secret genetic link to humans (Fox News Science). “To think that an animal whose brain evolved completely independently from our own reacts behaviorally in the same way that we do to a drug is absolutely amazing.”

Octopuses taking MDMA get all huggy and loved-up with each other (New Scientist). “The fact that octopuses respond in a similar manner to people suggests the molecular basis for social behaviour evolved more than 500 million years ago in our shared ancestor,” writes Michael Le Page.

Confirmed: If You Give an Octopus MDMA, It Will Get All Cuddly (Live Science). Brandon Spektor tries to up the ante in Darwin storytelling. Actually, he could easily do an empirical test of his last suggestion and put it on YouTube:

It would appear, if these results are accurate, that octopuses evolved with some of the same mood-regulating mechanisms that humans did, despite having an evolutionary lineage that started about 500 million years before ours. This suggests that serotonin has served a social function in living creatures for a long, long time, and points to an ancient root of an extremely important neurotransmitter. Whether MDMA use also fosters in octopuses an enhanced appreciation of electronic dance music is a study for another day.

Just-So Storytime

Corel Pro Photos

How Fruits Got Their Eye-Catching Colors (Duke University). Once upon a time, a scientist at a zoo watched an ape eating fruit, and had visions of Darwin. He put a team together to offer a sacrifice to the Bearded Buddha, got money from National Geographic, and defended a story that “animal dispersers helped drive the evolution of fruit colors in tropical plants.” Charlie was pleased. He said, “Go forth and tell more stories.”

While it’s objective science to find out what kind of rods and cones birds and apes have compared to humans, and what animals eat more of what colors of fruits, does any of this “drive” evolution? What is evolution, a car? The only scientific thing Omer Nevo and his team found are cases of microevolution. Actually, they found less than that. They only counted fruits and fruit-eaters. Does any of this fact-gathering about living plants and animals account for the origin of fruits, apes and birds?

The surprising role cheese played in human evolution (The Conversation). This story is brought to you by Penny Bickle, a lecturer in archaeology from the University of York. If you thought cheese was made by intelligent cheesemakers, thou thinkest in error. Humans didn’t drive the evolution of cheese. Rather, cheese drove human evolution. Our ancestors were evolving by chance processes of mutation and selection and hit upon cheese-making. In fact, humans are related to cheese, because adaptation that offers any kind of “advantage” is what created all life.

From the Bronze Age, however, lactase persistence offered an advantage to some people who were able to pass this on to their offspring. It also seems that this advantage was not solely because of increased calorie and nutrient intake alone – but because of the special status dairy foods may have had. The development of this biological adaption to fresh milk took place after humans had already found ways to safely include dairy products in the diet.

Note: this article’s empirical side is uncontroversial as far as it goes: the inheritance of genes for lactose intolerance is fair game for scientific inquiry. The headline, though, says that cheese played “a role in human evolution.” The language Bickle uses about advantage and adaptation gives away her dependence on Darwinian storytelling memes.

Pairing zebrafish by personality improves fitness of the species (University of Stirling). Dr Sonia Ray Planellas smiles for the camera with her Darwin gift, raising the tautological word “fitness” five times as a heave offering. She says, “This is important in understanding the evolutive drivers for the ecology and conservation of fish, and for the industry to select specific phenotypes that will perform better.” She forgets that evolution is not a driver of anything. The Stuff Happens Law is like Brownian motion. It’s aimless. In this case “personality” appeared to improve “reproductive success.”

Other evolutionists think coloration drives reproductive success (see story about clownfish at CNRS, where those storytellers say, “Over the course of evolutionary history, some species of clown fish gradually lost stripes, resulting in today’s range of color patterns”). Color—personality—stripes–lack of stripes—any factor works in a just-so story. If Planella’s story were a law of nature, every animal would have a nice personality. You can even be a Tasmanian devil and enjoy “reproductive success.”

Note: The zebrafish are still zebrafish, and the clownfish are still clownfish. If Dr Planellas could get her zebrafish to evolve into zebras, or if CNRS could get their clownfish to evolve into clowns, they might be able to impress Darwin skeptics.

How birds change their stripes (Science Magazine). The previous article claimed that personality, not stripes, drove reproductive success in zebrafish. This article, and its companion “A bird’s inner stripes” in Science, focuses on how stripes form in chicks. The genetic processes during embryological development are observable and repeatable, good features to have in science. But to “fully understand color pattern formation and color pattern evolution,” shouldn’t the scientists be learning from Dr Planellas that personality “is important for understanding the evolutive drivers” in a species? What do stripes have to do with it, if the animal with the best personality gets the prize for that elusive quantity, “fitness”? The answer is that fitness can be anything, when you add Darwin Flubber to your recipe.


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