Dmanisi Round 2: Fraud?

You no doubt still remember Friday’s post, in which we looked at an article by Brian Thomas and Frank Sherwin called Human-like Fossil Menagerie Stuns Scientists (screenshot) that horribly mangled the science around Dmanisi skull 5 to claim that it showed that all early Homo species were fully human in the modern sense, while Australopithecus and others were just apes. While they correctly noted that many species would have to be “wiped from the textbooks” – quoting from a Guardian article they couldn’t go too far wrong there – they went so far in their enthusiasm as to claim that human evolution itself should be similarly erased. For my part I suggested that the ICR may want some new science writers, as their article went over and above the call of duty when it comes to misrepresenting scientific results for creationist ends. Seriously: I could do much better.

Today, in a spectacular turnaround, Brian Thomas alone has published a second article on the same fossil called New ‘Human’ Fossil Borders on Fraud. Having previously argued that Dmanisi skull 5 was a problem for evolution, he now suggests (while not so much as acknowledging the previous article) that it’s really a fraud in some manner, perpetrated by researchers to prop up evolution. Thomas doesn’t seem to be claiming that the skull itself is a fraud, in the manner of Piltdown Man, but that it’s really just a Australopithecine that anthropologists are calling early Homo for their own ends. Continue reading

The Fact of Evolution

Dr John's Q&AFrom 1989 to 2006 the ICR ran a Frequently Asked Questions column – sometimes referred to as “Dr John’s Q&A” – in it’s Acts & Facts newsletter. For 2013 they appear to have revived the concept in the form of a new series of “Creation Q&A” articles. The first is by Nathaniel Jeanson, and his question is “Is Evolution an Observable Fact?

“Evolution is fact!” is one of the most popular evolutionary assertions made by evolutionists, ranging from those at the National Center for Science Education to those working for PBS. Proponents of Charles Darwin want you to believe that his hypothesis is being confirmed right before our eyes.

The NCSE page linked to does not actually make this claim, and neither does the PBS FAQ. Not a great start. Continue reading

A Dented Wristwatch

Complete single mutagenesis in the proteinMore than a month ago now Jeffrey Tomkins published a DpSU on the ICR’s website called Study Shows Proteins Cannot Evolve. He also posted it on his own blog, Designed DNA, a couple of days later as he often does. Because it appeared the last day before exams I didn’t have much time to write anything more than a recommendation that you compare Tomkins’ article with a blogpost by fellow young Earth creationist Todd Wood on the same subject.

However, it appears that somebody else got in contact with Tomkins about it as on November 22 he published another post on his blog (have I mentioned that I still have a couple of posts from last month to do? I still have a couple of posts from last month to do), called Are Bigger Proteins More Favorable to Evolution? He opened:

I recently wrote an article discussing a recent research paper that showed how proteins contain non-negotiable sectors that are intolerant of amino acid changes and that when the other protein sectors that may tolerate such changes are altered, the changes often reduce quality of protein function. The 3-dimensional structure that proteins fold into, is also affected by the sequence of amino acids.

Continue reading

Neanderthals Were Human

As everyone should know by now, all modern humans descended from populations that left Africa are also partially descended from our late cousins, the Neanderthals. A paper published a couple of weeks ago in PLoS One comes to the unsurprising conclusion that North Africans also have the same mixed ancestry. Today we have an article called Neandertal DNA Research Confirms Full Human Status. It’s by Jeff Tomkins, who when he last commented on this subject screwed up quite impressively – this time around we have a slight improvement, at least.

The question of where Neanderthals should be classified is a legitimate issue. They are traditionally considered to be their own, separate species – Homo neanderthalensis, where we are of course Homo sapiens. But an alternative method is to give Neanderthals a subspecies level status, as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis. While I’m a long way from being any kind of expert, this is a form that I’m quite fond of. However that being said that classification makes us Homo sapiens sapiens, and even one “wise” is frankly one too many.

There are a number of things going for the subspecies idea. Certain stricter definition of the very concept of a “species” have it that if two populations can at all viably interbreed, as we have evidence for here, then they must be the same species. There is also increasing evidence that Neanderthals weren’t the dumb brutes everyone imagines they were – they were arguably at least our equals in many of those things we think we are so great at, if not necessarily the same species as us. Even if we don’t want to extend our self-congratulatory species label to the Neanderthals it makes sense to call them, and likely many other Homo species, “human.” If we one-day found a “lost tribe” of Neanderthals (we wont) we would, from at least a moral and ethical standpoint, have to call them such. Continue reading

Compare and Contrast

Complete single mutagenesis in the proteinI have an exam tomorrow, so this will have to be brief. The Friday DpSU – Study Shows Proteins Cannot Evolve – is by Jeffrey Tomkins, and relates to a paper published in Nature (pdf) in early October. From my quick reading the primary experiment of the paper was to take a short protein and test the relative functionality of mutated versions of it, where one amino acid in the chain had been substituted for one of the other possibilities – repeated for every possible single substitution. What they found is what should be expected: a small portion of the possibilities had a negative effect, but the vast majority had precious little (being only slightly negative or positive). Nevertheless, Tomkins opens:

Researchers just announced the systematic laboratory induced mutation of successive amino acids over the entire sequence of a simple bacterial protein. The results showed how even the simplest of life’s proteins have irreducibly complex chemical structures. The research also showed how random evolutionary processes that are ascribed to mutations are unable to propel evolution.

This is wrong. For one, the researches tried to modify the protein to bind to something slightly different than it usually does. They found that changing only two amino acids was sufficient to accomplish this, and that if only one of those changes was made the resulting protein would bind to both the normal and the different ligand:

Such a phenotype could be evolutionarily important when a mutational path characterized by a promiscuous but biologically functional intermediate is advantageous.

In addition, I hold out hope that when he says that the research demonstrates irreducible complexity he’s making some kind of private joke. Tomkins’ argument in that regard seems to boil down to “some mutations are bad,” and that’s not sufficient evidence for the claim. Continue reading

ENCODE at Last

Yes, this lot. It was inevitable, trust me.It’s taken longer than I expected and isn’t up to the quality (accuracy-wise at least) that I had been hoping from the delay, but Jeffrey Tomkins has finally written ENCODE Reveals Incredible Genome Complexity and Function. He opens:

Both the evolutionist and creationist communities are abuzz with the latest results from 30 simultaneously published high-profile research papers, proclaiming that the human genome is irreducibly complex and intelligently designed.

Poor quality though it may be, this article doesn’t waste any time. The primary ENCODE paper, stupid and misleading things though it may well have said, did not say that. Continue reading

Pre-emptive Strike: Neanderthal Double-Think

Neanderthals: Human, yet differentDoing the science blogosphere rounds is a paper in PNASEffect of ancient population structure on the degree of polymorphism shared between modern human populations and ancient hominins, pdf available here – that claims that the observed differences in genetic similarity with Neanderthals between Eurasians and Africans can be explained entirely by the population structure of ancient Africa and without recourse to interbreeding between Neanderthals and humans leaving the continent. This has received a fair bit of flack from said blogs – first because the media were allowed to publish articles on the paper some time before it was actually released, but later on the grounds that the paper was “obsolete.” Continue reading