Greetings Scientopians and Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

I’m going to be at Scientopia as a guest blogger for the next couple of weeks, so I hope you enjoy my scribblings about my interests and my work as a scientist in a cultural institution – an incongruous but rewarding experience.

The Friday Mystery Object will continue as usual and I will mirror much of the content here. My first post is just a brief introduction and a belated ‘Happy two hundred and second Birthday’ to Charles Darwin for yesterday – check it out here.


47 thoughts on “Greetings Scientopians and Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Greetings Scientopians and Happy Birthday Charles Darwin « Zygoma --

  2. Lobachevsky’s New Foundations of Geometry was published around 1830. On the same year passed away Joseph Fourier, the author of Fourier sequences. You have to study several years to understand useful theories of both scientists.

    Oddly enough comparing such triffle as “natural selection” still was to wait for its discovery at that time!

    One wonders why no one noticed “natural selection” before. And there were ingenous minds in the history! One answer might be this – it was never observed because it doesn’t exist. Darwin implanted this speculation there. And “On the origin of species” reads sometimes like comedy. One should try to count how many times Darwin used words like “which seems to me extremely perplexing” etc.

    But no wonder that Darwin considered “natural selection” for such a complicated force. Even nowadays Dawkins speculates that NS operates on genes, whereas E.O.Wilson has brushed up “group selection”
    recently (citing of course Darwin as debeatur est .

    So may we “uncredulous” ask on which level “natural selection” operates?

    • I feel like being extremely scathing when people try to criticize difficult and complex ideas when they have not got to grips with the basics of English grammar. I do realise English might not be their first language: but here the usual ‘tells’ are absent, this looks like someone who just is not very literate. Should I back off and try to be kind to someone who perhaps hasn’t had much education for fear of being seen as a snob? Well, actually maybe not, and here’s why: Darwin writes in the English of his time and class, thus with complex structure and a very wide vocabulary. You need to have a very good command of English to be able to understand the words, before you start trying to get to grips with the concepts. Added to the difficulties of the High Victorian style, is the fact that words change over time and what the writer intended might be rather different from modern usage. Because, you see, even language evolves….

      • It is probably some kind of superioir neo-darwinian reasoning to assess literacy of other people only by their command of English. There are also other laguages like Latin, French, German or Slavonic languages. Would anyone conclude that those unable to read Tertullian or Fyodor Dostoevsky in their mother languages are “not very literate”?

        Let me know whether Darwin, Jay Gould or Dawkins were even able to read in German. Germans had strong pre-war biological school which was no way darwinian one.

        Assessing Darwin’s use of words and concepts of “Victorian English” must be really amusing for those who read Kant, Driesch or Heidegger.

      • VMartin,

        I think the point is that it is difficult to understand nuanced meanings when reading in a language other than one’s own (unless one is entirely fluent). This makes it difficult to fully comprehend what is meant – particularly when the content is also written in an archaic and ‘high’ style.

        There is nothing wrong with this – if I were to read Kant in German I would not understand the majority of the text. When reading an English translation of Kant I would also bear in mind that some meaning is likely to be lost.

        That means I would be reticent to comment on the content of Kant’s work, particularly if I was being critical of something that the vast majority of scholars didn’t seem to have a problem with, since I would be conscious of the fact that my understanding may the be the limiting issue, rather than the work itself.

      • Indeed, Zygoma has got my point. I intended to follow up earlier, but work intruded!

        In order to understand Darwin’s writing, one has first to understand the language style in which it is written. When he says something is extremely perplexing, it does not mean he has given up trying to understand it. The phrase is acknowledgement of the need to keep working; possibly an invitation to discussion; but certainly not an admission of defeat.

        To be able to interpret any piece of writing accurately it is important to know when it was written. For example: “they had a really gay time” would have an entirely different meaning if written in 1910 or in 2010.

        By the way, it does help to know what “theory” means, or rather what are the different meanings according to usage. Here, the technical term is definitions #1 and #3; common usages are #2 and #4:
        theory noun (theories) 1 a series of ideas and general principles which seek to explain some aspect of the world • theory of relativity.
        2 an idea or explanation which has not yet been proved; a conjecture • Well, my theory is he’s jealous!
        3 the general and usually abstract principles or ideas of a subject • theory of music.
        4 a an ideal, hypothetical or abstract situation; b ideal, hypothetical or abstract reasoning • a good idea in theory.
        ETYMOLOGY: 16c: from Greek theoria, from theoreein to view.
        Source: Chambers 21st Century Dictionary

      • Yes indeed, that is exactly what I was referring to, thank you Zygoma, I had intended to follow up but a little thing called work intruded.

        I am amused by the argument that my reasoning is superior when I had specifically mused on the danger of being thought to be trying to be superior. I then went on to say that someone’s English being poor could explain the difficulty they have in understanding arguments. This applies particularly when the argument is written in a style of English that is already quite difficult to understand, by virtue both of its age and the highly-literate background of its intended audience. It is not for Darwin to anticipate the changes in usage of language over the following 150 years and write so you would understand him. It is for you to understand his style so you are equipped to try to follow his arguments.

        This is a requirement when reading any work: if you do not understand the language usage of the time you are likely to seriously mislead yourself. If you find a phrase like: “We had such a gay time” you really need to know how long ago it was written.

        Thus when Darwin says something seems extremely perplexing to him he does not mean he has given up trying to understand it. I read that as meaning it is a complex question he is teasing out and possibly seeking discussion of – he was not writing for a general audience but for a particular group, many of whom he knew personally.

        The question of meaning of words goes to the heart of one of the most ignorant arguments of all from the ID camp: that the Theory of Evolution is only a theory and has never been proved. The point is that the word Theory has both scientific/technical meanings (#1 and #3, below) and everyday ones (#2 and #4):
        “Theory noun (theories)
        “1 a series of ideas and general principles which seek to explain some aspect of the world • theory of relativity.
        “2 an idea or explanation which has not yet been proved; a conjecture • Well, my theory is he’s jealous!
        “3 the general and usually abstract principles or ideas of a subject • theory of music.
        “4 a an ideal, hypothetical or abstract situation; b ideal, hypothetical or abstract reasoning • a good idea in theory.
        “ETYMOLOGY: 16c: from Greek theoria, from theoreein to view.”
        source: Chambers Free English Dictionary (NB that means it is accessible without having to pay for it, it doesn’t mean it’s free with its definitions)

        Anyway, I am very glad indeed that VMartin acknowledges that neo-Darwinian reasoning is superior. All we need do now is cut-and-paste that phrase: “… superioir neo-darwinian reasoning” whenever s/he tries to criticise ideas – s/he can’t deny s/he said it.

      • Thank you Zygoma, that is exactly my point. I had intended to follow up but a little thing called work intruded.

        And thank you, VMartin, for acknowledging the superiority of neo-Darwinian reasoning. You said it, it’s out there, you can’t get it back: “…superioir neo-darwinian reasoning”. Any time you cherry-pick phrases you just might find that one coming back to bite you.

  3. Natural selection is a powerful force in nature. It has but one function which is to prevent change. That is why every chickadee looks like every other chickadee and sounds like every other chickadee – chickadee-dee- dee, chickadee-dee-dee. Sooner or later natural selection has always failed leading to the extinction of nearly all early forms of life. They were replaced by other more prefected forms over the millions of years that creative evolution ws in progress.

    Leo Berg properly understood the role of natural selection in 1922 –

    “The struggle for existence and natural selection are not progressive agencies, but being, on the contrary, conservative, maintain the standard.”
    Nomogenesis, page 406

    William Bateson and Reginald C. Punnett had reached the same conclusion even earlier as had Henry Fairfield Osborn.

    The entire Darwinian thesis proceeded from an erroneous original position from which it has never recovered. It persists for one reason only. It is the only conceivable explanation for the atheist mentality. Darwinians, by definition are congenital atheists and there is absolutely nothing that can be done either for or to them.

    Furthermore, I am wasting my time here as I have become convinced that I am dealing with an immutable adversary, hamstrung by a congenital worldview which renders him incompetent to evaluate the world in which he finds himself.

    All tangible evidence pleads that phylogeny was planned from beginning to end and the end has been reached with the present biota. That is our position because that is what the facts demand. I see no evidence that any extant organism is capable of changing into a new life form. I have repeatedly asked for examples and received no convincing answers. Sexual reproduction, Mendelian, allelic substitution, population genetics, none of these can be demonstrated to produce even new species let alone Genera or any of the higher taxonomic categories. Creative evolution, a phenomenon of the distant past, proceeded by other means which I have identified with the Semi-meiotic Hypothesis (SMH) and the Prescribed Evolutionary Hypothesis (PEH).

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”

  4. Thank you John. I always admired your PEH.

    Regarding natural selection let me say this:

    One of the belovest child of Darwinian natural selectionists is no doubt mimicry.
    Darwinians suppose that “mimics” are somehow protected against their predators. The same should be valid for aposematic poisonous insects.

    Oddly enough many experiments done before let say 1980 often contradicts such notion. There was the greatest research in history around 1910 on Nearctic birds that had been done by the United States Biological Survey and which had taken 45 years. Stomachs of 80.000 birds had been dissected and 237.399 food items had been identified. Ornitologist McAtee summarized these results in his treatise “The Effectiveness in the Nature of the So-Called Protective Adaptations…” (1932) and concluded that protective adaptations have little or no effectiveness. Franz Heikertinger also backed up the same idea by a research done by Csiki in Hungary 1905-1915 on 2.523 birds. As far as I know Darwinians never made such experimental research.

    Poulton and other selectionists were very unhappy about this McAtee research, but maintain that “natural selection” is the only force behind mimicry&aposematism neverthenless. Without any experiment they posited “intraspecies competion” and continued with their experiments with stressed birds in cages. Such experiments darwinists perform even nowadays to support validity of their world-view.

    • “…Ornitologist McAtee summarized these results in his treatise “The Effectiveness in the Nature of the So-Called Protective Adaptations…” (1932) and concluded that protective adaptations have little or no effectiveness…”
      This assumes that the selection driving mimicry was bird predation. It assumes that a time-limited sample was representative of a much longer term system (were mimics too numerous and the unpalatable species too few for the mimicry to be reinforced by experience). It assumes that moths would not be more frequently eaten if there was no mimicry, when there might have been far fewer actually taken by birds.

      In short, there are no controls in this experiment to prevent the wrong conclusions from being drawn. So while it may not support the role of mimicry, it doesn’t provide robust evidence against it and there are some perfectly reasonable explanations for why this might be.

      • As far as I know birds are the main predators in the case. Lizards, frogs or toads eat indiscriminately everything that moves. They can´t be the selective agent for coloration of insects.

        McAtee and Heikertinger observed that stomachs of many birds were full of ants, wasps and other insects which are presented as unpalatable or aposematics in darwinian
        text-books. When fields experiments show opposite to what darwinian experiments in cages tend to show, which of them is to believe? To the often armchair speculation and always unnatural experimets, or facts from nature?

        There are also conspicuous insect species, coloration of which hasn´t changed for millions of years. I don´t see any reason for dismissing 45 year experiment due to its short duration, especially when darwinian experiments in cages take only few days. Dismissing observed facts only because they do not fit into our schema doesn´t agree with scientific approach.

        Another case is so called “butterfly mimicry”. On the same area or even the same meadow one can observe thriving non-mimetic and mimetic butterfly species side by side. In the case of polymorphic mimicry some females of the same species “mimic” “unpalatable species” (the posited unpalatability of their models is often more than questionable) , some resembles non-mimetic males and some resemble nothing. To see behind such peculiar configuration the hand of “natural selection” is only a matter of belief.

  5. Scientists test their hypotheses and discard them when they fail to be verified. Darwinians have traditionally refused to test their ideas. Ergo, Darwinians are not scientists and never have been.

    • If you haven’t looked into the research then you won’t find much, but ignorance is not an excuse. Take a look here and here just to get started. When you can be bothered to check your statements then please feel free to come back, but until then I’m really not interested in your unfounded opinions.

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  9. I hope that the aim of tha above argument (there is no reply button) isn´t to bring up some whorfian conclusions, that no one will understand the profound meaning of Darwin’s thoughts unless he read Darwin’s 1859 original. As far as I know Darwin is no way Tertullian or Heidegger who used neologisms in every page.

    I dare to say that he can be understood even by a schoolboy, which is no way the case of Kant or Heidegger.

    • Yet elsewhere you demonstrate an utter lack of understanding.

      You keep banging on about the stomach contents of birds containing unpalatable and aposematic species as if this is something that wouldn’t be expected according to evolutionary theory. This indicates your lack of understanding – such defences evolve because predation is a strong agent of selection and the predators will be evolving physiological and behavioural adaptations to deal with the defences. Have you ever heard of the Red Queen Hypothesis? Just watch a bee eater and you’ll see the behaviours that they have evolved in order to specialise in stinging insects that may be eaten by other birds, but far less frequently and seldom when given the option of less dangerous insects.

      The point is that defensive adaptations don’t PREVENT predation, they REDUCE it enough to confer an advantage in having them.

  10. … that may be eaten by other birds, but far less frequently and seldom when given the option of less dangerous insects.

    Would you please back up this claim by some evidence? Did you know that it is well established fact that birds are not deterred by sting? That even Darwinists themselves have acknowledged the fact more than 80 years ago?

    It is probably your lack of information in this area that leads you to bold suppositions, which have little common with reality. Accusing others of “lack of understanding” with some unprovable darwinian fancies and dreams about running “Red Queen” are not arguments imho.

    • Yes, I must apologise – my replies have been rather hasty and somewhat flippant. I haven’t been devoting my time to offer properly referenced responses. The reason being that I simply don’t have the time to get involved in a pointless argument. This topic has been sufficiently (to my mind) discussed in various letters to the editor in the 24th December 1932 edition of Nature (vol 130).

      As far as I’m concerned your adherence to this one study is a prime example of cherry-picking information, drawing conclusions from it that are not supported by the structure of the study and using it without acknowledging its limitations.

      Elsewhere I have provided links to several other studies that show good solid evidence for the process of Natural Selection and for speciation through heterogeneous variation in widely distributed populations, yet you haven’t addressed – or even acknowledged – these studies.

      So why should I waste my time answering your questions in detail?

      You flagrantly trolled my blog in an effort to promote your personal ideology – you were not commenting on the content of what I had written, you simply asked a ludicrous question that acted as a hook for you and your chum Davison to hang your banal arguments from.

      You’re nothing more than a pair of trolls.

      • If you checked my blog you would see that mimicry is the main topic of it and that is why I like to discuss.

        Actually the McAtee research is only something I put under the line as curiosity. The fact that birds are not afraid of sting has been proved repeatedly, I can discuss it if anyone likes quoting post-war experiments. Now it is presumed that it is only the taste of venom that turn birds off.

        The problem of coloration is so serious that Richard Goldshmidt wrote “Polymorphic mimicry – the controversial chapter of Darwinism”. His argumets can´t be dismissed just by some unprovable Red Queen or “interspecies competition” hypothesis.

        I understand that aposematism and mimicry might be not very pleasent topic. The fact that conspicuous dangerous looking wooden wasps are harmless and on the other site “poisonous” bees or even some “poisonous” wasps are cryptic doesn´t make any sense in the world ruled by natural selection.

      • “If you checked my blog you would see that mimicry is the main topic of it and that is why I like to discuss…”

        Fine – that’s perfectly reasonable on YOUR blog. Coming to someone else’s blog and trying to start an argument by posting inflammatory statements that are unrelated to the topic of a blogpost is flagrant trolling – it’s bad netiquette and it usually results in banning.

        Notice that I haven’t come to your blog and made inflammatory comments that are unrelated to your posts. I don’t do that because it is inappropriate and downright rude.

        Mimicry and aposematism is an interesting topic, although not one that I’ve spent much time researching given my interests in palaeontology, osteology and biomechanics.

        As to your points about things that don’t make sense in a world ‘ruled’ by Natural Selection, I think you are conflating the simplicity of the mechanism of Natural Selection with simplicity of application in the real world. As with any system the manifold cumulative and interacting effects of simple rules can create very complex outcomes. This means that what you might expect to see isn’t always what you see – often because there is a factor involved that hasn’t been taken into consideration. That’s why experiments need controls – to limit the factors involved. That is also why purely observational studies are not a powerful method for assessing the mechanisms in effect, since they only reveal outcomes, rather than processes.

  11. paoloV

    This madness is even better than I could have imagined. This blog, led a pseudoymous bully, is no better than GoodMath/BadMath led by Mark Chu-Carroll or Pharyngula, each also led by a bully. Scientopia is total disaster, crawling with degeneracy, led by a foul mouthed blowhard and attracting the same crowd of intellectual trash one finds at every other Darwinian ghetto with which the internet is so littered. Thanks paoloV, whoever you are, for granting me this opportunity to bring out the very best in you all.

    It doesn’t get any better than this.

    I love it so!

  12. By the way paoloV, I welcome people to my blog to attack me freely even guaranteeing that whatever they have to say well remain as testimony to their shabby character.

    • I have no interest in going to your blog to attack you – I don’t see the point. You may consider yourself to be some sort of unrecognised genius who offers an accommodation between the observations made in biology and the dogma of religion (or some similar delusion), but from what you’ve shown me you don’t have any substance and a debate with you would be a waste of time. You are inconsequential.

      In the words of Darwin (since you seem so obsessed by him) “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life”, and you sir are a waste of time. Your comments have been almost entirely vitriol and character assassination from the outset and they have lacked logical consistency. If you had left comments that demonstrated insight I may have been interested in establishing dialogue, but instead you have been all bluster, fallacy and nonsense, which is why I have left your comments as testimony of your character (which hardly shines).

  13. PoaloV, whoever that is. What is the V for or would you rather not say? Nobody knows who you are anyway at least nobody who matters.

    I have calmly presented my convictions here only to excite a hostile response not only from you, but from other pseudonymous blowhards that frequent Scientopia, this Alamo of Darwinian mysticism. Martin and I are the only people keeping Scientopia alive. You ought to be grateful to us for calling attention to this miserable excuse for a “forum.” I’ll bet you never have had so many “hits” before Martin called my attention to your pathetic little “groupthink,” nothing but one more last gasp of Darwinian damn foolishness.

    As for Charles Robert Darwin , he was a loser as his own geology Professor, Adam Sedgwick, made very plain before the ink was even dry on the Origin of Species.

    If you knew anything about the history of evolutionary science you wouldn’t even dream of introducing a blog here or anyplace else. I fully understand why you must hide your identity. You are terrified to be known, just like every other person who refuses to underwrite his comments with his complete signature.

    Others will judge your character and mine. You have demonstrated yours by denigrating a named, well known, real scientist while you hide your own identity. That places you a cut beneath even Paul Zachary Myers and Wesley Royce Elsberry. That is hard to imagine, but you have managed to pull it off. Congratulations, whoever you are.

    “A past evolution is undeniable, a present evolution undemonstrable.”
    John A. Davison

    • “Others will judge your character and mine.”
      I certainly hope so.

      “You have demonstrated yours by denigrating a named, well known, real scientist while you hide your own identity.”
      See below about identity. As to the other part, I think you may be conflating ‘well known’ with ‘infamous‘ and ‘scientist’ with ‘crank‘.

  14. “PoaloV, whoever that is. What is the V for or would you rather not say? Nobody knows who you are anyway at least nobody who matters.” “You have demonstrated yours by denigrating a named, well known, real scientist while you hide your own identity.”

    He has a picture of himself, his first name, and throughout the blog makes reference to who he is and what he does, and where he works. He’s hardly hiding his identity.

    Of course, you would have to analyse the evidence and draw a valid conclusion from that, which I guess could be an issue…

    • Thanks David – you took the words from my mouth! John A. Davison seems to be very good at looking at a tiny amount of evidence and then extrapolating a vast amount of inference from it. Incorrectly.

      The simple fact is that paolov is short and snappy and relatively easy to type (unless you are John of course, who has managed to get it wrong on several occasions) whereas PaoloViscardi makes for a longer URL and I doubt that people with John’s typing ability would be able to get it right. Actually, people with John’s typing ability can’t even get the shorter version right, as he has demonstrated on several occasions, so I suppose I may as well have gone for my full name…

  15. Editorial note: I posted a comment which did not appear, despite refreshing, tried again, and then again. Evidently it was a WordPress glitch because all three have now appeared! I would appreciate it if you would delete the first and third – and this. Thank you.

  16. Are KateKatV and paolo the same person?

    As for misspelling paola that was a Freudian slip. I thought he might be a her, especially since KateKatV and lower case paolo(a) seem to one and the same. I later learned that he is the curator of a famous museum.

  17. Well, obviously we are not the same person, since if we were I would have responded to my own request to delete two out of three versions of the same comment which I was having difficulty posting but which all eventually appeared.

    I have addressed the relationship between Paolo and myself over at Scientopia on Paolo’s post about Trolls. Comments by and about trolls are appropriate on that post, not here. Meanwhile, your – truly anonymous – supporter VMartin has acknowledged the superiority of our thinking: “… superioir neo-darwinian reasoning”.

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