Monday, July 14, 2008

Luskin's latest howler

Casey Luskin of the Discovery Institute, writing at the Evolution News & Views blog (which accurately describes itself with its motto that begins "The misreporting of the evolution issue is one key reason for this site"), has outdone himself again.

Regarding a paper by Neil Shubin about Tiktaalik, Luskin complains that Shubin makes a comparison to the wrist bones of tetrapods, but never identifies any by name:

When discussing Tiktaalik's "wrist," Shubin says he "invites direct comparisons" between Tiktaalik's fin and a true tetrapod limb. Surely this paper must have a diagram comparing the "wrist"-bones of Tiktaalik to a true tetrapod wrist, showing which bones correspond. So again I searched the paper. And again he provides no such diagram comparing the two. So we are left to decipher his jargon-filled written comparison in the following sentence by sentence analysis:

1. Shubin et al.: "The intermedium and ulnare of Tiktaalik have homologues to eponymous wrist bones of tetrapods with which they share similar positions and articular relations." (Note: I have labeled the intermedium and ulnare of Tiktaalik in the diagram below.)

Translation: OK, then exactly which "wrist bones of tetrapods" are Tiktaalik's bones homologous to? Shubin doesn't say. This is a technical scientific paper, so a few corresponding "wrist bone"-names from tetrapods would seem appropriate. But Shubin never gives any.

As P.Z. Myers points out, Luskin apparently doesn't realize what the word "eponymous" means. The wrist bones that the intermedium and ulnare bones of Tiktaalik are homologous to in tetrapods? The bones that are "eponymous," that have been given the same names: the intermedium and the ulnare.

Carl Zimmer points out the same Luskin faux pas.

1 comment:

Eamon Knight said...

Took me a second or so to get what Shubin meant, but I managed it. Is that really the worst that Luskin coudl find to say about the paper? That it used too many high-falutin' words, and he doesn't have a dictionary? C'mon Casey: I'm just an engineer and code-jockey with an interested layman's knowledge of all things bio, paleo and what not -- am really thta much smarter than you?