Kas Thomas “replies” (if you can call it that)

February 18, 2014 • 7:09 am

The good thing about the internet is that you can debate scientific or other intellectual issues in almost real time, though the downside is that you don’t have reams of time to ponder and refine your answers.

Two days ago I criticized an article by writer Kas Thomas at Big Think:The trouble with Darwin.” Thomas made many errors in his claims about the problems with modern evolutionary theory, and I tried to answer them. So did many commenters, both on this site and at Big Think.

Thomas replied by first calling his critics “haters,” and then by flaunting his biology degrees, tw**ting, “You need to get a couple of degrees in bio sciences from a real university (like UC Irvine or UC Davis) as I did, then come back and we’ll talk.” And he said that despite noting on another site that he “never used those degrees.”

Of course none of this constituted response to my original scientific criticisms, or those raised by the many commenters on Thomas’s original post.

For example, he claimed that we had no idea how speciation worked (cue the Juggalos here: “f*cking speciation—how does that work?). He claimed that we had no clues about how natural selection created new features (although we could understand how it eliminated features). He claimed that we didn’t understand how the bacterial flagellum evolved, or how the Cambrian Explosion proceeded, and so on.

Many of these criticisms—and note that Thomas’s title clearly implied that modern evolutionary theory was in trouble because of these problems—were taken from the creationist playbook. It’s no coincidence that Thomas used the flagellum, the Cambrian Explosion, and the inability of evolutionary theory to explain “gain of function” as his Big Problems with Darwinism. Those are, of course, common tropes of Intelligent Design flunkies.  Clearly, Thomas had simply digested the ID literature and regurgitated it at Big Think. I patiently tried to explain in my critique how many of these criticisms were misguided, and that our lack of understanding of how some things evolved does not constitute a fatal flaw in modern evolutionary theory.

Now, at his oddly named website assertTrur(), Thomas attempts a more substantive reply in an equally oddly named post, “Scientists should be humble, not arrogant.” You’ll recognize that title, too, as a common STFU tactic of theologians and faitheists towards scientists. But arrogance is writing provocatively titled articles without the knowledge to back them up—and that Thomas does that in spades.  In calling for “humility,” Thomas aligns himself closer with theologians and other critics of science. It’s the last resort of the desperate.

Thomas’s hurt feelings are paraded at the beginning of his new piece which, as a whole, is not a response to the scientific errors noted in his original post. (His words are indented.)

It’s shocking how much venom and bile you can stir up by criticizing Darwin in public. I more or less expected, when I wrote a post critical of evolutionary theory at BigThink.com, there’d be a few heated comments. I didn’t expect so many of the 350+ comments to be so heated. Quite a few of the comments were and are just plain ugly. And the most vitriolic attacks are coming not from the religious right, but from supporters of Darwin!

Looks like I struck a nerve.

Shades of Chris Mooney! For the “struck a nerve” trope is one often used by Mooney when making silly arguments that his critics jumped all over. It is a non-answer meant to imply that you’ve said something telling and thereby angered your misguided opponents. But the “nerve” that Thomas struck was not our knowledge that evolutionary theory is deeply problematic, but our resistance to the deep-seated ignorance shown by Thomas’s piece, and the fact that it was published at a once-reputable site.

Thomas goes on to aver that he is not a creationist, and that he doesn’t believe in “magical thinking.” Why, then, did he just regurgitate arguments taken from creationists? Did he not think before he wrote?

He then flaunts his degrees again—you know, the ones he didn’t use:

More than one commenter suggested I get some biology training before writing about evolution. (One person touted his bio degree from the University of California at Irvine, unaware that I also have a degree in biology from UCI.) I guess I should have made clear, up front, that I have two degrees in biology: a B.S. from UCI and a master’s in microbiology (summa cum laude) from UC Davis, where I was a Regents’ Fellow. I took (and passed) qualifying exams for a Ph.D. One of the specialty areas I was examined in was molecular genetics.

Well, none of that training is in evolutionary biology per se, but let’s put that aside. The fact is that had Thomas done even the minimal amount of research, or consulted a real evolutionary biologist, he would have known that his criticisms of evolutionary theory were tripe. He would have known, for instance, that we know a good deal more about speciation than we did in the 1930’s, and a huge amount more than Darwin did. (Despite the title of Darwin’s book, he had very little to say about how one lineage divides into two or more.) And we know in many cases precisely how “gain of new functions” arises. Gene duplication, which I mentioned in my original critique, is one; and the cooption of old features to new (e.g., lactate dehydrogenase enzymes recycled to make lens proteins in animal eyes) is another.

In response, he either stands his ground or makes even more mistakes. Here’s an example of the latter:

What did I say in my BigThink blog that was so shocking? First let’s get clear what I did not say. One of the commenters claimed I said changes in DNA were not responsible for evolution. I never said that. What I said was that point mutations (of the kind the give rise to single-nucleotide polymorphisms) are almost certainly not a major driver of evolution. We know this because it’s been demonstrated many times that the majority of non-neutral point mutations are deleterious, leading to loss of function, not gain of function. Spend some time reading about “Muller’s ratchet” if you don’t believe me.

The fact is that in many, many cases, we know that point mutations are drivers of evolution; in fact, I’d say we have enough evidence to say that they are major drivers of evolution. Even in gene duplication, where the new functions arise after genes duplicate and then diverge (e.g., alpha versus beta hemoglobins), you have to have those post-duplication point mutations to get adaptive evolution. Or, when adaptation arises via changes in “regulatory regions” (or transcription factors: those proteins that regulate the expression of other genes), that, too, occurs via point mutations.  And even in “neutral evolution” (changes in DNA that aren’t “adaptive,” but either neutral or slightly deleterious), we see divergence via the accumulation point mutations as well.

I am in fact hard pressed to think of much evolution, adaptive or not, that doesn’t involve point mutations. Simple gene duplication without divergence, so that you duplicate genes to make a lot more of an identical protein, is one example. (I believe that’s how cold-water fish make antifreeeze proteins.) But Thomas is simply wrong in his logic that because most mutations are deleterious, point mutations cannot be a major driver of evolution.  Mutations are numerous and recurrent, and some of them will be beneficial. They just have to be sufficiently frequent to be the substrate of adaptation. And we know that populations have reservoirs of low-frequency mutations that are deleterious but can become adaptive when the environment changes. Her are two examples: white coat-color genes in mice that are maladaptive in their normal habitats but are useful when those mice invade white beaches. Or, the low frequency of insecticide resistance genes in mosquitoes that can become adaptive once humans apply insecticide. The success of artificial selection in almost every case testifies to the reservoir of deleterious forms of genes (kept in the population by recurrent mutation) that can suddenly become useful.

But Thomas’s real failure to educate himself is shown in what he says about speciation, a topic with which I’m well acquainted, having written an entire 500-page book on it with Allen Orr.

How, then, does speciation occur? We don’t know. No one has seen it occur in the lab. Nature no doubt relies on a variety of tactics, some of which we know a good deal about, many of which we barely understand, no doubt others of which we haven’t yet discovered. We know that sexuality (which is probably around a billion years old) has led to an explosion of diversity (and has kept Muller’s ratchet from sending countless species into extinction). On a molecular level, there are still many things we don’t understand about how chromatin is managed, how micro-RNA is regulated, when and why DNA methylases come into play, the relative importance (or unimportance) of translocases, and much, much more. To assert that we understand how speciation occurs is to assert a half-truth. It’s like saying we understand the weather because we can measure atmospheric pressure.

Of course we don’t know everything about how speciation worked, but we now understand the process a lot more than we did in, say, 1930.

We know that it involves the evolution of barriers to reproduction, so that to achieve speciation, two populations must become mutually intersterile (i.e., unable to produce fertile hybrids). We know that in many cases that intersterility is promoted by natural selection, and occurs most readily when the populations are geographically isolated. We know in some cases the precise genes involved in reproductive isolation, and how they interact with other genes. We know that speciation is unlikely to occur without the involvement of natural selection, and is promoted by things like sexual dimorphism. We know that a substantial amount of plant speciation occurs via chromosome duplication (polyploidy), and we know exactly how this happens. We also know that some species of plants and animals have evolved reproductive barriers after hybridizing with other species (“hybrid speciation”), and, as with polyploidy, we can replicate that process, at least with plants, in the lab.

Believe me, I could not have written that long book with Allen just to say, “Well, folks, we still don’t know anything about speciation.” The book, which Thomas clearly hasn’t read, is a compendium of what we do know about speciation.

As for methylases, translocases, the management of chromosomes and the regulation of RNA, Thomas is just throwing sand in our faces. We have no idea whether any of those things are involved in speciation (except for changes in chromosome number and structure, which we do understand). Thomas is just spewing molecular-biology jargon to sound knowledgeable.

Finally, Thomas emits some god-of-the-gaps arguments. That is, he doesn’t invoke God, but argues that something is wrong with evolutionary theory because we can’t yet explain everything. To wit:

One of the major embarrassments of modern biology is that more than a decade after having sequenced the human genome, we still don’t know what most of our DNA does: We can account for 30,000 human genes (which is not even ten times the number of genes in E. coli). Meanwhile our DNA has enough base-pairs to encode 3 million genes. But we’re pretty sure the “true number” of human genes is under 50,000. What does all that DNA do? We have some hints at answers, but no more than that. (Note: When the surplus of DNA in the human genome was first discovered, scientists called it “junk DNA.” It took years for that unfortunate terminology to disappear.) The honest answer is, we’re still not even close to understanding what all our DNA is doing.

So frickin’ what? First of all, that’s not evolutionary theory, but molecular genetics. It has nothing to do with “Darwinism”, as Thomas mistakenly calls modern evolutionary theory. And, yes, we don’t understand the function of all “junk DNA,” but we do understand some of it: inactive ancient viruses that have inserted themselves into our genome. We also know that we have inactive remnants of ancient DNA in our genome that were once active in our ancestors. One example: our many inactive olfactory receptor genes that we no longer need because we’re auditory and visual rather than olfactory beasts.

Of one thing I’m sure: eventually we will resolve the question of what all that extra DNA is doing. But in the meantime, in what sense is this an “embarrassment” to modern biology? Only Thomas, with his drive to discredit evolutionary biology, could see unsolved problems as “embarrassments.” They are challenges, and without them all science would grind to a halt. Is “dark matter” an embarrassment to physics? I don’t think physicists would agree. They are excited by this new possibility.

Finally, after playing the “butthurt” card and the “I haz credentials” card, Thomas plays the “humility card,” one that theologians often have up their sleeve when they’re losing at science poker:

It’s been my experience that the best scientists are humble, rather than proud. They’re willing to concede the immensity of what they don’t know. Arrogance and over-confidence are hallmarks of immaturity, in science as well as in life.

So we’re immature? Give me a break! All of us scientists concede what we don’t know, and where the unsolved puzzles lie. I mentioned several of them in my previous post.

And talk about overconfidence: what about a man who makes specious arguments about problems with speciation and inability to explain evolutionary novelty—all without having read the relevant literature? Sorry, but I won’t be lectured at by Thomas. I know where the unsolved puzzles are in my field, but I also know what we do know. So I don’t need Thomas to tell us this:

The list of things we don’t understand is far longer than the list of things we do understand. If we don’t understand that, all is lost.

That’s just a platitude. The person who is lost here is Kas Thomas, who badly needs to brush up on his evolutionary biology.

One thing is sure, though: the man is sufficiently arrogant that we’ll never hear him back down from his claims about speciation, evolutionary novelty, or point mutations. He’s not humble enough to admit that he was mistaken. And he’s not humble enough to stop flaunting the biology degrees that he admits he never used.

I have put a link to this post as a comment on Thomas’s website. But now I’m wondering why I just wasted an hour of my time—an hour when I could have been doing useful things like reading about the latest doings of the Kardashians—responding to someone who seems impervious to reason.

115 thoughts on “Kas Thomas “replies” (if you can call it that)

  1. PLEASE send your response to the “Big Think” people! They had an interesting site in the past – I hope they will be “big” enough to print a response from you

        1. Did I {if assertTrue(Thomas is a good programmer) {print(“Thomas is a good programmer”)}}?

          There, fixed the bug.

        2. The guy is boasting his software patents. No self-respecting hacker would do that; obtaining a software patent says more about the proficiency of your company’s patent lawyers and the incompetence of the USPTO, than about your skills as a programmer.

          1. Only a troll would boast about that. Software patents are considered to be Evil by all True Programmers (TM). 😉

            It’s a bit like a banker boasting about the number of people he’s foreclosed on…

    1. As a programmer myself so-called “junk DNA” always made perfect sense: many functions written that are never called or commented out. He should have grasped this.

  2. Only Thomas, with his drive to discredit evolutionary biology, could see unsolved problems as “embarrassments.” They are challenges, and without them all science would grind to a halt. Is “dark matter” an embarrassment to physics?

    In his article he mentioned that because quantum mechanical theory is incomplete many physicists feel as he does, so I wouldn’t be surprised if this fellow is pretty much embarrased by science as a whole.

    Unless he’s being selective and hypocritical, off course, and only doing this for the clicks and hits.

  3. PZ points us to Neil Shubin’s project with PBS, which includes an interactive website. While it’s still a work in progress, they present the gene duplication event which gave our lineage trichromatic vision, while monkeys kept dichromatic vision. This “no new information” nonsense is becoming the “2nd Law of Thermodynamics” of our time.

  4. I think your response was a bit too soft on “junk DNA”. We do have a pretty good idea what most of the human genome is doing: nothing. Its lack of evolutionary conservation is good enough evidence for that, as is the massive genome size variation among closely related species (e.g., the onion test, c-value paradox, and, closer to home, comparisons of human and fugu genomes). Along with the creationist arguments, Thomas has clearly been listening to the ENCODE hype.

    1. my thoughts exactly. I think it’s safe to say that most “junk DNA” really is, from the standpoint of function, junk.

      1. Well, all junk DNA is junk, by definition. The argument, if any, is over how much junk there is. And any sensible answer (for the human genome) should hover around 90%.

  5. I will not denigrate those scientists who have fewew degrees tha I do! However, if you flip those cards to put down those with “less education”, you had better have a terminal degree rather than the oft-cited “ABD – all but dissertation”. Too many, probably including Mr. Thomas, believe that education and intelligence are equivalent terms.

    1. I thought “ABD” meant you had done the research but hadn’t written it up. Thomas has merely passed his prelims, which commonly happen when the research project is in its early stages, if it’s started at all.

  6. To assert that we understand how speciation occurs is to assert a half-truth. It’s like saying we understand the weather because we can measure atmospheric pressure.

    Which is why I believe in Intelligent Thundering, since it is clear that the complexity of thunder requires some sort of Thunderer to produce it. To be clear, I’m not making any claims about who or what the Thunderer actually is — it doesn’t necessarily have to be Thor, but in fact could be an alien…

    (I suppose Marvelists assert that both those things are true.)

    1. He may have found out about holes the hard way at UCD where he says he did his doctoral qualifying exams and graduated with a Masters degree.

    2. Or, seeing his ID tropes, he should be alerted to the First Law of Theological Holes:

      “Don’t engage mouth when near if you have a distaste for crap.”

  7. He’s jumped on this bandwagon that is making a career (mostly in media) in which he’s a professional contrarian.
    A while back he proposed that mental illness didn’t have a genetic factor because specific genes hadn’t yet been identified to test for schizophrenia or autism. He uses vagueness and qualifies his statements carefully and uses questions as titles to get away with these exercises in futility.

    1. That mental illness stuff bears a bit of a resemblance to Scientology’s rejection of mental illness and psychiatry. He should start to realize that his objections have been taken up by lunes & soundly disputed by science already.

    2. He’s jumped on this bandwagon that is making a career (mostly in media) in which he’s a professional contrarian. […] He uses vagueness and qualifies his statements carefully and uses questions as titles to get away with these exercises in futility.

      Fox News has this kind of schtick down to a “science.”

  8. The sad thing is, Thomas could have written a pretty interesting post if he had told us what we already know and truly what is yet to be worked out.

    1. Someone could have written such an article. Whether Thomas is capable of writing such an article is open to question.

  9. “…he doesn’t invoke God, but argues that something is wrong with evolutionary theory because we can’t yet explain everything.”

    That seems to be the whole point of both Kas’ original article and this rebuttal. Which makes me wonder why? Ok, you’re not (explicitly) arguing for god. Why does a laundry list of areas that need more research signify that the entire field/theory is wrong? Why don’t you just get to work helping to fill in some of those gaps?

    (Of course, the use of those ID tropes also makes me wonder if he’s not trying to argue implicitly for god.)

  10. I put in an anonymous* link to TalkOrigins, so that Mr. Thomas can look up the 20-30 examples of observed speciation listed there, if he really wants to educade himself.

    However it strikes me now that I probably could’ve included a link to different parts of TalkOrigins for pretty much every single one of his claims, because they are all old creationist hat and the refutations are well-documented.

    *Anonymous only because I didn’t have any of the account types required to sign in. If Mr. Thomas wants to know who wrote the post, here I am!

  11. But now I’m wondering why I just wasted an hour of my time—an hour when I could have been doing useful things like reading about the latest doings of the Kardashians—responding to someone who seems impervious to reason.

    Well, the rest of us find it useful, even if Thomas is determined not to listen.

  12. and a master’s in microbiology (summa cum laude) from UC Davis, where I was a Regents’ Fellow. I took (and passed) qualifying exams for a Ph.D. One of the specialty areas I was examined in was molecular genetics.

    Translation for those unfamiliar with graduate education in the USA these days: Thomas was apparently in a Ph. D. program. After a year or two of taking classes, there are qualifying exams, which he passed. What does that qualify you for? To spend several years working on a thesis. Only after successfully defending that thesis would a studcent be awarded a Ph.D. So Thomas never finished a thesis. Frequently, a Master’s degree is given as a “consolation prize” when a student drops out of a Ph.D. program like that. Which is fine, there can be many reasons for dropping out of a graduate program, and it’s not a disgrace; but it’s a bit odd to see someone like that throwing credentialism around.

    1. What’s odder IMO is that he didn’t expect to be called on his article by people who had completed the whole PhD process… rendering his whole “I can haz qualifiez” schtick irrelevant as well as ridiculous.

      I mean it’s not like there are biology profs who are known to Fisk articles like is, is it?

      Seems like he has a rather large and fragile ego!

    2. Thomas claims to have earned an masters degree (summa cum laude). I thought this honor was awarded to undergraduates that earned a bachelor’s degree. I poked around the UC-Davis website and did not see any such graduate-level award.

  13. Given how you continually educate through your postings especially the two regarding Thomas, you have not wasted your time. Your “classroom” includes “students” like me. So, “THANKS” for the gift.

    1. Indeed. Its easy to think that this is just an exercise in feeding the trolls, but time spent by an expert in an area helping other people to understand that area better is never wasted.

    2. I would say ‘THIS’ here but Dr. Coyne has rightly pointed out how . . . stupid it is. I don’t know if ‘Here here’ is any better or not. But, I agree wholeheartedly with leonkrier’s sentiment here. When Dr. Coyne comments, I learn. I’ve yet to come close to catching up with him in understanding and knowledge, and truly will never do so, so his insight and clarity are quite valuable to me.

  14. An interesting question, I haven’t seen answered: Do any of the sequences inserted by viruses into our DNA (or other junk DNA) ever become active genes? I suppose that if it did occur it wouldn’t be common, since you would no doubt need a lot of different mutations before some essentially random DNA sequence would code for a protein. OTOH it maybe that in some cases, what were initially viral genes for doing something or other, just might be coopted into to doing something useful.

    1. Retroviral genes help many placentals, as the same genes that modulate the immune system can be coopted. Sheep is the most mentioned example (but I’m no biologist).

      [And IIRC we have it too. As I remember it, the placenta is closely embedded compared to other placentals, implying a connection – the immune system regulation is good?]

      I found some google hits (I’m no biologist):

      http://211.155.251.135:81/Jwk_zgnykxen/EN/abstract/abstract8846.shtml

      “The sheep genome harbours approximately 20 copies of endogenous beta-retroviruses (enJSRVs), and circumstantial evidence suggests that enJSRVs might play a role in mammalian reproduction, particularly placental morphogenesis. … herefore, enJSRV and HYAL2 appear to play important roles in the female reproductive physiology in this breed of sheep.”

  15. What I said was that point mutations (of the kind the give rise to single-nucleotide polymorphisms) are almost certainly not a major driver of evolution. We know this because it’s been demonstrated many times that the majority of non-neutral point mutations are deleterious, leading to loss of function, not gain of function. Spend some time reading about “Muller’s ratchet” if you don’t believe me.

    […]

    We know that sexuality (which is probably around a billion years old) has led to an explosion of diversity (and has kept Muller’s ratchet from sending countless species into extinction).

    I can haz inconsequential!?

    Reading a review on Muller’s ratchet is probably required, but instead of pointing to Google Scholar Thomas should have peeked into Wikipedia. It seems short, sweet and well referenced:

    “Among protists and prokaryotes there is a plethora of supposedly asexual organisms. More and more are being shown to exchange genetic information through a variety of mechanisms. In contrast, the genomes of mitochondria and chloroplasts do not recombine and would undergo Muller’s ratchet were they not as small as they are (see Birdsell and Wills [pp. 93-95]).[6]

    Also, a context to Jerry’s claim:

    Mutations are numerous and recurrent, and some of them will be beneficial. They just have to be sufficiently frequent to be the substrate of adaptation.

    “RNA viruses circumvent Muller’s ratchet by having error-prone RNA-dependent RNA polymerases. When they replicate they produce a relatively large number of genome copies with mutations. This allows opportunities for mutations with negative effects to revert, and for adaptation to new hosts. For example, a chikungunya virus that was artificially selected for a high-fidelity polymerase was less fit in both the Aedes aegypti mosquito vector and laboratory mice. [8]”

  16. Contrarian blogger: A pentagon is a four-sided figure.

    Responder: Uh, no, a pentagon is a five-sided figure.

    Contrarian blogger: Looks like I hit a nerve!

              1. Yes you did! You’re doing it now! You’re making a contradiction & I wanted an argument.

              2. Perhaps a quick view of the Monty Python sketch “argument clinic” would help you guys sort this out?
                (Available on the tubes)

  17. “Thomas is just spewing molecular-biology jargon to sound knowledgeable.”

    That was my immediate thought when I read Thomas’s words. The details of mechanisms just don’t seem pertinent, given that you have replicators, given that you have mutations, given than you have different environments (across time and space), speciation seems inevitable. (Or am I just being naïve?)

    “The list of things we don’t understand is far longer than the list of things we do understand. If we don’t understand that, all is lost.”

    The inevitable response to this is: “Science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it’d stop.” — Dara Ó Briain

    /@

    1. The quote I hear when I read Thomas’ article is from Asimov’s Relativity of Wrong.

      “…when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.”

      Thomas is implying a ‘just as wrong’ argument, when clearly the TOE is far far superior to any other idea about speciation etc. that we have now or have had in the past. He is wronger than all these other views put together.

  18. Hi just want to make a brief note from my research and the research of my group at Oxford. 1) Point mutations are major drivers of evolution. European Lactose Tolerance is due to a pair of point mutations in the regulatory area just before the start of the LCT gene on chromosome 2. This pair of mutations are the strongest known signal of positive selection in modern human populations. My own research has uncovered hundreds of more point mutations that show evidence of being strong drivers of evolution in humans (my transfer report will be available online sometime in the next month or so http://www.stats.ox.ac.uk/~aid ). 2) My group also researches the PRDM9 gene (in mammals) which is used in miosis in the process of selecting sites to cut for crossover in the production of gametes. One cause of infertility and speciation is mutations in this gene. Mutations in this gene cause cuts in the chromosome at different places and that can cause infertility in offspring when the two copies of PRDM9 differ too greatly. Normal gene drift can keep a population in sync with each other with novel non-synonymous (protein changing) mutations just knocking a single person into infertility, but when segregated from another population new mutations in PRDM9 will force speciation due to infertility.

    Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2014 14:09:53 +0000 To: t_aid@hotmail.com

    1. That is fascinating about the lactose tolerance mutations. Is it possible to calculate how soon after bovines were domesticated that the mutations occurred and how quickly they spread through the population?
      I have many Asian friends who don’t have it and so miss out on some of the greatest things in life, like blue cheese, and my favourite, chocolate thick shakes.

  19. an hour when I could have been doing useful things like reading about the latest doings of the Kardashians

    I didn’t know that you were a ‘Star Trek – Generation [something]’ fan.

    1. I must confess (though I am NOT embarrassed to confess) that I was so not in-the-know about contemporary Amuricuhn pop culture that, when I heard “Kardashians,” I thought it was “Cardassians” from “Star Trek Deep Space Nine.”

    2. I knew not what I started!
      It’s lunch time ; the galley has plenty of blunt knives.
      hara kiri looms.

  20. I have no formal training in biology, unlike Kas Thomas. But even I can discern that he is lacking some rather formal understanding of the field of evolutionary biology. What is his agenda? If not to simply lie to himself about his existence.

  21. “It’s been my experience that the best scientists are humble, rather than proud. They’re willing to concede the immensity of what they don’t know. Arrogance and over-confidence are hallmarks of immaturity, in science as well as in life.

    This is pathetic, and oh so cliche. Thomas is using the same tactic regularly employed by Faux News propagandists like Hannity, O’reilly, etc., and 6 year old children. Attribute to yourself properties that your opponents have, and which you truly do not, and claim that your opponents do not have those properties, when in fact they truly do.

    In other words telling the most ridiculous lies with a straight face because you know that a certain sizable percentage of certain types of people will believe it. At least we know who Thomas is actually providing this display for now. Looking for a Templeton grant perhaps?

  22. His suggestion that we read more about Muller’s Ratchet to see why evolution cannot produce new functions is very confused. Muller’s Ratchet only applies to asexual species.

  23. Mr. Coyne, while you may think you wasted your time writing the above response, I am grateful there is a scientist or two unwilling to let creationists get away with disseminating disinformation about science and who, in fighting ignorance, gives those of us who aren’t scientists an opportunity to learn more. Thank you for your valuable efforts.

    1. I can’t watch house because whenever I see Hugh Laurie I can’t forget him as George in Blackadder goes forth. 🙂

      George: If we should step on a mine sir, what should we do?
      Blackadder: Well the normal procedure is to leap 200 feet into the air and scatter yourself over a large area.

  24. I am a Brit with a PhD in physiology living in America. British Universities didn’t used to supply US-style transcripts with a list of courses taken and grades achieved in each, something which I have been repeatedly asked to produce. Surely Kas Thomas realises that flaunting his degrees is no good – we need to see his transcripts, the courses he took and the grades he got!

    1. Probably not worth it. I can pretty much guarantee that he got an A or B in every graduate class he took. The real issue with him using the authority/credential argument is, as Reginald says in @15, that “I was ABD and got a masters” will not be interpreted by anyone with a PhD as a sign of success.

      At best, that says you couldn’t finish for personal reasons. That happens, and most PhD’s respect and understand when people have to leave a PhD program part wa ythrough. But it could also be a sign of failure to hack it…and when you start bragging about how educated and knowledgable you are, it starts to sound a lot more like the latter than the former.

    2. I swear transcripts are just another revenue stream for universities. I had to show them for jobs too (either that or drag in my stupid giant sized degree in its frame).

  25. Flaunting of his credentials is just posturing to his own crowd. So, Thomas got degrees from UCI and UCDavis, *what* did his professors in those institutions think of his claims? That’s right, he never approached them (or another institution) because, while he flaunts his degrees, he also doesn’t expect those institutions to agree with him. In other words, people at those institutions are too blind to see.

    All he’s trying to do is to paint a picture of crisis in academia (“look, I’ve got degrees, too, and this stuff is messed up and they’re not telling you.”).

  26. That one sentence should be amended to say:

    The list of things Kas Thomas doesn’t understand is far longer than the list of things he does understand.

    I still think he is vying for a Discovery Institute fellowship.

  27. People don’t like being told that they are wrong, and it is even worse when it happens publicly. Already in high school I noticed that somebody who had made an argument was generally incapable of changing their mind no matter how thoroughly refuted; only those sitting on the fence who had not yet said anything were able to change their minds. And look at all the politicians today who are called flip-floppers or opportunists if they dare to change their mind on anything…

    This is only too human. As such it is unlikely that anything will make Thomas reconsider even if he should not be a creationist but honestly confused.

    This website is a very animal-focused environment. In case somebody is curious about speciation specifically* in plants vis a vis the “we don’t understand how it works” nonsense emitted by Thomas, there are several clear and well studied cases via diverse evolutionary mechanisms: http://phylobotanist.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/speciation-in-plants.html

    Some of those may make good examples to wave around in a discussion with creationists.

    *) Pun intended.

  28. The thread over there has now been invaded by what appears to be ID’ers.

    It’s shaping up to be good fun.

    *popcorn gif*

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