I get email

May 24, 2021 • 11:15 am

This email, which arrived this morning, is a real corker. I have redacted the name of the writer. Nothing else, including spelling and grammar, has been changed.

Here you go:

Foremost thank you for your time and patience. It’s a lot to take in but hope I can help you in a the smallest way possible.

Hi Jerry A Coyne I have read threw Why Evolution Is True for 3 years now. I came up with the conclusion , if we Did came from a species of apes , Do does species of apes come from a entirely diffirent species of apes ancestors . Why because the ape was not a chimpanzee or gorila ,etc
7 billion years is a long time giving for evolution to take place where we are here in the present moment. So evolution is very true in math.
DNA will only be diffident through he’s off spring from (DNA research the DNA change through the parents health condition good choices or bad choices health choices,)
Evolution takes place In both the mother and the father but did Darwin’s child plants ever create a new species of plants without a cross breathing without another species of plant.

I’ll stop there by

Despite my arduous effort in a hard-to-brain situation, I find it impossible to make out what the writer is asking. It’s certain that there is a chain of primate ancestry in our history, and that different moieties of the primate lineage would be given different species names. I guess the guy (assuming we have a male) does realize that we are not descended from modern gorillas or chimps.

As far as the 7 billion years, well, Earth is only 4.5 billion years old, and evolution probably started around 3.5 billion years ago with the last universal common ancestor (LUCA). I don’t know what he means by saying “evolution is very true in math”.

I love the fact that DNA is “diffident”, which it more or less is, but of course that’s not what he means.

The rest is a mystery; evolution occurs in populations, not individuals, and although I don’t think Darwin created new species of plants, biologists have: by making auto- and allopolyploids.

At any rate, this is just one example of the mishigas that regularly tumbles into my inbox. Did the writer “help me in the smallest way possible”? I’m sorry, but NO.

69 thoughts on “I get email

  1. Our host has more patience (and better manners) than I would in similar circumstances! What a baffling correspondent.

  2. This looks more like an AI that is trying to get you to respond, possibly so they can validate your email.

    1. Or the deepest red county in the deepest red state. Reminds me of a famous interview of, I think Miss South Carolina, for Miss America many years ago.

      1. oh. About the “Africans in.. um.. South Africa…and….?”
        Memorable, that one, isn’t it?

        Let’s not be too harsh on people who don’t know as much about the world or science as we do. Though it can be frustrating (which is why I’m not a teacher!)

        And PCC (E.) picking on his grammar etc isn’t cool.

        His correspondent is clearly confused about Last Common Ancestor. Be gentle.

      1. It’s gibberish in English. That’s a pretty strong indication the person is not a native English speaker. It’s an incompetent trying to sound important with random big words.

        1. Phrasal verbs are very hard to learn. “Take in, “came up”, “read through”, I’m pretty sure he/she is monolingual.

          1. It’s possible they are either so poor in reading or writing that they write gibberish. I noted that it is a “strong indication”. It reads like one of those Chinese user manuals for a consumer product that was translated literally (by a computer?) — except this is even worse in some ways.

            In any case: Incompetent in English.

    2. A native American speaker, perhaps?
      No, actually, that doesn’t sound right. There being hundreds (thousands?) of native American languages apart from the variants of English spoken there, to the disappointment of Churchillians everywhere.

    3. Yes, having lots of experience doing Helpdesk stuff with a variety of non-native speakers, I’m pretty sure that a lot of Google Translate babelfishing was involved.

  3. The best you could do for someone like this is to say, your questions are too complicated to take on in email and then suggest some education courses in biology starting with the basics – you know, botany one and two. Biology one and two.

  4. Try and find out what he or she is smoking or ingesting. I want to stay away from that alternate reality.

  5. I think this is the key:

    did Darwin’s child plants ever create a new species of plants without a cross breathing without another species of plant.

    So the optimist in me says: this person wants to know about documented examples of plant speciation which don’t include hybrid speciation.

    The pessimist in me says: this person is a creationist asking a rhetorical question, and believes that while evolution can produce variants and hybrids, it cannot produce “a new species” outside of hybrid speciation.

    Fortunately the response in both cases is the same: can the biologist contributors or posters provide some examples of documented speciation examples which don’t include hybridization?

      1. Language (whatever into English) on top of the voice-to text errors. Obviously, the training data for the voice to text was in a third (or 4th) language.

        1. My Chinese fireplace tool instructions said to hang to tools on the “york”?? York->yolk->yoke??

          1. Were you instructed to “insert product until the golden fingers not seen again”?

            1. Thankfully not😬
              My parents had one of those half-dome net things you put over sandwiches at a picnic and the description said “Prevent fires.”

              1. I was wondering about that. The description of a wire mesh thingumajig is just totally perplexing though. We’d just take the sandwiches, slice of “pork pie (contains floor sweepings)” or whatever straight from the box or bag, in between glugs from the thermos/ juice bottle. Eating al fresco was something that happened in mid- hill walk, fungus foray, gall gallop, or working day on nature reserve maintenance.
                Who was Al Fresco, and how did he get associated with outdoors cannibalism?

              2. Ah.
                Outdoor dining which is as close as possible to indoor dining, up to and excluding the need to shove everything into a rucksack for 3 hours walk and an hour of squelching before lunch?

    1. keen interpretation. I think the writer is trying hard, but doesn’t necessarily have the vocabulary or understanding of some foundational concepts to ask coherent questions. I think generosity on the part of the listener is key here. I would not outright dismiss this person, but a few suggestions for some really good reading material could point them in the right direction.

    2. Agree this is a good translation. I know of several examples of plant speciation without hybridization, but those were done by polyploidization which also makes new species very rapidly. I think this person would similarly look askance at those.

      But so what? hard core creationists don’t accept speciation of any kind.

  6. This email, which arrived this morning, is a real corker.

    Did you pick up “corker” during your time in Boston? I picked it up and added it to my idiolect from some Boston buddies and my Boston-bred in-laws. It’s a wicked-good word.

    1. “unanswerable fact or argument,” 1837, slang, something that “settles” a debate, discussion, conflict, etc.; hence “something astonishing” (1880s). Probably an agent noun from cork (v.) on the notion is of putting a cork in a bottle as an act of finality.

      1. I always thought it derived from the city of Cork in the Republic of Ireland which had a braw conceit of itself and thought it rather than Dublin should be the capital of the Republic. Ask any random collection of Corkers in the streets of their city and to a man, or woman, they’ll tell you that. Obviously there must be many Corkers in Boston, that most Irish of US cities.

        1. Sure and it is Kilkenny that should be the capital of Ireland, as it was in the days of the Irish Catholic Confederation. Faraoir agus alack, the demon Oliver Cromwell and his Model Army sacked Drogheda and Wexford and then laid siege to Kilkenny, ending its capital status. Earlier on, wasn’t Athlone the capital for Brian Boru when he was High King?

      2. From reading old books as a kid:

        “Topping!” replied Motty, blithely and with abandon. “I say, you know, that fellow of yours–Jeeves, you know–is a corker. I had a most frightful headache when I woke up, and he brought me a sort of rummy dark drink, and it put me right again at once. Said it was his own invention. I must see more of that lad. He seems to me distinctly one of the ones!”

            1. There are a few other Toppings around. By coincidence, the chancellor of my university, USC, was a Topping while I attended. There are even a couple of others with the name Paul Topping. One is a golf pro somewhere and another does soil engineering as far as I can tell. Perhaps they’re the same person, but that would make him a real corker.

      3. Surely a homophone for “caulker – a person who caulks”, where “caulking” is the difficult and time-consuming (but vitally important) task of packing the seams between the boards of a boat with “caulk” – a flexible and more or less waterproof material, such as oakum picked fro mold rope, soaked in bitumen, tar etc.
        See also “the devil to pay” for a different verb for the same general purpose.

    2. I’ve known “corker” for as long as I can remember but I was brought up by English parents and never lived in Boston. Google tags it with “British, informal, old-fashioned”.

  7. This may be someone with a genuine question who used a translation program and just does not know how incomprehensible their text is to anybody else.

    1. I think you may be right. Translate programmes have improved a lot over the years. This email looks like something Babel Fish might have produced twenty lis years ago.

  8. Agreed, it is not very clear what he/she tries to convey, to put it mildly. I doubt it is a question of what his/her native language is (the spelling is awful though), so much as that he/she makes a lot of silent assumptions and/or reasonings or arguments that are left unspoken. As is now, it is basically impossible to make sense of it.
    But I commend you for trying.

  9. The first bit can be interpreted as saying that the common ancestor with apes that we are descended from would have been a different species from today’s extant apes since 7 million (not “billion”) years is a long time. In which case it’s a fairly sensible thing to say.

    1. That’s about all the sense I can extract from it.
      Whether the rest is in good faith (terribly expressed) is hard to say.

  10. If it takes longer to work out what a question is asking than it would to work out the answer, it’s probably not worth doing either.

    I think the first question is supposed to be along the lines: are all present-day apes, as well as humans, descended from the same (ape-like) common ancestor? The answer is ‘some of them’, but the question is not altogether stupid. I also guess that 7 billion is a misprint for 7 million, which is roughly the time since the LCA of humans and chimps was living. The question about plants must be along the lines that others have suggested.

  11. Jerry, I encourage you to be kind. I have read of your stress over ducks, so I feel you have some kindness in you. To me several things are obvious in this email. English is not the person’s first language. I suggest that you encourage the author to write a list and look up the meanings of the words in your book. He (we both assume this person is male) should also be encouraged to take courses in biology and genetics. I feel the person is also having cognitive dissonance with precepts he has developed from his environment. You could point him in the direction of others that write about evolutionary genetics. You can also tell he is trying to grow intellectually. I would encourage him to reread your book and provide him a list of other books that can help him grow. Obviously he is a bit of a lazy thinker and hopes you will use the magic word and bring him to an understanding of your book.

  12. My response to such a letter would be to inform the writer that their English ability is not as good as they think it is. They should rewrite it in their native language and then get someone to translate or pass it through Google Translate.

    1. pass it through Google Translate.

      And then pass it back.
      It’s not foolproof (a test of fruit puddings), but it does help trap the worst of manglings.

  13. This guy is a truely dedicated reader! Three years and no sign of learning anything coherent about evolution.

  14. I would guess he has only been reading the WEIT website and has not read the book. It also looks like he is describing evolution as resembling the ideas of Lamark or Lysenko.

    “DNA will only be diffident through he’s off spring from (DNA research the DNA change through the parents health condition good choices or bad choices health choices,)
    Evolution takes place In both the mother and the father but did Darwin’s child plants ever create a new species of plants without a cross breathing without another species of plant.”

    Note in particular the phrasing within the parentheses.

    If possible whoever sent the email should read Why Evolution Is True, the book. English does not appear to be primary or native language of the writer.

  15. As crackpot letters go, this is of middling interest. The incoherence and the strange language are amusing. But it lacks the detailed delusional theory and/or absurd evidence that can earn a crank an audience, and so is pretty harmless. [Compare and contrast with Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute]

    I do not get perturbed any more with the crazy “science”, because mental deficiency is a widespread reality, and (probably?) not the person’s fault.

  16. It’s always nice to lead with compassion. If the email message is from someone whose command of English (or logic) is lacking, engaging your compassion muscle will ease your frustration. If it’s from a bot or a jerk toying with you, you still win because you have taken the high road.

    1. Well said sue. It certainly costs nothing other than some time to take the high road and if the lettter is a serious attempt by someone to communicate, it might allow for the start of some improvements through self-correction. A mitzvah to take him seriously.

  17. He reminded you that not everyone can be reached–even after three years of study. I believe you do profoundly reach many. I am grateful for your efforts.

  18. This really seems like something written in a very different language, like Chinese, and then run through a bad translation program. It’s hard to believe someone seemingly so illiterate actually read the book.

  19. I get the feeling that this person is asking how/when new species develop – from continuous breeding among members of the same species. In other words – how does the same pattern of breeding among a single species result in two different lineages? Without some form of crossbreeding? Apes continue as apes, but also lead to humans.

  20. Read through for 3 years now? Does that mean read it 3 years ago, has read it multiple times in the past 3 years, or took 3 full years to read it? I finished your book in about a week, Jerry. Thanks for writing it. TSA

  21. I grieve for the loss of comedian Norm Crosby a few months ago. He made a career out of similar patterns (“I’m at the Pinochle of my career”) . This individual might consider going on stage.

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