October 6, 2005

IT'D MAKE KATRINA LOOK LIKE A RAIN STORM:

Experts Unlock Clues to Spread of 1918 Flu Virus (GINA KOLATA, 10/06/05, NY Times)

The 1918 influenza virus, the cause of one of history's most deadly epidemics, has been reconstructed and found to be a bird flu that jumped directly to humans, two teams of federal and university scientists announced yesterday.

It was the culmination of work that began a decade ago and involved fishing tiny fragments of the 1918 virus from snippets of lung tissue from two soldiers and an Alaskan woman who died in the 1918 pandemic. The soldiers' tissue had been saved in an Army pathology warehouse, and the woman had been buried in permanently frozen ground.

"This is huge, huge, huge," said John Oxford, a professor of virology at St. Bartholomew's and the Royal London Hospital who was not part of the research team. "It's a huge breakthrough to be able to put a searchlight on a virus that killed 50 million people. I can't think of anything bigger that's happened in virology for many years."

The scientists painstakingly traced the genetic sequence, synthesized the virus using tools of molecular biology, and infected mice and human lung cells with it in a secure laboratory at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The research is being published in the journals Nature and Science.

The findings, the scientists say, reveal a small number of genetic changes that may explain why this virus was so lethal. It is significantly different from flu viruses that caused the more recent pandemics of 1957 and 1968. Those viruses were not bird flu viruses but instead were human flu viruses that picked up a few genetic elements of bird flu.

The research also confirms the legitimacy of worries about the bird flu viruses, called H5N1, that are emerging in Asia.


If you heard the press conference the other day you'll likely have been surprised -- at least I was --- at how much serious thought the Administration has already given this and how radical their thinking is:
Q Mr. President, you've been thinking a lot about pandemic flu and the risks in the United States if that should occur. I was wondering, Secretary Leavitt has said that first responders in the states and local governments are not prepared for something like that. To what extent are you concerned about that after Katrina and Rita? And is that one of the reasons you're interested in the idea of using defense assets to respond to something as broad and long-lasting as a flu might be?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Thank you for the question. I am concerned about avian flu. I am concerned about what an avian flu outbreak could mean for the United States and the world. I am -- I have thought through the scenarios of what an avian flu outbreak could mean. I tried to get a better handle on what the decision-making process would be by reading Mr. Barry's book on the influenza outbreak in 1918. I would recommend it.

The policy decisions for a President in dealing with an avian flu outbreak are difficult. One example: If we had an outbreak somewhere in the United States, do we not then quarantine that part of the country, and how do you then enforce a quarantine? When -- it's one thing to shut down airplanes; it's another thing to prevent people from coming in to get exposed to the avian flu. And who best to be able to effect a quarantine? One option is the use of a military that's able to plan and move.

And so that's why I put it on the table. I think it's an important debate for Congress to have. I noticed the other day, evidently, some governors didn't like it. I understand that. I was the commander-in-chief of the National Guard, and proudly so, and, frankly, I didn't want the President telling me how to be the commander-in-chief of the Texas Guard. But Congress needs to take a look at circumstances that may need to vest the capacity of the President to move beyond that debate. And one such catastrophe, or one such challenge could be an avian flu outbreak.

Secondly -- wait a minute, this is an important subject. Secondly, during my meetings at the United Nations, not only did I speak about it publicly, I spoke about it privately to as many leaders as I could find, about the need for there to be awareness, one, of the issue; and, two, reporting, rapid reporting to WHO, so that we can deal with a potential pandemic. The reporting needs to be not only on the birds that have fallen ill, but also on tracing the capacity of the virus to go from bird to person, to person. That's when it gets dangerous, when it goes bird-person-person. And we need to know on a real-time basis as quickly as possible, the facts, so that the scientific community, the world scientific community can analyze the facts and begin to deal with it.

Obviously, the best way to deal with a pandemic is to isolate it and keep it isolated in the region in which it begins. As you know, there's been a lot of reporting of different flocks that have fallen ill with the H5N1 virus. And we've also got some cases of the virus being transmitted to person, and we're watching very carefully.

Thirdly, the development of a vaccine -- I've spent time with Tony Fauci on the subject. Obviously, it would be helpful if we had a breakthrough in the capacity to develop a vaccine that would enable us to feel comfortable here at home that not only would first responders be able to be vaccinated, but as many Americans as possible, and people around the world. But, unfortunately, there is a -- we're just not that far down the manufacturing process. And there's a spray, as you know, that can maybe help arrest the spread of the disease, which is in relatively limited supply.

So one of the issues is how do we encourage the manufacturing capacity of the country, and maybe the world, to be prepared to deal with the outbreak of a pandemic. In other words, can we surge enough production to be able to help deal with the issue?

I take this issue very seriously, and I appreciate you bringing it to our attention. The people of the country ought to rest assured that we're doing everything we can: We're watching it, we're careful, we're in communications with the world. I'm not predicting an outbreak; I'm just suggesting to you that we better be thinking about it. And we are. And we're more than thinking about it; we're trying to put plans in place, and one of the plans -- back to where your original question came -- was, if we need to take some significant action, how best to do so. And I think the President ought to have all options on the table to understand what the consequences are, but -- all assets on the table -- not options -- assets on the table to be able to deal with something this significant.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 6, 2005 8:43 AM
Comments

"The findings, the scientists say, reveal a small number of genetic changes that may explain why this virus was so lethal. It is significantly different from flu viruses that caused the more recent pandemics of 1957 and 1968. Those viruses were not bird flu viruses but instead were human flu viruses that picked up a few genetic elements of bird flu."

Curse that dastardly Intelligent Designer!

Posted by: Brit at October 6, 2005 9:08 AM

It evolved from a virus to a virus thanks to genetic mutation--it very much resembles the natural selection we see around us--incapable of causing significant change or speciation.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 9:18 AM

In that case, curse that dastardly Intelligent Designer for not interfering and evolving it from a virus into a delicious, nutritious foodstuff, or at least a cute furry animal.

The slacker.

Posted by: Brit at October 6, 2005 9:28 AM

If it is unable to change significantly, then how come it is able to change itself every year to reinfect people, worldwide, with a new strain?
Why would an intelligent designer create a disease?

Posted by: craig at October 6, 2005 9:41 AM

Who says the President isn't a policy wonk? A nicely detailed answer to a largely technical question.

Posted by: Bob at October 6, 2005 9:43 AM

Outside of science, Dawkins may be best known for his attacks on religion and the muddled thinking that often attends ethical questions, such as debates about cloning. Dawkins famously thinks of religion as a dangerous virus of the mind, or ‘meme’, quite literally an illness of thinking that arises from a set of connected ideas that are easily and effectively passed along from generation to generation. Presented this way, the notion may seem cynical and slightly unkind. But readers unfamiliar with Dawkins’ arguments about religion should read the essay in this volume entitled ‘Viruses of the Mind’. He reminds us there that religion is largely acquired when one is young — a time that natural selection has programmed our species in particular to be receptive to teachings from our parents or elders — that part of the message is that faith (and therefore resistance to testing) is a virtue in itself, and that other faiths cannot be right: a recipe for the spread of the religion ‘meme’ and for what is currently something of a world-wide problem.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 9:54 AM

Heh heh. That's going to go down really well on here, Kent...

Posted by: Brit at October 6, 2005 10:06 AM

Brit:

As always, your problem isn't with Design, but with this design. That's why Darwinism is fundamentally an answer to a theological problem--why would a good God allow bad things--not a scientific one.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 10:06 AM

Well, it does provide an answer to that question, but that's just a happy side-effect.

Posted by: Brit at October 6, 2005 10:07 AM

http://www.signaling-gateway.org/update/updates/200509/nmeth0805-570.html

http://evolve.zoo.ox.ac.uk/publications.html?id=203

http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/ridley/EVOC04.pdf

http://www.noble.org/VirusEvolution/abstracts/LinChao.htm

These are all about natural selection and viruses.
I don't know if you are aware of this, but viruses are actually the best examples of natural selection in effect. So if anyone on this blog ever says that there is no science in natural selection, Google up "Natural Selection Viruses" and see what happens.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 10:16 AM

Kent:

Of course, Dawkins thought is just the product of a different virus under that theory and given demographic trends in Europe it's a failed mutation.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 10:18 AM

kent:

what did the viruses mutate into?

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 10:20 AM

Kent:

I agree completely that viruses are the best evidence that Darwinism has to offer and they refute it. Rapid mutation and known selection pressure*, applied by humans, result in virsuses turning into viruses just as Darwin watched farmers turn sheep into sheep and cows into cows. Nature appears to be able to offer up variety within species but not to speciate.


*N.B.: Yes, I know that the viruses and farm breeds require the application of artificial selection pressure by an intervening intelligence--humans--but I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 10:42 AM

OJ;

Different forms of viruses, and the more contagious they get, the more they are spread; hence---> its an evolving disease. Do you think the creator is some kind of mad scientists who sits around and comes up with novel ways of making us sick? Or perhaps that viruses are a continually changing type of life that evolves every year based on the principles of natural selection;
I know you are going to respond with a challenge that says that the theory says nothing about the formation of new species; and then I or someone else will say it takes millions of years; So spare me the familiar exchange and just concentrate on offering some kind of proof that viruses are not excellant examples of natural selection, or are good examples of ID; and feel free to send me any kind of links to research if you want. Feel free to comment of the several that I posted.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 10:48 AM

Indeed, viruses, like every form of life, change continually within their species but never change out of it. Darwin's brilliant insight was that this occurs in the wild similarly to how we can make it happen under conditions of domnesticity. His tragic error was two-fold, not recognizing the limits of the change and not recognizing that it suggests, if nothing else, that the "wild" actually resembles Man's domestic sphere. Darwinism is effectively an argument in favor of Intelligent Design.

Here are some publications that demonstrate the failure of Darwinism even in viruses to produce the required speciation to support the theory:

http://www.lanl.gov/quarterly/q_fall03/selection.shtml

http://www.signaling-gateway.org/update/updates/200509/nmeth0805-570.html

http://evolve.zoo.ox.ac.uk/publications.html?id=203

http://www.blackwellpublishing.com/ridley/EVOC04.pdf

http://www.noble.org/VirusEvolution/abstracts/LinChao.htm

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 10:54 AM

I seeing a continent move with your own eyes needed to prove continental drift?
So all it would take to prove to you that Natural selection is a valid theory, would be to see, with you own eyes, the offspring of an organism being different enough from others that it could be scientifically classified as a new species.
So you have no problem with microevolution, but your beef is with the accumulation of reproductive differences that you see as impossible, because it has yet to be observed in the past 100 years of research (even though the process occurs over millions of years)?

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 11:00 AM

There's no such thing as microevolution--it's a term y'all coined because evolution doesn't occur via natural selection.

I'd believe in Darwinism if you showed me something evolving as a result of Natural Selection to the exclusion of intervention by God or other intelligence.

I believe in continental drift because we measure it every day.

I disbelieve in Darwinism because the evidence suggests it's false and belief in it is evil.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 11:04 AM

Has anyone else read those links? Here's another one about a growing field of study; the speciation of viruses and bacteria. Pretty much proves natural selection, co-evolution, genetic drift,

http://www.cidd.psu.edu/research/phylodynamics.html
http://www.nsm.uh.edu/faculty.php?155622-961-5=mtravisa

Posted by: BFG at October 6, 2005 11:04 AM

Well, you're right that the evolution of diseases has a lot to do with the activities of man: however, that says nothing about every other form of life on earth that has not been affected by the activities of man.
Biologist now admit that they have perhaps exaggerated the mechanisms of evolution occurring purely through advantageous random mutations, and now are seeing (in real research) the importance of co-evolution, and genetic drift.
Still, ID has nothing to do with it. Unless you want it to.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 11:13 AM

Something evolving to the exclusions of God: new viruses, with new genetic material, coming out every year, mutating rapidly, from organism to organism, of various levels of strength, co-evolving with the immune repspones of their hosts.
Viruses are the best proof that natural selection has, because they change so rapidly.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 11:15 AM

BFG:

Your cites demonstrate the point: What do the viruses and bacteria evolve into?

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 11:27 AM

Kent:

Into what?

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 11:38 AM

Point of information: technically, viruses are not life.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at October 6, 2005 11:44 AM

Point of information:

Memes don't exist - and I'm at a loss to understand why ardent materialists are the only apostles of meme theory.

They don’t exist. There is no physical evidence of the existence of memes. No one has ever seen a meme. One can not study a meme under a microscope. No meme has ever been observed acting on a human (or any other animal’s) brain. No secondary physical effects on the human brain have ever been observed that are best explained by the existence of a “meme”.

Meme theory is a purely philosophical assertion, and a bad one at that. Kent, you are doing yourself and the general theory of evolution a great disfavor by buying into a philosophy that has not one shred, not one, of physical evidence supporting it. How are we to trust you as a scientist (or Dawkins, Blackmore, et al.) when you all so earnestly believe in a theory that is so comprehensively unscientific? It is the worst kind of bunk science, a group of concepts borrowed from a legitimate field of science and applied willy-nilly to another completely unrelated realm of human life. A pseudoscientific gloss to give legitimacy to a group of unprovable and untestable assertions -- its no better than Scientology’s engram theory (and in fact is uncomfortably similar to it).

Worst of all your belief in the theory confirms what all creationists, id’ers, and so called anti-darwinists accuse you of: That your belief in the theory of evolution is not a matter of being convinced by empirical evidence, but that you believe because the theory fits into a philosophical cubby hole that you need filled, that it is purely a matter of faith. Now believing on faith isn’t a problem for people like me and people like oj, but if you are going to do it then please drop all the scientific pretenses and conceit and just admit that this is all a matter of competing philosophies and that such trivial matter as empirical evidence, testable hypothesis, and repeatable experiments have nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Shelton at October 6, 2005 1:20 PM

Shelton:

Why would they require evidence of memes?

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 1:26 PM

Rather than attack what you think would be a possible motivation for my argument, I think it would be a novel approach for all on this blog to attack the argument itself.

Neither shelton or judd as mentioned anything about the research links that are posted.

Memes don't exist? Memes are bits of information that are reproduced. Do the words im typing now really exist? Are they more like the absence of light on all white computer screen?

So i don't know how to reconcile the meme theory/evolutionary theory debacle this post has turned into, but do you guys ever actually attack points, or just people?

Basically, I've given you the empirical evidence (which you say doesn't exist), and now I'm still getting the typical: "Nope. Don't believe it. Not science."

Science deals with what is testable. The theory of natural selection is testable with the study of viruses (and i know they aren't technically life, but they are reproducing bits of DNA, and the mechanisms of change in this DNA is comprable to "real" life).

But I do agree with you, that everything is a matter of faith; but there is such a thing as bad faith (actually, its a postmodern concept via Sartre; you guys should check it out): i.e. believing in lies, that are reproduced throughout culture. You can have faith that the earth is the center of the universe, which has virtually no empirical basis (like ID), or you can make observations that would say otherwise; and perhaps give an explanation that is more valuable, more testable, more TRUE, than the blind assumptions of creationists, IDer's and anti-darwinists.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 1:37 PM

One controversial application of this "selfish meme" parallel results in the idea that certain collections of memes can act as "memetic viruses": collections of ideas that behave as independent life forms which continue to get passed on—even at the expense of their hosts—simply because of their success at getting passed on. Some observers have suggested that evangelical religions and cults behave this way; so by including the act of passing on their beliefs as a moral virtue, other beliefs of the religion also get passed along even if they do not provide particular benefits to the believer.

Others maintain that the wide prevalence of human adoption of religious ideas provides evidence to suggest that such ideas offer some ecological, sexual, ethical or moral value; otherwise memetic evolution would long ago have selected against such ideas. For example, most religions urge peace and cooperation among their followers ("Thou shalt not kill") which may possibly tend to promote the biological survival of the social groups that carry these memes.

Posted by: Sandra at October 6, 2005 1:42 PM

Kent:

To the contrary, I've said repeatedly that the links demonstrate the limits of natural selection and tend to disprove Darwinism, though since it isn't actually science it can never be conclusively disproved.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 1:43 PM

sandra:

What if we consider memes to be a form of defense system and that the secular meme that is killing off the people of Europe in favor the religious-memed people of Christianity and Islam?

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 1:46 PM

Kent:

One last time: what do your viruses evolve into?

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 1:47 PM

Kent:

So all it would take to prove to you that Natural selection is a valid theory, would be to see, with you own eyes, the offspring of an organism being different enough from others that it could be scientifically classified as a new species

That would help, for sure. Picky, aren't we?

Posted by: Peter B at October 6, 2005 2:01 PM

Shelton:

You don't need to believe in evolution to buy into the concept of memes.

Posted by: Brit at October 6, 2005 2:07 PM

Brit:

You do to think they have some independent control over human thought and behavior.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 2:10 PM

Kent -

Quit your whining. I attacked meme theory not you. And you haven't given me any empirical evidence - none exists concerning meme theory. You gave one of many definitions of a meme, "memes are bits of information that are reproduced". That is not only not empirical evidence it is bad reasoning as well. What kind of information? How is it reproduced? Where and how (physically) is that information created and how is it stored and passed on? After answering all these questions the various takes on meme theory always come down to one of two conclusions:

1) No one really knows the exact answers to those questions because it is all infinitely complicated, but we do know that religion is really the worst meme of all.

or

2) After answering all those questions "memes" seem to be exactly the same thing as what ancient (pre-1990's) thinkers used to call "ideas".

My "attacks" on you concern your general approach to deciding what constitutes proof valuable enough to inform your faith. If testable empirical evidence is your gold standard than you wouldn't believe in meme theory since it is neither. So something else must be at work when you decide what for you is "more true".


p.s. only overweening gasbags tell other people to "go read Sartre." I've had enough of effete french intellectuals thank you. Go read Archie.

Posted by: Shelton at October 6, 2005 2:12 PM

Peter:

I'm the same. I won't believe in Intelligent Design until I see an Intelligent Designer doing some Intelligent Designing with my own two eyes.

OJ:

I don't think that's really the idea, but if it is, Peter for one believes in it - see his thoughts on cellphones yesterday.

Posted by: Brit at October 6, 2005 2:12 PM

Brit:

Bingo! ID and Darwinism are identical.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 2:22 PM

Wow - a bunch more posts while I wrote mine.

Brit:

correct. But meme theory is simply the borrowing of concepts from the science of biological evolution to explain sociological and anthropological ideas. And the fact that this loan has not only taken place but is accruing such great interest is proof that evolutionary theory may be more about ontology and teleology than about biological specifics.

It goes to prove that (for some) darwinism is an overarching world view to be applied to every aspect of human endeavor and every explanation of human life and existence. There are better ways of explaining the history of human culture and the flux of human ideas than by meme theory. But darwinists require an explanation that places darwinism as supreme cause, even if accepting that explanation requires betraying all their previously esteemed scientific principles.

Posted by: Shelton at October 6, 2005 2:32 PM

Oj - I already answered you: viruses. What do animals evolve into ---> other animals. Its pretty simple.
Speciation is hard to imagine, but it has occured in the past, as evidenced by the fossil record, and with the mountains of past evidence we can find I think its safe to assume its happening now.

How about the religious meme in China, OJ? I know your demographics in Europe obsession, but I don't think turning away from mythologies has had any effect on the birth and deaths rates over there? Howabout the polytheistic Hindus? Howabout the Buddhist Japanese? Your argument there is pretty baseless.
No, you guys still haven't addressed the links I posted. Man, this debate is really starting to get humorous.

I'm still waiting for an adequate response to my links, aside from an ignorant brush off.

Shelton, I don't think you noticed, but you are still attacking me, and not my (or Richards Dawkin's) ideas. And yeah, memes are pieces of reproducing information; by definition.
But to be honest, i really don't care about meme theory; I just wanted to point out the meme = virus = religion idea that you have only shot down with a slanderous denial of its empirical evidence. If you are that willfully blind that you can't even enter into a debate about the theory (rather than : NO! I refuse to acknowledge even the presence of a point) of either evolution or memes, then i guess i have nothing else to say to you.
Other than that Sartre was a lot smarter than you, and if you havent read him than maybe you should.
So, viruses as memes, that sucessfully reproduce themselves through having advantageous infectious capabilities within host organisms (Very similar, Dawkin's would say , to the insinuations of Christianity). Who wants to take the first pot shot?

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 2:39 PM

Here's a couple hundred articles on meme theory; strangely a lot of them have to do with religion and evolution as well.

http://users.lycaeum.org/~sputnik/Memetics/

Posted by: Sandra at October 6, 2005 2:51 PM

No empirical data for speciation? I disagree.

Natural Selection and Parallel Speciation in Sympatric Sticklebacks
Howard D. Rundle, * Laura Nagel, Janette Wenrick Boughman, Dolph Schluter

Natural selection plays a fundamental role in most theories of speciation, but empirical evidence from the wild has been lacking. Here the post-Pleistocene radiation of threespine sticklebacks was used to infer natural selection in the origin of species. Populations of sticklebacks that evolved under different ecological conditions show strong reproductive isolation, whereas populations that evolved independently under similar ecological conditions lack isolation. Speciation has proceeded in this adaptive radiation in a repeatable fashion, ultimately as a consequence of adaptation to alternative environments.

Posted by: Sandra at October 6, 2005 2:53 PM

Hey, OJ, don't you always try to use a quote from Ernest Mayr to show how "natural selection" isnt really a science? Well, I doubt your convenient editing of Mayr fooled too many people, but just for the record, here is a better summary of Darwin, Mayr, and the current state of evolutionary biology:

Our paper reviews an extremely active area of evolutionary research, the mechanisms by which new species arise. We relate recent theoretical and empirical studies—on the order of 100 papers published in the last 20 years—to ideas developed since the late 19th century. We focus on two issues: the role of geographical isolation in speciation and the burgeoning literature on mathematical models of speciation. Important new empirical and theoretical studies have revived interest in species originating without any geographical isolation ("sympatric speciation"). In the mid-19th century, both Darwin and Wallace conjectured that new species could arise when natural selection simultaneously favors alternative types in a given location. However, many subsequent naturalists argued against this on the grounds that most closely related species pairs have disjunct ranges, suggesting that geographical isolation typically contributes to the development of reproductive isolation ("allopatric speciation"). The empirical evidence suggesting allopatric speciation was synthesized by Ernst Mayr in his highly influential 1942 and 1963 books, and the near-universality of allopatric speciation became the reigning paradigm. Recent data documenting apparent sympatric speciation, adaptive divergence of mating preferences between incipient species that create relatively unfit hybrids ("reinforcement"), the genetics and patterns of hybrid inviability and sterility, divergent selection driven by competition for resources, and the importance of sexual selection in speciation have led to a renaissance of both theoretical and empirical speciation research. Our paper attempts to synthesize the verbal and mathematical theories of speciation and present them in the context of both new and old empirical findings. We hope it provides a convenient entry into this literature and indicates areas of theoretical and empirical research that are likely to be productive.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 2:57 PM

Kent:

Yes, Mayr threw in the towel on Darwinism and redefined speciation to mean any two groups that don't generally breed together regardless of the fact they can. This rather silly definition is necessarily ignored though when it comes to humnan populations because it gets Darwinism back in bed with racism, eugnenics, Nazism.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 3:15 PM

Sandra:

"infer"

Kind of gives away the game for your side.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 3:17 PM

Kent:

Yes, thus the best evidence for Darwinism demonstrates that at most viruses change into viruses, which is to say they fail to evolve.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 3:20 PM

Seriously Kent, I have entered into a debate about the theory and my opening (and closing) salvo is: There is no such thing as memes, they don't exist. There is as much empirical evidence for memes as there is for the soul, or chi, or the flying spaghetti monster.

Meme theory is the attempt to explain human history, anthropology, and sociology by using an expanded metaphor borrowed from the terminology of biological evolution, and it is a dumb and useless metaphor. Dumb because there are much better explanations of human societal behavior by traditional methods in those fields, useless because all explanations of the mechanics of memes are post-hoc or “just so” explanations. Meme theory is unable to make any prediction whatsoever about the future of human behavior except that whatever happens, no matter what it may be, is a result of the mechanics of meme theory, even though those mechanics can’t be clearly defined and can’t be explained without historical contradiction. A science that can’t make a single reliable prediction in its own field isn’t science – its not even decent philosophy since it is a tautology -- it is just another dumb idea.

I believe that meme theory is only popular because it fits within a philosophical paradigm that places evolution by natural selection in the place of supreme being and cause.

I’m sorry that I require scientific theory to be backed up by empirical evidence – that seems to bother you quite a bit. Oh dear! Another personal attack.

Posted by: Shelton at October 6, 2005 3:24 PM

Shelton,

Thanks for all the memes. The exchange of these ideas has been much more fruitful than some of the other debates.
You don't believe in memes: its okay, you don't have to, even though your telling me this is a meme of sorts, along with my response.
It's like someone saying, "There are no such things as words exchanged on a computer screen!"
The irony is killing me.
If you want theory, empirical evidence, or just some more of my memes, just follow the link Sandra posted. I did. It's a pretty impressive collection.

OJ - I see your still wallowing in your self-imposed ignorance. Are you gonna come out anytime soon and talk with the grown ups?

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 3:31 PM

OJ:

Don't you Bingo me, Sonny Jim. Or I'll start Eureka-ing you.

Posted by: Brit at October 6, 2005 4:17 PM

Kent:

What exactly is it that drives so many darwinists to splenetic rage by their inability to persuade skeptics? No one here denies adaptive changes within species or touts for biblical literalism. As Orrin points out endlessly, there is no proof of inter-species speciation, and that for a theory that is one hundred and fifty years old. Natural selection may indeed seem a plausible explanation for viral mutations (just about anything that gives us a mental picture of a species fighting for life over death does the same), but it is clumsy, far-fetched and completely unsubstantiated for humans, whose natural history can't be squared with being driven exclesively by natural selection or the modern synthesis without leaning on a lot of pretty wild conjectures and hypotheses. Interested lay people are told both of an overwhelmingly rich and conclusive fossil record and huge fossil gaps. And, of course, natural evolution is not lab testable.

So, given all that, whence cometh the total contempt and uncontrollable urge to insult and call names of anyone that doesn't buy the whole package? Any ideas?

Sandra:

Thank-you for posting in the spirit of one who is actually interested in arguing than name-calling. Not being a scientist, I cannot judge the stickleback research, but I remember that article and was struck by all the excitement around it (darwinists are always getting so excited. :-)). Let's assume it convinces you and even us, but it is your one and only example of substantiated inter-species evolution. Would that be enough for you to say "Gigs up. That seals natural evolution as the exclusive force in nature."?

Posted by: Peter B at October 6, 2005 4:18 PM

Peter B.

You are wrong. If you paid attention to the links, you would notice that evidence for natural selection was provided: viruses mutate into viruses.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 4:29 PM

Peter B.

Its not the only example, and no one (not even Darwin) ever said that natural selection is the sole source of evolution. But there is room within Darwin's theory, to observe the selecting pressures of nature, and to simultaneously observe the ways that genetic material evolves in response (a la viruses; how this discussion began).
There also is a great deal of research on speciation, so before you guys stone Kent to death, you might want to listen to his desperate pleading, just for a little bit. To simply say that there is no empirical evidence behind the Darwinian concept of speciation is simply not true.

Posted by: Sandra at October 6, 2005 4:34 PM

Kent -

You are welcome for all of the ideas, and thanks for your ideas. As for where you are getting these "memes" you speak of I haven't the foggiest idea. Perhaps your astral body picked them up during an o.b.e. Chakric auras have the tendency to act as orgone nets during t.m., or so I hear.

Posted by: Shelton at October 6, 2005 4:40 PM

Sandra -

Just for the record I say there is no empirical evidence supporting meme theory. Speciation through natural selection + genetic drift is a different matter entirely.

(meme theory is one of my pet peeves)

Posted by: Shelton at October 6, 2005 4:44 PM

Of course, as we've long since established, nobody believes in "natural selection" as a strong force in evolution any more. Kent and Sandra keep using the term when they're actually talking about completely different phenomena.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 6, 2005 4:48 PM

David,
Scientists believe in natural selection still, although, geographic isolation and co-evolution are stressed more; This is now the 3rd time I've said this.
Doesn't make a difference, really, because all of evolution can be subsumed under natural selection (or any other way you wanna look at it); Only now, the role of random mutations is not as important as it was once thought to be.
Basically, the fact hasn't changed that genetic materials is altered through mutations, not through the a prior intentions of ID.

Posted by: Kent at October 6, 2005 4:59 PM

and i'm keeping it.

Posted by: Shelton at October 6, 2005 5:05 PM

Kent:

Yes, "the fact hasn't changed that genetic materials is altered through mutations" is all you've got and it's not evolution. It was a nice shot when Darwin took it but it's failed.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 5:19 PM

Kent: Absolutely. If you make "natural selection" a tautology: mutations survive if they survive, and "fittest" means that they survive, then if covers everything. Of course, at that point it is completely banal and explains nothing.

The fossil record is also problematic. Fossilisation doesn't preserve DNA, which is what we really want to examine. Similarities in gross morphology may follow closely on DNA mutations, but it might not. To say that the fossil record proves that evolution causes speciation because it shows the type of speciation caused by evolution is circular. The fossil record is consistent with evolution, but does not prove it.

Posted by: David Cohen at October 6, 2005 5:29 PM

Brit:

Yes, it seemed your Eureka moment.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 5:33 PM

Kent:

If your definition of natural selection is viruses mutating into viruses, welcome to Brothersjudd.

Posted by: Peter B at October 6, 2005 5:50 PM

If you accept that natural selection works for evolution at the 'viruses turn into other viruses' level, but deny it at the speciation level, you need to show what is wrong with the theory of allopatric speciation, in order to conclude that external intervention is a better theory.

Posted by: Brit at October 6, 2005 6:23 PM

Sandra:

But the question is not wheher there is evidence, but what kind and how much, which is why I posed the question you didn't answer. As a lawyer, I can tell you that evidence is cheap and there are many ways to acquire it honestly. The issue is whether it is probative, not whether it exists.

My question to you reflected my impression that too many darwinists have got themselves into a general mindset where thy "know" the theory is true and "proven", but they have this little pesky problem of evidence. Enter the stickleback and the peppered month and,(in pride of place), the finches. Cue the orchestra. Again, assuming these findings are "true", what do you think it means, i.e. does it validate the way you think humans got blue eyes or the races acquired different skin colours? I confess my problem with darwinists is more that they are seeing with one eye than that they are empirically wrong (although David's theory of darwinism's essential banality will do just as nicely). But it is clear from the posts of darwinists from Dawkins to Kent to several other rather overly-smug regulars around here that paternalistic, contemptuous dismissal is playing a big (and elitist) role in this debate and being used as a decidedly non-scientific way to diss the sceptics and avoid some pretty probative questions.

So, once again, assuming the research on the stickleback is validated, what do you think it means?

Posted by: Peter B at October 6, 2005 6:40 PM

Brit:

Inuit and Bantu can breed.

Posted by: oj at October 6, 2005 7:19 PM

Brit:

If you accept that natural selection works for evolution at the 'viruses turn into other viruses' level, but deny it at the speciation level, you need to show what is wrong with the theory of allopatric speciation, in order to conclude that external intervention is a better theory.

Gurgle, wheeze, sputter, mumble...Tell us, Brit, is that the riveting stuff you plan to feed to the high school kids once you have beaten back the dark creationists? Suddenly, I'm not so worried any more.

Posted by: Peter B at October 6, 2005 7:56 PM

OJ and Peter:

No, really, you do need to show this. Honest injun, no barley cross-fingers.

We know that natural selection can evolve viruses into other viruses. So what's wrong with the proposition: "this basic mechanism is how all evolution works"?

It might be wrong. It's possible to doubt it. But those aren't interesting issues: anything might be wrong; it's possible to doubt anything.

The interesting question is: is this the best theory we have, or is there a better one?

The overwhelming scientific consensus is that it is the best theory we have.

You disagree, so I'd be intrigued to see what your reasons are. I've yet to see one stated on here. All I see is blather like "I've never seen a horse turn into a chicken with me own two eyes" or "Inuit and Bantu can breed." Well, duh.

Posted by: Brit at October 7, 2005 4:17 AM

Brit:

Ah, so now we're in reasonable mode, are we? Just a theory that civilized chaps of good will can disagree about over a whiskey. Ok, but while you are topping up the drinks, could you explain why you would make the extraordinary assertion that if evolutionary scientists observe mutations in viruses and from that "theorize" speciation, common descent and an entirely natural explanation for all of life, it is up to the sceptics to show why the various "theoretical" steps they use to get there are wrong and come up with self-contained scientific alternatives.

I'm engaged in a particularly frustrating case right now where an out-of-control lawyer on the other side has made wild allegations he can't prove, and is demanding I spend hours combing extensive financial records to show why he is wrong. There was a time I might have fallen for it, but thanks to evolved logical skills honed with the help of my pals, Brit, Jeff and Robert, I can see through it all and am telling him to go play in the traffic.

Posted by: Peter B at October 7, 2005 6:39 AM

I've spent many a joyful hour explaining and defending what the theory of evolution is and how it came about. So now how about you do a spot of defending and explaining?

Now I want to get to OJ's specific objection, of what exactly is the bone of contention. Common descent and natural selection per se aren't controversial here.

The actual controversy seems to be this: OJ believes that the scientific view of evolution is correct, except when it comes to the matter of speciation.

(I happen to think his definition of "speciation" is eccentric and far too stringent, but for these purposes I'll go along with it...)

Here he thinks that, because we have not physically 'observed' a live act of speciation, then whatever causes it is a matter of faith, and ID is equally as valid or invalid as the conventional scientific theory of allopatric speciation.

I reject this idea, because I think that they are not equally valid. I think that the conventional scientific theory is better than ID, whether we've witnessed it happening live or not.

This is because:

1) it just applies the same logic seamlessly to speciation as it does to any other aspect of evolution, and I've yet to see a convincing reason why it shouldn't

2) if it is true, you would expect to subsequently discover certain things in terms of areas like biogeography and DNA. We call these expectations, or logical consequences of the theory, "predictions". If they turn out to be right, then that is evidence for theory. It's not 'proof' of the theory, true. But it is evidence for it. Crucially, if these predictions turn out to be wrong, then the theory must be wrong, and it is thus "falsifiable".

ID lacks both these qualities. Furthermore, time and time again the "predictions" have proven accurate.

Now you can of course believe in ID or anything else about speciation that you like. But the proposition of some supernatural intervention in speciation is no more interesting or relevant, from a scientific point of view, than the proposition that birds can fly because of 'magic', or that something else is "just a mystery."

Posted by: Brit at October 7, 2005 7:09 AM

Brit:

Yes, that's it in a nutshell. Darwin observed that Man could breed a variety of cows and Nature a variety of finches. (As you point out, we can see the same about viruses too.) From this he made the intuitive leap that via the same process new species could arise. This has proved false, as he shgould have known it would from our inability to breed new species.

You continue to make the leap. Most of us don't. Your faith is certainly legitimate as a religion. It just isn't science.

Posted by: oj at October 7, 2005 7:31 AM

That's a nice, eccentric just-so story about How Charles Invented Darwinism, but has nothing to do with the matter in hand.

Posted by: Brit at October 7, 2005 8:01 AM

Brit:

To the contrary, it's the only matter at hand. Darwinism maintains that because we can cause and/or observe changes within species then it is theoretically possible that the same processes would cause changes of species. The same observations and experiments of course show this theory to not bear fruit. You can cling to the belief that it must work that way, but it isn't a scientific faith.

Posted by: oj at October 7, 2005 8:24 AM
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