Who knows?

I frequently see bloggers who claim to be taking a break from their websites. The end result is usually an immediate increase in post frequency, so I want to be careful in what I’m saying here: I may go on a blogging hiatus. I suspect, at the very least, that days where I post nothing will become more common. However, I may have one of those days where I make three, four, or more posts. It all depends on what’s going on in politics and society, not to mention my own day-to-day life.

So, who knows? I easily foresee my current opinion on how often I wish to write changing back to normal in a month, but I cannot be certain. Just don’t be surprised if things get quiet for little awhile.

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Datechguy does not grasp evolutionary theory

I mentioned a little while ago that the Internet became a better place when Roxeanne de Luca ceased her blogging activities. As it turns out, her old website is gone, but she is still blogging at some site called Datechguy. I don’t care to read anything she has to say given how uniformly uninformed she is on all issues (not to mention the fact that she is crazy), but I did poke around her new location. In doing so, I came across this atrocious piece by the owner of the blog, Datechguy himself:

I think people often confuse “natural selection” and survival and the fittest, which is certainly scientifically sound and full blown evolution the creation of one species from another.

The second has several problems the biggest of which for me is the math.

What makes this interesting is that Datechguy spent a good portion his post disowning creationist arguments, including young Earth creationism. In fact, he is a member of the Catholic Church, a group that claims to embrace the theory of evolution. (The reality is that the Church rejects what the theory actually says, but they still claim to embrace it, at least superficially.) So there is no reason one should expect him to go on about “the math” since that’s nothing more than code for common creationist canards. Yet here we are:

Here is what you need for evolution of that nature to work:

  • You need some kind of mutation.
  • Said mutation needs to be a beneficial mutation so it doesn’t increase the likely hood of the creature caught by a predator.
  • You need a mutation that doesn’t prevent breeding with a similar creature
  • The result of that breed must carry said mutation so it has to be dominant trait
  • Continual breeding has to take place so that dominant trait spreads until all members of the species without that dominant trait disappear.

I really should just point to The Blind Watchmaker and call it a day, but I’m a sucker for punching bags, so let’s get started. First Datechguy says mutations are necessary for speciation. This isn’t all that far off from the truth, but it isn’t exactly accurate. Mutations are going to happen – each one of us has about 150 in our DNA right now – but they are not entirely necessary. All that needs to happen for a speciation event is for enough time, space, and natural selection to take place. That is, natural selection is a honing process, so it is theoretically possible for it to promote some alleles while eliminating others in a way which prevents breeding between two populations that once were able to produce offspring.

The second point is myopic in nature. Datechguy appears to be implying that mutations are for the sake of prey. I never realized that predators and organisms without predators were not involved in evolution. But I digress. We see beneficial mutations all the time. For example, humans which began to utilize animal milk once we started to create civilizations had their lactase producing gene left on after childhood, thus enabling the break down of lactose. That legacy continues in many Europeans and those of European descent. Datechguy has not made a significant point here.

The third point is plainly weird. This guy is saying that for a speciation event to happen, a mutation cannot cause a breeding split within a population. That is false. As we see with human chromosome 2, one very plausible way that it spread throughout the population was that it separated our ancestors with 48 chromosomes from those with 46 chromosomes. That is, a small number of individuals had a mutation which prevented breeding with other members of their population. (It is worth noting, however, that many speciation events are merely a matter of time and the breeding is continuous. That is, a population may be considered one species at Point X, it continues to breed in a way which causes no distinct split (e.g., no division that is present in a single generation), then after, say, 100,000 years, it is considered a different species.)

The fourth point is another weird one. A mutation needs not be dominant to be carried throughout a population. If it did, Mendel never would have had green or wrinkly peas.

The final point – that “continual breeding has to take place so that dominant trait spreads until all members of the species without that dominant trait disappear” – is my favorite. Datechguy is arguing that fixation is necessary for speciation to occur. As we saw with the 2010 Burke paper, evolution still very much occurs with or without complete fixation. In fact, allelic fixation varies between sexually and asexually reproducing populations, so it is improper to speak of it in blanket terms.

The rest of Datechguy’s post is a mix of the Boeing 747 creationist canard and the creationist intelligent design irreducible complexity argument. For instance:

It doesn’t mean it can’t have happened. In theory I can roll snake eyes 50000 times straight

Or to put it another way, if you saw me roll snake eyes 10 times in a row, what would be the first logical thought? Luck or fixed dice? How about 100 times? How about 1000?

(That comes from the comment section on the post.)

It’s a common mistake to believe that any given trait or characteristic needs to evolve in either one giant leap or through a series of perfectly coordinated mutations. Fortunately, that isn’t how evolution works. Natural selection operates via incredibly tiny steps, one by one. When looked at over the course of hundreds of thousands of years or more, we have a huge number of mutations and allelic changes that appear impressive, but the reality is that virtually all of those changes were individually likely. And, just as importantly, each one of those changes is individually useful. (I’m ignoring historical contingency for the sake of brevity.) For instance, an eyespot won’t enable any creature to see danger or prey from miles away, but it is useful for detecting light and dark and, eventually, color, shape, and size.

I imagine Roxeanne and Datechguy will be very happy together at a site that, as with her last one, entirely lacks all scientific value.

Voter ID laws are a Republican ploy to disenfranchise poor and minority voters

There’s no denying it: The GOP is systematically attempting to make it so that black, Hispanic, and poor voters will not be able to vote as easily as the GOP “angry, white man” base. Aside from the fact that there is no voter fraud worth mentioning anywhere in the United States, and aside from the fact that we never seemed to have this problem before we had a black president, and aside from the fact that recent census data shows population shifts that weaken white voting blocs (a clear motivator in the magical urgency behind voter suppression efforts), and aside from the fact that we have laws in traditionally racist states being blocked by the courts, and aside from the fact that Florida has laws which specifically target the Sunday prior to the election when black churches bus people to polling locations for early voting, we have GOP leaders saying things like this:

It isn’t necessarily that this is all racially motivated. The primary impetus for these 19th century measures is more or less political. The GOP knows it only does well amongst a certain, homogenous group, so it makes sense for them to pass laws that hurt everyone else. This has been their MO for the past two years: Whine about budgets and deficits and liberty and freedom, but do nothing except pass measures demanding the government be involved in women’s health care and laws that stop black and Hispanic people from voting.

Of course, while the primary purpose is an interest in getting reelected, there is an overt disregard for not only minorities and the poor, but for the very heart of democracy itself. I need not spell out how genuinely disgusting that is.

I’m calling it

This NFL season does not count. The officiating is so universally horrendous that there just is no way that anyone can consider any game to be legitimate at this point.

Thought of the day

Italians make the best food. Period.

Blogging protip:

Respond to many of the comments you get and don’t run away when someone challenges you. I know this is the Internet and it’s easy to just not answer something, but would you do it in person? Would you say something, listen to a rebuttal, stare blankly at the other person, then walk away silently? Unless you are a tool, you would not. Don’t do it on your blog.

Surprise, surprise: Gays don’t hurt the military

This is about what I expected:

For nearly 17 years, gay and lesbian soldiers of the U.S. military were expected to deny their sexuality under threat of dismissal as part of the policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

The repeal of the policy on September 20, 2011 stirred controversy, and inspired passionate arguments on both sides of the issue.

Now a year later, the first academic study of the effects of repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” has found the repeal has had “no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale.”

In fact, military members have become more aware of their surroundings. Now that many of them actually know a gay person, they aren’t so ready to use derogatory language:

An enlisted soldier at a military university told researchers that when DADT was in effect, his unit mates would use degrading, anti-gay language, “almost absent-mindedly and with little consequence,” but that after repeal, he said, “it was kind of a big deal for two weeks,” as soldiers considered what it would mean for their comrades to be openly gay.

The report says the soldier told researchers that after people wrapped their heads around the idea, their consideration changed, “the new attitude seemed to be, ‘now that I know someone who is [gay], I’m talking about a real person. I’m not just using abstract insults [but words] that actually mean something.’”

This reminds me of the strategy of Harvey Milk: Make sure people know they know a gay person and bigotry and anti-gay measures will decrease.

The repeal of DADT has long been portrayed by the GOP as “social experimentation” and other such nonsense, but it was never anything of the sort. It was an exercise in treating our citizens equally in a way which was not merely neutral in the security of the United States but, indeed, in a way which strengthened our nation. The side benefit is that we’ve done away with a good deal of ignorance in the process.