A Turd By Any Other Name Would Smell As…

Sometimes you feel like responding to something on the internet is a big fat waste of time. This post is definitely one of those kinds of things. It’s major SIWOTI Syndrome. I’m dumb for doing this. But I can’t help myself. I actually interrupted watching Joss Whedon’s DVD commentary of The Avengers to write this shit. I suck. But I’ve got shit to say, and I’m dumb enough to say it. At least I’m drunk. That’s less an excuse than a mea culpa, but it’s all I got.

Anyways, so Jerry Coyne made a light hearted post about a silly t-shirt. It was really just filler posting for his blog. It didn’t really amount to much. I’ll admit that I often forget the periodic table of elements, so it took me a few seconds to get the joke. Again, I’m dumb and I suck. But whatever. The point is, it’s a nothing post taking a light jab at the ID movement.

Enter Lee Bowman, who posted the following in response:

Actually, there is a controversy over the summation of tentative causative factors within evolutionary theory, and in my considered view, there are multiple causative factors.

But is interventionary input by a directed source even a possibility? Of course, but it eclipses orbiting teapots.

I occasionally comment on Yahoo Answers, although a back and forth exchange doesn’t work well there.

My biggest concern was what I view as a misconception over what ID entails, evident by the answers preceding mine.

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20130124202750AANy5NV

Where to begin with this shit? He completely missed the point of Russell’s teapot; he’s ignorant of the fact that evolutionary theory already involves multiple causal factors; he’s using fancy-talk and $10 words to disguise the fact that he provides NO actual evidence; he confounds possibility with plausibility (the existence of unicorns is possible, but that doesn’t make unicorns scientific); he swipes at previous commenters without bothering to actually point out any flaws they made; and he is, in general, bloviating like a big gas bag and then giving us a link to his “concern”, which is just another comment on another thread at Yahoo where he bloviates some more:

First, I am a rationalist, or free thinker, which eclipses both liberal and conservative philosophies. And by that, I mean that I view the evidence in assessing the data, NOT an indoctrinated conclusion assessed by others, and in this case BOTH religion and materialist oriented science regarding evolutionary theory.

That said, I’ll now give you my interpretation of ID within biology. It is simply an adjunct hypothesis regarding causative factors in producing functional complexity, and sits with equal status along with natural causation. Both are valid hypotheses, and IMO, both were operatives in the evolutionary processes.

So in answer to the question, first, we need definitions.

Evolution = an overall set of processes which have culminated in living organisms.

Intelligent Design = not a separate theory from ToE, but a causative hypothesis entailing directed input at key points, by a single or multiple intelligences, and NOT based on scriptural accounts.

Natural Selection of genetic variation = a causative hypothesis entailing non-directed input to phenotypic advancements, which result in fecundity advantages based on sexual and environmental selective pressures.

Horizontal Gene Transfer and other natural processes are hypothesized to produce upward complexity and novelty as well. All of the above are hypothetical and equally viable at this time.

Now that ID is properly understood and defined, it sits within evolutionary theory in addition to natural causative factors, and cannot be ruled out summarily. It is thus a legitimate concept for discussion and further research, classrooms included.

More word salad, and even less actual substance. What I’m finding really annoying at this point is his penchant for inventing new terms without bothering to define them.  What, for example, is an “adjunct hypothesis”? I’ve been studying philosophy of science for almost 15 years and never come across such a term. I’ve seen the term “auxiliary hypothesis”, but an example of an auxiliary hypothesis is something like “The sample in this particular Petri dish is not contaminated”. Clearly not what Lee Bowman has in mind. But it doesn’t stop there. What’s a “Causative hypothesis”? What’s a “phenotypic advancement”? What’s a “fecundity advantage”? None of these terms occur in the scientific or philosophical literature, and exactly where they fit into it is never made clear by Mr. Bowman. We can speak of causal hypotheses in philosophy of science, but the question will revolve more around how properly to structure the experimental and control groups in designing an experiment which can prove more than mere correlation in a statistical study. And while you’ll hear a lot about phenotypes in a biology class, you won’t hear much about their “advancement” because that’s just nonsensical. Evolution doesn’t have a direction and no phenotype is more “advanced” than any other except in a highly relativized sense. And “fecundity advantage” just seems like Lee Bowman’s attempt to make the term “natural selection” sound smarter by using bigger words to say it. Blah. Not impressed.

Bowman’s definitions are utterly worthless and unoperationalizable. Defining evolution as “an overall set of processes which have culminated in living organisms” is like defining general relativity as “a set of physical interactions that, like, make galaxies and shit.” Worthless. General relativity is testable and well supported if you define it like an adult human being would, but if you insist on doing nothing but stringing words together that don’t actually mean anything, then that’s exactly what you’ll get. There IS, in fact, a very testable and very mathematically definable definition of general relativity, just like there are testable and definable formulations of the theory of evolution, but you have to do this horrible thing called STUDY SOME FUCKING SCIENCE to understand them. If you did this horrible thing called STUDY SOME FUCKING SCIENCE, you would understand why “a causative hypothesis entailing directed input at key points, by a single or multiple intelligences,” is meaningless gibberish. The ID proponents have, only on rare occasions, tried to define what these “key points” where intelligent intervention are. Every time, someone has pointed them to experimental findings which show that no such ID is required at this so-called “key point” (examples include bacterial flagella and the Krebs cycle). ID proponents respond by changing their definition of what’s a “key point”. It’s just an old-fashioned Moving the Goalposts fallacy, dressed up in fancy language. There’s no way to operationalize the idea of “key points” where ID is needed, because every time someone does operationalize it ID fails, and its proponents just move their “key point” to some other aspect of biology.

The theory of evolution (which includes natural selection, genetics, genetic drift, common descent, evo devo, etc.) is testable, and has been tested, and has passed those tests. Intelligent Design is not testable. A fortiori, no test has ever supported it. And Lee Bowman hasn’t changed any of this. He’s just dressed up creationism in fancy terms like “interventionary input by a directed source” and magically declared himself to be “a rationalist, or free thinker, which eclipses both liberal and conservative philosophies” (I don’t believe in god, but even I avoid calling myself rationalist and freethinker. It just sounds pretentious most of the time).  At first, I responded to him briefly (which was wise–what I am doing now is definitely not wise):

LeeBowman,

You seem to be under the impression that taking the exact same things a zillion people have said before and gussying them up in stilted, needlessly prolix language makes your comments sound more rational or more relevant.

It doesn’t. Whether you say, “God done it” or “interventionary input by a directed source”, it’s still discredited gibberish. I actually have more respect for the rednecks who yell “God done it!” and wave their Bibles around. At least they’re just simply stating what they believe. Your brand of pseudo-intellectual sophistry is much worse.

I should have just left it at that. I really should. Lee Bowman responded on Jan 27, and I should just ignore it, because he doesn’t say anything that hasn’t been said by a bajillion creationists before him. He doesn’t present any new experimental evidence. He doesn’t formulate any new hypothesis that hadn’t already been spewed out by creationists pretending not to be creationists. He in fact does not do anything new at all in any way. So I should just ignore him.

But god damn it. I’m drunk. I’m surly. Fuck this guy. Give me your counterarguments, you magnificent Lee Bowman bastard you…

Ah, but what may “seem” to be the case (in your case)

Let’s not overuse the word “case”. It’s especially ill-advised to include two very different senses of the word “case” in the same sentence at the same time, like you just did. You wouldn’t want to equivocate between what “seems” to be the “case” and what’s my “case”. This is especially true since the “quotes” you put around words kinda undermine whatever “case” you’re trying to make in that regard.  When you put the word “seem” in quotes, are you trying to allege that it doesn’t actually seem that way to me? That I’m misusing the word “seem”? If not, why put the quotes around the word? I put the word “case” in quotes because that’s what one does when one wants to discuss a word as a word. I’m still a bit confused as to why you put the word “seem” in quotes. You are not discussing the word “seem” itself, which makes me think that you put those quotes there without really thinking about what putting quotes around an English word means.

Oh, wait, I see. You’re just scare-quoting me when you put quotes around “seem”. Sorry. I was too distracted by your clumsy use of the word “case”. If you don’t want me to take you to task for how you use “case” in the future, then don’t needlessly put “seem” in quotes, and it won’t happen. But if you want to use bullshit scare-quotes on me, I’m happy to reciprocate. Also, my use of the word “seem” does not merit scare-quotes in your response, unless you disagree with me about what the word “seem” means. Scare-quotes are only warranted when you allege that the quoted author is using the word inappropriately. Since you never made any such “case”, you can take your scare quotes and “shove” them up your “ass”.

Ah, but what may “seem” to be the case (in your case) is a blatantly false assumption based upon several false presumptions.

And how much time have you put into examining your presumptions? Or, even worse, your assumptions based on presumptions?

One, that ID is a religious view, two, that anyone espousing it has an a priori religious position, and three, that couching that view in loquacious verbiage to sneak it in under the wire is merely a tactic.

First off, “loquacious” is a description of the person who spews the words, not a description of the words themselves. There’s no such thing as “loquacious verbiage”. If you must use big words, please use them properly. At least look them up in a dictionary or thesaurus first. That’s not too much to ask. Seriously. I’m not kidding about this. People using big words without bothering to learn what they mean is a big pet peeve of mine. Use the words the way they should be used. Don’t just make up your own imaginary meaning for words which have nothing to do with what they really mean. If you keep improperly using big words, I’m going to call you a Sparkling Yak Sesquipedalian. By my imaginary definition,  Sparkling means “Numb nuts”, “yak” means “internet faker”, and “sesquipedalian” means “sesquipedalian”. Look it up, bitch. (“Bitch” means you.)  If you don’t want me to make up imaginary meanings of words, then stop doing it yourself. Use “loquacious” according to its actual definition, or STFU.

Firstly, ID is an evidence based hypothesis.

That’s laughable. Every time an ID proponent has proposed a hypothesis that can be tested by evidence (such as bacterial flagella or blood clotting), tests have shown that Intelligent Design fails. How do they respond? By changing the standards of the test. ID is not evidence based by any standard.

There are not any experimental programs currently using any ID model. No ID proponent had produced any new experimental data. If you go to any biology laboratory anywhere in the world, you will find scientists using the theory of evolution to construct their experiments. And these experiments work. But you won’t find people using ID to construct experiments. That’s because “Invisible undefined magic man did it” is not a testable hypothesis. ID is promulgated by lots of people, but  ID is not promulgated because some scientific evidence supports it. None does. It’s promulgated because there are a large number of Americans who believe that Jesus rode a dinosaur to the gun range, and they feel all poopy inside about the fact that all of modern science contradicts what they believe, so they pay good money for people who pose as scientific rationalists to pretend to treat Jesus riding a dino to the gun range like it’s not a stupid, crazy idea.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s stupid and crazy.

While to some it may imply a monotheistic god, this is a faith based position that may proceed from design inferences, but does not predicate a design inference. ID is based primarily upon the improbability of natural causation where probability bounds are exceeded.

“Probability bounds”? What do you mean by that? Do you mean Markov conditions? Or is this some kind of Bayesian epistemology? Or is it just big words that mean nothing? Probabilities are defined in terms of a defined number of events picked out of some probability space. Both the probability space and the function that picks out an event need to be defined, but Bowman attempts neither. The work I’ve done involving probabilities, such as  Decision Theory, Markov Decision Processes, and Bayesian Networks, don’t involve any kind of “probability bounds” being “exceeded”. This is just Lee Bowman inventing terms without defining them again. Big surprise there.

Of course, he’s not really doing any new work or research. Actually, he’s just appealing to the old false dichotomy of creationism: “Either it’s designed, or it just happened randomly.” This is illogical, as the algorithmic process of natural selection is neither designed nor random, so once again Lee Bowman is just using fancy sounding language to express dumb, already disproven ideas. What Bowman calls “the improbability of natural causation” is just the old Watchmaker argument, which goes all the way back to William Paley in 1802. Natural selection is not random–it’s determined by the environment. So any theory that bases its explanatory power on whether it’s more explanatory than randomness is already a straw man.

Secondly, there is no basis for this assumption, simply because there have been examples cited where this was evident. Example: Judge Jones’ assumption that actions by the school board in the Dover PA district, along with a few other examples, proved that ID was religion based. The scientific basis for ID went completely over his head.

How law works and how science works are two different things. People with functioning brains get this. Lee Bowman is not one of these people.

Judge John Jones was charged with multiple tasks in the Dover trial. One was to evaluate the scientific merit of ID. Another was to adjudicate the claims about whether ID should be taught in schools. Another was to adjudicate the actions of the people on the Dover school board. Another was to decide whether their particular ID policy was consistent with judicial precedent on constitutional law. In other words, he needed to be a Judge. ‘Cause that’s what judges do. They interpret the law.

Lee Bowman has not actually read Judge Jones’ decision. But you can read it here. Merely reading words in a document will already put you way, way, way, way ahead of anything Bowman has to say. Judge Jones was not merely interpreting the science. He was interpreting the law, insofar as it relates to science. The pro-ID evidence presented to him consisted of some religious nuts who knew nothing about the very topics they expounded upon (i.e. the Dover school board), and scientists such as Michael Behe who openly admitted that ID requires that supernatural claims be allowed into science. Basically he had people saying “Jesus Jesus Jesus!” and people saying “We aren’t screaming ‘Jesus!’, but we don’t have any other reason to be here…” The reason for including ID in Dover was religious.

No scientific basis for ID was assessed, because none was presented. No experiments supporting ID were presented at the trial, because no such experiments have ever been performed. This is in stark contrast to evolution by natural selection, where numerous experiments were presented, none of which were challenged by the defendants. They just simply didn’t have anything to respond with.

And three, what I stated was what design inferences are based upon, i.e. the postulated addition of intervention to natural processes at key points, to facilitate subsequent altered phyla.

What the fuck are “altered phyla”? That’s not a scientific term, and you also have not made any attempt to define what the hell it means. It’s yet again another term you throw out there without bothering to define what the fuck it means.

And what are “key points”? How does one decide what “point” is a “key” point? What scientific standard is used to distinguish regular old points from “key” points? And what makes any phylum “subsequent”, regardless of whether it’s “altered” or not? “Altered” phyla is already nonsense, but calling some phylum “subsequent” on top of being “altered” and adding in that this phylum had some kind of completely undefined “key point” is just piling undefined nonsense on top of undefined nonsense. If you’re going to use terms that have no presence in the scientific or philosophical literature, at least do us the favor of providing a definition. And “a causative hypothesis entailing non-directed input to phenotypic advancements” is NOT a good definition, seeing as you never bothered to define what the fuck a “phenotypic advancement” is.

While not offered as hard fact due to its non-empirically replicable forensic nature

Forensic science is perfectly empirical and replicable. Nothing that you have said has even addressed that point at all. Basically, you’re saying, “I don’t have jack shit to support ID, but I can PRETEND that’s also true for natural selection!” Well, sorry, you’re wrong. Natural selection has tons of empirical evidence to support it. Galapagos finches are just the beginning. There’s also the massive mounds of evidence from comparative morphology, biogeography, genomics, domestic breeding, population genetics, deep homologies, ecology, and tons of other areas. You have not addressed any of these. The reason you haven’t addressed any of them is because you don’t know anything about them.

neither are totally natural causative processes, which have not been empirically confirmed as well.

Remember, Bowman is claiming that my problem is that I think ID proponents are advocating for the existence of some kind of deity. Lee Bowman claims that’s a bogus “presumption” on my part. And yet he couches the argument in terms of “natural” versus “designed”. What’s the alternative to “natural”, Lee? If it’s not “supernatural”, then what is it?

At least at this juncture, neither are proven as absolutes.

True, in that science doesn’t deal in absolutes. Rather than absolute truths, the Evolution/Intelligent Design issues could be better summarized thus:

Amount of evidence:

Evolution: A Fucking Shit Ton (Pretty much the entire science of biology provides evidence for it)

Intelligent Design: Almost Nothing (and pretty much the entire science of biology contradicts it)

But none of this stops Lee Bowman from being very, very proud of himself.

Omigosh, I just noticed that my response to the evolution/ ID question posed by ABA was just awarded ‘Best Answer’ by him. Since there were (24) other answers 180 deg. to mine, I guess we must both be creotards

Hmmmm, let’s look at the original question….

Do you believe that both theories of evolution and intelligent design should be taught in school science?

If not tell me if either/or/none should be taught.

Please tell me if your liberal or conservative..
(Studies show liberals are typically more intolerant of other viewpoints so I’d like to test this theory)

Yup. Both creotards. Here, let me pose a similar question:

Do you think people who disagree with me about unicorns being real should have equal time in schools?

Tell me whether either/or/none unicorn science should be taught to other people’s children.

(Please indicate whether or not you’re a different political orientation from me, because I’ve heard people who have different politics from me think differently from me and the people who told me this called it science without actually providing experimental evidence, so I want to know whether you think differently from me so I can ignore your opinion from the get-go also my grammar sucks i hate the english language suck it education dumb people rule!!!!!111)

Oh my god, you got voted up on a Yahoo thread by a barely literate creationist. Maybe both of you are just narcissistic…

Or perhaps just rational thinkers …

No. You’ll be classified as rotifers based on morphology before either of you is ever mistaken for a rational thinker.

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The Sad State of Science Journalism

One thing that really annoys me is very bad science journalism, and boy oh boy is there a lot of it out there. When I saw PZ Myers’ take down of Danny Vendramini’s positively ludicrous Neanderthal theory, I went to Google to find out more about this crackpot, and found a sterling example of bad science journalism at its worst. It’s an older article (2006), but still worth taking a look at since it has so many diagnostic features of Lazy Science Writing. There’s the cookie-cutter “This changes everything” narrative, the refusal to do any research other than a few interviews, the lionization of the “maverick”, the obnoxious and misleading attempt at “balance” through “he said/she said” reporting, etc etc. It’s all there.

The stupid starts up the moment the article begins. Here’s the title, byline and first paragraph:

Origin of a Big Idea

Crackpot or genius? Danny Vendramini may be labelled both. The anti-religious amateur biological theorist is challenging mainstream evolutionary thought. By Andrew Dodd.

Danny Vendramini didn’t wake up one morning and say to himself: “Today, I’ll shatter half of the accepted beliefs about evolutionary biology.” It has been more gradual than that. In fact, his theory, that a second evolutionary process is at work alongside natural selection, has been percolating away for quite some time, emerging from the primordial soup of the subconscious and slowly taking form over several years.

Jesus Christ. Kissing ass much? You keep this up, Mr. Dodd, and people will start calling you Shit Lips McGee. There’s lionizing the “maverick”, and then there’s giving John McCain a colonoscopy with your face.

And right off the bat, the author shows his complete ignorance of evolutionary biology. We already know of other evolutionary processes that work alongside natural selection. There’s genetic mutation, genetic drift, evolutionary byproducts and horizontal gene transfer resulting in reticulate evolution just to give a few examples. No scientist today thinks that natural selection is the only process in evolution.

Additionally, this is just a matter of style, but one trend in modern journalism (not just science journalism) that annoys me more and more every day is the heavy reliance on easy, obvious puns and wordplay to “spice up” the article. The title of the piece in question, “The Origin of a Big Idea”, and the reference to the theory arising “gradually” “from the primordial soup” are just so lame and lazy that they cannot be passed over without criticism.

Why do people write this way? You immediately know if you see something about evolution and, oh I don’t know, golf, there’s going to be a joking about teeing up on the “missing links”. Or if someone has a new theory about cosmology, it’ll be described as making a “big bang” in the scientific community. Do journalism schools actually offer courses in Lame Wordplay 101?

Anyways, back to this guy’s “theory”.

Could his evolutionary process – known as “teemosis” – really explain the explosion of new species 543 million years ago? Does it really provide a plausible means for environmental information to be passed on to offspring? Does it truly describe the evolutionary purpose for the “junk DNA” that makes up 98.5 per cent of our genome?

Wait, wait, wait. “Teemosis”? You have got to be shitting me. And this process, all by itself, will explain the Cambrian explosion, inheritance of adaptation, and “junk” DNA all at once? If your theory’s really that powerful, you should give it a more mellifluous name. How about “enfuckulation”?

And, even if it all ends up as discredited hocus, there’s another equally fascinating question. What’s it like to generate a brand new theory that challenges many of the big assumptions about the origins of living organisms? How does an amateur without any formal training in biology pull off a feat like that without getting locked up, or, perhaps worse, completely ignored?

As a grad student in history and philosophy of science, how theories come to be is a very important facet of my studies. And I can assure you that the huge amount of stuff you need to know to have even an adequate (much less groundbreaking) understanding of science vastly  exceeds the abilities of almost any amateur. There’s a reason scientists have to go through 7 to 10 years of training with more experienced scientists before they start making a real impact.

As for that last question, I’m pretty sure he’ll be ignored. Call it a hunch. I don’t see “teemosis” finding its way into textbooks any time soon.

Well, according to the infectiously enthusiastic Vendramini, the solution is to read a lot – about 8000 academic papers to be precise-— on anything to do with the human genome, NeoDarwinism and even palaeontology. Initially, his mission was to decipher the gobbledegook but later, as his theory took shape, his task was to find anything that disproves the ideas underpinning his theory.

So he’s a dilettante. Nothing wrong with that. I was too before I decided to go to grad school. But one thing I’ve learned in grad school is that without guidance from more experienced people you make all kinds of errors in your studies that you don’t even know you’re making.

And it’s nice that he (at least claims to be) is looking for potential evidence that contradicts him. The problem is, as we shall see, he doesn’t understand the topic well enough to understand what kind of evidence might contradict him.

So far, he says, he hasn’t found anything.

Not surprising. But that doesn’t increase my confidence in his theory at all given the considerations above.

In fact, Vendramini’s website, thesecondevolution.com, lists supportive comments from a range of academics, including Noam Chomsky of MIT.

Okay, now this is just ludicrous. Who gives a shit if he got some out-of-context praise from Noam Chomsky, who’s a linguist and not an evolutionary biologist? Worst of all, since the journalist doesn’t bother to reproduce some examples of the supposed praise heaped upon him, this is just downright misleading.  Here are a few quotes from the sidebar on the main page of Vendramini’s website:

“I think TEEM theory is all very scientifically addressable, and can rely on standard genetic techniques.”
Professor David Featherstone,
Department of Biological Sciences.
University of Illinois at Chicago

“If you are right, nearly everything I know about genetics and development is wrong.”
Professor Robert Trivers

“I will certainly look forward to seeing the publication of your book, not least because of some recently developed interests of my own on the evolution (and inevitability) of sensory mechanisms.”
Professor Simon Conway Morris.
Cambridge University

“Your theory is very novel and interesting.”
Professor Kirk Winemiller, Texas A&M University

Notice anything? For one thing, most are addressed in the second person.  These are likely culled from email conversations he’s had while shilling his theory out to scientists. Another is that they all seem to be polite ways to avoid the topic. Along the lines of, “Yes, that’s nice dear, now run along and play.” Most of the endorsements on the page are of this nature. They don’t really amount to much and certainly don’t lend any credence to his theory. But our journalist Shit Lips McGee seems oblivious to this.

We’re sitting under the veranda of a cafe as he explains all this. He has made a day-trip to Melbourne from his home in Sydney and he knows he’s in for a long chat. Somehow, he has to outline the evolutionary process of both his idea and every multicellular species on earth. And, along the way, he’s going to have to distance himself from all those crackpot anti-evolutionists by stressing he’s not a Christian, has little time for creationists and reveres Darwin deeply.

For the 57-year-old sculptor, scriptwriter and all-round Renaissance man, this is an important chat. After six long years developing his ideas, the time has come for some mainstream exposure. So the chinotti are ordered as he takes a deep breath and starts at the beginning.

But because Vendramini’s theory questions some aspects of Darwin, he says he is often befriended by creationists. So the time has come to shatter that illusion. When I ask him about intelligent design – the stream of creationism that is sweeping the US and claims life is too complicated to be left to chance – he reacts impulsively, jerking his hand forwards and knocking over a pepper shaker. It’s as if his own fear-of-religion teem has reacted violently to this external threat.

“There is absolutely no need for an intelligent designer. It’s all a lot of crap,” he fires off before sitting back to reflect, “Yeah, that’ll stir ‘em up.”

I’m always somewhat amazed when someone shows that they are perfectly capable of recognizing bullshit, then they turn around and offer up their own bullshit that’s just as bad.

But anyways, this has been going on for a while and we still haven’t heard just what the fuck his “theory” is. Tell us, please, what this “teemosis” crap is.

We’re not talking about the Big Bang. Instead, Vendramini chooses the moment when he first started thinking that Darwin might have missed something and that perhaps there was an evolutionary process working in tandem with natural selection. He came to this conclusion after thinking about myths and the way so many cultures have sagas in which catastrophic floods are meted out as God’s retribution for bad behaviour. He became curious about the way different nations have the same epic stories about monsters, dragons, good and evil.

“It’s as if they’re hard-wired into our genes,” he says. So he looked for the scientific literature to explain this and, apart from some “esoteric stuff by mythologists”, he says he found a “nothingness”. Eventually, he came up with the hypothesis that it may have something to do with the inheritance of emotional memories.

Vendramini believes that environmental factors, if powerful enough, can trigger changes in non-coding or “junk” DNA, which in turn are passed on to offspring and govern their behaviour. He calls these “teems” or Trauma Encoded Emotional Memories and he believes they’re triggered by lifethreatening events such as attacks by predators or profound emotions such as sexual arousal.

When these emotions are encrypted into an animal’s noncoding DNA, they can be passed on so that subsequent generations begin life with that teem already archived in its emotional memory.

Okay, this is the part where Shit Lips McGee should have started asking some really obvious questions. Like, “How does getting scared rewrite your DNA?” or “How does the TEEM on the junk DNA affect the phenotype if the DNA doesn’t code for anything?” or “How does it get passed on at all?”

Think about it. Each of us is formed from two gametes — an egg and a sperm. These are produced in the gonads of our parents, and each has one half of their DNA. The DNA, then, comes from these cells in that part of the body. In order for “teemosis” to work, a dude’s testicles would have to have both a memory of emotions and a method for *somehow* writing that emotion into the DNA of the sperm. Let’s call this the Nutbag Memory Theory.

How the fuck is this supposed to work? There is no mechanism for it. He doesn’t even attempt to give one. There’s no organ in the body that rewrites the DNA in the gametes. The testes certainly can’t do it. And even if there were one, it’s supposedly being written into the non-coding DNA, so it won’t do anything. And beyond even that, there’s no way to write a very specific experience into DNA. DNA is a chemical that sets off a series of chemical reactions that lead to development. It doesn’t store episodic memories like the brain does. None of this makes any sense. But Shit Lips McGee just blithely passes it on like it’s big news in science and continues to finger Vendramini’s teem hole.

Also, I can’t help but notice that TEEMs sound quite a bit like L. Ron Hubbard’s bullshit theory of “body thetans”, which are also emotional traumas that build up in our system and can be passed on from one generation to the next. Maybe Vendramini just needs to go to his local Scientology center and get an e-meter reading. I’ll get John Travolta on the phone. Just, whatever you do, don’t give him a back rub.

But this works only in certain life forms. To experience a teem you’ll need not only non-coding DNA but also a central nervous system and sensory organs. Vendramini says these are important because it’s the central nervous system – not the brain — that is the real emotion-producing organ and because sensory organs are the means of collecting the data that generates the emotion.

Evidence, please? The central nervous system includes the brain and the spine. So if it’s not just the brain, then the spine plays a role too? Does that mean if someone severs their spine they won’t be able to generate emotions? If not, then what the fuck do you mean and what evidence do you have for it?

Vendramini then goes a step further, proposing that teemosis helps explain something Darwin could not, namely the rapid profusion of species, especially multicellular organisms, during the period palaeontologists describe as the Cambrian Explosion, about 543 million years ago. It was at the moment he made this link that Vendramini reckoned his theory started feeling good because, suddenly, organisms had some control over their destiny and weren’t completely dependent on random mutations for evolutionary success.

He believes Darwin explains incremental or microevolution whereas teem theory explains the complexity of creatures, biodiversity and behavioural evolution.

And he wonders why creationists like him so much. This is standard creationist claptrap, and it’s just as wrong when it’s being peddled for a materialistic theory as it is when it’s peddled for a supernatural theory.

And how the fuck does emotional trauma building up in DNA give animals “control over their destiny”?

There’s a maverick streak in Vendramini. He calls himself a theoretical biologist, but happily tells you his only qualification is this theory.

So all it takes to be a scientist is to make up your own bullshit theory. Gotcha.

He says he relishes his amateur status because it has allowed him to escape the shackles that bind professionals.

“Being an amateur is usually a disadvantage, but, for me, it was fortunate because I didn’t have the normal respect for the paradigms that scientists work within.”

He says established scientists won’t leap at his theory because “if they’ve been teaching a certain paradigm all their lives and then discover that Darwin needs updating, it would be a violation of their core beliefs”.

Ugh. Is there a single crank in the universe who doesn’t abuse Thomas Kuhn’s philosophy in order to justify having no expertise in his purported field?

Look, crackpots. Kuhn never argued that you can be a scientist without expertise. He never claimed that paradigms are so rigidly dogmatic that scientists are incapable of even considering other ideas. He certainly never claimed that just any ludicrous idea with no connection to the existing body of scientific knowledge could cause a paradigm shift.

But one thing that Kuhn did say was that paradigms rarely shift back. That is, once a paradigm has been abandoned, it usually stays that way. And Vendramini’s “theory” sounds a lot like one of those abandoned paradigms. Lamarckism, a theory of evolution by acquired characteristics, had quite a following among biologists before it was rendered pretty much impossible by genetics. “Teemosis” is also inheritance of acquired characteristics, and has the same problem: How the fuck does the DNA get “rewritten”? There isn’t an organ in the body that does that.

So I went in search of academics to make a comment on the theory. The first port of call – a leading biologist in one of our prominent universities – appeared to vindicate Vendramini’s pessimism.

Fuck you, Shit Lips.

After offering the scientist a potted overview of teemosis, he replied in a derisive tone. “It sounds to me like the second cousin to the flying saucer. I’d prefer not to run with it. There’s enough genuine stuff based on natural history and, if it’s coming off a website rather than proper scientific study, I’d prefer not to be quoted. It sounds like a great Doctor Who story,” he concluded.

When I explained that Vendramini had published his work in the British journal Medical Hypotheses, there was a haughty laugh down the phone. “Well the name says it all,” he scoffed. Would you like to have a look at the website,” I inquired?

“No, I’d rather not run with it.”

Medical Hypotheses will publish anything. Shit Lips didn’t even bother to check what kind of journal they are. They publish highly speculative work by scientists with almost no peer review, and publishing there does not in anyway entail anything about the quality of the work.

If Shit Lips had done any independent research, any at all, he would have known this. But instead he’s a typical science  journalist, getting his information entirely from interviews, taking everything said at face value, interviewing an “opposing view” for “balance”, then working it all into a narrative about a lone wolf scientist who changed everything. Cast the working scientists (you know, the ones who actually know what they’re doing) as cartoon mustache-twirling villains and the subject of the piece as the brave David going up against the scientific Goliath, and you’ve got a “story”. *Grrrr*

Dr Martin Burd of Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences was more accommodating and, after reading Vendramini’s paper and navigating his way round his website, he concluded that he was “very sceptical” about the theory for at least two reasons. The first is that plants have as much repetitive non-coding DNA in their genomes as animals, a fact not explained by Vendramini. He hints that Vendramini might be tempted to argue that repetitive non-coding DNA serves a different function in plants than the teem function in animals. But, according to Burd, this would amount to “special pleading” – something scientists frown upon.

Okay, this shit should have been brought up MUCH earlier in the article. These are really, really obvious questions for which Vendramini has no answers.

And it’s not just scientists that frown on special pleading. Any rational person should. It’s a logical fallacy for crying out loud. I’m not a scientist, but I sure as fuck frown on special pleading. And why is it in scare quotes? Is Shit Lips trying to cast doubt on the legitimacy of special pleading as an objection to an argument?

He also accuses Vendramini of failing to explain the mechanics of it all adequately. He concludes it’s “not very convincing” because Vendramini doesn’t reveal how teems are actually written into non-coding DNA and how that affects emotions or creates instincts.

Yes! Yes yes yes! Why did it take this fucking long to bring this up?

Vendramini responds to this criticism with characteristic optimism. “Given that the history of science shows that radical new scientific ideas are initially almost universally disparaged, these comments seem quite moderate. I’m encouraged.”

I knew we’d see the Galileo Gambit at some point. And of course Shit Lips passes it along without even a hint of skepticism or any critical analysis. I mean, there’s already a stock response to this: “Yes, they laughed at Galileo, but they also laughed at Bozo the clown.” Shit Lips would barely have to exert himself at all to demonstrate at least a modicum of journalist integrity here. But no. Twas not to be.

So now the maverick Vendramini is seeking acceptance – or at least the courtesy of having his ideas tested to assess whether they have anything to offer. And, as he braces for the reviews, he has taken heart from Darwin himself: “Darwin loved to have his mistakes pointed out. I’d have an enormous sense of pride if my theory adds just a little to his noble edifice, but if I see evidence that it’s wrong, I just have to admit it.”

And that’s the final paragraph of the article. It should be obvious by now that I see Shit Lips as the villain in this. Vendramini is certainly a quack and a bozo, but he seems mostly harmless to me. At least he’s creative–his ideas might make for a good sci-fi series, if not for good science. I’d be willing to read a comic book about a superhero group called T.E.E.M who can control their own DNA with their emotions and give themselves superpowers. That might be cool. As long as Joe Quesada and Jeph Loeb don’t get involved with it.

Shit Lips, on the other hand, is a shitty fucking journalist. This article is little more than a puff piece, and it’s structured to mislead the public on just about every topic it “reports” on. This is certainly due more to laziness and incompetence than to malice on Shit Lips’ part. But that’s no excuse.

This is the shoddy state of science journalism in today’s media. It might be better than it was 50 years ago, but it’s still horrible. And while a single crank can do little more on his own than annoy the scientists he continually emails his self-published book to, a lazy/incompetent journalist at a large publication can legitimize his bogus views to thousands or even millions of consumers who don’t know enough about science to differentiate between the real thing and the Asylum Films style knock-off. This is the equivalent of Roger Ebert reviewing Alien Origin but telling people it’s a review for Prometheus. (Ebert would never do that, but I wouldn’t put it past Armond White…)

But, hey, at least it’s “balanced” and “open-minded,” right?