Sunday, September 21, 2014

Pulled Punches: Haeckel's Embryos in Peer Reviewed Literature

First I'll talk about the peer-reviewed literature that Randy Olson brings up, and then I'll bring up some peer-reviewed literature that contradicts him.

In Randy Olson's "Pulled Punches" extra for his Flock of Dodos, Olson references an article in The Quarterly Review of Biology ...  and mentions the "peer-reviewed" status of said journal to bolster his claims about Haeckel's embryos.  As I've expressed elsewhere, I find Olson's choice of this particular example (which he says he picked for personal reasons--presumably because he thought himself particularly knowledgeable on the subject) of that particular book (Icons of Evolution) to represent Intelligent Design to be a loaded choice.

The authors of Olson's touted article have been key figures in the neo-Darwinian public policy think tank NCSE (National Center for Science Education) which is dedicated to having neo-Darwinian theories and hypotheses taught uncritically, and to discrediting Intelligent Design by conflating it with creationism and by promoting ad hominem arguments, and which played a key role in the mistreatment of Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian.  Kevin Padian in particular dislikes Wells' criticism of his dino-bird theories, even though Wells' criticism is probably tame compared to that of paleornithologist Dr. Alan Feduccia.

At any rate, Padian and Gishlik's article seems to claim that Wells did not publish research-based papers after getting his PhD nor did engage in any research, a claim contradicted by Carolyn Larabell.  The appearance of this spewing of "pro-science" blatherskite in Quarterly Review says more about the journal than it does about the article.  No amount of peer review can make a journal avoid libel, it seems.  Nor apologize for it.  The fact that Quarterly Review has become a haven for this level of attack on Jonathan Wells, an attack all the more cheapened by associating Dr. Wells with a fictional murderous con artist (in the title no less), demeans its status as a scholarly journal. Why haven't we heard about the Talented Mr. Richards and the Talented Mr. Gould?

It was not long after that creationists and advocates of intelligent design ignited thousands of websites in an electronic auto-de-fé wherein Haeckel's reputation and that of Darwinian theory were generally sacrificed to appease an angry God...

(Robert J. Richards, "Haeckel's embryos: fraud not proven," Biology & Philosophy, Vol. 24:147-154 (2009).)

Contrary to the evolutionary hourglass model, variations in the adult body plan are often foreshadowed by modifications of early development. ... These modifications of embryonic development are difficult to reconcile with the idea that most or all vertebrate clades pass through an embryonic stage that is highly resistant to evolutionary change. This idea is implicit in Haeckel's drawings...

In work

Richardson Haeckel embryo

Michael K. Richardson "highly conserved" embryos
no highly conserved embryos
Stephen Jay Gould, Abscheulich!(Atrocious!), NATURAL HISTORY, Mar. 2000, at 42,
Elizabeth Pennisi, Haeckel's Embryos: Fraud Rediscovered, 277 SCIENCE 1435, 1435
Michael K. Richardson et al., There is No Highly Conserved Embryonic Stage in the
Vertebrates: Implications for Current Theories of Evolution and Development, 196 ANATOMY
AND EMBRYOLOGY, 91, 92–104 (1997)

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