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June 04, 2003

Something to Chew On

"THE first birds with teeth since the age of the dinosaurs have been created by an Anglo-French team of scientists, raising the prospect of new dental treatments for people — and even a cure for baldness.

A batch of chicken embryos raised at a French laboratory have been coaxed into growing rudimentary teeth, after researchers managed to re-awaken a gene that has lain dormant in birds for at least 70 million years." -- "Birds with teeth turn the clock back 70m years," The Times of London, 6/4/2003

These are the sort of discoveries which vex creationists; there's nothing like dormant DNA, which is "junk code" in the current iteration of animal but useful for an antecedent animal, to mess up the idea of outright creationism. A perfect God presumably wouldn't bother with dormant DNA, since such code would be inefficient, and a God who is inefficient is not perfect. A good response here would be that God's will is ineffable, therefore that dormant code may be there to serve God's purpose. But if you admit that, then you'd have to likewise admit that evolution might also serve God's ineffable plan, since by it's very nature, that which is ineffable is unknowable. With or without God, you get a better case for evolution.

Don't worry, however. Creationists are well versed in raising objections. They'll think of something novel to get out of this one too. Creationists are, by their very name, creative.

Posted by john at June 4, 2003 02:48 PM

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Brett | June 4, 2003 03:11 PM

It's a mighty small God that couldn't have done his work by means of evolution.

I've always been fond of the creed of the militant agnostic: "I don't know and you don't either." Most believers accept this proposition, if only unconsciously. That's why they call it faith.

Tripp | June 4, 2003 03:38 PM

Clearly, God put the dormant DNA in as a test of faith. If you have complete faith, dormant DNA won't matter.

As a test of faith, I certainly prefer 'ignore dormant DNA' to 'kill your own son'.

damon | June 4, 2003 04:19 PM

"A perfect God presumably wouldn't bother with dormant DNA, since such code would be inefficient, and a God who is inefficient is not perfect."

You shouldn't presume to define a God you don't know. And, ineffable or not, you would NEVER have to admit that the THEORY of evolution might serve God's plan, because everybody who has read the first few chapters of Genesis already knows how life came to be.

What you really get out of this news is just another ringing statement of how marvelous and complex God's creation is. Denture wearing fowl don't give the theory of evolution any more credence than when I eat a banana. It requires more faith to believe that than it does to believe in a Sovereign Creator who brought life out of nothing in a mere 7 days!

Masticator | June 4, 2003 04:34 PM

Dat be right. Denture wearin' be fowl no matter the theory or credence that get you to it. Amen.

theory, say wha? | June 4, 2003 04:45 PM

"For example, the word "theory." Commonly speaking, "theory" equates to "whatever ridiculous idea that has popped into my head at this very moment" -- so people have theories about UFOs, alligators in the sewers, the Kennedy Assassination, the healing power of magnets and so on. The somewhat debased nature of the word "theory" is what allows Creationists and others to say "it's just a theory," about evolution or the Big Bang or whatever bit of science is inconvenient to them at the moment, implicitly suggesting that as such, it should be paid little regard."

I just thought that was appropriate to point out to damon. I spent about ten minutes looking for that particular Whatever.

forgot about the rest | June 4, 2003 04:46 PM

"However (and Astronomy magazine has a nice sidebar on this), the word "theory" means something different to scientists than it does to the average Joe. In the world of science, the initial crazy idea that you or I would call a theory is a "hypothesis"; it's not until you can provide strong, verifiable evidence that the universe actually conforms to your hypothesis that you're allowed to say it's an actual theory. So to recap: Crazy idea = hypothesis; crazy idea + independently verifiable facts to back it up = theory.

The Big Bang is a theory not because it's just this zany idea a bunch of astronomers thought up one night while they were smoking dope in the observation dome; it's a theory because of a preponderance of evidence out there in the universe suggests this is how the universe was created -- to the near exclusion of other hypotheses. It's a theory to the same extent that gravity is a theory, and be warned that if you don't believe in gravity, you'll probably fall right on your ass."

John Scalzi | June 4, 2003 04:53 PM

Heh. It would have probably been easier just to link to that particular Whatever.

brian | June 4, 2003 04:55 PM

Current thinking holds that it is the avian cranial neural crest-derived mesenchyme that has lost odontogenic capacity, whereas the oral epithelium retains the signaling properties required to induce odontogenesis. To investigate the odontogenic capacity of ectomesenchyme, we have used neural tube transplantations from mice to chick embryos to replace the chick neural crest cell populations with mouse neural crest cells. The mouse/chick chimeras obtained show evidence of tooth formation showing that avian oral epithelium is able to induce a nonavian developmental program in mouse neural crest-derived mesenchymal cells.

That don't vex any creationist theory I know of!

John Scalzi | June 4, 2003 05:09 PM

The part where the mouse cells, being receptive to the part of the chick DNA that codes for tooth creation, is the part that's vexing. That is to say, the teeth are formed through information in the chick DNA, not the mouse DNA.

ian | June 4, 2003 05:26 PM

yesh, the mouse dna was just used as, for lack of a better word, catalyst to the chick's dna, 'reviving' it into the embryo formation process.

or something...

Byron | June 4, 2003 05:36 PM

Well, were I a creationist I wouldn't consider it that vexing. If we accept that DNA are the 'building blocks' it would be plausible that God worked with a particular set of DNA Legos and this is just a case of one blue Lego looking more-or-less like any other blue Lego.

See, where the creationists have gone wrong is assuming a literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis. You can have your cake and eat it too if you just decide that, well, we're imperfect attempting to observe the work of a perfect being of some sort. For fun, lets be all technical about it: we only really perceive 4 dimensions whereas our perfect being exists in all available dimensions (somewhere around 11 is the current favorite count I believe) so the projection of this being's actions into our measly 4 dimensions is simply perceived as the action of evolution---an apparently stochastic process carried on throughout time, though it would be totally deterministic if we could observe all dimensions and the existence of said being (whatever deterministic means in a 11 dimensional sense).

Having access to more dimensions presumably allows our 11 dimensional friend to satisfy all the requirements of being a God, so the Creationists are right (in some sense).Even the polytheists are right! For fun, put your fingertips down on a table. To the 2D beings that live there you now exist in 5 places at once (maybe 6 if you're built that way)! Cool! Polytheism erupts in your tabletop universe, only to be literally crushed by the wrathful Palm, leading to the rise of a monotheistic culture that understands that the Gods that came before were simply aspects of the same Great Palm! :-)

Fortunately, being agnostic I don't have to care about the extra 7 dimensions and who may live there :-)

Scott Elyard | June 4, 2003 05:39 PM

Maybe now more science writers will get with the rest of us and start using the word dinosaur as an inclusive term for Aves and non-avain dinosaurs. ( Dinosaur : Bird :: Primate : Human )

FWIW: _Microraptor_, by way of clarification, is not included in Aves, but is instead a dromeosaurid, more closely related to _Velociraptor_ than _Archaeopteryx_. The article neglected to make that clear.

Anyway. Nitpicking:

"...because everybody who has read the first few chapters of Genesis already knows how life came to be."


Well... actually... no, they don't.

They know what a book (the Bible) says on the topic. Reading it grants no one any assurance that it happened that way. That the Bible is God's literal word, and ultimate authority is false. This literal interpretation is purely a human directive, not a Biblical or spiritual one.


Brett: I must know, are you familiar with Phil Foglio?

Bill | June 4, 2003 06:39 PM

One thing this demonstrates is the predictive capability of a good scientific theory. The very idea that this remnant DNA exists is based on the assumption that birds evolved from a toothed ancestral species; the success of the experiment not only supports the theory that remnant DNA can be reactivated, it also supports, by virtue of the successful prediction, the evolutionary theories on which the original assumption was based.

Science is cool.

Brett | June 4, 2003 06:57 PM

Scott--

No, I was ignorant of Mr. Foglio until I read your question. A google(tm) search led me to Studio Foglio. Very entertaining! Thank you

_Jon | June 4, 2003 07:26 PM


This is a lot of reading, but it really hits the nail on the head.... but it takes a while to get there....

http://www.denbeste.nu/essays/sickle.shtml

brian | June 4, 2003 07:29 PM

After a short review of the paper I noticed several vexes to your vex.

Ok, several points from the paper submited to PNAS.

Point #1
The entire structure was removed from the ave or chic and replaced with the murine or mouse structure.
"
The whole dorsoventral aspect of the rostral murine neural tube, before its closure (when it still contains all of the premigratory cranial neural crest cells), was transplanted into an avian host from which the equivalent tissues had been surgically removed"

This greatly reduces the genetic input from the chick...

Point #2
the entire scope of the data was collected from ED1 to ED18 (embryonic day)

The hypothesis that you came to from reading a secondary media report has even less scope.

Point #3
There were NO i repeat NO chick Pitx2 genes found on day 14.
Quote
"Chick Pitx2 was not expressed in the epithelial cells contacting the mineralized matrix, which is reminiscent of Pitx2 down-regulation in ameloblasts observed in mouse teeth. "

the "minerilized matrix" refered to is the beginning of the tooth, and the chick gene is missing!!!!!!


In short even the closing sentence of the entire paper sums up a pretty convincing arguement to your "vex"

"These results show that, although within a species cranial neural crest cells do not appear to be prepatterned with respect to their skeletal fates, they do contain the information to interpret generic epithelial signals and to behave in a species-specific way. "

That says "DO NOT APPEAR TO BE PREPATTERNED"

all this disproves your third hand account of what was said. It was actually the mouse DNA that produced the teeth not the chick. The chick DNA did however have the ability to decode it.

It is interesting that they can interperate genetic signals from a different species. That is a very important finding!


John, research, as you say you can before you write these things. K

Brian

mark | June 4, 2003 07:52 PM

Logic is pretty cool, eh, Bill?

(I've noticed a lot of Christians -- although none in this thread, that I can tell -- have adopted a "fundamental truth" vs "trivial truth" view of life, where the trivial truth is, well, *truth* and reality, and the fundamental truth is what the Bible tells them is true, reality be damned. This is a pretty convenient way of explaining reality without losing faith, not to mention being quite a feat of doublethink. Hundreds of years on, Galileo is vindicated!)

John Scalzi | June 4, 2003 08:07 PM

Brian said:

"all this disproves your third hand account of what was said. It was actually the mouse DNA that produced the teeth not the chick. The chick DNA did however have the ability to decode it."

Very well. Straight from the source, then:

“The tissue transplant produces cells that contribute to tooth formation,” Professor Sharpe said. “Basically, this tells you that the bird still has the genetic information required to initiate tooth development, if there are cells capable of responding to it.”

Seems the guy who actually DID the experiment is saying it was the bird, not the mouse, from which the genetic information to create teeth comes from. If it's all the same to you, I'll go with his interpretation of the data.

Karen | June 4, 2003 08:58 PM

Man, John, what is your beef with creationists? Did some creationist science teacher flunk you in high school for your evolution project? Believing in a 6-day creation, like believing in the crucifixion or a burning bush, is a personal religious manner. Just about every religious issue has a mountain of physical evidence stacked against it; creationism isn't special in that regard. You don't devote any time or web space on the scientific and logical problems with crucifixions, burning bushes, or any other religious beliefs, so why all the special attention to creationism?

Allison | June 4, 2003 09:28 PM

My guess would be that no one is trying to teach rising from the dead in a physics class.

John Scalzi | June 4, 2003 09:34 PM

Karen writes:

"Believing in a 6-day creation, like believing in the crucifixion or a burning bush, is a personal religious manner."

I'd agree. Would that many creationists believed the same, instead of attempting to inject it into science classes. I have nothing against creationists, per se. I have quite a bit against creationists who would derail teaching our kids solid science in schools because it conflicts with their personal religious beliefs.

brian | June 4, 2003 09:36 PM

I really don't mind how you interperet his data. I just urge you to read the report published in PNAS. So that you can interperet the data. The media is not always the best place to base our theories.

If you do look at the report make note of the genetic expressions of the chick oral epithelium on ED14. The Pitx2 is present in the epithelium of the tooth germs but not in the epithelial cells contacting the matrix. Which is an odd discovery admitedly. This is compounded by the lack of epithelial-derived enamel matrix. They state that this may (may=not verified yet so we will give them some time) be due to the early termination of the interaction between the epithelium and mesenchyme . So that is a to-be-continued.

Still in the data there is very little that states that the "tooth genes" are there. Merely that what is there was able to interperet and use the genes from a foriegn source.

This is experimentation that is ongoing in several venues so keep up with the PNAS articles and we shall see where it goes.

YiPing Chen at Harvard has done some work on this also. You may wish to refer to his published work also.

You can subscribe to PNAS at www.pnas.org It is a bit pricy at about 125 or so a year. But if you plan to keep up with the ongoing research in these fields it is definately worth it.

Brian

John Scalzi | June 4, 2003 10:14 PM

Brian writes:

"I really don't mind how you interperet his data. I just urge you to read the report published in PNAS. So that you can interperet the data. The media is not always the best place to base our theories."

Indeed not. However, I would think that the researcher himself would have a compentent grip on the details of his own study.

Dane | June 4, 2003 11:02 PM

I would like to make a point. THe Judeo/Christian Gad as described in the Bible took six days to get to the creation of man. If he were really all powerful and all that- then He could have just blinked and 'poof' earth and it's all inhabitants simply come into being.
The point I am aiming at is- if this all powerful God chose to take six then He did so with intent. The order in which all things were created was important. He (according to Genesis [the first chapter of the bible, not the band])took His sweet time and did it all in specific order.
I would like to also mention that since birds really are just dinosuars with no teeth then that also means that dinosaurs are just birds with teeth. Making "Where in the Bible does it talk about Dinosaurs" a mote question- as Birds aka Dinosaurs are mentioned in great depth as being created to teem the Earth on the fifth day.

What I would love to see is a side by side comparison of the order in which things where created on versus the order in which things just happened. I think there would be more similarities then differences.

rick mcginnis | June 4, 2003 11:17 PM

As a religious - but ritually negligent and doctrinally resistant - person, I've always regarded people who take the attractive, even poetic myth of Creation seriously as people who've been seduced by metaphor.

Metaphor is essential to communication; it's the best, and most elegant way of making an abstract notion or an overwhelming conceit easily understandable. There is an earth; once, there was not. The wonder and complexity of the mere fact of its existence is an endlessly ponderable thing - here's an interesting way of looking at the unknowable fact of creation.

Of course, I have no way of knowing if this was what the authors of Genesis were thinking, but then they didn't know exactly what was happening at the dawn of life on the planet. Neither of us were there at the time, after all.

Metaphor is wonderful, but people get caught up in its ability to make concepts graspable, and end up believing in the metaphor more than the far more difficult concept behind it all.

I have a whole, highfalutin' type theory about this, but I'm saving that for the book...

John Scalzi | June 4, 2003 11:26 PM

"Metaphor is wonderful, but people get caught up in its ability to make concepts graspable, and end up believing in the metaphor more than the far more difficult concept behind it all."

Sort of like the people down here in the US who are so outraged at flag desecration that they're willing to desecrate the Constitution to stop it.

Bethany | June 5, 2003 01:00 AM

Dane--

Finishing up a college bio class, so I think I can give you the comparison you asked for.

Day 1: Light and Dark--well, the universe came first, and that probably created a good bit of light in the explosion

Day 2: Sky seperates from earth--the earth was created next in the evolution of life.

Day 3: Seperate seas so that land appears, and let land produce vegetation--Life is believed to have originated in the ocean, before an oxygen atmosphere even existed, and the plants and their algael ancestors to plants helped create this oxygen atmosphere we have.

Day 4: Sun, Stars, Moon--well, this is just doesn't fit with evolution.

Day 5: birds and fish--animal life would have originated in the sea as well, and most invertebrates have always lived there, also, fish were some of the first vertebrates. In getting to the dinosaurs=birds, they were "created" first. Actually, mammals would have appeared prior to dinosaurs, but they would have been small and stayed pretty hidden (think mice).

Day 6:Insects, livestock, man--insects would have evolved prior to vertebrates, however, this could signify the destruction of the dinosaurs and the sudden explosion of mammals, amphibians (though they may have been in the water creation, and were certianly around first) and flowering plants. After/through all this man evolved.

diddidit | June 5, 2003 07:55 AM

From damon, way up top: "Denture wearing fowl don't give the theory of evolution any more credence than when I eat a banana. It requires more faith to believe that than it does to believe in a Sovereign Creator..."

It requires no faith to "believe" in evolution - it requires evidence, which exists in spades. Believing what the bible says, particularly a literal belief in that, requires lots of faith, particularly of the blind variety.

did

diddidit | June 5, 2003 07:58 AM

Almos' fergot:

Anyone care to comment on the news last week that a biologist somewhere wants to reclassify chimpanzees and bonobos into the genus Homo, which was previously occupied only by us hyooomans?

did

_Jon | June 5, 2003 08:49 AM

To all those who have used the word "faith":

" Faith is an assent of the mind to what is declared by another, supported on no evidence, or evidence so weak as to be unreliable. Faith in religion is not justified. The late T.H. Huxley said: "Skepticism is the highest of duties, and blind faith the one unpardonable sin." To reject the truths acquired by scientific research, proved by reason and experience to be true, is to be guilty of wilful ignorance. But there is no obligation on any one to believe anything on the mere word of another, without sufficient evidence forthcoming to support it; and to accept any statement, whether concerning religion or anything else, on blind faith is to be guilty of credulity. The confusion of the meaning of such words as knowledge, belief, and faith has led to very disastrous results; not only in social and domestic life, where serious injuries have been inflicted on individuals and their reputations, but in public life, where wholesale cruelty and persecution have taken place, and generally under the name of "religion." Dogmas concerning the unknowable have been forced upon people as truths, which were only pious beliefs. It is a universal law, and an Agnostic first principle, that we should accept no statement as true on the simple word of another, and without verification."

Taken from: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/m_d_aletheia/rationalists_manual.html#2.1.6

brian | June 5, 2003 10:02 AM

Pardon me for planning to go off on a rabbit trail ;)

John you are right about Prof. Sharp having a grip on the details. In fact probably more of a grip than you or I would ever wish to have. My opinion is that we should be careful of looking at his opinion of the data. I know he has more of an educated guess than us.

My main beef (commence trailing rabbit)with scientific opinion is our schools and their curriculums. No not because they teach evolution or any of that. There is so much "scientific opinion" pushed on the school kids that is later disproved, it is sickening. I must be honest I never got a scientific recall on any of the stuff I was taught as fact that was later disproved (or even worse had been disproved even before I was taught it). I would still think diamonds come from coal and have this pretty little picture of nebraska man and his tribe yada yada. There is plenty of science out there that is not opinion that could be taught to the children. But that is just my opinion. (never did find that rabbit just a pig tooth). Fortunately in my life my best friends father was our science teacher so I had the opportunity to drill his head at all hours to verify what he taught us.

Anyway great topic John and it is discussions like this that prevent our scientific community from messing up too bad.

Brian

John Scalzi | June 5, 2003 10:54 AM

Brian wrote:

"My opinion is that we should be careful of looking at his opinion of the data. I know he has more of an educated guess than us."

Professor Sharpe was not expressing opinion. He was describing the verifiable, physical results of his research. Calling his commentary an "educated guess" is inaccurate. What you are doing is trying to use rhetoric in shoehorn in doubt while still appearing to be reasonable.

Brian also writes:

"My main beef (commence trailing rabbit)with scientific opinion is our schools and their curriculums. No not because they teach evolution or any of that. There is so much 'scientific opinion' pushed on the school kids that is later disproved, it is sickening."

This is a straw man argument. As our understanding of the physical world around us grows, earlier scientific theory is often disproved or (generally more accurately) refined and reorganized; that's the nature of science. Waiting until we have all the facts in order to teach basic science to our kids would be exactly like waiting until "all the history" had happened to teach our children about the founding of the United States. We teach what information we have now and accept that the future holds the potential for revision.

Tripp | June 5, 2003 11:08 AM

Did,
Is there a requirement that animals in the same genus be able to inter-breed?

I don't want to be in the same genus as Chimpanzees. How about Lions? Can I be in the genus with them? I don't want to interbreed, I just think they are kewl.

Bethany | June 5, 2003 11:50 AM

Interbreed is a bit subjective. Lions, tigers, panthers, and leopards are all in the genus Panthera. They can be induced to produce cross offspring by artificial insemenation, but will not naturally. Horses and donkeys are another example that only produce offspring through artificial insemenation. I don't know if humans and chimps can do this, and I don't know if it has even been tried. I believe the requirement of interbreeding keeps them in the same species a bit better, and even that doesn't always work.

Scott Elyard | June 5, 2003 12:29 PM

"Is there a requirement that animals in the same genus be able to inter-breed?"


There is a definition of same-species which holds that as a requirement, but not for genera.

Categorizing genera is generally based on morphological similarities, rather than reproductive isolation. So, no, you wouldn't be reassigned to a new genera that includes felids.

Scott Elyard | June 5, 2003 12:32 PM

Brett: Dang. Phil Foglio used the phrase Militant Agnosticism in one of my favorite graphic novels, the regrettably obscure Buck Godot story The Gallimaufry. It's one of my favorites, and for some reason, that concept stuck with me.

TChem | June 5, 2003 01:23 PM

John/Brian,

re:"scientific opinion", The book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by Thomas Kuhn, which my research group (I'm a engineering grad student) is currently using in our book club, is a good extension of what John was saying.

Basically, the world is a wonderful but insanely complex place, and scientists, being human, come up with the best explanations for the world using the instruments and data available to them. It's true that this changes over time, but there's a big difference between teaching kids something that hasn't been the dominant paradigm for over 100 years because of vast evidence to the contrary, and teaching them our best current understanding of the world, and then showing them a variation on that in 20 years when a possibly more accurate explanation is generally accepted.

Brian, it seems like you're arguing that showing kids vast amounts of facts without giving them any overarching principles is the way to go, but that doesn't show people how to learn, only how to memorize. I'd rather understand science and get excited when a new paradigm emerges than not see the interconnections at all.

Brian | June 5, 2003 02:20 PM

John
I guess I just consider this statement an opinion that was a response to a question. And even a bit of oversimplification. But again my opinionated observation only.

Sharp
“Basically, this tells you that the bird still has the genetic information required to initiate tooth development, if there are cells capable of responding to it.”

evidently you do not. This is fine with me. Just thought it would be good to look at the actual data that he formed this statement from. So I did and it seemed to me that he did have a basis for that statement indeed. The light that it was shown under by the article you quote it from was a bit hazy. There is obviously a genetic transfer taking place in this experiment and it is not to be ignored.

TChem

I suppose in an oldschool type of way it could be administered as rote facts. But our country is blessed with thousands of very gifted teachers who, I believe have the ability to transform those facts into streams of thought. I agree scientific "reality" is always changing. But my "beef" stems from feeling robbed and lied to as I looked into some of the things I was presented in school, only to find that a significant percentage had been disproven. I did base my world view on a lot of stuff that simply was wrong.

Check out "The Day the Universe Changed" by James Burke. It is a great read. It has a very eye opening effect on "scientific fact -vs- scientific opinion".

Here is a tounge wetter from the inside front cover.

" Primitive man believed that the heavens were ruled by frightful demons and spirits, and that a giant dragon devoured the moon each night. Medieval man, convinced by the ancient Egyptian astronomers, thought that the moon, sun, and planets revolved around the earth. Today we believe that the universe is governed by fixed and discoverable physical laws. But what about the man of the future? How many of our "scientific" principles will he scoff at and denounce as crude superstitions?"

Well there I go again with my talent for composing reading lists..... but hey, he started it!

Brian

brian | June 5, 2003 02:27 PM

Silly me that wasn't a list that was just a suggestion.... so to be fair and make it a list

try
"The Shaping of Modern Thought" by Crane Brinton.

Quite a bit more "philosophical" than "scientific" but none the less taps the same vein.

G'day

B

diddidit | June 5, 2003 02:35 PM

Tripp:

"Is there a requirement that animals in the same genus be able to inter-breed?"

Speaking as a mechanical engineer in the office furniture industry, I believe I can say with great authority that I haven't got the slightest idea!

did

mark | June 5, 2003 10:47 PM

Brian: scientific opinion v scientific fact. How do you define "opinion", and how do you define "fact"? Would you consider that teaching Newtonian physics to children pre-Einstein & relativity is a Bad Idea?

Bethany: thanks for listing everything. The "sun, stars, moon" bit certainly takes a bit of ignorance to accept these days, doesn't it? It also implies that the Earth is the centre of the universe: how many people -- creationist or otherwise -- still believe *that*?

John Scalzi | June 6, 2003 01:04 AM

Mark wrote:

"It also implies that the Earth is the centre of the universe: how many people -- creationist or otherwise -- still believe *that*?"

Actually, recent polls show about 30% of Americans believe the sun revolves around the Earth. No joke. Whether this is an article of belief or merely an example of total ignorance about physics is not specified.

mark | June 6, 2003 01:58 AM

John... *shudder*

Excuse me, I'm off to curl up into a little ball. Maybe that way I won't be bombarded with particles of ignorance: they seem to be powerful little bastards :-)

brian | June 6, 2003 10:08 AM

mark
qustion 1
Fact is provable or disprovable (fact is not always correct) objective reality.


Opinion is idea that may or may not be provable.
subjective reality.
but hey that is my opinion too.

question 2
no

mark | June 6, 2003 10:50 AM

Brian, fair enough, I wasn't clear. What about grey areas? Looking at objective data and drawing subjective conclusions?

Should we teach that stars are a long way away, or that they appear *very small* and all data seems to suggest that they're a long way away? What about subjects that are less clear-cut (like evolution, but I'm sure there's others)?

brian | June 6, 2003 11:46 AM

I see your point Mark and it is a good one in reference to what we should teach. Also I was a bit unclear about my "beef", I was refering to high school. College is a different arena and should obviously be handled entirely different.

In high school we are dealing with people (students) who are forming a world view(not that this doesn't apply to college kids). This world view will stick with them for most of thier lives. How many of us still have some of the same ideals we began to form in high school. Granted they have been tweeked by experience and pain and joy and on and on.

Simply put I just think that some of the "text" out there is very poor. Some is grossly outdated the day it goes to print. But as has been stated by myself and others, science is always changing.

So am I asking the impossible? No, I don't really think so. I think that,as I already stated, there is enough good science out there to keep our high school kids pretty much on track. The "scientific opinion" portions or "grey areas" sometimes were presented in our text as "solid-don't-question-it-laws". That I suppose is the part that gets me the most. I think that theories and "grey area" material is fine even in high school. But I think that to the scientifically inclined student, who is logging all he soaks up, into his little self, it could be damaging to insert something as law that is just not verifiable.

I mean just the other day (please lets not get into the whole creation young earth thing) I was reading about american indians. There is some recorded stories of an elephant type creature with long hair and tusks, that was hunted by the indians. Now what do we do with stuff like that??? Do we throw it out? Do we automatically say oh well then, mammoth must have been in america and contemporary to the indians? There is back up to this story even in cave drawings in indian shelters.... do we say oh it must be true?

No I don't think so. Should we tell them these stories are out there and warrant some looking into? Yes I think so. Will high school students care? Probably not most of them. But to the ones who do it will be very important for it to be presented that way! Now the disclaimer.... I have not seen a highschool science text at length for several years so all this may have been addressed and if so. Chalk me up as an idiot!

Brian

Tripp | June 6, 2003 02:58 PM

Did:
"Speaking as a mechanical engineer in the office furniture industry, I believe I can say with great authority that I haven't got the slightest idea!
"

Fair enough. Is there a requirement that office furniture (especially computer desks) be extremely difficult to assemble? :)

Rich | June 6, 2003 03:01 PM

Brian,
The trouble with your argument is their are no scientific facts, as such. All of science is what you call opinion. When we, as scientists or people with a science informed world view, claim something as "fact", we are merely observing that it fits the data rather well. Not that it is objective truth and definitely not that it shouldn't be questioned. All the theories of science, you must understand haven't ever been proven, in the sense of objective reality. The best we can do is state that it's incredibly likely that a given theory is truth. If you learned science as a set of facts then you learned it wrong. Science is a process. Specifically, a process of inductive reasoning which when properly followed leads to a high likelihood of finding theories which resemble the truth. Hopefully, we get close but we really can't ever know for sure.
I don't know what schools you attended but every science class I have ever taken (except upper-level college coursework) has started with a review of the scientific method. That is the meat of science. All of the facts are derived from the method and, as such, are subject to revision. This is what makes science a stronger method of truth detection then mysticism. If some theory is shown to be wrong then we revise it or abandon it.

diddidit | June 6, 2003 03:41 PM

Tripp:

Yes, if you buy them at wretched places like Office Cheapo. Buy 'em from (WARNING - SHAMELESS PLUG IMMINENT) your local Herman Miller dealer (WHEW) and you'll be much happier, and have a better sex life, and your children will do well in school.

That goes for you, too, Scalzi - You've posted pics of your office...

did

John Scalzi | June 6, 2003 03:59 PM

Considering that I'm 11 miles from a McDonald's, how close to you think the nearest Herman Miller dealer is going to be from me?

shy | June 6, 2003 06:24 PM

Brian said:

>Point #3 [only one of several faux pas, btw]
>There were NO i repeat NO chick Pitx2 genes found on day 14.
>Quote
>"Chick Pitx2 was not expressed in the epithelial cells contacting the mineralized matrix, which is reminiscent of Pitx2 down-regulation in ameloblasts observed in mouse teeth. "

>the "minerilized [sic] matrix" refered to is the beginning of the tooth,

Indeed.

>and the chick gene is missing!!!!!!

No. The quote said that the "Pitx2 [gene] was not expressed", not that the Pitx2 gene didn't exist/had gone AWOL. The gene's still present, but it's not being used here because the tooth-producing mouse cells are sending a message to nearby cells telling them to [not] do something, and the chicken cells are recognising and responding to this message.

Embryo development is governed by scads of messages being sent back and forth between the developing cells: "Do X around here", "Don't do Y around here", etc. Some messages activate certain behaviours, others repress. Genes are switched on; genes are switched off. And that's what's happening here, only what's interesting is the cells it's happening between.

--

John said:

>Very well. Straight from the source, then:

>“The tissue transplant produces cells that contribute to tooth formation,” Professor Sharpe said. “Basically, this tells you that the bird still has the genetic information required to initiate tooth development, if there are cells capable of responding to it.”

>Seems the guy who actually DID the experiment is saying it was the bird, not the mouse, from which the genetic information to create teeth comes from. If it's all the same to you, I'll go with his interpretation of the data.

Also not quite right. From the less hazy Abstract:

"Current thinking holds that it is the avian cranial neural crest-derived mesenchyme that has lost odontogenic capacity, whereas the oral epithelium retains the signaling properties required to induce odontogenesis. "

Rough translation: Bird cells have lost the code that describes how to construct an actual tooth. However, they do still have the code that sends out the instruction "Make a tooth here".

Mouse cells still know how to make teeth, and when the mouse cells receive a "Make a tooth here" message, that's what they do. Even when uprooted and stuck in a nascent chicken head, which is neat.

--

Analogy: the phone's been removed, but the phone line's still there and the exchange still works. Plug in a phone pinched from somewhere else and - Brring-Brring - you're back in business again.

Dane | June 6, 2003 10:50 PM

I would like to reply to Bethany who wrote,"Finishing up a college bio class, so I think I can give you the comparison you asked for.

Day 1: Light and Dark--well, the universe came first, and that probably created a good bit of light in the explosion

Day 2: Sky seperates from earth--the earth was created next in the evolution of life.

Day 3: Seperate seas so that land appears, and let land produce vegetation--Life is believed to have originated in the ocean, before an oxygen atmosphere even existed, and the plants and their algael ancestors to plants helped create this oxygen atmosphere we have.

Day 4: Sun, Stars, Moon--well, this is just doesn't fit with evolution.

Day 5: birds and fish--animal life would have originated in the sea as well, and most invertebrates have always lived there, also, fish were some of the first vertebrates. In getting to the dinosaurs=birds, they were "created" first. Actually, mammals would have appeared prior to dinosaurs, but they would have been small and stayed pretty hidden (think mice).

Day 6:Insects, livestock, man--insects would have evolved prior to vertebrates, however, this could signify the destruction of the dinosaurs and the sudden explosion of mammals, amphibians (though they may have been in the water creation, and were certianly around first) and flowering plants. After/through all this man evolved.

Thank you- That was a lot of work on your part and I appreciate the effort. I must say it is impressive to see the two side by side and see how accurate science has become. Maybe in another thousand years they will have discovered for themselves how the world was created and life came to be. It is really wonderful that they have gotten so far with very little intervention from a Higher-power.
I'll give all those scientists out in science-land more time to get it completely right before I dismiss them as complete morons. With humans- it just takes patience.

Anonymous | June 7, 2003 12:09 AM

Rich, I agree wholeheartedly that much of science is not verifiable with empirical evidence. Which is most likely the reason I put the "(fact is not always correct)" statement in my definition. I also used the word "reality" as apposed to "truth".

My reality may be different than yours, but truth is truth. Truth has no boundries it is always there. Much the same as a law. Gravity to me is truth it is a fact. Unless the universe is ripped apart at the seams I don't think Gravity will be disproven. But it seems you are telling me it could. If the universe were to be ripped apart at the seams gravity may be the last thing on our minds.

Once again my opinion.

Shy, Is absolutely correct about my statement pertaining to the Pitx2 on day 14. Upon rereading the paper I noticed what I had missed. Thank you Shy for actually reading the paper! It is refreshing. Please explain if you will why the Pitx2 was "not expressed" and what is meant by "not expressed".

B

diddidit | June 7, 2003 01:16 AM

John -

ach, feh, 2 year ago we had a whole productline created especially for web sales called Red. You could have bought a whole office right there, and a big, red Herman Miller truck would have appeared in your driveway in only a couple days. But, alas, today we have empty factories, 40% lower sales, and 40% fewer people, and Red was one of the first casualties. You'll have to drive your mighty Escort to Cleveland or some other biggish city. Or you can come up to MI and go to the Company Store. I'll let you use my discount on some used stuff...

did

shy | June 7, 2003 10:35 AM

Brian:

>Thank you Shy for actually reading the paper!

I didn't. I read the abstract and the quotes here, then sat down and figured out what they meant. (Which took a little while as I don't remember enough embryology to fill a teaspoon and had to look up all the big words on google and dictionary.com.)


>Please explain if you will why the Pitx2 was "not expressed" and what is meant by "not expressed".

"expressed" == "used"

I don't why cells building teeth should want to repress Pitx2 use in adjoining cells because I'm not a biologist. (Something to do with making those cells produce tooth enamel perhaps? Embryo development is very much an interactive group effort after all.) But I don't think it's really that important here. Your boffin chap was simply reporting that a certain behaviour seen in normal tooth development was also observed here.

At any rate, I only raised the "Pitx2 expression" thing as it was the most obvious mistake I happened to spot. The major item of interest is that the mouse cells were forming teeth in the first place, an event triggered by the chicken cells. (Except for Times readers, who are presumably more interested in hearing that their slaphead days will soon be over.)

John Scalzi | June 7, 2003 12:55 PM

Shy said:

"Rough translation: Bird cells have lost the code that describes how to construct an actual tooth. However, they do still have the code that sends out the instruction 'Make a tooth here'.

Mouse cells still know how to make teeth, and when the mouse cells receive a 'Make a tooth here' message, that's what they do. Even when uprooted and stuck in a nascent chicken head, which is neat."

Yup -- that's what I said (or meant to say but was unclear, obviously).

mark | June 7, 2003 12:58 PM

"... 11 miles from a McDonald's"

Sounds like paradise...

shy | June 7, 2003 04:56 PM

John said:

>>"Rough translation: ... "

>Yup -- that's what I said (or meant to say but was unclear, obviously).

Yeah. I think if you'd said something like "it was the bird ... from which the SIGNAL to create teeth comes from" you'd have been alright. But the words "genetic information" seemed to suggest the code that describes *how* to make a tooth also came from the bird, which isn't the case. The only [significant?] tooth-related DNA left in bird cells is the bit used to manufacture the simple signal protein that's sent out by the nascent mouth's surface cells to say "please make a tooth here".

Aaaanyway...

Yeah, it is pretty funky to think this mechanism is still operating in bird cells 80,000,000 years after they stopped listening to it. Probably won't bother the Intelligent Design folk too much (they'd probably say it shows all birds must started from a toothy, feature-rich "super-bird" prototype that went on to lose redundant features such as teeth due to lossy mutation and natural selection). But maybe it'll give the "God's perfect creation" sorts one more amusing problem to deal with.

Dane | June 7, 2003 05:20 PM

I can't say that I am suprised by these findings. Having raised chickens from Hen and Rooster- I've seen the "egg-tooth" that all chickens (and birds in general) are hatched with to crack their egg open from the inside.
I have no doubt that the research will eventually be overturned when someone notices that they are just regrowing a tooth in the spot that it fell out of after it is no longer needed to crack out of an egg. Most reptiles and amphibians have a similar structure. I'm not a chemist- so I don't claim to know that it is made of the same material that mammilian teeth are constructed of- but I have held enough of them in the palm of my hand after they fell off and messed with them to tell that it look/feels and seems very similar.

I am not saying the research is bad- only that they proved something I have known since I was a little boy feeding hens in the yard. Chickens at one point had teeth- whether or not it was 80,000,000 years ago or just as a hatchling is really more of one of those chicken or the egg questions.

shy (outta here...) | June 8, 2003 10:24 AM

Dane wrote:

> I have no doubt that the research will eventually be overturned when someone notices that they are just regrowing a tooth in the spot that it fell out of after it is no longer needed to crack out of an egg.

I would think a bunch of boffins who spend their days watching chicken and mouse embryos develop know the difference between an egg tooth and a beakful of mouse teeth. OTOH, your condescending comments and off-target folksy tales fail to suggest even a basic understanding of the work you're trying to attack. Just an observation.

Dane | June 8, 2003 07:46 PM

I think that you give French science too much credit. Just an observation.

As for my off target comments- I will shoot at whatever targets I see fit. I don't have to understand how cool it is that you can grow teeth in a chicken's beak. I easily understand the pointlessness of trying to. There are already a few thousand treatments for human teeth that works just fine without dinking around with God's creation and no one needs to be "cured" of baldness. Baldness isn't a disease.

You want to crack open a few fetus's and try to restore life in dead nerve cells and call it progress. Frankenstein science is wrong and has no place in a civilized world.
If the only weapon I use is condescension, people who think screwing around with humans and animals is just "good science" should just count themselves lucky.