The Eponymous Bone Is Not Connected to the Clue Bone

by John Holbo on July 16, 2008

PZ Myers has a hilarious post about an I.D’er who failed to understand a particular scientific paper because, apparently, he thought ‘eponymous’ was the name of a particular class of bones.



bad Jim 07.16.08 at 8:01 am

Oy. Much worse was this one, in which Conservapedia’s leading light, Andy Schlafly, incensed by reports of a paper reporting results from an experiment in bacterial evolution which ran for twenty years, demanded the researchers’ original data, without actually going to the trouble of reading the publication itself.

Professor Lenski’s reply is a treat to read. Do click the link; it’s snark as an art form.

To people like this, evidence of evolution must certainly be false, because Darwinism is a threat to the moral fiber of the American republic. Seriously. They continually probe for a chink in the wall, convinced that a single flaw could collapse the entire edifice. Authoritarians really don’t get science.


Bruce Baugh 07.16.08 at 8:31 am

That last sentence is really true, Bad Jim. These are folks accustomed to asking if something is useful; the idea of believing something to be true simply because the evidence points in that direction is, for them, a weirdly self-negligent sort of folly. And, for them, believing something is true because the evidence points to it when it would be in some way useful for the truth to be otherwise, that’s just naive self-destructiveness. At least, that’s the most sense I can make out of some of these objections; they all boil down to the idea that there can be no inconvenient facts to attend to, only claims to trample or use as may be.


stuart 07.16.08 at 10:25 am

So for example there is the inconvenient fact that everyone dies, and all evidence points to the idea that they will also die in turn. And that of course leads to the wildest most unsupported claims of all.


Mary Lupin 07.16.08 at 11:48 am

I was talking to my daughter-in-law about this yesterday at lunch. I find it hard to imagine dealing with such humiliation. Imagine spouting off like a badly directed bidet then finding out you were being watched by people not at all concerned with your respectability. For me at least it would make me travel with at the #1 spot on my favorites list. I might even cover myself in shame for a while. Seriously though, I do wonder how such a person (who is supposed to educated) handles such a blunder. My daughter-in-law thinks either he won’t notice or rather, will refuse to accept that he has made a mistake and simply accuse the people who are howling with laughter of missing the point.


Slocum 07.16.08 at 12:34 pm

To people like this, evidence of evolution must certainly be false, because Darwinism is a threat to the moral fiber of the American republic.

More because it contradicts the beliefs they hold to be divine truth.

I don’t think I.D. ‘experts’ are trying to convince us — or anyone, really. Instead, they’re writing for the audience of true believers who aren’t going to be looking at the arguments with anything like a critical eye but rather who will feel reassured that there are ‘scientists’ who’ve produced ‘scientific works’ that support their religious beliefs.

Arguing with actual scientists just helps further the illusion that I.D. ‘experts’ are engaged in science and that there’s an actual debate on the issues. It doesn’t even really hurt that I.D.ers are treated with (justified) contempt–because that’s part of the ‘oppressed minority with the truth’ narrative (something that, after all, been part of the Christian narrative since day 1).

They’re not playing the same game with the same rules or method of keeping score.


Rarus.vir 07.16.08 at 1:04 pm

It’s more than the mere fact that they don’t understand science, it’s that they don’t trust science. If scientists were an advertizing company, they’d be failing to do their job, but fortunately for us, they aren’t into advertizing.
Now if science could somehow raise the bar on reward and punishment, (on an eternal scale), we’d garner their support. Problem is, what could scare a theist more than etenal fire?


"Q" the Enchanter 07.16.08 at 3:30 pm

What an eponymous head.


Zeno 07.16.08 at 4:48 pm

In honor of Casey Luskin’s stupidity, I think a “luskin” should hereafter refer to an utterly inane mistake. We used to call this sort of thing a “boner”, but “boner” has sexual overtones that make it an inappropriate word in polite company. However, no one would take offense at the sentence, “Oh, yes, it was a complete luskin.”

And that’s how Luskin became an eponym.


lemmy caution 07.16.08 at 5:01 pm

The ID guy is an idiot, but I don’t think the author of the paper used “eponymous” right.

“The intermedium and ulnare of Tiktaalik have homologues to eponymous wrist bones of tetrapods with which they share similar positions and articular relations.”

This implies that the bones of the tetrapods are named after the bones of Tiktaalik. Since things like cows and dogs were discovered before Tiktaaliks, I don’t think that is right.


lemmy caution 07.16.08 at 5:17 pm

I could be wrong about the direction of the naming. Maybe “eponymous wrist bones of tetrapods” means that the bones of the Tiktaalik are named after the bones of the tetapod.


roger 07.16.08 at 7:07 pm

Lemmy, I think you are right, that is a pretty confusing sentence. The sentence is: “The intermedium and ulnare of Tiktaalik have homologues to eponymous wrist bones of tetrapods with which they share similar positions and articular relations.”

I think he means – “have homologues to the intermedium and ulnare wrist bones of tetrapods.” Eponymous is a bad word choice – repetition would be preferable.

Of course, Casey Luskin, the creationist, writes in his own unique prose.

“When discussing Tiktaalik’s “wrist,” Shubin says he “invites direct comparisons” between Tiktaalik’s fin and a true tetrapod limb. Surely this paper must have a diagram comparing the “wrist”-bones of Tiktaalik to a true tetrapod wrist, showing which bones correspond. So again I searched the paper. And again he provides no such diagram comparing the two.”

Actually, no matter how many times Luskin searched the paper, the non-provision of the diagram only happened once. If it happened more than once while Luskin was reading the paper, than it is a miracle! And as a miracle, it proves Darwinism is blessed by God.


Steve 07.16.08 at 7:20 pm


Now I’m not certain, but I think it was used correctly due to Tiktaalik’s place in evolutionary history as the ancestor to both cows and dogs.


roy belmont 07.16.08 at 8:36 pm

Can somebody somewhere sometime at least once talk about the glaringly obvious fact that while the science/religion polarity is distinguished by a binary for/against evolution’s factuality, both sides seem to be united in their repudiation of evolution as a non-anthropocentric process?
The science guys may be united in their conviction that evolution is how we got everything we have, but there is nowhere except out at the lunatic margins a championing of that process as an ongoing beneficial good.
The culturally revered heroes of science are in the great majority those who have thwarted the principal instruments of evolution. The creation of prosthetic immune systems being just one example.
Sex and death being the principal instruments, the inheritance of patriarchal cultural sex taboos, enforced by industrial/capitalism, means we’re carrying on in the same manner the work of the anti-evolution ecclesiasts. Molding the genome by human hands. Both sides want that.
We no longer get shaped by evolution from the outside. Death now for people under 30 in the US is not an evolutionary phenomenon, it’s a random cull through traffic fatalities, and right behind that come the remnant diseases which are attacked with outraged fervor, by science.
Both sides of the polarity have a great deal in common when it comes to contemporary human evolution. They think it should be under human control. The fundoids just defer that human control to their anthropocentric deity. Science takes the reins solo.
Nobody wants evolution to do its thing ungoverned. For both sides it’s all about getting nature out of the scheme.


Cliffy 07.16.08 at 8:49 pm

Well duh, roy. Nature’s got that whole red in tooth and claw thing going. Of course we want to escape that to the extent possible. Evolution isn’t a good thing anymore than gravity is a good thing. They’re just processes which occur. To the extent that humans through the application of reason can bend the rules for their own benefit, of course we’d want to do that.


Righteous Bubba 07.16.08 at 8:52 pm

Roy Belmont: first against the wall when the evolution comes.


bianca steele 07.16.08 at 10:39 pm

It’s so stupid I guess he must be writing satire? (Or, maybe the creationists are too dumb or incompetent to write their own stuff and need well-meaning smart pro-evolution people to take pity on them; that would explain it, too.)

But notice he could have answered his own question by opening a reference book. He isn’t just criticizing Shubin’s science: he’s saying Shubin is dumb. He’s saying evolution isn’t so great because evolutionary biologists are so dumb they can’t properly explain the science they profess. (He even comes close to implying that Shubin fails to understand himself.)

They’re not playing the same game by the same rules. Worse, they are like the kid who ends up stopping play until everyone else concedes “okay that wasn’t a strike it was only a foul.”

Be sure to click through to the Discover Magazine article.


ogmb 07.17.08 at 12:32 am

I guess ‘eponymous’ wasn’t on the LSAT

Actually, LSAT and GMAT don’t test vocabulary. Only the GRE does (or did, I’m not really up to date). Never understood why, other than the argument by an admissions officer at a top science program that they mostly look for verbal scores in their candidates because they take quant skills as given.


Neil 07.17.08 at 1:58 am

Roy, there is a huge literature on the interaction of culture and evolution. Start with Boyd and Richerson, go on to Dan Sperber, and read the references therein. This is mainstream stuff, not marginal. We have been in the business of directing evolution as long as we have been humans


vivian 07.17.08 at 2:38 am

Roy, if you think that fundies aren’t anthropocentric, you aren’t thinking about the fundies. Their deity might be more powerful than humans, but that’s only to establish that everything is subordinate to people, or at least a wealthy white male subset of people.


Dan S. 07.17.08 at 4:04 am

But Roy, you’re falling into the same kind of trap as the folks who see natural and artificial selection as being fundamentally different things. In this case, you’re putting human nature and human culture somehow outside of nature. Where d’you think our big brains – the ones providing the cognitive, social, and cultural framework that makes science, science heroes, and prosthetic immune systems possible – come from? And the resulting modern life creates its own selective pressures.


fargo north, decoder 07.17.08 at 4:33 am

Ah! Twenty posts in, may I make an editorial suggestion?

“P. Z. Myers has a humerus post….”


Roy Belmont 07.17.08 at 6:53 am

20 dan s-
Lack of appropriate terminology makes everything “natural” because there’s no outside of nature for us earthlings. Thus, once the resistance to overly-processed and highly synthetic food-like products became economically significant, everything got packaged with that bright exclamatory NATURAL!
Because it’s semantically void.
But what was intended by its original users was recovery of the diminishing wholesomeness of food. “Natural” meaning there close to the ground, to the source. All these terms can be jot-and-tittled into meaninglessness, but there’s a truth there that won’t go away no matter how much its rationalized at.
What we had when we had it was a fierce opposition to the predatory sweep and flux of mortal living, responding to the dangerous with cleverness and defiance. We’re still fielding that. But it began under those culling forces, not above them. Getting above them, taking control of everything that once threatened us, until very recently was so dogmatically in place it went unquestioned. Bears at the zoo. The drained and paved swamp.
The weather has gone some way to mitigate that arrogance, I think.
Harmony, balance. These are the key terms, and they won’t fit into any binary.
I’m not the one putting human nature and culture outside of nature, somebody else is, by placing them above nature.
The same processes that keep us intact and whole, like anything, medicine, food whatever, carried to an extreme become toxic.
We had to develop tools and strategies, biological and cultural, just to survive. But there’s something Oedipal in our success.
Employing that same attitude and posture now is only aiding the survival of a dwindling minority of humans. Vivian’s “wealthy white males”.
It seems like both the fundamentalists and the progress-at-any-price team are competing to be the elect in the dynamic of survival. And competing to have their opponents become the preterite. This is by way of a modified condemnation of what you’re calling “modern life”.
Modern life isn’t really working all that well at the moment, and it’s showing clear sign of not working at all quite soon unless enormous recalibrations are undertaken tout de suite.

19 vivian – What I meant by “defer that human control to their anthropocentric deity”. We’re in agreement.
I’d expand that a little and modify “wealthy white male subset” to a particular type of male, not always necessarily white, who become wealthy because of the existing culture’s bias toward them.
The patriarchy or whatever it is has controlled the evolution of the species for a long time, and directed it in a way that furthers their dominance. A “natural” thing, all perfectly legit Darwin-wise, but the heart of humanity has been consistently been kicked further and further to the outer edge. America is a microcosm of this now.
It’s probable that one source for the ferocity of anti-evolutionism is a psychological refusal to see how shaped and molded those people especially are and have been, by earthly cultural institutions. Cattle, once aurochs, if they had the intelligence, would have a similar reluctance to see what had happened to them.

18 neil-
Thanks for the reading tips.
But “We have been in the business of directing evolution as long as we have been humans” is only true if you mean influencing, not controlling. And only if you define being human far more narrowly than I do. The Kalahari bushmen are human, marginalized to the point of near-extinction, yet still capable of living the way they have for tens of thousands of years. Without disrupting the weather.
Harmony and balance.
One of the frankenstein food tropes rests on Mayan plant breeding, genetic modification of corn from wild grass. “They did it, you think that’s okay, so what are you whining about?”
Binary logic at its most virulent.
It’s only very recently that we’ve taken a majority directing hold on our own evolution, eliminating the traditional culling forces that required us to get quick and smart in the first place. Now the darwinian pressures are economic mainly, taking place in an abstract landscape where traditional survival skills are not just useless but threatening.
If I’m right you’d expect a kind of evolutionary eddy effect, where more people would be getting slower and stupider and a minority would be prospering, once those forces had been neutralized. I leave it to your experience of contemporary humanity to judge the accuracy of that prediction.
Of course we’re still evolving, sexual reproduction guarantees it, but there’s no one here who can see the totality of forces at work on what we are, and some of the more insidious aspects of that are what I’m on about.
“We” aren’t in control of the culture and physical environment that are mostly what’s shaping humanity now, only some of us are.


abb1 07.17.08 at 8:42 am

What about, say, rabbits in Australia – are they evolving and are they a part of evolutionary process in general? Of course they are, it’s a process of trial and error; anything and everything is a part of evolution. Do the rabbits in Australia ‘direct’ evolution? Of course not.

I don’t see how humans are any different.


Jon H 07.17.08 at 10:11 am

“What about, say, rabbits in Australia – are they evolving and are they a part of evolutionary process in general? ”

I expect they’re developing a very powerful venom.


Roy Belmont 07.17.08 at 5:20 pm

Someone whose immune system can’t tolerate the common allergens of modern living has to go to great lengths to live safely.
But it’s possible.
Someone whose psyche can’t survive the pressures and presences of the soon-to-be 7billion in earlier times could light out for the territory, become a mountain-person, etc. But they had to be in a position to be able to do that. Not everyone who needed to could, just as not everyone today who needs an allergen-free environment gets one.
There’s a culling process in both cases. With a an increasingly massive tilt away from the wilder-philic.
Scorn and disgust at the idea of “primitive” living comes out of the evolutionary shift that’s taking place.
The Kalahari bushmen are nothing but inconsequential dead wood, their loss or presence either way of no importance at all.
There’s a direction, there’s a coercive aspect, there’s parameters, probably involving more than simple randomness.
The binary presentation, benevolent anthropocentric deity v. pure molecular flux with no rhyme or reason behind it, like most moral binaries obscures the possibility, and likelihood, of other unstated terms.


Neil 07.17.08 at 11:35 pm

As Kieran said in a different context, let’s all discuss this as though nothing has ever been said about it before. I don’t have the patience.

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