Mailvox: speaking of skepticism

Jamila sends us a timely reminder that questioning the blind dogma of scientific consensus can actually be a sound basis for proper science:

Findings reported by two University of Illinois at Chicago biologists have reaffirmed a recently disparaged “law” that says a species trait, once lost to the sands of time through evolution, can never be regained. Nineteenth-century Belgian paleontologist Louis Dollo argued that once natural selection for a complex functional trait is relaxed — such as when a species moves into dark caves and loses its need for sight — mutations that degrade the genes needed for the trait accumulate, and the sequence of mutations is unlikely to be exactly reversed.

But over the past two decades many biologists have challenged Dollo’s Law, often by using statistical tools to reconstruct trait evolution and ancestry by looking only at existing species and their present-day traits. Boris Igic, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Emma Goldberg, a post-doctoral student in Igic’s UIC laboratory and now at both UIC and the University of Maryland, became suspicious of those methods — which they also had used in evolutionary studies of plant fertilization. They found the methods flawed, prompting them to examine the challenges to Dollo’s Law.

“We used computer simulations to demonstrate that this methodology consistently gives incorrect results when the loss of a trait truly is irreversible,” said Igic. Fifteen years of studies have relied on these procedures to show that Dollo’s Law is frequently violated, Igic said. “But they used what we found was faulty methodology.”

Biologists using faulty methodology… this is hardly a surprise. Not only are many biologists borderline innumerate – as French mathematician Marcel-Paul Schützenberger demonstrated was true of Richard Dawkins – but they tend to be devoid of even the most basic education in the broader liberal arts. And, of course, it is the faulty methodology inherent in the backtesting approach that underlies most, if not all, evolutionary “predictions” that is the one of the foundations of my skepticism about the multitudinous iterations of the Darwinian model.

From the linked article: “Assessing the validity of Dollo’s Law shows the difficulty in reconstructing evolutionary histories using limited available data….”

You don’t say.