An epic end to the Zimmer/Klinghoffer chromosome fusion saga

As my patience for the Discovery Institute is at an all-time low, it’s heartening to see someone completely eviscerate their arguments. I mean, it happens all the time, but it’s particularly satisfying right now.

Carl Zimmer, well-known science writer, has been battling with DI fellow David Klinghoffer over the past few days over the evidence for a chromosome fusion event sometime in the evolutionary history of Homo sapiens that resulted in our chromosome 2, internal telomeres, double centromeric sequences and all. I say battling, but it’s been more of an interrogation, with the interrogated party attaching “persuasion devices” to their own private parts themselves. Klinghoffer has been refusing to tell Zimmer the source of his claim that:

…telomeric DNA parked in the middle of chromosome 2 is not a unique phenomenon. Other mammals have it too, across their own genomes. Even if it were unique, there’s much less of it than you would expect from the amalgamation of two telomeres. Finally, it appears in a “degenerate,” “highly diverged” form that should not be the case if the joining happened in the recent past, circa 6 million years ago, as the Darwinian interpretation holds.

To cut a long-ish story short, he eventually revealed his hand, and it turns out he was, of course, quoting – not any number of papers on the topic (which is quite well-represented in the literature) – but Science and Human Origins, the in-house Discovery Institute book about primate evolution written by two non-evolutionary biologists and one non-scientist, which is apparently terrible.

Carl Zimmer has wasted no time tearing the argument in the book apart. It’s glorious. I highly recommend reading it all, but here’s the rhetorical meat:

After five days of stonewalling and name-calling, Klinghoffer points us to a passage from a book published by his employer, the Discovery Institute, written by someone else at the Discovery Institute. The passage he points us to cherry-picks another book and a 2002 paper. Reading the original sources quickly reveals that Luskin’s interpretation of those quotes is wrong. Luskin also nods to another Discovery Institute fellow, who makes a comment that is clearly contradicted by peer-reviewed research. Luskin has nothing to say about any of the research that has come out in the past ten years. Klinghoffer has nothing to say, either.

For Klinghoffer to say that you have to read the entire book to appreciate the weight of the evidence about human chromosome two is absurd. Klinghoffer himself made a specific claim, and the evidence he offers actually shows that he’s wrong. Unless the rest of the book provides better evidence concerning human chromosome two, it’s irrelevant to my question.

And if the rest of the book is as wrong as this passage, then I hardly see why it’s worth reading.

And that is why I ask for evidence.

It’s rather sunny and wonderful outside today, isn’t it? Or maybe that’s just me.

One thought on “An epic end to the Zimmer/Klinghoffer chromosome fusion saga”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *