Failure of Honesty and Openness from Hawks and Zimmer Over Viral Rates and Split Dates

The viral inserts into our DNA and that of our close primate relatives have been counted. Magiorkinis et al, “The decline of human endogenous retroviruses: extinction and survival.” Retrovirology 2015, show graphs that seem to show the rates of these viral insertions varying. Some randomness is to be expected of course, but Hawks and Zimmer, who commented on this paper, seem puzzled at how the rates of insertion seem to be inexplicably low for humans and chimps. As the image below shows, the branches of the original tree, shown in black, seem to be oddly thin for us and chimps:

Primate tree from Magiorkinis et al, Retrovirology 2015 via http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/02/01/our-inner-viruses-forty-million-years-in-the-making/ where the breadth of the black bars shows the number of insertions of viral DNA into primates.  The red adjustement shows how the sensible date for the chimp-human split agrees with the average rate of insertions.  This date of 4.15mys was not even mentioned by Hawks or Zimmer.

Primate tree from Magiorkinis et al, Retrovirology 2015 via http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2015/02/01/our-inner-viruses-forty-million-years-in-the-making/ where the breadth of the black bars shows the number of insertions of viral DNA into primates. The red adjustement shows how the sensible date for the chimp-human split agrees with the average rate of insertions. This date of 4.15mys was not even mentioned by Hawks or Zimmer.


But that assumes a chimp-human split date of 7.5 million years. As I have said over and over again, 4.15mys is much more likely. And lo and behold – when you squeeze the time in sideways, and stretch the infection rate out up and down as shown in red, the rates now resemble the average elsewhere in the tree much more closely. And of course, the Chumanillas – the ancestors of chimps, humans and gorillas after the orangs split off, would be lengthened out to the right a bit, and narrowed, which would also normalise it.

This paper is in fact not just evidence for a 4.15 split date, but one of the best pieces of evidence for it we have yet!

And since science is about finding the best theories to explain the observations, you would expect John Hawks and Carl Zimmer to MENTION that the 4.15mya theory explains this the best… wouldn’t you?

Well I wouldn’t because I have no faith in the honesty of either of them, and every expectation of unfair favouring of, in the case of Hawks, his own theory, and in the case of Zimmer, the views of those he considers to be the “important people” (and needless to say, this example shows he continues to misidentify these IPs).

Neither mentions the possibility that anyone else might have a different split date in mind, and end by scratching their heads over what on earth could have caused the low rate in apes. Interestingly, Hawks nailed his colours not to a 7.5 million year split a couple of years ago, but actually to 10 MILLION YEARS, on the strength of a single experiment which he took to outweigh ALL other evidence. He should therefore have mentioned this in his report of this paper, which would make the tree shown here look very odd indeed, not to mention making the infection rates even more inexplicable.

And combining this with another recent posting of his sends his hypocrisy into the stratosphere:

from Science is not broken:

“Honesty and openness both make the scientific process work more smoothly, enabling more independent people to examine and understand results and their importance.”

Yes; if indeed he HAD been honest and open about ALL the competing theories, more independent people would have a much better chance of making a sensible interpretation.

“This helps to direct resources and interest to questions and methods that lead to new discoveries and knowledge.”

And by accidentally-on-purpose standing on the hosepipe of science comminication to warp the landscape in favour of his own theories (i.e. airbrushing all competing theories) he is blocking knowledge.

“Still, science is hard to break. Its method is resilient because it doesn’t depend on trust, it depends on replication.”

Especially in historical science, science is very vulnerable indeed. Wherever I’ve looked, it’s been wrecked by this kind of dishonesty. Science depends on those who grab communication bandwidth, to spread ALL messages honestly. It’s a good job Hawks isn’t in charge of the internet. It looks like we’ll have to break Hawks if we want to protect science’s integrity.

And replication is much more important in inductive sciences, and much less in historical sciences – like the one Hawks is in. It’s not about simply doing an experiment, and then if others can repeat the results everything is fine, it’s about spreading the net wide to consider all theories, even those you yourself haven’t bothered to understand, and then making a real effort to see which explain the observations best:

Sciencepolice rule Ж-14:

14) Historical disciplines (e.g. palaeontology and archaeology) often test by future discovery, not experiment. In such disciplines, evidence and demonstration may be probabilistic or qualitative, and rely on complex variously valid world models left in individual minds by diverse experiences. Typically, historical sciences theorise past events given present evidence (abduction). Inductive sciences invent laws, or describe/model structures or processes; ‘applied sciences’ deduce futures or achieve goals. Despite differences, many principles apply to all sciences, though the importance of repeatability for inductive sciences does not make it a basic principle of historical disciplines.

Don’t trust Hawks or Zimmer on the chimp-human split date, which was close to 4.15 million years, nor, especially in the case of Zimmer, on a lot of other scientific issues either.

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