Friday, January 2, 2009

Jonathan Wells: Dishonest and Unashamed

I just read this post over at the Talk.Origins Google Group. Apparently Jonathan Wells has misquoted a scientist, and now that scientist is responding.

"We all know that creationists (and I would count Wells in that group) frequently make use of quote mines. They also make use of citation mines -- references to scientific papers that don't support the arguments they're making.

I mention this because Jonathan Wells has resorted to a citation mine of a publication of mine.

The citation is reference 5, and here's the context:
"So some cases of geographic distribution -- the study of which modern biologists call “biogeography” -- may be due to migration, while others may be due to the splitting of a formerly large, widespread population into small, isolated populations by changes in climate or geology -- which modern biologists call “vicariance.”4

Darwin argued that all modern distributions of species could be explained by these two possibilities. Yet there are many cases of geographic distribution for which neither the center-of-origin-followed-by-migration nor the widespread-population-fragmented-by-barriers explanation seems to work.

One example is the worldwide distribution of flightless birds, or “ratites.” These include ostriches in Africa, rheas in South America, emus and cassowaries in Australia, and kiwis in New Zealand. Since the birds are flightless, explanations based on migration over vast oceanic distances are implausible. After continental drift was discovered in the twentieth century, it was thought that the various populations might have separated with the landmasses. But ostriches and kiwis are much too recent; the continents had already drifted apart when these species originated. So neither migration nor vicariance explain ratite biogeography, which remains controversial.5"

But if Wells had actually read the reference he used, he would have noticed that one of its lessons is that migration is a better explanation for ratite biogeography than vicariance, and is made more plausible because we posit a late and multiple evolution of flightlessness.

(Wells' reference is to Harshman, J., E. L. Braun, M. J. Braun, C. J. Huddleston, R. C. K. Bowie, J. L. Chojnowski, S. J. Hackett, K.-L. Han, R. T. Kimball, B. D. Marks, K. J. Miglia, W. S. Moore, S. Reddy, F. H. Sheldon, D. W. Steadman, S. J. Steppan, C. C. Witt, and T. Yuri. 2008. Phylogenomic evidence for multiple losses of flight in ratite birds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 105:13462-12467.)

I won't go into any of the other major problems with Wells' use of sources, here and elsewhere. One example should suffice, and it hurts my brain to read too much of his article."

Read the original post here.

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