Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Orr in the NYRB

A new essay by H. Allen Orr in the New York Review of Books is always cause for celebration. Few people write about modern biology as clearly and engagingly as he does. This time he is reviewing three recent book about the role of genetics in sex differences. The bulk of the review is given over to Bryan Sykes' recent book Adam's Curse: A Future Without Men.

One of Sykes' main arguments, as described by Orr is:

Although Sykes doesn't describe this impending disaster until fairly late in his book, the subtitle to Adam's Curse gives it right away: we face a future without men. Sykes is convinced that the male of the species is doomed. Unless something is done—and soon— men face an “inevitable eventual extinction.” You won't be surprised to learn that the alleged causes of this crisis reside in the Y chromosome. Sykes's publishers have, predictably, latched on to this dire news and the cover of his book speaks in ominous tones of the certain extinction of half of humanity. Also not surprisingly, the press has played along, with pieces in The New York Times and The Guardian warning that men may be a thing of the past.

Oh no! This is terrible. What to do? Dare we hope that Sykes is wrong:

The bottom line is that Sykes's alarmist talk of the extinction of men is just that—alarmist—and I wouldn't lose too much sleep over the possibility. And I certainly wouldn't give much thought (much less funding) to his technological fix to this nonproblem. There are enough real problems out there.



At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh man, that was a close one.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Salvador T. Cordova said...

I have Syke's books which I use to teach creationism. Syke's unfortunately has not given the details of his calculations anywhere I can find. So I will crticize Sykes for that oversight. He should have at least said where we can find his calculaitions!

Notwithstanding that criticism, I have said Syke's analysis leads to falsifiable preditions that would be supportive of special creation.

Sykes pioneered work in the discovery of Mito-Chondrial Eve and Y-Chromosomal Adam. The clocking assumptions he used were based on the presumed chimp/man divergence, thus placing Eve 150,000 or so years back..

However when empirical measurements of mutations rates were used instead of evolutionary assumptions, Eve was indicated to have lived 6,500 years ago. A recent MIT study places "Adam" at 3,500 years ago. Most creationists believe "Adam" is actually Noah....

ID has been criticized for not making testable theories, to which I respond, "when one graduates the school of ID, one should attend the school of creationism". That is because creationism has made some bold testable predictions.

When I read Sykes' book, I felt some vindication from a scientific perspective. A key prediction of ID information theory, the much maligned "4th law", is that information will deteriorate over time. Sykes is corroborating that view.

Our best empirical measurements seem at least nominally consistent with that view. We will see. I have to side with Sykes based on empirical evidence and reasonable considerations from information theory.

The Avida authors have failed to make a persuaisive case that Darwinian mechanisms exist to increase information without a guiding intelligence. Their research program is tautologous, not real science and creative in their accounting of information. And I can at least nominally claim I (an IDist) helped get one their minor source code bugs fixed.

Sykes has made a falsifiable prediction. We'll see. The "other side of the coin" is that if there are repair mechanisms to guard against change (as suggested by Sykes critics), and therefore decay, then that puts serious speed limits on evolution. So there is a catch-22 situation.

In either case, Sykes work should be taken seriously. He should at least be respected for the abundant field work he conducted in collecting DNA and sequencing it and publishing findings in peer reviewed journals.

Orr is brushing aside the numbers, and there are serious issues with population genetics. Even James Crow has said, "Why aren't we exitinct?". Evolutionists offer ideas as in response to Crow's question, even Crow himself, but those of us who monitor developments in population genetics are skeptical.

The problem of harmful mutation and the speed limits of evolution has never been solved, and maybe it won't be if it never happened.

Certainly I have my biases, and I acknowledge them. But critiques like the one offered respected biologists like Orr don't fly among the bio undergrads and grads students who are sympathetic to ID. We would like to see the calculations somewhere by both sides (Sykes and Orr). Granted it's just a book review by Orr of a popular book by Sykes. But a few of us are hungering for the examine the specifics in microscopic detail...

My own study of Haldane, Kimura, and Crow has suggested the case for ID and especially creationism is well supported by poplulation genetics. Though Sykes is a Darwinist through and through, he is one of my favorite authors, and teaches, no less, at Richard Dawkin's school, Oxford.

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