That Dead Horse Just Won’t Stay Down

This isn’t one of the 10 unanswerable questions, but it’s still from Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution, p. 51. Wells is attempting to cast doubt on the efficacy of molecular systematics, by pointing out how silly some of the results are:

Even when different molecules can be combined to give a single tree, the result is often bizarre: A 1996 study using 88 protein sequences grouped rabbits with primates instead of rodents; a 1998 analysis of 13 genes in 19 animal species placed sea urchins among the chordates; and another 1998 study based on 12 proteins put cows closer to whales than to horses.

Of course the last example is the funniest, given the wealth of molecular and fossil data showing that cows and whales are indeed related.See:

Gatesy, J., P. O’Grady, and R. H. Baker. 1999. Corroboration among data
sets in simultaneous analysis: Hidden support for phylogenetic relationships among higher level artiodactyl taxa. Cladistics 15:271-313.

Matthee, C. A., J. D. Burzlaff, J. F. Taylor, and S. K. Davis. 2001. Mining the mammalian genome for artiodactyl systematics. Syst. Biol.

Naylor, G. J. P., and D. C. Adams. 2001. Are the fossil data really at
odds with the molecular data? Morphological evidence for Cetartiodactyla
phylogeny reexamined. Syst. Biol. 50:444-453.

Gingerich, P. D., M. ul Haq, I. S. Zalmout, I. H. Khan, and M. S. Malkani.
2001. Origin of whales from early artiodactyls: Hands and feet of Eocene
Protocetidae from Pakistan. Science 293:2239-2242.

There are lots of newer references, but look them up yourself.

Of the other two examples, the first (rabbits) is a real example of improper results arising from poor methodology, which I will gladly explain to anyone who asks. The second, though, just like the whale-cow example, is correct; the study didn’t find sea urchins to be nested within chordates, it found them to be the sister group of chordates, which of course they are.

Wells read a lot of the primary literature for his book, but not enough. He was just quote-mining on a large scale, and didn’t grab enough context to realize the cow-whale claim wasn’t bizarre, even in 1998.

For the record, Wells was citing these:

Graur, D., L. Duret, and M. Gouy. 1996. Phylogenetic position of the order Lagomorpha (rabbits, hares and allies). Nature 379:333-335.

Naylor, G. J. P., and W. M. Brown. 1998. Amphioxus mitochondrial DNA, chordate phylogeny, and the limits of inference based on comparisons of sequences. Systematic Biology 47:61-76.

Cao, Y., A. Janke, P. J. Waddell, M. Westerman, O. Takenaka, S. Murata, N. Okada, S. Paabo, and M. Hasegawa. 1998. Conflict among individual mitochondrial proteins in resolving the phylogeny of eutherian orders. Journal of Molecular Evolution 47:307-322.



5 thoughts on “That Dead Horse Just Won’t Stay Down”

  1. GlenDavidson

    I guess Wells can’t fathom how horses and cows could both have four legs, and yet cows could be more closely related to whales than to horses.

    Quite the failure to understand the basics of phylogenetics.

    Glen Davidson

  2. Joe FelsensteinJoe Felsenstein

    Astonishing! Next thing, you’re going to be trying to persuade us that molecular studies show that dolphins are more closely related to us than to sharks!

  3. MungMung

    From the OP:

    This isn’t one of the 10 unanswerable questions, but it’s still from Jonathan Wells’ book Icons of Evolution, p. 51.

    Are we going to have to wait 15 years for you to read and comment on Well’s latest book?

  4. Robert Byers

    Cows are unlikely related to whales. I agree whales were leggy landlovers once but once again DNA is used entirely based on a unproven presumption.

    Its all comparisonology. There is no evidence for what creatures whales are related to.

    This is why evolutionists don’t win thier cases.
    If you wish to use DNA/morphology to prove common descent then it can’t just be because of lack of imagination about other options.
    A creator , with a blueprint, also would have DNA matching parts. Sop like parts in unrelated creatues from creation wek, also would have like DNA.
    Why not? Why not an option? So there is not just one option!

    Why do you folks say we are related to whales, dolphins, cows by invoking dna?
    All you show is like DNA.
    Common descent is not based on biological scientific evidence but shows in these threads to be based on a line of reasoning that allows no other options.
    Homology belongs to everyone. Its origins can not be defined by one hypothesis bosses. So homology is not from common descent but thats only a option.

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