The junk DNA quotes of interest series.

One of the things I am happiest about having back online with the restored blog is the Quotes of Interest series. I had gone through the contemporary primary literature describing the discovery of each new category of non-genic DNA and showed that in every single case, functions were considered for these sequences (if not outright assumed to exist). Here’s the list of posts from this series:

Genomicron is back, baby!

Bet you thought this blog was gone forever. Yes, well, so did I. But I decided to resurrect it and managed to solve the issues that made it non-functional (but not junk) years ago. Anyway, Genomicron is back! I will still write about junk DNA and evolution and all that good stuff, but you can probably expect a lot of COVID variant evolution content now too. Stay tuned!

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Genesis vs. The Origin — are you kidding me?

Check out this nonsense from an article in The Toronto Star, which for some reason decides to pit the Bible against The Origin of Species as works of literature.

You can spot the difference in the quality of the writing from the very first lines of the respective books. The first line of Genesis – “In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth” – is simply the best sentence ever composed: strong, active, concise, clear, complete and yet turgid with hidden depths. Though not a single word is out of the ordinary, each word radiates with startling power on examination. “In the beginning” is an everyday expression, but in everyday speech, it always describes the beginning of something, a book or a road or a life. When we hear the phrase “in the beginning,” we immediately ask “the beginning of what”? The beginning of Genesis is just The Beginning. The absence clarifies, more than words could, how high the stakes are.

“The heaven and the Earth” is also a powerfully succinct expression. Instead of God creating everything, God creates duality from the beginning: He created out there and in here, the universal and the particular, the cosmic and the terrestrial.

Compare that perfection of expression with the first sentence from the introduction to The Origin of Species: “When on board HMS Beagle, as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent.” What the hell are you on about, Charles Darwin? We have to wait for the next sentence to understand his subject (in newspaper-speak, this bad writing habit is called “burying the lead.”): “These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the origin of species – that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers.” It’s a perfect model for what not to do with a lead sentence. Not only does it contain a passive construction, it is also a tissue of conditionals, stuffed with “seemed to me,” “some light,” and “one of our greatest.” Its vagueness and weakness have real consequences, too. They lead Kansas school board trustees and ex-U.S. Presidents to believe that there’s reasonable doubt about the ideas in The Origin of Species, when there is not. Good writing matters.

Ok. Using the same method, let’s compare the final sentences rather than the first ones.


So Joseph died, being a hundred and ten years old: and they embalmed him, and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.

The Origin:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

I rest my case.

(See Adaptive Complexity for a more detailed smackdown of the Star’s argument).

Darwin caricatures.

Darwin’s views are often misrepresented to the point of caricature, as we all know, but there have also been plenty of examples of literal caricature of Darwin in the popular media. I recently gave some talks about evolutionary imagery, which included popular press cartoons from the 1800s that had a common theme of caricaturing Darwin as a chimp or having non-human apes exhibiting human characteristics and behaviour. This seems like as good a day as any (the 150th anniversary of the Origin, and all) to post my collection for your enjoyment.


NCSE to EZ: Do not want.

After linking to the NCSE’s mocking “Don’t Diss Darwin” site, I sent them an email asking if they might add a link to Evolver Zone (which has long had a prominent link to NCSE on the main site). Apparently they “link only to permanent institutional websites” to prevent broken links to fly-by-night pages. Nevertheless, they link to Ray Comfort’s site, Funny or Die, Youtube, and various others that are not permanent institutions as far as I can see. Given that EZ is a free educational resource created by an evolutionary biologist who also happens to be Associate Editor of Evolution: Education and Outreach (which they link to), you’d think they might have been more receptive. But that’s ok, they can focus on making fun of Kirk and Ray rather than drawing attention to actual resources if they like. I have to say I’m pretty disappointed in the NCSE on this one, however.

Don’t diss Darwin.

The good news, there will be free copies of On the Origin of Species handed out at various universities, including mine.  The bad news, it comes with a tragically silly introduction by creationist banana-man* Ray Comfort.  Thankfully, the NCSE is on the case. They have a site devoted to this issue, Don’t Diss Darwin.

Click here to get your safety bookmark or counter-misinformation pamphlets.

Bonus: The Kirk Cameron Action Kit

* Here’s why the whole “Ray Comfort is bananas” thing is being emphasized.

Drawing Flies.

Jay Hosler is an Associate Professor of Biology at Juniata College and a very skilled cartoonist who writes comic-style books that are meant to entertain as well as educate. One of them, Optical Allusions, focuses (no pun) on eye evolution. I asked eye evolution researcher Todd Oakley to review it for the special issue of Evolution: Education and Outreach on eyes that I edited last year (read here), and I also reviewed it for Reports of the NCSE (coming soon). We both recommend it enthusiastically.

Now, Jay has a blog called Drawing Flies. Check it out.