The word logodaedaly means “a capricious coinage of words”. It was coined by Plato in the 4th century BC (as “wordsmith”) and picked up by Ben Johnson in 1611 in its current English usage. That’s right, someone coined a term for the process of coining terms.
Sometimes new terms are very useful. Every profession has its own jargon, which for the most part helps experts to save time by having individual terms for specific items or ideas. On the other hand, the original meaning can be lost and the term can be badly misunderstood or misapplied when it moves from jargon to buzzword. “Junk DNA” is a case in point. Other terms may be coined to give a simple summary of a more complex idea. “The Onion Test” is an example: it’s not really about onions, but about providing a reminder that there is more diversity out there than one might otherwise have considered.
Finally, sometimes terms are coined just for fun. This is one of those times.
Several bloggers have drawn attention to the persistent assumption expressed by some authors that humans are the pinnacle of biological complexity, as reflected in certain graphical representations relating to non-coding DNA [Pharyngula, Sandwalk, Sunclipse, Genomicron]. Larry Moran’s discussion pointed to what must be the single worst figure of the genre, from an article in Scientific American. This figure forms the basis of a new term that I wish to coin.
Here is the figure in question:
In a previous post, I complained about the ridiculous division of groups (humans are vertebrates and vertebrates are chordates), the lack of labels on the X-axis, the ambiguous definition of “complexity” implied, and the blatant assumption, sans justification, that humans are the most complex organisms around.
I also noted the following issue:
The sloping of the bars within taxa suggests that this is meant to imply a relationship between genome size and complexity within groups as well, with the largest genomes (i.e., the most non-coding DNA) found in the most complex organisms. This would negate the goal of placing humans at the extreme, as our genome is average for a mammal and at the lower end of the vertebrate spectrum (some salamanders have 20x more DNA than humans). Indeed, the human datum would accurately be placed roughly below the dog’s ass in this figure if it included a proper sampling of diversity.
As a result, I hereby propose that all such figures, with unlabeled axes and clear yet unjustified assumptions about complexity, henceforth be dubbed “Dog’s Ass Plots”. “DAPs” or “Dappers” also are acceptable, as in “I’m surprised that the reviewers didn’t pick up on this DAP” or “Check out this figure, it’s a real Dapper”. (As an added bonus, “dapper” means “neat and trim” — which these figures certainly are; the problem is not that they don’t look slick, it’s that they are oversimplified).
I have no doubt that plenty of examples can be found in subjects besides genomics, so please feel free to use it as needed in your own field.