Twisted tree of life award #5: Nicholas Wade & use of higher, lower, ladders, etc

Nicholas Wade has a new article in the New York Times critiquing some aspects of the human genome project (A Decade Later, Gene Map Yields Few New Cures –

Whether one agrees with his critiques or not, I hope that everyone can recognizes that one section on evolution is, well, awful. Wade writes

First was the discovery that the number of human genes is astonishingly small compared with those of lower animals like the laboratory roundworm and fruit fly. The barely visible roundworm needs 20,000 genes that make proteins, the working parts of cells, whereas humans, apparently so much higher on the evolutionary scale, seem to have only 21,000 protein-coding genes.

While Mr. Wade may want to believe he and humans in general are somehow “higher” on some evolutionary ladder than other species, I have some news for him


Humans are neither higher nor lower than any other organisms. This is an antiquated and inane view of evolution. Sure, humans are smart. Sure we are more complex in some aspects than, say, some bacteria. But new features evolve on ALL branches in the tree of life. And some organisms lose features present in their ancestors. The evolution of complexity is, well complex, sure, but please, “higher” and “lower” organisms? An evolutionary ladder? Uggh.

I do not pay much attention to human GWAS studies, but if Wade’s understanding of them is akin to his understanding of evolution, well, I would then infer that GWAS studies have revolutionized all of medicine. For his butchering of evolution, I am giving Nicholas Wade my 6th coveted “Twisted tree of life award


More on this topic can be found at:
Larry Moran’s Sandwalk
Larry Moran has a good discussion of the genes in the human genome issue (from 2007)
PZ Myers at Pharyngula Chimes in