Put down what you are doing & read this article: Amy Harmon "Autistic & seeking a place in an adult world"

Some people out there complain about the death of great scientific and medical writing. Well, I say to them “What exactly have you been reading?” Sure there is crummy stuff out there. But there are some masterpieces. And yesterday night I found one – Amy Harmon has an article that was released online last night and published in the Sunday New York Times Today: Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World.
It is a spectacular piece of work – captivating, heartbreaking (in ways), inspiring (in others) and just brilliant in many ways. I have just read it for the third or fourth time. And probably about to go back for another look. I recommend everyone and anyone give it a look.

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 – NYTimes.com)

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

THERE IS NO FU*$ING EVOLUTIONARY LADDER.

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

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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

    Evolution and Politics

    Scientists are acting up again. The New York Times reports that

    75 science professors at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland have signed a letter endorsing a candidate for the Ohio Board of Education.

    This is great news if you ask me. Scientists seemed to be emboldened to play more of a role in politics. I think this is due to some of the recent pushes from anti-science coalitions, like the supporters of “intelligent design” as a scientific theory (which it is clearly not).

    We desperately need more of this type of thing – with scientists speaking up. I do not want scientists to choose sides in truly political debates. And I hope scientists will avoid being too arrogant – such as when some suggest science can solve all the worlds woes. But when sound science is being ignored or belittled by politicians, scientists should speak up. The evolution debate is but one example. There are many more issues where sound science is being misused or ignored (e.g., global warming).

    So – I recommend all scientists consider doing something to get involved. Lend your support to the folks in Ohio (e.g., Lawrence Krauss organized the group to write the letter). Or join an organization like SEFORA a new science based political action group. But just don’t sit on the side and say “scientists should not get involved.” If all scientists keep doing that, we are in deep trouble.