Thursday, November 1, 2012

Can you tell the difference between the evolution crap and the real science?

Atlantic magazine reports that scientists at Emory and the University of Arizona have published an article proposing an evolutionary explanation for the genetic link between depression and inflammation.

It's an interesting blend of actual science and evolutionary crap. See if you can identify which is which:

Recently Dr. Andrew Miller and Dr. Charles Raison, physicians at Emory University and the University of Arizona, respectively, authored a paper "The evolutionary significance of depression in pathogen host defense" in which they proposed that some of the alleles (forms of genes) that increase one's risk for depression also enhance immune responses to infections.
Evolution crap or science?

Commenting on their hypothesis, Dr. Miller noted, "Most of the genetic variations that have been linked to depression turn out to affect the function of the immune system."

Evolution crap or science?
Dr. Charles Raison of the University of Arizona added, "The basic idea is that depression and the genes that promote it were very adaptive for helping people -- especially young children -- not die of infection in the ancestral environment."
Evolution crap or science?

Today, certain mutated versions of a gene called "NPY" are associated with increased inflammation (an immune process helpful in fighting off infections). 
Evolution crap or science?
Mutated NPY genes likely allowed our ancestors to better fight off infections (especially in childhood), and individuals with the mutated NPY gene were more likely to pass along the mutated NPY gene to offspring.

Evolution crap or science?
Interestingly, researchers at the University of Michigan's Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute discovered that individuals with major depressive disorder were more likely to have the mutated NPY gene.The normal NPY gene codes for higher levels of a neurotransmitter known as Neuropeptide Y, which appears to help ward off depression by increasing one's tolerance of stress.
Evolution crap or science?
So the same mutated NPY gene that likely protected our ancestors against pathogens also increases our chance of developing depression.
Evolution crap or science?
Drs. Miller and Raison believe that acute (or severe but short-term) stress can not only lead to depression, but also jump-start the immune system.
 Evolution crap or science?
The physicians note that in the environments in which our ancestors lived, acute stress was often associated with the threat of physical harm or physical wounds. And unlike today, wounds readily led to infection and death. Therefore, Drs. Miller and Raison believe that evolution favored individuals whose immune systems operated under a "smoke-detector principle."
Evolution crap or science?
... immune responses to acute stress are typically not necessary -- not every stressful situation results in a wound and infection. 
Evolution crap or science?
However, if our ancestors became wounded even a single time and didn't experience a piqued immune response, they might die from an infection.
Evolution crap or science?
It turns out that depression may not be a mere trade-off for a vigorous immune response. Dr. Miller suggests that depressive symptoms like social withdrawal, lack of energy, and a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities were actually advantageous to our ancestors. For example, a loss of energy might ensure that the body can leverage all of its energy to fight an infection. Also, social withdrawal minimizes the likelihood of being exposed to additional infectious agents. In this way, Drs. Miller and Raison note that "depressive symptoms are inextricably intertwined with -- and generated by -- physiological responses to infection that, on average, have been selected as a result of reducing infectious mortality across mammalian evolution."
Evolution crap or science?
Drs. Miller and Raison concede that chronic stress has been shown to impair the immune system. However, evolutionary processes may still allow for improved infection responses to acute (or short-term) stressors.
Evolution crap or science?


You know the answers. I put the evolution crap in bold just to point out the obvious.

The science here is a blend-- an antiphone-- of real science ("certain mutated versions of a gene called "NPY" are associated with increased inflammation" and evolutionary bullshit ("in the environments in which our ancestors lived, acute stress was often associated with the threat of physical harm or physical wounds.")

Here's the formula:

1) Take a real scientific insight-- a genetic link between two biological phenomena, say, inflammation and depression...

2) Add a fact-free evolutionary fairy tale-- depression was an evolutionary advantage to our ancestors because it helped fight infection...

And you've got an evolution paper that'll slip right past the reviewers and get you a publication in the American Journal of Public Health! Note that the erstwhile authors (physicians actually) didn't do any of the real science-- the molecular genetics. They just made up a story. And a press release. Evolutionary science!

Think it's hard? Nope. Here's how:

Pick any two genetically linked biological processes you can think of-- @%^ and *&%-- and make up a story:
"The selective advantage of @%^ compensated for the evolutionary disadvantage of *&%, so that's why we have *&% despite the fact that Darwin's bullshit theory seems to predict that we shouldn't have *&%!"
Voila! You've got a paper in the Journal of Public Health and you've covered Darwin's ass, all in one!

Call your press agent! A major breakthrough!

Best of all: it can't be checked! It's just a story. It involves no real facts, no evidence, just narration. A campfire story. And people think it's science!

'Oh', but you say, 'doesn't the evolutionary inference help guide research and therapy?' After all, the authors said:

As Drs. Miller and Raison suggest, the theory that depression evolved to better resist infectious agents could lead to improvements within the field of immunology and novel treatments for depression. The physicians also suggest that in the future, we may be able to utilize simple biomarkers (like CRP) to predict which individuals will best respond depression treatments that modulate our immune systems (like infliximab).

Nonsense. The evolutionary fairy tale didn't 'guide' anything. The link between depression and infection was established by molecular genetics, and the evolutionary story was just a post-hoc narrative gloss, conjured after-the-fact. The potential to use simple biomarkers to predict response to depression therapy is completely independent of any silly evolutionary story. Darwinists could speculate that the link was caused by fairies. Who cares. Silly stories have no impact on the use of the biomarkers to guide depression therapy.

The basis for novel treatments for depression is the genetic research, not evolutionary fairy-tales.

You could make up any evolutionary story you like, or no story at all, and the genetic link between depression and inflammation would still be the basis for novel treatments for depression.

Again and again, Darwinism is nothing more than a collection of fairy-tales, glommed on to real science, like a parasite. 


  1. I tried to read the Raison and Miller paper in 'Molecular Psychiatry' (not 'the Journal of Public Health' which was just a paper noting that depression is a leading cause of violence related death), but gave up, because it was just s-o-o-o-o bad, I was wondering whether it's a spoof article.

    I gather not, since the authors appear to have written similar articles at different times.

    As I've noted before, there's not just science or pseudoscience (such as Intelligent Design). There's also good science, mediocre science, bad science, pseudoscience.

    I'd put this work very much into the (extremely) bad science group. I can't see that their hypothesis, whatever it is, has any plausibility.

  2. Darwinists could speculate that the link was caused by fairies.

    Sorry, you've got all the fairy-based explanations locked up on your side. Come back when you have a real explanation and not "magic man did it!"

  3. You judge “"Most of the genetic variations that have been linked to depression turn out to affect the function of the immune system." to be good science, as you should, but fail to see that this fact clearly points to an evolutionary link. If we assume most means over 50%, and the remaining genetic variation linked to depression have no effect, or affect multiple different systems randomly, them there almost has to be an evolutionary link. If over 50% of variation linked to depression affected the circulatory system that’s where you would be looking for an evolutionary link, and asking the “why” questions that only evolution can answer.

    Without evolutionary theory, the discovery of a genetic link between depression and the immune system is just a coincidence noticed by molecular geneticists that will certainly be useful in medicine without ever asking why it is the way it is. There are many problems in science, medicine, and engineering, which can be solved without knowing the “why” of the situation, but when you do know why, you clearly have a better understanding of the system and can be more confident in your answers.

    It’s the difference between knowledge and understanding. Some people can be very knowledgeable and be productive based on that knowledge, yet have no real understanding. It’s Egnorance.


    1. It's also the belief that science should judge all discovered knowledge as occuring in isolation "just because" and never, ever, under any circumstances put it into a theoretical framework. Which, of course, would cripple actual scientific progress.


    2. @BOO,

      I agree. Science should not proceed in isolation. Science has traditionally been understood in a religious context. So you agree that we can teach the Christian presuppositions of science in science class?

    3. Science proceeds via the scientific method. A theoretical framework is not a "religious context." And I'm pretty sure Aristotle didn't make use of any Christian presuppositions.

      And no, you don't agree. You're practicing one of your favorite tactics of equivocating over word meanings.


    4. @Boo,

      You don't get to decide what are "permissible" theoretical frameworks.

      Much of the greatest science of the Enlightenment was predicated on a very specific understanding of God as a rational Creator.

      Why is an atheist framework licit, but a Christian framework illicit?

    5. It's not a question of which theoretical frameworks are "permissible" or "impermissible." A cultural context is not a theoretical framework. They are two different things. That is why atheists, Muslims, Christians, and ancient Greeks could all follow the same scientific method. Evolution is the theoretical framework guiding research into genetics. It is the only theoretical framework doing so not because nothing else is "permissible" but because no one has come up with an alternative that works.


    6. Michael,

      I gave you a gentle hint that Raison and Miller published in 'Molecular Psychiatry' not the 'Journal of Public Health', but you ignored it. I take it you never attempted to read it in the original form, instead relying on the secondhand impression of a science writer?

      As a general rule of thumb, I assume that 90% of everything that's published, even in peer reviewed journals, is no better than second rate, existing to separate the really first rate material. And as a result, can safely be ignored, unless it later turns out to be true. Which I'd be surprised with Raison and Miller...

  4. HURRRRRR EVILUTION IS EVILNovember 1, 2012 at 1:17 PM

    Michael Egnor clearly lives in an alternate reality.