Feature Article - January 2016
by Do-While Jones

Top Evolution Stories in 2015

Three science tabloids picked the top evolution stories.

Here’s our review of 2015’s top evolution stories as determined by three science tabloids. The three stories about evolution that made Science News’ list of top 25 science stories in 2015 were #3 (Homo naledi), #8 (Lokiarchaeota) and #22 (E. coli mistake). Discover’s top 100 list included #2 (Homo naledi), #6 (prehistoric tool making), #12 (Brontosaurus), #20 (Chilesaurus), #28 (oldest Homo fossil), #38 (frilled dinosaurs), #40 (SETI), #53 (Little Foot), #61 (Pulanesaura), #65 (Australopithecus deyiremeda) , #71 (life on Europa), #73 (soft dinosaur tissue), #75 (octopus genome), #81 (Ichibengops), #99 (four-legged snake fossil). Not content to limit itself to 2015, Scientific American looked back over their entire 170 years of publishing in their retrospective of most important science articles.

Scientific American’s Picks

Scientific American picked only 11 significant evolution stories over the past 170 years—none of which were less than 10 years old, and none of which were very important, so let’s mention them briefly just to get them out of the way.

  1. In 1877, they reprinted an article from Mind in which Charles Darwin noticed that some children develop their intellect faster than others.
  2. In 1950, Dobzhansky discovered that creatures are influenced by heredity and environment; which is significant, but hardly qualifies as an evolution story.
  3. In 1958, Lorenz claimed that behavior evolves, too.
  4. In 1978, they published an article saying that natural selection operates on groups rather than individuals.
  5. In 1959, they examined how much public acceptance of evolution had increased since the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial.
  6. In 1982, they did a story on the Leakey family and their fossil discoveries.
  7. In 1994, they presented Stephen Jay Gould’s Punctuated Equilibrium theory, which was an attempt to explain why the fossil record isn’t consistent with Darwin’s notion of gradual evolution.
  8. In 2000, Scientific American published Tatersall’s controversial notion that there wasn’t a simple, linear evolution from ape-like ancestor to modern man.
  9. In 2002, their Editor-in-Chief, John Rennie, published his “15 Answers to Creationist Nonsense,” in which he presented 15 good arguments against the theory of evolution, and failed to refute any of them. 1
  10. In 2005, they covered the troubling (to evolutionists) discovery of Homo floresiensis months after we reported how it was inconsistent with the prevailing theory of human evolution. 2
  11. Also in 2005, they claimed that penguins are a poor example of intelligent design, because it is stupid for them to live in Antarctica the way they do.

Apparently, they thought their January, 2008, inane article titled, “Cooking Up Bigger Brains,” wasn’t worth mentioning—but we did! 3 Were they too embarrassed to mention their January, 2009, “SPECIAL ISSUE on the Most Powerful Idea in Science” devoted to evolution? We had a field day with that one! 4 What about their 2014 “Special Evolution Issue” devoted to “How We Became Human,” in which they said practically everything previously believed about human evolution was wrong? We loved that issue! 5

Scientific American began publishing 14 years before Darwin’s theory was published, and they thought only 11 of their evolution articles were worth mentioning in their 170-year retrospective. Maybe they are finally realizing that twenty-first century scientific evidence is overwhelmingly against the theory of evolution! They didn’t mention any of the stories Science News and Discover thought were important last year.

Homo Naledi and Stone Tools

Science News thought that the third most important science story in 2015 had to do with the discovery of new hominid fossils. The printed version of the story, on page 19 of the December 26 issue was titled, “New Homo species hauled from a cave in South Africa—Origins of the genus remain fuzzy.” The on-line version of the story was titled, “Year in review: Early human kin could shake up family tree—Origins of the genus remain fuzzy.” They were talking about the discovery of Homo naledi, which we told you about in October. 6 The first paragraph of the story is fascinating.

Scientists trying to untangle the human evolutionary family’s ancient secrets welcomed a new set of tantalizing and controversial finds this year. A series of fossil discoveries offered potentially important insights into the origins of the human genus, Homo. Most notably, a group of South African fossils triggered widespread excitement accompanied by head-scratching and vigorous debate. 7

This introduction was amusing because, as we told you last October, professional scientists didn’t welcome the discovery at all. The two main professional journals, Science and Nature, dismissed it as unimportant. Yes, National Geographic and Nova made a big deal about it—but they were the ones who paid for the research, so they weren’t biased at all!

Because it was a year-end review, most of the Science News article was a reprint of previously published material; but they did throw in one new piece of information.

There’s one big discovery this year that scientists can agree on: The making of stone tools originated before the Homo genus did. Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University in New York led a project that unearthed 3.3-million-year-old stone implements in Kenya (SN: 6/13/15, p. 6), clear evidence that East African hominids from Lucy’s era made them too. Until Harmand’s report, stone tools had been dated to no more than about 2.6 million years ago. 8

Here’s the picture that “proves” it:

It is obviously a tool that is obviously 3.3 million years old! It must have been a really good tool because it held its edge so well for 3.3 million years! (I wish the tools in my workshop would stay sharp for 3.3 million years! )

The casual reader might not notice that the Homo naledi fossils were found in South Africa, and this “tool” was found in Kenya (which is nowhere near South Africa), so it has absolutely nothing to do with Homo naledi. Why connect the two stories the way Science News did?

Discover thought both stories were important, but correctly treated them separately as stories #2 and #6 on their list. Discover gave a better summary of the Homo naledi discovery.

Media hoopla surrounding speculation about H. naledi’s behavior distracted attention from what made the discovery so scientifically important: the unprecedented quantity of bones. Ancient hominin fossils are rare, and those from early members of our own genus, Homo, are rarer still. So it is all the more astonishing that Berger’s team recovered more than 1,500 fossils, from 15 individuals, including a fully articulated hand — the first ever found for early Homo.

H. naledi has a mix of primitive and modern anatomy, with an upper body suited for climbing trees and a lower body, particularly its feet, capable of walking long distances. The stunner is H. naledi’s cranium: It’s shaped like the later, more advanced Homo erectus, but — with less than half the volume of our own — is tiny for its 5-foot-tall body.

The team will attempt to establish the fossils’ age through alternative methods in the coming months. The information is crucial for understanding whether H. naledi is a primitive human displaying a behavior otherwise unknown until much later in hominin evolution, or a relatively modern human with a primitive anatomy that challenges conventional ideas about how our genus developed.

Regardless of the age, Berger said earlier this year, before publishing the H. naledi discovery, the fossils will force paleoanthropology to rethink long-held theories about human evolution. 9

Regarding the rock found in Kenya, if this rock really is a tool (as Discover believes it to be) and if the rock really is 3.3 million years old (as Discover believes it to be) then man was not the first primate to use tools. Apes beat us to it!

“The main point,” says Skinner, “is that there was no Homo around [3.3 million years ago], so it would either need to be Australopithecus or Kenyanthropus who made those tools.” 10

In summary, 2015 was a bad year for the theory of human evolution because everything discovered was inconsistent with the previously held story.

Lokiarchaeota

Science News’ eighth most important science story had to do with the discovery of Lokiarchaeota last May. The title for the printed version of the story was “Reinventing the treetop of life.” On-line, the story was given the title, “Microbe discoveries spur rethink of treetop of life.” We didn’t tell you about it last May because we thought it was too stupid to report. It didn’t make Discover’s list of the top 100 stories of 2015, either.

Researchers discovered the new phylum of microbes, dubbed Lokiarchaeota, by screening DNA from sediment (SN: 5/30/15, p. 6). Though no one has identified an actual cell yet, the new phylum appears to mingle genes similar to those in modern eukaryotes and genes from archaea, the sister group to bacteria. Analyses suggest the cells have dynamic structures that could have engulfed bacteria long ago. 11

According to Science News, nobody found a cell, but the structure of the cells they didn’t find was analyzed! We had to go back to the actual report in Nature to get the straight scoop. The abstract of the Nature article says,

The origin of the eukaryotic cell remains one of the most contentious puzzles in modern biology. Recent studies have provided support for the emergence of the eukaryotic host cell from within the archaeal domain of life, but the identity and nature of the putative archaeal ancestor remain a subject of debate. Here we describe the discovery of ‘Lokiarchaeota’, a novel candidate archaeal phylum, which forms a monophyletic group with eukaryotes in phylogenomic analyses, and whose genomes encode an expanded repertoire of eukaryotic signature proteins that are suggestive of sophisticated membrane remodelling capabilities.  12

Despite what your college biology textbook says, nobody knows how eukaryotic cells originated. They didn’t know when the textbook was written, and they still don’t know now. Here’s what they did to try to find out:

A 2-m long gravity core (GC14) was retrieved from the Arctic Mid-Ocean Ridge during summer 2010 (approximately 15 km north-northwest of the active venting site Loki’s Castle; 3283 m below sea level; 73.763167 N, 8.464000 E) (Fig. 1a).  … To obtain sufficient amounts of genomic DNA for sequencing library preparation, new sample material was obtained from the 75-cm-b.s.f. layer of gravity core GC14 in summer 2013. 13

Scientists took a sample of mud from under the Arctic Ocean in 2010, and extracted DNA from the mud in 2013. DNA is notoriously fragile—but they believe they kept it preserved well enough for three years for their results to be valid. They admit,

The amount of genomic data obtained for the Loki2/3 lineages was too low to perform detailed gene content analyses. 14

Although phylogenetic analyses failed to resolve most of the deeper nodes, several of the eukaryotic small GTPase families appear to share a common ancestry with Lokiarchaeal GTPases (Fig. 3c), suggesting an archaeal origin of specific subgroups of the eukaryotic small GTPases, followed by independent expansions in eukaryotes and Lokiarchaeota. This scenario contrasts with previous studies that have suggested that eukaryotic small GTPases were acquired from the alphaproteobacterial progenitor of mitochondria. 15

A major portion of the article tries to justify their statistical approach to guessing heritage; but every poker player knows that even though the statistics correctly say his opponent probably won’t draw to an inside straight, his opponent might draw the card he needs to do it. Even when statistics are correct, the result might not be the most probable outcome.

The “take-away” from this article is, “The origin of the eukaryotic cell remains one of the most contentious puzzles in modern biology.”

The E. coli Mistake

Number 22 on Science News’ list of top 25 news stores has to do with “The Long Term Evolution Experiment (LTEE)” which we told you about in August, 2008. 16 Discover magazine did not include it in their top 100 stories.

The LTEE was investigating whether or not E. coli bacteria would consistently evolve the ability to digest citrate. Unlike most evolutionists, they were trying to use real science to do a repeatable experiment! (Bravo to them!) They were trying to get the same evolutionary event to happen twice. They thought they succeeded—but it turned out that they didn’t.

A die-off of bacteria that had been growing for thousands of generations in a carefully controlled lab experiment offered an evolutionary lesson this year: Survival depends not only on fitness but also on luck.

For more than a quarter century, evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski and colleagues have been growing 12 flasks of E. coli at Michigan State University. About 31,000 generations in, some of the bacteria in one flask evolved the ability to use a chemical called citrate as an energy source. Bacteria in that flask that couldn’t eat citrate went extinct, seemingly because they had been outcompeted, the scientists thought.

But when Lenski and his team replayed evolution, reviving samples stored before the non-citrate eaters vanished, these bacteria survived 40 out of 40 times in a mixed population. An unknown lab accident probably finished them off the first time around, the team concluded this year (SN: 9/19/15, p. 11). Unlike in the real world, these bacteria are getting another shot at survival. A 13th flask has been added to the experiment. 17

Let’s give them credit for admitting their mistake.

Soft Dinosaur Tissue

The 73rd most important story on Discover’s list had to do with a surprising discovery of a dinosaur claw with tissue that had remained soft for 75 million years. We’ve been following stories like this one since May, 1999. 18 “Real” scientists (not creation scientists ) have been finding dinosaur fossils with soft tissues for 25 years, and still won’t consider the obvious conclusion—that the bones aren’t millions of years old. Instead, they keep looking for the Fountain of Youth which keeps these ancient bones so young-looking.

The Octopus Genome

The 75th most important story on Discover’s list was the decoding of the octopus genome. We thought it was much more important than that, which is why we covered it in our Evolution in the News column last September. 19 The octopus genome wasn’t anything like evolutionists expected it to be.

Life in Outer Space

Stories #40 and #71 on Discover’s list had to do with the search for life on other planets—as if finding life on other planets would prove that it evolved there and wasn’t created there. Spoiler Alert: They still haven’t found any life out there.

Fossils

Eight of the stories on Discover’s list (#12, #20, #38, #53, #61, #65, #81, and #99) had to do with fossils. They were all pretty much the same. Somebody found a bone fragment somewhere that looked a lot like—but not exactly like—something else. So, they imagined the unknown creature from which it supposedly came.

Discover’s description of what happened with Brontosaurus is somewhat disingenuous.

In 1883, Brontosaurus excelsus — the first long-necked, whip-tailed sauropod to be reconstructed from a fossilized partial skeleton — captured the public’s imagination. But that specimen was found at the peak of the heated “Bone Wars,” when scientific rigor often took a back seat to finding and naming the most fossils the fastest.

As early as 1903, paleontologists began questioning the validity of Brontosaurus as a species. Skeptics claimed the animal was merely an adult Apatosaurus, another sauropod. 20

It wasn’t just a few skeptics who believed Brontosaurus was simply an Apatosaurus body with a Camarasaurus skull. That’s been the orthodox scientific consensus for a long time.

The Discover article says that a new analysis of the original skeleton, using different statistical analysis methods, shows that Brontosaurus was not an Apatosaurus.

We aren’t going to take sides on this issue. Our point is simply that this article shows the classification of fossils is purely a matter of opinion. Different people, using different analysis methods, come up with different conclusions. There is no science here—just opinions.

The article blamed the controversy on “the heated ‘Bone Wars,’ when scientific rigor often took a back seat to finding and naming the most fossils the fastest,” as if it doesn’t still happen today. But the other seven stories about fossils (#20, #38, #53, #61, #65, #81, and #99) weren’t written during the “heated Bone Wars” of the nineteenth century. They were written in 2015. In each of them, a paleontologist claims that the bone he found came from a previously unknown species, which he discovered and has the right to name. The Bone Wars are still going on in the twenty-first century!

But even if these bones came from previously unknown species, they don’t prove evolution. They prove extinction. They prove that something that lived in the past has gone extinct because it wasn’t able to evolve enough to survive.

Evolutionists claim that these extinct creatures really did evolve, and they evolved so much we don’t even recognize them in their evolved form! Our feeble intellect prevents us from realizing that a hummingbird actually evolved from a huge theropod dinosaur!

Quick links to
Science Against Evolution
Home Page
Back issues of
Disclosure
(our newsletter)
Web Site
of the Month
Topical Index

Footnotes:

1 Please see our July and August, 2002, issues of Disclosuretitled “No Nonsense”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v6i10f.htm and “No Nonsense - Part 2”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v6i11f.htm
2 Disclosure, November 2004, “Homo floresiensis”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v9i2n.htm
3 Disclosure, February, 2008, “Half-baked Evolution”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v12i5n.htm
4 Disclosure, January 2009, “Scientific American’s Evolution Issue”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v13i4f.htm
5 Disclosure, September 2014, “Wrong All Along”, http://www.scienceagainstevolution.info/v18i12f.htm
6 Disclosure, October 2015, “Homo naledi”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v20i1n.htm
7 Bruce Bower, Science News, December 15, 2015, “Year in review: Early human kin could shake up family tree”, https://www.sciencenews.org/node/191200?mode=pick&context=166
8 Ibid.
9 Russ Juskalia, Discover, January/February 2016, “#2 Homo naledi and the Chamber of Secrets”, http://discovermagazine.com/2016/janfeb/2-homo-naledi
10 Hillary Waterman, Discover, January/February 2016, “#6 History's New Oldest Tools”, http://discovermagazine.com/2016/janfeb/6-tool-times-new-start-date
11 Susan Milius, Science News, December 15, 2015, “Year in review: Microbe discoveries spur rethink of treetop of life”, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/year-review-microbe-discoveries-spur-rethink-treetop-life?mode=pick&context=166
12 Anja Spang, et al., Nature, 14 May 2015, “Complex archaea that bridge the gap between prokaryotes and eukaryotes”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v521/n7551/full/nature14447.html
13 ibid.
14 ibid.
15 ibid.
16 Disclosure, August 2008, “The Long Term Evolution Experiment”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v12i11f.htm
17 Tina Hesman Saey, Science News, December 25, 2015, “#22 Year in review: Fluke extinction surprises lab—Accident, not competition, wiped out E. coli”, page 32, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/year-review-fluke-extinction-surprises-lab?mode=pick&context=166
18 Disclosure, May 1999, “Dinosaur Blood and DNA”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v3i8f.htm;
Disclosure, October 1999, “We Dug Dinos - Part 2”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v4i1f.htm;
Disclosure, April 2005, “Surprising Dinosaurs”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v9i7n.htm;
Disclosure, May 2008, “No Longer Expelled”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v12i8n2.htm;
Disclosure, September 2008, “Sliming Soft Tissue”, http://scienceagainstevolution.info/v12i12f.htm
19 Disclosure, September 2015, “The Octopus Genome”, http://www.scienceagainstevolution.info/v19i12n1.htm
20 Gemma Tarlach, Discover, January/February 2016, “#12 Bully for Brontosaurus”, page 22, http://discovermagazine.com/2016/janfeb/12-bully-for-brontosaurus