Reading Comprehension – it’s important

Not to harp on Uncommon Descent today, but their seeming inability to see words that they don’t like gives the appearance of no reading comprehension skills whatsoever. Take for example their read of this New Scientist article on cute little marsupials.

Let’s first quote from the article:

From the genome sequences of placental mammals such as humans, mice and chimpanzees, the researchers identified a set of sequences that are relatively unchanged (conserved) in all placental mammals and are therefore likely to be of some functional significance.

About one-third of these sequences lay within genes, and the rest were in noncoding regions that presumably help regulate the activity of genes.

The team then analysed the opossum genome to see if any of these sequences were unique to placentals – representing evolutionary innovations that arose after the lineages diverged.

Just 1.1% of the conserved sequences within genes were unique to placentals, they found. In contrast, a massive 20.5% of the noncoding sequences were unique to placental mammals. “Evolution is tinkering much more with the controls than with the genes themselves,” says Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who was one of the leaders of the consortium.

What they’re saying, is that if you take the subset of the genomes of placental mammals that is conserved across many placental species you find a certain portion of this DNA is in the coding regions – those regions which specify the sequence of transcripts that make proteins – and the larger portion is in the regions upstream of genes that control expression – promoters, transposons etc. Interestingly, in this limited subset of conserved DNA the coding regions are highly similar between placental mammals and marsupials, but it’s the control regions that show the most divergence. In other words, the difference between a mouse and a short-tailed opossum isn’t in the protein encoding sequences, so much as what controls the timing, levels, locations etc., of expression of those proteins.

Now the ID take:

In a new article in this week’s New Scientist magazine, the marsupial and placental genomes are compared. Only a meager 1.1% of the “coding” (coding for “genes”) portion of the placental genome is “unique”, while a whopping 20.5% of the “non-coding” (so-called ‘junk’ DNA) was unique to placental mammals. This indicates that where marsupials and placental mammals are genetically different is almost entirely to be found in the “junk DNA” sections of the genome.

Ummm. No. The entire genomes were not compared, just the regions that were conserved across multiple placental mammals were compared to similar regions in the marsupials. Very different pal. Once again the ID folks are trying to suggest that the so-called “junk” DNA has so many more functions that they predicted when we poor scientists were being materialist Darwinist bigots and couldn’t see that non-coding regions of DNA had function due to our unmitigated hatred for (the Christian) god. This claim is silly of course. Scientists were studying transposons for decades, their extent in the human genome wasn’t appreciated very well until results of the Human Genome Project started coming out in the last 5-10 years. We were studying promoters actively in the 1980s, long before the unpublished letter the ID creationists claim “predicted” junk DNA function wasn’t published. Again and again I’m reminded of the fly on the axle-tree, what a dust do they raise!


7 responses to “Reading Comprehension – it’s important”

  1. Liars lie, and they do so by lying. This is news to you?

    They are not misreading, and not misunderstanding. They need to understand their enemy (truth) so that they can spin the best lies out of a what’s available to work with. This is a learned skill that comes with practice, practice, practice.

  2. They make such a fuss about non-coding DNA you might think that it is a prime area of ID research but of course they don’t do any of that nasty sciencey stuff.
    Still, in publicity terms you can’t fault the Discovery Institute. They are indeed the masters at framing science.
    I did a little google experiment on my blog the other day where I had a look at the hits returned when you typed in the names of scientists that actually have made major contributions towards our knowledge of biological evolution over the years. Spot the odd one out.

    Craig Mello 59,000 google hits
    Nobel Prize for Medicine 2006

    Casey Luskin 31,800 google hits

    Motoo Kimura 27,100 google hits
    Introduced the neutral theory of molecular evolution in 1968

    Fred Sanger 26,700 google hits
    Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1958
    Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1980

    John Mattick 16,600 google hits
    Renowned expert on non-coding RNA

    Susumu Ohno 15,900 google hits
    Pioneered the idea of evolution by gene duplication
    Coined the term �junk DNA�

    Sidney Brenner 9,820 google hits
    Discoverer with Francis Crick of frame shift mutations
    Nobel Prize in 2002

  3. Roy, I was trying to be charitable. I’m sure once the mistake is pointed out to them they’ll issue a retraction and correct the post.

    (*stifles a giggle*)

  4. Whatever

    Wow, once again the ID “hypothesis” tries to prove its validity by misrepresenting somebody’s work. What makes me really sad, is that no matter how many times someone points out the flaws in their logic they just keep going. These IDiots are like the energizer bunny, nothing short of Jesus coming down from heaven and telling them is ever going to change their minds.

    There is hope though, the internet and places like (which would be nothing without it’s incredible writes) are getting people to start thinking for themselves, and with the amount of content on the internet they are quickly learning skills to help them differentiate between the bullshit. The best part is that the number one users of the internet are the kids, who are picking up these skills at an incredible rate.

    Crawl with me into tomorrow
    Or Ill drag you to your grave
    I’m deep inside your children
    They’ll betray you in my name
    – Zach de la Rocha

  5. trrll

    Yes, this is a classic example of a Creationist/ID straw man argument:

    1) Lie: “Natural selection predicts that all of the DNA that does not code for proteins is ‘junk’ DNA with no function”

    2) Take credit for work done by scientists based on natural selection: “Recent studies reveal a function for a piece of noncoding DNA”

    3) Misinterpret result: “This disproves the prediction of natural selection that this DNA is junk with no function.”

    4) False claim to having predicted the outcome: “Contrary to natural selection, creationism/ID predicted that much junk DNA actually has a function.”

  6. Delia

    Wow. And the ironic thing is, the original scientific explanation I found very easy to follow, as an intelligent layperson, while the ID transposition is completely confusing gobbledygook.

    What any of this has to do with any theological issue is completely beyond me. It’s a classic case of an obsession.

  7. Luna_the_cat

    Er…not to be awkward or anything, but…what exactly do you mean when you refer to “transposons”? Are you SURE you mean “transposons”, and not “enhancer regions” or something of that sort?

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