Joined: May 2002
It looks like anyone who had a letter published gets a copy of Commentary. Just found mine in the mailbox. Nice of them.
The whole (long) response is very peculiar. It is rather bizarre to see optics being argued (arguing optics with Nilsson seems to me to be about like arguing black holes with Hawking...hazardous to your health), but in Berklinski's florid prose. B. goes into some of the references and claims to find a number of problems with the equations for calculating eye acuity, and this is far beyond anything I know about, but (1) this wasn't B's original problem, it was the supposed lack of equations, (2) even if Nilsson's acuity calculations are only approximate this wouldn't change anything, (2.5) Berlinski faults the optics literature for not discussing evolutionary transformation, and (3) Nilsson is the optics expert and Berlinski isn't. I think it would be nice if Nilsson responded again just to show what an ass Berlinski is, but I think Nilsson said he wouldn't bother.
Berlinski notes that the very author of one of the background papers he criticizes are included in the acknowledgements of Nilsson's paper:
"In acknowledgements to their paper, Nilsson & Pelger thank E. J. Warrant for help with their computations; in the acknowledgements to *their* paper, Warrant & McIntyre thank Mr. Nilsson for critically reading what they have written.
Schnapps all around, I am sure."
Optics are about 1/2 of the response, next there is:
1) Morphological units and measurement of change from flat spot to cup etc. B. carps about the lack of details in how these were calculated, but they are quite simple (changes in length, arc length, and height and width). Sure, these are somewhat arbitrary, but they seem like the simplest available. For anything that changes in more than one dimension, such decisions will have to be made. He proposes no better way, of course.
2) B. says that the "heart of the matter" is random variation. He bizarrely asks for the "odds" of each step occuring, when it's quite clear that all that Nilsson was proposing was that the population showed a typical normal distribution of variation along their "morphological change" sequence, and with a very small variance (0.01 IIRC) at that.
3) Discussion of Gross and Gross' 1986 quote
4) Response to Matt Young. B. faults the scientific community for failing to condemn Dawkins, and engages in various other minor points. Conclusion: "Now I see that Mr. Young feels I have manhandled him in these exchanges. Too bad. COMMENTARY is not some academic mouse hole."
5) Response to Mark. Repeats the fraud charge and a few minor points. Fails to note fact of scientific citations except oblique derogatory remarks.
6) Rosenhouse. Discusses whether Dawkins' error was "minor". More on fraud. Repeats variation weirdness:
"To repeat, the flaw in Nilsson and Pelger's work to which I attach the greatest importance is that, as a defense of Darwinian theory, it makes no mention of Darwinian principles. Those principles demand that biological change be driven first by random variation and then by natural selection. There are no random variations in Nilsson and Pelger's theory. Whatever else their light sensitive cells may be doing, they are not throwing down dice or flipping coins to figure out where they are going next."
Questions the model's having a constant selection pressure (again). Discussing Rosenhouse's point that it is absurdly low (0.01 IIRC), point, he says, "Is it indeed? The figure that Mr. Rosenhouse calls ludicrous, Nilsson and Pelger term pessimistic, and Mr. Gross reasonable. The correct term is arbitrary -- as in, it is anyone's guess what the variance among a bunch of fish might have been a couple of million years ago." Never mind that B. switched from selection to variance there, or that we have lots of studies documenting both greater selection pressures and greater population variances.
7) He gets to me:
(a) disputes that it's a mathematical model, says he's shown that their refs don't support the theory
(b) denies being a creationist, says "I am as eager to do right by the snails as he is: why should he think otherwise?"...but doesn't note that the snail eye continuum eviscerates B's complaints about variation and transitionals. Oh well...
© critiques me for characterizing cephalochordate eyespots as "primitive eyes"...and just earlier in the essay Berlinski complained about splitting hairs...
(d) changes his tune on the necessity of skulls being "remodeled" to include eyes, saying "Plainly they evolved together" ...which means that nothing had to be remodeled in the first place. Oh well.
(e) Doesn't mention Salvini-Plawen and Mayr's article at all. Oh well.
I dunno, I doubt much more would get published anyway, but it seems worthwhile to me if there were some response to the optics stuff (perhaps from Walker?) and various points about the literature on numbers...