Field of Science

"The anus was a prerequisite for intelligence" TC-S quote anthology 01

Still working on the Sunday Protist; it's the last week of classes, finals start next week, and I have to sort out some last minute stuff for the seminar we're running next term (finally got it officially up and running in terms of registration!). As you can see, I'm rather swamped here. Also, staying up till 4am working on the Sunday Protist last night was definitely not a splendid idea. I blame TC-S for distracting me with his elaborate hypotheses...

ResearchBlogging.orgSpeaking of which, I've started my very own personal collection of TC-S (Cavalier-Smith, for ye strangers) quotes. When you read most papers, there's just information being spat out and chewed up in more or less mechanistic technical language completely devoid of any human voice. Sometimes the monotony can be interrupted by a burst of "Holy fucking shit did they seriously just write that!? Who the flying fuck gave them a faculty position?" or "This sounds fishy". In contrast, Tom's stuff goes something like:

Looks interesting, let's do this! Ok, so this paper reviews...everything. *cringe* hypothesis...crammed into...half a paragraph... OMG ROFLOLOLOL!!!! could you postulate that? Eeeeek, shaky evidence there... dude, you just cited yourself like 10 times in a row!... omg, DEAD ON, YOU GET 'EM TOM! aaaahh....what is that supposed to mean... LOL!!! Wait, did he just write that in a research paper? You cheeky bastard you!, he reads paleogeology papers!? aaaah ANOTHER DENSE PARAGRAPH OF DOOM! o_O

And so on. See, it's never boring. Which is why despite being notoriously difficult, I actually find his papers easier to work through -- they appeal to my rather-easily dulled attention span. As soon as you begin drifting off somewhere, either you realise you actually needed to thoroughly understand every single sentence to follow along and get hopelessly lost, or you come across something like "The anus was a prerequisite for intelligence", and definitely pay more attention. Which is why he gets an entire label to himself here.

Here's some lines that made me chuckle:
"There was no spinach in the Archaean." (2006 Phil Transac R Soc B, p995 last paragraph)
"But it is not." (concise disagreement) (2006 PTRSB, p997 first paragraph)
"Assumptions that such a neomuran prokaryote existed for hundreds of millions of years are science fiction." (ouch!) (2006 PTRSB, p997 second last paragraph)
"Very likely this anal breakthrough ca. 550 GYr ago stimulated the long-puzzling Cambrian explosion." (2006 PTRSB, p998 second last paragraph)
"The anus was a prerequisite for intelligence; without it, heads and brains would not have evolved." (2006 PTRSB, p998 second last paragraph)
"I consider Brachiozoa, bivalves, Bryozoa [...] were not secondarily beheaded." (2006 PTRSB, p998 second last paragraph)
"Overstatements of gradualism asserting that megaevolution is simply the accumulation of large numbers of small mutations of the same kind as predominate at lower evolutionary levels are simply wrong and must be abandoned." [emphasis mine]
(2006 PTRSB, p1000 first paragraph)
"[...] but have been partially forgotten and need restating each generation." (isn't that how science works?)
(2006 PTRSB, p1000 last paragraph)
"When I spoke frequently on skeletal DNA over 20 years ago, a common reaction was why not make the nuclear skeleton of protein? One sometimes felt that one's critics would prefer any material but DNA - protein, chitin, even steel, or teflon." (and yes, he refers to himself as 'one' here...) (2005 Annals of Botany, p152 second paragraph)

And a line that makes me feel all warm, fuzzy and happy on the inside: "Understanding microbial megaevolution requires cell biology -- not just biochemistry."
(2006 PTRSB, p1000 second last paragraph)

And 'one' must agree with this nice summary of how science academia the world works:
"[...] is not that we do not understand mutations well enough, but that the solution I have offered, and develop further here, is a synthesis drawing upon cell and molecular biology, population and evolutionary biology, developmental biology and ecology; evaluating such a complex synthesis is tough to a specialist in just one area. Population geneticists might prefer to be able to solve evolutionary problems strictly in their own terms and ignore detailed cell biology; cytologists might prefer to do the same and ignore abstruse population genetic arguments; molecular biologists might prefer to sequence DNA and ignore both the cell biology and population biology. But for a deeper understanding we must make the effort to combine the explanatory modes of all relevant disciplines." (2005 Annals of Botany, starting last line of p147)
Despite come across as a bit arrogant there (probably not his intent), he does have a great point. There is so little interaction and integration between the various clans and tribes of biology that one guy can go ahead and monopolize a nice chunk of an integrative field just like that. People complain, but what are they doing about the little issue of each department/discipline burying themselves into a nice comfy hole somewhere, never to venture outside and explore the world beyond. And then the occasional traveler ventures into a foreign burrow, only to be appalled at how horribly their own field gets abused there. Forget the monkeys, a ground squirrel can engage in better interdisciplinary integration =P

Anyway, enough for the first installment. I'm aware some of you guys also have nice TC-S quote collections -- feel free to contribute! There was one Opisthokont had that was oozing Tom-ness all over, can't find it at the moment... *nudge*

And this is definitely getting filed under ResearchBlogging =P

And the Neomuran eukaryogenesis post will be underway after I finish a couple more 70-page reviews of Everything. Well, actually, I should just start writing, probably. Although I did want to read some competing 50 page reviews of 'everything' by other people, although theirs are much more focused.

EDIT 18:26 03.12.09: If you think about it, the "anus was a prerequisite for intelligence" quote actually does make sense: The anus allowed Bilateria to evolve, since the input and output no longer had to be in the same place, thereby drastically altering the fundamental body plan. This freed up one end of the organism to specialise in obtaining food, which is aided by rather elaborate sensing systems. The mouth-containing head end was the focus of increasing cephalisation, eventually resulting in brains. Thus, in a way, the anus is responsible for allowing heads and brains to evolve. Just adding this in to point out that there IS good substance to that quirky TC-S quote, it's not just him going insane or anything (not this time anyway) ^_~

CAVALIER-SMITH, T. (2005). Economy, Speed and Size Matter: Evolutionary Forces Driving Nuclear Genome Miniaturization and Expansion Annals of Botany, 95 (1), 147-175 DOI: 10.1093/aob/mci010

Cavalier-Smith, T. (2006). Cell evolution and Earth history: stasis and revolution Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 361 (1470), 969-1006 DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2006.1842


  1. I'm still going to write a post about the Cell evolution and Earth history: stasis and revolution :D Either this weekend or some time next week. I would have covered it this week but I was ill (and I had the mito post half-written floating around in drafts...)

    Those quotes are awesome XD

  2. You're 'allowed' to cover anything up to the Neomuran Revolution -- Neomura (esp. eukaryotes) are MINE, MINE I SAY! But srsly, please don't hijack origins of phagocytosis/cytoskeleton -- it'll make Psi cry =(

    Congrats on making it through that paper!

  3. I will keep right away from phagocytosis entirely, I'm more interested in what he has to say about bacteria and the molecular clock...

    Believe me, I get hopelessly lost in the eukaryotes :D They're all yours!

  4. Was anus invented only once and then inherited by the rest of the descendence of those creatures, or it was invented many times by different branches of the tree?
    I wanna know now.

  5. Right: I have been tagged. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell (unless this was earlier than I checked) I did not so much have TCS quotes as TCS anecdotes; the quotes that I have are more pertinent to a paper that I submitted a couple of weeks ago....

    I should point out an aspect of reading a TCS paper that you missed (or perhaps blanked out on?). Probably every other time a taxon name turns up, you need to ask yourself at least one of the following questions:
    -- What does everybody else use this name to mean?
    -- What name does everybody else use for this group?
    -- What does Tom claim is in the group?
    -- What group does he claim it is a part of?
    ...and most importantly...
    -- How different is this group from the one that he used the same name for in the last paper?

  6. Those are great -- I should someday compile a Tips for Reading TC-S post of some sort...

    Btw, found your quotes, refered to as "assertive hyperboles":

    "Hänel “oddly identified [his bug] as A. sigmoides, despite it differing from the original description of Kent in every visible respect possible for a uniciliate protozoan.”" (TC-S)

    Epic. ^_^

  7. Having written at some length about the experience of being a tube-thing (, I was intrigued by the anus-brain connection.

    I don't see it, though. Microturbellarians have tremendous brains, and bilateral symmetry too, but have to whorf up their dinner after it's been this brainy guy I filmed last week:


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