Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dumb and dumber: An open letter to William Saletan

The debate on genetically-determined intelligence differences amongst racial groups is nothing new. However, it got a fresh spark recently when renowned scientist and Nobel Laureate Jim Watson made some irresponsible comments on the issue and brought his remarkable career to an unfitting end. Watson has subsequently apologized unreservedly and clarified that there is no scientific evidence to support the notion that any racial group was inferior or superior to another in intelligence. But that didn’t stop much of the journalistic and blogger(istic?) reaction, and people have written passionately on each side of the issue.

A couple of weeks ago, William Saletan wrote a 3-part article on race and intelligence on Slate.com that was an exemplar of how to use dubious data and faulty logic to arrive at incorrect conclusions and then unleash that dangerously flawed material on the general public. There has been a lot of reaction to Saletan’s article too, and I think several people have done a good job at pointing out the numerous problems with it. (Saletan followed this up by writing a piece called ‘Regrets’ which I will come to in a minute). For those wanting a general summary of the issue and responses to Saletan, this OpEd piece by Richard Nisbett in the 12/09/2007 NY Times, and this piece by Stephen Metcalf also of Slate should be useful.

I’m not going into a detailed deconstruction of every point in Saletan’s writings---I’ll just touch on a couple of key ones as they provide a good framework to discuss intelligence itself and peoples’ prejudices in that regard. There is also the issue of journalistic integrity and responsibility---areas in which I think Saletan was very remiss--- and I’d like to address that too. So here goes....

Dear William Saletan,

I noticed that you have posted an interesting piece titled ‘Regrets’ as an afterword to your essays on race and intelligence. In some ways, ‘Regrets’ is more annoying than your original articles, as you mainly use it as an attempt to sanitize your original stance, rather than actually re-consider or retract your irresponsible claims.

You started ‘Regrets’ with the line “Last week, I wrote about the possibility of genetic IQ differences among races”. That sentence is, at the very least, a misrepresentation because you wrote (at least initially) about the possibility of genetic intelligence differences among races. As for IQ differences, you represented them to be very real, existent along racial lines and genetically determined. Then, based on this IQ argument, you concluded that there were indeed genetically determined intelligence differences between races.

Anyway, you continue ‘Regrets’ with “But my attempts to characterize the evidence beyond that, even with caveats such as "partial," "preliminary," and "prima facie," have backfired. I outlined the evidence primarily to illustrate the limits of the genetic hypothesis. If it turns out to be true, it will be in a less threatening form than you might imagine. As to whether it's true, you'll have to judge the evidence for yourself. Every responsible scholar I know says we should wait many years before drawing conclusions.” Well that sounds nice and reasonable. And it sounds like you simply raised some possibilities and you’re being persecuted for it.

Too bad for you, that’s just not true. I’ll give you two examples from your own article. In part three, you write, “Intermarriage is closing the gap. To the extent that IQ differences are genetic, the surest way to eliminate them is to reunite the human genome. This is already happening, including in my own family.” You know, I didn’t realize that the “Some of my best friends are black” card comes in a platinum “Some of my best relatives are married to blacks” version. I bet it gets you exclusive access to Bigotry Mart outlets and Condescension Lounges at airports all over the world. I am overcome with envy. But anyway, please be sure to let your ‘differently IQed’ family member know, over a special holiday meal perhaps, how much you are doing for the intelligence of his/her race. Being of an inferior IQ race, there is the possibility that he/she is not smart enough to appreciate it otherwise, you know? Don’t thank me, buddy; just doing what I can.

And then there is the grand concluding paragraph of your 3-part article: “Don't tell me those Nigerian babies aren't cognitively disadvantaged. Don't tell me it isn't genetic. Don't tell me it's God's will. And in the age of genetic modification, don't tell me we can't do anything about it. No, we are not created equal. But we are endowed by our Creator with the ideal of equality, and the intelligence to finish the job.” That’s a pretty definitive statement, dude. There doesn’t appear to be any ifs, ands, buts or maybes about it. Not only have you concluded by this point that some races of humans are less intelligent than others, you have the solution for it too---genetic engineering! It is quite remarkable really---You looped effortlessly around any attempt to meaningfully define intelligence, did a triple-lutz over the biases of IQ testing and then had the guts to go for the mind-boggling eugenics-twist landing, all while skating on thin ice! Braaaa-vvvo!!

Setting aside the absurdity of your belief that we possess either

(i) the detailed (or even fundamental) understanding of cognitive processes and their biochemical and genetic workings to begin to tinker with them at an engineering level or

(ii) the technical know-how and ability to “finish the job” on anything by genetic manipulation of humans, let alone an overwhelmingly complex trait such as intelligence,

and assuming for a ridiculous moment that we could do it, then, how would you “finish the job”? What would you ‘fix’ intelligence to? What is the Saletan-ian paragon of intelligence? Is it merely altitude on the IQ scale? I hope not, because from what we know about IQ testing, equating IQ scores to intelligence could be a lot like equating truthiness to truth. But whatever that paragon may be, while you are at it don’t forget one more thing. There are these enzymes called DNA polymerases that have this pesky feature of making occasional mistakes while replicating our DNA. These errors, of course, result in genetic variations. So while you are taking the trouble to ‘finish the job’ of equalizing human intelligence across the races to the Saletan-ian paragon, please also be sure to fix the DNA polymerase genes such that those enzymes doesn’t make errors any more. You are, after all, striving to raise the human race from Homo sapiens to Homo genous, or maybe even Homo genius I guess. By fixing the polymerase genes you can try to keep nature from stupidly undoing over time what you would have taken great pains to do for humankind.

The problem with intelligence is that we cannot even define it comprehensively. Accomplished scholars find it difficult to come to consensus on a meaningful and encompassing definition of intelligence. It is easy to come up with working definitions such as scores on tests, success in school or college, success in amassing wealth, professional achievement and so on. But those are, in the larger scheme of things, poor definitions that rely on subjective and ever-changing frames of reference. Those definitions are always temporally fettered, not timeless. And this has been the basis of my problem with those who attempt to quantify differences in intelligence---how can one presume to precisely measure that which one cannot even adequately define?

So let us consider something pretty much everyone can agree on--- that one of the fundamental parameters of intelligence is the ability to learn. Based on this criterion alone, I think we have enough evidence over the course of our history to conclude that ------DRUM ROLL PLEASE---- as a race, a species, a collective, humans are not really very intelligent. Homo sapiens may be quite the misnomer for us----sure we have produced individuals who are sapient, but as a collective we keep proving ourselves to be anything but sapient. Just take the example of violence. We still remain one of the few animal species that willfully and wantonly kills its own. I’m sure that people will proffer many reasons/rationalizations for killing, but these don’t matter. The fact remains that we, as a species, continue to deliberately kill depressingly large numbers of our own. And this trend seems to show little signs of significant decline with time. This fundamental approach to solving societal and global problems---that mass violence is an option---has not changed over millenia. And this is not restricted to any race, culture or country---- virtually every branch of the human race has a rich history of barbarism and cruelty towards other humans. At the same time, even a cursory glance at our documented history should be sufficient to teach us that violence rarely effects lasting change or progress. Lasting change has always come from education and willful choice, not oppression and forced regulation. But the human race still refuses either to learn from, or to effectively apply any progressive lessons that may have been learned from, history. So whether by willful ignorance or cognitive dissonance, we still repeat the mistakes of our past. Perversely though, as a species, we do seem to draw on history to remember and propagate much of the prejudiced behavior that many of our ancestors practiced. Often we call this tradition. Somehow, all this doesn’t seem very intelligent.

Sometimes I wonder whether humans are so far down the cosmic scale of intelligence, if there is such a thing, that any cognitive differences amongst us may laughably insignificant. Let me illustrate this thought with an analogy---Let’s there is a place in which the average wealth is $50000 give or take a $1000. Let’s also say that there is a small isolated village in that place where the average wealth is $100 give or take $10. Now, if a villager with $105 claims to be superior to a villager with $95, how meaningful is it in the larger scheme of things? I think sometimes that on a cosmic frame of intelligence we humans may be like those villagers, quibbling furiously over possible differences that are, in the larger context, meaningless.

This is not to say that the human race has not produced sapient individuals; We have our famous examples such as Darwin, daVinci, Galileo, Gandhi, and so on. But we have also produced millions of lesser known such individuals, who constantly learn and apply progressive lessons. There are today (as there have been in the past) millions of humans who reach out to other humans, often putting themselves and their progeny at a relative disadvantage, because they realize that if true prosperity does not reach every human being on earth it will eventually be available to none. We fail repeatedly as a species, because we refuse to learn from such people. They, by the way, are called liberal thinkers.

Which brings me to my final point: Of all the terrible things you wrote, William Saletan, the most egregious one was the ‘liberal creationism’ straw-man argument, wherein you posit that “All men are not created equal” and blame the liberals for not coming to grips with this notion. Congrats, by the way, for thereby joining the ranks of accomplished verbal defecators such as Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza etc.

Seriously dude, you’re sounding pretty silly with that crack at liberals. Of course all humans are not born equal. In fact I’d be shocked if, in the entire history of human existence, any two humans have been born truly equal. But liberals know that we are all different and, what’s more, they are comfortable with it. Liberals are people who embrace diversity, remember? Liberals are people who do not enforce their values and morality on others, remember? Liberals truly understand that the only hope for civilized society is to guarantee each one of us equal rights; this understanding is grounded in the realization that we are all unequal and that we need to learn to live with our inequalities and differences. Liberals don’t have a problem with the notion that no two humans are equal----they accept it without judgment. Liberals do have a problem, however, with the suggestion that the differences amongst us in such complex traits as intelligence will neatly package themselves along racial lines--- because such a suggestion is not only unsubstantiated but indeed countered by all that we know.

Conservative thinking, on the other hand, shrilly demands conformity. Conservative thinking resists diversity and denies individuals the basic freedom to be different. Conservatives believe that every one is created equal and assume therefore that everyone should be able to live by a common set of rules and values----which just happen to be their rules and values. Conservative thought says, “How can they not conform to my world view? Dammit, there must be something wrong with them!” It is such conservative thinking that primes the mind to jump hastily on any information that may appear to substantiate one’s prejudices. This may explain why you didn’t pause to ponder why something you cited as evidence was a fairly isolated piece of work that failed to blossom into a field of corroborated study. Maybe if you had paused to ponder that, you may have done the background work in time to realize that the study you cited was flawed, agenda-driven and authored by a person with obvious white supremacist ties. That would have saved you the one apology you did make in ‘Regrets’.

A. Moustache.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

On not winning the Nobel Prize---Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. So you figure she can write. And man, can she write. Here’s the text of Doris Lessing’s Nobel Lecture from last week (I came upon this via 3QuarksDaily and The Guardian, so thanks to them).

I think she doesn’t completely credit the internet with the power that it has to inform. But maybe she means that, like TV, we will end up using it as a toy of mass distraction rather than as powerful information tool.

The lecture is a bit long but it makes for beautiful reading. It never ceases to amaze me how great writers can paint such vivid pictures so effortlessly with words. But it goes beyond the technique and art of writing. The greatest writers are great philosophers. They have the ability to take all the sorrow, injustice and tragedy in the human experience and distill from it simple yet quintessential truths about the human spirit. Then, of course, they communicate it to us in such beautiful ways.

Take the time to read it. If you stick with it to the end, you will be rewarded.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

A DNA-Driven World---J. Craig Venter

From 'The 32nd Richard Dimbleby Lecture
Delivered by J. Craig Venter, BBC One, December 4, 2007'

"There are also science intensive schools that are trying alternative teaching methods. One such school in Virginia is teaching students to be more like scientists - to use inquiry-based learning and encouraging them to do experiments they designed themselves rather than age-old text book experiments and lessons heavy on memorization. These students are learning what I learned on my own while doing research as an advanced university student : that there is no greater intellectual joy than asking seemingly simple questions about life, then designing an experiment to find answers and uncovering a never before known discovery. We need generations of children who are grounded in reality and who learn evidenced-based decision making as a life-long philosophy. Teaching science as evidence-based decision making could have a profound impact on the pace of future discoveries and inventions. Simply asking what is the evidence behind any claim is a marked contrast to approaching life only upon a faith-based system.

Fostering such scientific literacy is crucial, because we and our planet are facing problems that, I believe, can only be solved by scientific advancement."

The entire article is a bit long, but it is a quick (and, I think, a must) read.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Scientific faith is an oxymoron

This past Sunday (11/24/2007) the New York Times ran an Op-Ed column titled “Taking Science on Faith”, written by Paul Davies, a physicist at Arizona State University. I cannot decide which is more irresponsible; that a member of the scientific profession wrote such a column or that the Times deemed it fit for publication. Davies’ article contains numerous incorrect statements and non-sequitur arguments, and several people have already written detailed rebuttals of it in the scientific blogosphere. I am writing this simply to address Davies’ central premise because I think that it has significant implications in the current cultural and educational landscape---and is therefore worth examining. The problem I have is not with Davies’ opinion---he is entitled to having it and to expressing it. The problem is that Davies makes broad, sweeping and incorrect postulates about the nature of scientific investigation itself, and appears to present these as fact.

Early on in his column, Davies outlines his central premise as follows:

The problem …….. is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed.”

Those three sentences can be evaluated as follows: NOT TRUE, NOT TRUE, and, NOT TRUE.

The scientific method is defined (by the American Heritage Dictionary) as “The principles and empirical processes of discovery ….. generally involving the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis”. Scientists don’t study phenomena with the “faith” that they will find order, rationality or logical programming underlying in every phenomenon. Indeed, one of the first things scientists do when they encounter a new phenomenon is to determine (based on observation, for instance) whether there is any reason to hypothesize that there may be any order or program underlying that phenomenon. I don’t know about physicists but I can certainly add this from a biologist’s perspective---randomness and haphazardness are not rare in biology, and there is no reason to approach any new phenomenon with a faith that one will find an underlying rational order or program. Anyway, the significant point here is that all science does not proceed on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way; as a matter of fact, by its defining principles, none of science proceeds on that assumption or faith. Science is based on objective, evidence-based, reasoning; there is no room in science for biased thinking, preconceived notions and prejudice.

It is evident from Davies’ column that he uses the term ‘faith’ to mean “belief in the absence of proof”, not “confidence or optimism based on existing data”. If a person expresses confidence/optimism based on a body of evidence and data then that is, by definition, not faith anymore. If a person expresses confidence/optimism in the absence of supporting evidence or data then that is, by definition, not science anymore. While this may sound like nitpicking on semantics, it is not. The problem is that the logic behind Davies’ premise is critically flawed in a scientific context, i.e. his claim on faith in science is a contradiction in itself. The failure to understand this may explain how popular misconceptions about science arise and gain traction in public thinking. It may explain how, in the year 2007, we find ourselves living in a society where people demand that faith-based (not evidence-based) ideas such as “intelligent design” be taught as science in classrooms.

Davies also goes on to draw fundamentally incorrect parallels between religious belief and science, and here is a good representative example it. He says, “Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence”. Now, I do not know what laws he accuses scientists of invoking, but I think he is mistaking hypotheses for facts---not surprising, as faith-based thought frequently represents unsubstantiated hypotheses as fact. But, while scientists may invoke hypotheses as starting points for their investigation into phenomena, they do not represent these as facts until they have sufficient evidence to that effect.

Finally, there is that cryptic line about “failing to provide a complete account of physical existence”. He goes back to this in his concluding paragraph, and I quote, “In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus”. So basically his argument, as I understand it, is, “Science cannot explain everything in the universe. Yet scientists continue to explore nature. Therefore they have faith that everything in the universe is rational and ordered and that they will eventually find/understand this underlying order”. But that is just more flawed logic. As I mentioned before, scientists continue to study nature, not on the faith that order and logic will eventually be found universally, but despite having already encountered numerous phenomena that do not follow order, logic or precise programming. The mandate of science is to try and understand nature as it is, to the extent possible---not to hunt selectively for evidence that will support someone’s notion of what it should be. Scientists simply take the results of their studies for what they are and make objective conclusions based on the data---without pre-conceived bias, i.e. without faith.

People with anti-scientific agendas will doubtless try and use the views of Davies and his ilk as support for their cause of equating faith-based ideas (such as Intelligent Design) to science. To these people I have this to say: If you happen to find some policemen that are corrupt, would you conclude that corruption is a defining principle of law enforcement? I’m guessing that you wouldn’t. If you happen to find that some priests are pedophiles, would you conclude that pedophilia is a defining principle of priesthood? I’m guessing that you wouldn’t. So, just because some scientific professionals (by injecting faith into their ‘scientific’ thought process) may be guilty of flawed scientific method, don’t rush to conclude that science as a whole operates on faith. Making such an inference would be, to borrow a phrase, manifestly bogus.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A PSA regarding the PSA

I just saw this headline “Obesity Affects Test of Prostate” and my mediocre mind immediately came up with, “Well, the gloved finger cannot get a good feel for the status of the gland when it has to navigate ponderous valleys of flesh, so no surprise there….” But my thinking was not only crass (as usual) but incorrect as well. The report was actually about a blood test for the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). It turns out that since obese individuals have a greater volume of blood they could show lower concentrations of PSA. This, in turn, could lead to misleading diagnoses that such individuals are disease-free.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Getting with the (re)program

An important breakthrough in stem cell research:

Two teams of scientists reported this week (here and here) that they have successfully reprogrammed mature human skin cells to become pluripotent stem cells that appear to be equivalent to Embryonic Stem (ES) cells. The NY Times report and the LA Times report on this work cover the attendant implications pretty well, so I won’t rehash it in great detail. The popular press reaction to this has naturally been to speculate that this work could eliminate the need for ES cell research. And, of course, the ignorant and the malicious policymakers alike in Washington have jumped on it to further their fundamentalist agendas (and, dare I say, antediluvian ideas) using pseudo-scientific claims.

Anyhooo, I think that this is a tremendous breakthrough, especially for the research in understanding the development and progression of many, many diseases. One can now take actual patient cells, reprogram them (to make induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) as one of the groups of scientists termed them) and perform a multitude of crucially important studies that were previously impossible. So I have nothing but unreserved enthusiasm regarding this breakthrough, on that front.

Now, as to the therapeutic potential of iPS cells, I would urge a lot more restraint in optimism. And here are my reasons for the caution;

1) While the early results are promising, there is a lot more research to be done to determine whether iPS cells and ES cells are indeed equivalent in a variety of circumstances over time.

2) From the genes that are used to reprogram the skin cells, to their vehicle of introduction (retroviral vector), the reprogramming involves engineering whose long-term consequences are just not known. iPS cells will not come close to FDA approval in anything remotely resembling their current technological iteration.

3) Most importantly, we are dealing with reprogrammed adult differentiated cells. I refer you back to my previous post on cancer---adult differentiated cells can acquire damage over the course of their lifespan. There is no evidence to suggest that the aforementioned reprogramming can also magically rid the cells of this accumulated damage or that it can restore their genomes to their formerly pristine or clean states. If a cell with damage acquires the capacities for pluripotency and self-renewal, it could very well end up being a cancer stem cell. I think this issue could end up being the largest hurdle that stands in the path of using iPS cells in a therapeutic context.

It should be noted that such reprogramming was done with mouse cells last year (by one of groups of scientists mentioned above) and the reprogrammed mouse cells were used to generate whole mice. So the power of the reprogramming has been well demonstrated in an animal model system. It is also noteworthy that 20% of the mice generated from reprogrammed cells developed cancer. This was attributed to the fact that one of the genes used for reprogramming was c-myc, a known oncogene. But I don’t think it was proven that c-myc was the only reason.

The best approach in science is to let the system guide you and tell you what’s important. If a certain mature cell-type is not normally self-renewed in the body, then it is also likely that there has not been sufficient evolutionary selective pressure to keep that cell-type from accumulating damage over the course of its lifespan. It is very important to bear that in mind when thinking of ‘reprogramming’ such cells and re-introducing them into the human body. Of course, to appreciate that point one would have to appreciate (or at least acknowledge) evolution-----So I expect Washington to welcome this new breakthrough as an ultimate solution and escalate the war on all other types of ES cell research in 5, 4, 3, 2……

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Emerging insights into cancer

The adult human body contains approximately a hundred trillion cells, a majority of which are post-mitotic (i.e. incapable of self-replication). The inappropriate and uncontrolled proliferation of such post-mitotic cells results in cancer (at least that’s what we’ve known/thought for a while now). Anyway, the transformation of normal differentiated cells is not a simple event/process, because the body has its checks and balances. For a normal cell to turn cancerous, it would have to acquire the hallmarks of cancer, i.e. obtain and sustain proliferation signals, acquire limitless proliferative capacity, circumvent the apoptotic (programmed-cell-death) pathway, elude the immune system and, finally, acquire the capacity to invade tissues and metastasize. Therefore cancer has historically been thought to result from a multi-step process involving the progressive accumulation of damage to post-mitotic cells that eventually leads to their neoplastic transformation.

Over the past couple of years however, a different aspect of cancer has begun to emerge---one that is connected to the basic biological process of cell replenishment. The human body sheds (and replenishes) billions of cells each day. One simple way to replenish these cells would simply be to replicate differentiated cells of the appropriate type (so, to replace shed skin cells the body could just replicate some already-differentiated skin cells in the area) to make up the deficit. But that is not what happens. In reality, cell-replenishment involves a more laborious, energy-intensive process wherein the requisite cells are ‘made from scratch’ each time. This is achieved by drawing on populations of adult pluripotent stem cells and stimulating them to proliferate and differentiate into the required cell types.

What advantage could such a strategy confer on the system? A very important one actually, as it could reduce the chances of somatic evolution. What does that mean? Well, differentiated cells and tissues have already gone through a number of cell divisions and developmental programming----and have probably acquired damage/mutations over time. Proliferation of such differentiated cells would create the risk of propagating deleterious mutations and abnormal cells, some of which could be cancerous. So, by going back to adult stem cell pools for cell replenishment, the body essentially goes back to a ‘clean’ genetic lineage and reduces the chances of propagating aberrant cells.

Here’s where it gets interesting with respect to cancer. A significant implication of the aforementioned strategy is that the genes that regulate patterning and differentiation in our body are not just required during embryonic development. Rather, it is likely that most of these genes also function on a daily basis to direct the differentiation of adult stem cells into myriad cell-types for cell replenishment. What can happen then, if an adult stem cell acquires a mutation that disrupts any of these differentiation programs? Well, one would predict that this could result in the generation of rogue stem cells that, when stimulated to differentiate, may fail to check their proliferation at the appropriate time after differentiation. Remember, these cells are already endowed with the capacity to proliferate, spread and invade tissues (as they are required to do during normal cell replenishment); therefore a single error that disrupts the differentiation program can be sufficient to render these stem cells cancerous. This concept of cancer stem cells is now very hot in cancer research. For one thing, the presence of cancer stem cells may hold the simplest explanation for why many cancers reappear after treatment. [Surgical removal of tumors or chemical/radiological elimination of (rapidly dividing) cancer cells will likely not be able to harm the (slowly dividing) mutant stem cell population. And the next time a mutant stem cell contributes to cell replenishment, the cancer will naturally reappear].

But what is even more interesting about this recently uncovered aspect of cancer is that it invokes a paradigm shift in thinking on the origins of (and possible future therapies for) cancer. Cancer need not only be the result of multiple events in post-mitotic cells. A single mutation in an adult stem cell could cause it. Furthermore, that mutation could very well be in a gene that regulates patterning or differentiation.

A corollary of this paradigm-shift is that cancer research is no longer limited to the signaling police, cell-cycling enthusiasts and the undertakers of apoptosis research. Rather, it has now also clearly entered the realm of differentiation and the evolution of developmental systems. Man, is there nothing evo-devo cannot tackle? Evo-devo would now like a vodka martini, shaken not stirred.