Let’s get our facts straight

I was drawn to read an article in ScienceNews, May 12, 2010, by Tina Hesman Saey. I am not sure if it was curiosity or boredom that led me to read this particular article, All present-day life arose from a single ancestor, nevertheless I began reading…

“One isn’t such a lonely number,” the article began. “All life on Earth shares a single common ancestor, a new statistical analysis confirms.” Confirms? Did she say CONFIRMS?

I thought confirm meant “To support or establish the certainty or validity of” or “To verify.”

Here is Saey’s evidence that verifies that you and I come from some slimy single celled bacterium eons and eons ago.

Saey says that “Because microorganisms of different species often swap genes, some scientists have proposed that multiple primordial life forms could have tossed their genetic material into life’s mix, creating a web, rather than a tree of life.”

So to determine which hypothesis is more likely correct, Douglas Theobald’s, a biochemist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., “put various evolutionary ancestry models through rigorous statistical tests.”

The results Saey says, “come down overwhelmingly on the side of a single ancestor.”

According to Saey in her ScienceNews article, Theobald, reported in Nature, May 13, that he calculated that “a universal common ancestor is at least 102,860 times more probable than having multiple ancestors.” Theobald went on to report that, “such a scenario is 103,489 times more probable than the best multi-ancestor model,” saying, “That’s a 1 with 3,489 zeros after it.”

Now, it appears to me that Theobald needs a little help in some basic math, because the difference between 102,860 and is 103,489 is a 1 with 629 zeroes after it – quite the difference. And let’s not forget, Tina Saey needs a little help in some basic reporting!


Professor Dendy

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