Sunday, 2 September 2007

All That from Looking at Genes

OK, read slowly and carefully... this came off a news site from a professional journal:

Genetic study proves humans have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction;

Now a genetic study must look at genes somehow,,, RIGHT??? So they looked at Human genes, or Ape Genes, or both,,, and decided that the demise of the orangutans is our fault??

WAIT... I'm not denying that humans are the most likely culprit in the demise of most of gods little (or even large) furry creatures, but proving it with a gene study???

Ok, so I read it, and here is the critical line..."For their study, the researchers collected hair from tree nests and feces found under nests or near orangutans encountered along the Kinabatangan River. Two hundred orangutans were identified using genetic markers called microsatellites." Ok, they DID really do a genetic study...
"We used the DNA information to simulate population history and detect evidence of a population decline," Goossens explains. Michael Bruford, and their colleagues report that the collapse occurred within the past hundred years, and most likely within the past decades--coinciding with massive deforestation, which began in the region in the 1890s and accelerated in the 1950s and 1970s. "
Aha, and they have found evidence that the population is decreasing. And they narrowed it down to 40 to 110 years ago (seems like a pretty big margin of error, but I'm OK with that).

So what's missing? Did you catch the part where they "proved" the extinction was caused by humans. Ummm, NO! What we have is a correlation between two things.

Now I suspect that they are right. I suspect the loss of habitat is probably what has caused a major part of the decline, and probably they are right that continued "massive deforestation" , if unchecked, may well lead to their demise. What I object to is the use of the word PROOF. Send them boys back to Stats class for the lectures on causation and correlation.

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