Tuesday, November 20, 2007

LiveScience Ignores Basic Genetics

From LiveScience.com

"Researchers find that males can respond quicker than females to sexual selection, resulting in glitzier garbs like the male peacock's tail feather, which outshows any drab peahen". This appeared as an accompaniment to an article discussing research which showed how males with a "simpler" genetic arrangement of XY sex-determining chromosomes may evolve faster than females with a XX arrangement.

I posted on this a couple of days ago commenting:

"Sexual selection though may not be the best example to illustrate the connection between "simple genetic variability" and faster evolution. The reason is the peacock' s tail. This particular study uses the fly Drosophila melanogaster which has an XY (male) / XX (female) sex determination system. But in birds, the system is different. It is the males which are ZZ and females ZW. So, females have a "simple genetic system" yet it is the peacock that evolves the elaborate tail."

The genetic explanation put forth by these researchers to explain why sexual selection commonly occurs via males clearly cannot be extended to birds. Yet LiveScience one of the biggest science portals ignoring basic genetics have a photo of a peacock and a caption clearly meant as an example supporting the researchers hypothesis.

How can science reporting from such a portal become so awry and careless? The original paper clearly made no mention of peacocks or birds, but relied on fruit fly genetics to tease out the results. The mindless extrapolation to birds is a creation of the media. Is this the fault of the science writer, in this case Jeanna Bryner, or was there some editorial oversight insisting that a photo of a splendid peacock's tail will go along nicely with the sexual selection theme?

Its website claims that "It has become a trusted news source and its content is syndicated regularly on major news portals such as Yahoo!, MSNBC, Fox News and AOL." With such major goof ups I am not so sure I can trust them for my daily dose of science news. Readers of Yahoo!, MSNBC, Fox News and AOL also be warned!

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