Puck's Criticism of Richard Weikart's Book on Racism

Though it’s hard to judge phenotype from a forum post, I think we can safely say that your eyes are brown.


Sure, “Eddie”, sure. Even though I cannot recall you ever using the term “Osteichthyes” in any sense on this forum, it is very likely that you are “in the habit” of using it on a daily basis in your conversations with friends, family and acquaintances.



He did say that right away - it’s implicit in his original comment.

That you failed to notice is understandable. That you then insisted he was at variance with all other biologists, rather than asking for clarification, was not.

Who says he doesn’t?

Since catsandratsandelephants also belong to Sarcopterygii, Osteichthyes, and Craniata, I’d be very surprised if he didn’t equally say that they are ‘fish’ in the same way that whales are.

Even after having (supposedly) worked out where you went wrong, you have immediately made exactly the same mistake.


Let’s remember that the book from which “Eddie” was requesting a quote is entitled Your Inner Fish (bold added).

Does “Eddie” think Shubin wrote that book for salmon and sardines to read?


Such is the joy of living in a world where millennia old colloquial paraphyletic terms are used alongside scientific monophyletic terms.

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Heck, I can, and from only searching this forum. In a bit of discussion concerning whether we are monkeys/primates/mammals/amniotes/tetrapods/fish, here’s Joe Felsenstein responding to John Harshman:

But while that’s the only example that comes to mind, and I am vastly too lazy to go digging through ancient threads I’ve been involved in elsewhere to find and cite them all, I am sure I have seen the same tack taken by multiple others.

To me, the notion that this is in any way strange to anyone who has taken the trouble to engage, and make favorable comment upon, the IDC literature is completely bizarre. Surely it is important, before taking on board a wholesale critique of an entire scientific discipline, to have at least a passing familiarity with current views and concepts within that discipline.


I don’t of course use technical terms unnecessarily in daily conversation, but even aside from the fact that my knowledge of Greek would enable me to translate the term (in its original meaning, before cladistics transformed the meaning to make it theoretical rather than empirical), I’ve known the term since about my 18th birthday, when I got a wonderful book on animal life that has pages and pages of classifications at the back, of all the groups of animal life. I studied those pages over and over. So yes, I know the terms Chondrichthyes, Osteichthyes, Agnatha (“jawless fish” – though that term seems to be missing in the recent cladistics arrangements) etc. I used to be able to rattle off all the orders of mammals with ease – Hyracoidea, Pinnipedia, Lagomorpha, Dermoptera, Chiroptera, Pholidota, etc. Indeed, when I started at university on my science scholarship, I was wavering over what my major would be, and biology (with a focus on evolution) was one of the possibilities, I back then being a card-carrying, Bible-bashing worshipper of Carl Sagan.

And when I was a kid I was even more science-nerdy. I had sets of dinosaurs, the first bought for me by my grandparents when I was about 4-6 years old, and on their tails, embossed in plastic letters, were their names and how many feet long they were. I had all that information memorized, too, and read lots of books on prehistoric life. For a time I wanted to be a paleontologist, looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert and so on. Later my passion was “outer space” (as it was often called back then), and I could have told you how many moons each planet had, which were the biggest known stars, how many trillion miles away Alpha Centauri was, and so on. I did one fifth or sixth grade project on quasars, and another on the Big Bang vs. Steady State notions of the origin of the universe. (Yeah, I know, that stuff was not on the science curriculum back then, but I was in a “gifted” class, and each month we had to do a project, so I picked projects of interest to me.) Before I finished high school I had the “molecules to man” narrative solidly in my head, from reading Sagan and Jastrow, two of the big scientist-science popularizers of the day. (With lots of details added from my mountain of books by Isaac Asimov.)

I did no such thing – for a lawyer, Puck, you’re a careless reader. What I did do was urge Harshman not to confuse non-specialists by mingling technical and lay vocabulary.

This is a forum where people of all walks of life participate, and the silent readers dwarf the number of vocal participants. Given that only a handful even among the regular participants are specialists in evolutionary classification like Harshman, and given that most of them are not even biologists, and that some are not scientists of any kind, and that the majority of the silent readers are very likely not biologists, layman’s language should be used unless technical language is necessary to make a point. And in layman’s language (I mean, those laymen educated enough to know the difference between a fish and a mammal, which probably applies to most lay readers of this site), whales are not “fish”. In fact, I bet that some members of this forum, in their precocious childhoods, enjoyed correcting less educated members of the benighted masses, maybe their aging grandmothers for example, telling them “whales aren’t fish, they’re mammals”.

So my point was not that cladistics is wrong or worthless, but that its language, if it leads to everyday conversations including non-biologists where someone says that whales are “fish”, is not appropriate for general conversation. Saying whales are descended from bony fish is fine; saying whales are fish muddies the waters for no good reason – unless desiring to impressing the rubes with one’s knowledge of cladistic classification counts as a good reason.

It is most puzzling, then, why you were unable to understand what @John_Harshman was talking about and, moreover, demanded that he substantiate his claim, as if you doubted its truth. It is even more puzzling that you would deny that a paleontologist as illustrious as Neil Shubin would use this classification in one of his scientific books. A book called Your Inner Fish, no less.

Yes, very puzzling indeed.

You appear to think that I was saying that by criticizing Harshman’s usage you were taking on board a wholesale critique of an entire scientific discipline. And you call ME a careless reader! How odd. No, of course, the “wholesale critique of an entire scientific discipline” referred to here is ID or, as it is better described, IDC.


I thought you weren’t going to reply to me any more. I get all the bad luck.

You gloriously miss the point, which was about using language intelligible to the lay person when addressing a mixed audience.

The first five words, which say that whales are a type of fish, make no sense to the generally educated but not specifically biologically educated lay person. And if that lay person could be made to understand the meaning, the lay person would immediately draw the logically inescapable conclusion that cats, armadillos, and wolves are also “fish”, and then would wonder why academic specialists are so weird that the feel a need to redefine English words to include outlandish meanings.

If you’re going to use technical language for the specialists, then do so, and say that the whales and all other mammals belong to the clade Osteichthyes. That’s fine. But if you’re trying to communicate to a mixed audience, don’t say whales are “fish”. There’s no motive for such mixture of languages, except perhaps to show off one’s academic background.

Yes, because that’s what we were talking about at the moment – the fish/whale thing, not the faults of the DI. You appear to have lost the flow of the conversation.

I knew what he was talking about. I knew that he was calling whales “fish” because their evolutionary ancestors were bony fish, and I knew that the term for that group in traditional classification was the Osteichthyes. I wasn’t criticizing either his statement about evolutionary ancestry or his use of of the term Osteichthyes; I was criticizing only his use of the lay term “fish” in an equivocal way. To say “whales are fish because their ancestors were fish” is as silly as saying that “the Kings and Queens of England are African because their ancestors, over a million years ago, were from Africa.” It is better to say that whales are formally classified under the Osteichthyes, because their ancestors were bony fish, but that modern whales are not, as the term is normally used by 99.99% of English speakers, “fish”.

That problem isn’t insurmountable, if one just follows the common-sense principle of using lay language when lay language is appropriate, and technical language when technical language is appropriate. But academics, including scientists, frequently lack common sense. Too much time spent in the ivory tower, talking almost exclusively to other specialists, can have deleterious effects on one’s ability to communicate in a forum that includes not only specialists in biology but members of the great unwashed laity.

Nice try, “Eddie.” Unfortunately, the internet never forgets:


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That’s right, it never forgets, though you forgot my post above which answers your charge of “contradiction” here:

Note the penultimate word, “class”. Not “clade”, but “class”. If you understood traditional biological classification yourself, you’d understand the difference. And it remains true that when Osteichthyes is regarded as a class, whales are not part of it.

Google “classification of whales” and you will find scores of hits, scientific and wildlife websites where whales are always grouped in the class Mammalia.

As I made very clear to Harshman once I figured out the cause of the confusion, I had been referring to the old “class” Osteichthyes, whereas he had been referring to the “clade” Osteichthyes.

The old “class” distinction between Osteichthyes and Mammalia corresponds to the popular usage of “bony fish” and “mammals.” If you say that whales are “fish”, you are going to confuse everyone but the tiny fraction (far less than 1%) of the human population that understands cladistic terminology. That was my objection.

But then, confusing the majority of your readers was never a problem for you, since you have been willing to confuse them with your non-standard usage of “creationist” and “insurrection”.

More revisionism from @Eddie. Let’s check the fossil record:


Biology has largely left Linnaean taxonomy behind. We now use cladistics.


Osteichthyes includes ray-finned fish, lobe finned fish, and four legged vertebrates.

If I said such a thing I would follow it up on a quick lesson in cladistics, and why biologists use this system. I would also say that humans are fish.

And that was a correct statement of my reading at the time, but since then, I consulted several works and discovered how the cladistics approach classifies things and I even mentioned a specific source regarding the Osteichthyes. (Were you paying attention?) So I now concede that the newer classification includes land mammals and whales under the clade “Osteichthyes”.

But that’s absolutely irrelevant to my original point. My original point still stands. Harshman didn’t call whales “osteichthyians”; he called them “fish”. And that’s materially misleading to the vast majority of English readers. Whales aren’t “fish” in the normal, daily understanding of the word “fish”.

And I’ve already indicated, more than once, that I have now learned this new classification, in order to understand what Harshman was talking about. You must be skimming my posts superficially if you did not catch where I acknowledged this.

Yes, that is how you should follow up, with people you know to be interested in a deeper knowledge of biological subjects. But since, outside of your lab, you are going to be interacting with barbers and salesmen and repairmen and bank clerks and high school drama teachers (if your kids are in a play) and thousands of others who don’t know or care anything about evolutionary classification, and don’t want to hear any lesson in cladistics, there is no reason you should ever, in normal social conversation, say that whales are fish.

You would not say that in normal conversation, either.

So you aren’t complaining for yourself. You’re complaining for some hypothetical other reader who is less educated than you are. Got it.

You should know that you are a highly terrestrially-adapted fish. You are also an ape, and a monkey. That’s how evolution works, and one would have assumed you would have known that.

No you weren’t. You were criticizing my use of the term Osteichthyes. Perhaps you should look back to your original complaint about me and refresh your memory.

Sorry, doesn’t work. Please stop digging.

Your “original point” seems to evolve as needed to save your face. Just quit. I notice you also practice the tactic of deflecting attention from your errors by criticizing your opponent for something else. Good trick unless someone notices, and everyone here seems to be noticing.


I withdrew that criticism the moment I realized that it was used in modern cladistics as the name of a clade, a clade that included not only bony fish per se but all their descendants. I at that point conceded that your use of the term was standard under cladistics classification, and that I had no objection to its use in that context.

The criticism I have maintained, and which you and all your atheist scientist allies here are still ducking, is that to say a creature is a “fish” because its ancestors, hundreds of millions of years ago, were fish, is a confusing use of the English language. “Fish” to most of the population, and even to scientists when they are engaged in everyday human activities as opposed to specialist scientific pursuits, does not include “whales.”

If you want to say that whales belong to the clade Osteichthyes, be my guest. But if you call whales “fish”, you’re clearly not interested in communicating with the great unwashed masses of human beings who don’t have Ph.D.s in phylogenetics and kindred subjects.

And if you say, “but the people here are educated scientists, so there’s no problem – they’ll all know cladistics” you’d be making the error of assuming that the small group of frequent posters here (about 25 to 50 people) are representative of the hundreds or possibly thousands of lurkers here, many of whom will be not only non-biologists, but non-scientists of any kind.

I’ll “dig”, to use your misrepresentative word, as often as I please. If you don’t like my posts, don’t read them. No one’s twisting your arm.

Your use of the word “are”, whether you realize it or not, is metaphysical in character, or at least can easily be understood so by a reader who looks at life in a way different from yours, i.e. who does not equate the essence of a thing with its prehistory. If you want to avoid the ambiguity here, either qualify the word “are” (e.g., “from the point of view of bodily origins”), or avoid the word altogether, and say “your body was developed for land use out of an ancient population of fish.”