Sanford and Carter's Genetic Entropy Revisited

I suppose that depends on the elasticity of one’s concept of honesty.

I like to think of candor as a trait of honesty.

Sanford and Carter misrepresentation: The purpose of the paper was to see if we could find genetic entropy in action, and we did. Attempts to obscure genetic entropy in the H1N1 Virus

This should be headlined as “attempt to obscure our real agenda”. If that was the purpose of the paper, it is interesting that the phrase “genetic entropy” is not found anywhere in the paper! Search for yourself.
A new look at an old virus

Honesty displays openness.

The quality of the Sanford Carter paper may have reflected the lack of pertinent expertise, such as a virologist or epidemiologist in the author list. In general, Sanford’s writings seem to be siloed off from engagement with a broader, informed community. This is a subjective appraisal for sure, but Sanford’s response to criticism has been very thin skinned and evasive.

Honesty does not have to selective as to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. After all, most propaganda is factual, it is just a matter as to which facts it chooses to tell.

The Sanford and Carter H1N1 paper danced past several glaring, self-evident facts - virulence is not a measure of fitness, the 1918 epidemic grew more deadly - not attenuated - in the first year, epidemiology cannot simply ignore the susceptibility of the host population, patient treatment influences clinical outcomes, how the virus supposedly maintained potency in endemic reservoir for thousands of years; these basic considerations are lethal to the premise of the paper. So not only was the correlation not causation, there was no correlation to begin with. What a mess. There had to be an awareness of these issues.

While Sanford, et al, may be sincere in their commitment to genetic entropy as their central premise, in my mind the presentation of their argument has fallen short of a pro-active definition of academic integrity.


I do think it is interesting that Sanford and Carter believe organisms with fast generation times (or replication cycles) are not nearly as good as humans when it comes to models of genetic entropy - at least until they believe they have a good example in a virus.


You’re building a straw man here for Sanford explains very clearly in GE why it is the case that some organisms with fast generation times such as bacteria are more resistant to genetic entropy. And the reason for this is that bacteria have much lower mutation rate per generation than, say, humans (there are about 100 mutations per generation in humans vs 1 mutation every 1000 generations in bacteria).
As for the virus you’re referring to, it is an RNA virus. And RNA viruses such as influenza and Ebola are very special for they have a very high mutation rates. And for this reason, entropic extinction of strains can be observed in less than a century (influenza) and sometimes in a matter of just a few month (Ebola). (Genetic Entropy, p230).

So what? He describes regular accumulation of non adaptive mutations with time, which is exactly what GE is all about.

I think in this case virulence is a good proxy of fitness.

This is expected under the genetic entropy paradigm for the number of mutations accumulated in the viral genome in 1918 would be less than some years later.

As Sanford explains in GE, the answer is well know to microbiologists - viruses and bacteria can persist for very long periods of time in a dormant state and can re-emerge from « natural reservoirs ».

Wrong. See my comments above.

Bottom line. Sanford is a highly competent geneticist and his scientific integrity cannot be denied. Of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t be wrong.

Haha, but of course you do.

What the heck? How exactly are viruses supposed to remain ‘dormant’ for thousands of years in natural reservoirs? A natural reservoir is the normal host population of a virus, in which the virus persists by replicating and being transmitted from host to host. A virus can’t remain ‘dormant’ (I assume this means latent) for more than the lifetime of a single organism. And viruses do indeed evolve in their reservoirs, from which they can emerge as deadly as ever.


But if the viral genome is inserted in the genome of the host, it can be passed to next generations of the host in its dormant state.

We’re talking about RNA viruses here. They can’t be inserted into the genome of the host, since the host uses DNA. Apart from retroviruses, that is, but we’re not talking about them either.


So let me get this straight, the viral genome inserts in the host, then for some reason inactivates. How would it do so? I suppose deleterious mutations. Those would then slowly accumulate.

Then later it… reverts the mutations, or what? The opposite of genetic entropy? And flares back stronger than ever due to some powerful new beneficial mutations that restore it back to working condition?


Bad numbers. There are two reasons for this difference. 1) In bacteria you’re talking about mutations per replication, i.e. per cell generation, and in humans you’re talking about germ line mutations per multicellular individual, consisting of many cell generations. More importantly, 2) mutation rate is properly considered per site, and humans have much larger genomes than bacteria. Of course, most of the human genome is junk, and mutations to junk are seldom deleterious.


So when Europeans came to the new world, the smallpox virus was simultaneously unfit (European population), and terribly fit (aboriginal population)? Not to mention the abusive redefinition of fitness as understood in biology.


Am I, Gilbert? Let’s look at what Carter has to say. (Genetic Entropy and Simple Organisms -


There are attempted evolutionary counter arguments to the basic GE hypothesis. They are weak, but it is not the purpose of this article to give an all-comprehensive defense of the theory. It is sufficient to say, however, that bacteria, of all the life forms on Earth, are the best candidates for surviving the effects of GE over the long term. Their simpler genomes, high population sizes, short generation times, and lower overall mutation rates combine to make them the most resistant to extinction. However, this does not mean they can do this forever and, in the end, they will be burned up along with everything else when Christ returns.

Carter states that bacteria are the best candidates for surviving the effects of genetic entropy for the following reasons.

  1. simpler genomes
  2. high population sizes
  3. short generation times
  4. low mutation rates

While you are absolutely right about influenza virus not meeting the last of the listed criteria, I would suggest that the virus does indeed match the first three criteria, and rather well.


Humans and mice have approx. the same sized genome. Humans and mice have the same mutation rate. Mice breed 60X faster than humans, 3 generations per year compared to one generation every 20 years.

Why haven’t mice gone extinct from genetic entropy?


Sanford may address it more in the book, but Carter has this to say in the CMI article I referenced earlier (link).

What about other fast-reproducing organisms?

One might reply, “But mice have genomes about the size of the human genome and have much shorter generation times. Why do we not see evidence of GE in them?” Actually, we do. The common house mouse, Mus musculus , has much more genetic diversity than people do, including a huge range of chromosomal differences from one sub-population to the next. They are certainly experiencing GE. On the other hand, they seem to have a lower per-generation mutation rate. Couple that with a much shorter generation time and a much greater population size, and, like bacteria, there is ample opportunity to remove bad mutations from the population. Long-lived species with low population growth rates (e.g. humans) are the most threatened, but the others are not immune.

Carter doesn’t provide any references related to mutation rate in mice, but it may be further addressed in Sanford’s book.

Carter seems to think that shorter generation times somehow prevent detrimental effects of genetic entropy, but the logic behind that eludes me.


I’ve seen that Sanford hand wave too but you’re right, it makes zero sense. All other things being equal having shorter generation times = more generations = more the detrimental genetic changes accumulate in the gene pool. I think Sanford just threw out some words as squid ink to hide the problem and no IDCer ever bothered to think the matter through.

Of course Sanford bases his whole GE idea on his YEC belief the genomes of all creatures were created “perfect” only 6000 years ago and have been degrading ever since. Such silliness has already been given a lot more air time than it ever deserved.

How in the world is increased genetic diversity indicative of a genome degrading??? If anything the fact so much diversity is happening yet the species are still robust is direct evidence against GE. Sheesh.


Yeah, I’m missing the logic there, too.

I don’t see how point 1) can in anyway weakens the claim that bacteria are more resistant to GE than human, quite the contrary.
As for point 2), of course, the more junk DNA, the more resistant to GE the human genome will be. But even assuming that only 20% of the genome is functional, we will still have a high mutation load, probably higher than 10 per genome per generation. On the other hand, with bacteria, because there is selection after every cell division, there are about 1000 cycles of selection for every mutation that occurs (assuming a mutation rate of 1 mutation every 1000 generations or cell divisions). From these considerations, it is expected that bacteria will be more resistant to GE than humans.

Why haven’t mice gone extinct from GE? The Sanford / Carter explanation was nonsense. Can you offer an explanation?

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Technically there’s selection after every cell division in humans too. If too many deleterious mutations occur during the process it can kill the cells or otherwise interfere with normal developmental processes leading to spontaneous abortions. There are phenomena like selection in utero, sperm selection, sperm competition and so on that also affect the deleterious mutational load of humans.


A bacterial generation can be typically 20-30 minutes. That yields 350,400 bacterial generations per typical human generation of 20 years, which per your figures makes bacteria 3.5 times more prone to accumulated deleterious mutation over human generations. Given that the human genome is on the order of a thousand times larger, that means in terms of density that bacteria are subject to 3500 greater accumulated mutation over time. Thus, they would have turned to puddles by now and we would have no need of antibiotics and no assistance from our internal biomes. All of this is ridiculously simplified of course, but this is in response to a fatuous conjecture.