Another short break from the SVP 2018 abstracts…
I just came across a new volunteer led evolution website
“The Phylogeny Explorer Project is a navigable, online encyclopedia of the entire evolutionary tree of life. Navigate the cladogram, from root to tips, and see ancestral lineages branching like a a tree. Search for specific clades or species, and interact with the nodes at each branch to find out more information, including pictures, parent or child clades, and reference material.”
According to Wikipedia:
Creator and Founder Aron-Ra (= L Aron Nelson) “is an atheist activist, former president of the Atheist Alliance of America, and the host of the Ra-Men Podcast, He is also the former Texas state-director of American Atheists. Ra is a critic of creationism, and promotes the teaching of science in Texas schools.”
According to the Phylogeny Explorer Project website:
“Aron Ra is the creator and founder of the Phylogeny Explorer. He is a science educator, author, international speaker, and he has been a political activist, and Texas State and US National Leader for American Atheists.
“Building the Phylogeny Explorer is a massive project that is volunteer led, widely international, and is comprised of individuals of various vocational and educational backgrounds, all bringing their own skills, insights, and creativity.”
the website is seeking donors and volunteers. There is also a Forum section and the rules state:
- Join an existing debate or create your own.
- Be Respectful.
- Anyone using hateful or vulgar speech will be booted.
- And remember, “If you can’t show it, then you don’t know it!” – AronRa
When you sign up to register to see the cladograms you will see this paragraph:
“Only a select group of people are allowed to access the Explorer at this time. Please join the Facebook group if you would like to get involved with the project. Public access will be granted when the Explorer reaches Beta. You may register, however access is only granted to those with a valid reference code or prior permission from a project administrator. All registrations must be reviewed and approved by an admin before access is granted.”
AronRa currently has 190,000+ subscribers and 558 videos. Here is his homepage. The primary video on that homepage Phylogeny Challenge (7 years ago) includes previously produced websites devoted to evolution including:
- Mikko’s Phylogeny Archive (last update 2016): http://www.helsinki.fi/~mhaaramo/
- Palaeos.com: http://palaeos.com/evolution/
- Arizona Tree of Life Web Project: http://www.tolweb.org/tree/
Aron-Ra notes, two of the above websites (1 and 2) are “unfunded private ventures.”
According to Wikipedia
The Tree of Life Web Project: “This collaborative peer reviewed project began in 1995, and is written by biologists from around the world. The site has not been updated since 2011, however the pages are still accessible.
“The pages are linked hierarchically, in the form of the branching evolutionary tree of life, organized cladistically. Each page contains information about one particular group of organisms and is organized according to a branched tree-like form, thus showing hypothetical relationships between different groups of organisms.
“From 1996-2011, over 300 biologists from around the globe added taxa web pages into the phylogeny browser.”
All of these websites preceded ReptileEvolutiion.com.
Aron-Ra’s seven-year-old video follows this history of online evolution projects with a dismissal of trait-based phylogenies in favor of gene-based phylogenies (which cannot include fossil taxa and often fail over large phylogenetic distances) and he employs supra-generic taxa (many of which become invalid when taxa are added). Bottom line: Aron-Ra seems to be more of a journalist than a scientist because he reports on new findings without testing them. It is better to test new data. That’s why scientist announce discoveries; so they will be either confirmed or refuted by other workers.
Moving on to more recent online videos of the Phylogeny Project:
- A one hour audio interview with Aron-Ra (2017): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIFPqe03hVE
- A Scott Reeves reply to The Phylogeny Challenge, who states, “the challenge in the Phylogeny Challenge is misdirected at creationists. It should actually be directed at evolutionists, because the phylogenetic tree is THEIR hypothesis.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-EfJlCvrqI
You might remember,
four years ago, and after Darren Naish’s critique of ReptileEvolution.com, Aron-Ra posted a YouTube video calling PterosaurHeresies.Wordpress.com and ReptileEvolution.com: BS without testing the presented hypotheses and suggested taxa. Hopefully the last four years of adding taxa and nesting enigmas have modified his view.
like Dr. Naish, Aron-Ra is brilliant, but pulls his knowledge of reptile clades from the academic literature. Both trust genetic data over trait data. Both trust the authority of the PhD over the process of testing for one’s self (a basic tenet of science). Neither has tested candidate taxa suggested by the large reptile tree, nor have they tested the claims of the academic literature with wide gamut cladograms of their own. It is easy enough to do, but does take time.
If I can do this, anyone can, because this is real science.
No doubt both Dr. Naish, Aron-Ra are competent workers, but their decisions to (ironically) put their faith in the academic literature and genes, rather than test results for themselves using trait-based analyses, puts them in the same faith-based camp that they profess to rally against. And that’s just because, like you and me, they, too, are human. It is so much easier to read and accept. I would have had the same prejudices and inclinations had I not tested things for myself. It’s been an eye-opening journey, one that I hope you, too, will tackle during your lifetime.
With regard to The Phylyogeny Explorer Project, I say to Aron-Ra:
Don’t rely on volunteers. Don’t ask for donations. Do the work yourself. You will be rewarded by what you find, as I have. You already understand the reward of telling others about what you read… now sit down with MacClade and PAUP and discover for yourself what is and is not true about what you have read.
- https://phylogenyexplorerproject.com at present there is a home page, with intro, intro to the creator and founder, Aron-Ra, links to a Forum, Contact and Donate links. Not sure if there are any cladograms on the site yet, or if they are available only after a registration process (which I did not attempt). You don’t have to register to glean data from ReptileEvolutiion.com. The third PEP video below shows several linking cladograms.
- Chiroptera by Robert England: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fz5IXluLXSI
- Arfel Tayona Evolution Presentation Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-G3KIGB_lsc&feature=youtu.be
- At TetZooCon (2018): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vU7difOTyvk
In this last video Aron-Ra discusses the online resource www.fossilworks.org, a paleobiology database which I use often. It includes no illustrations, but does include 378,000+ taxa and 67,000+ references contributed by 493 scientists. A quick look at “Cosesaurus” reveals no references to anything I have had published in the peer-reviewed academic literature. So we know how that goes.
Aron-Ra also discusses the online resource evogeneao.com, which is new to me. They say: “Our mission is to promote the teaching of evolution by emphasizing its greatest lesson: LIFE ON EARTH IS ONE BIG EXTENDED FAMILY!” The site includes a list of three recommended books. and two Doug Larson cartoons among many others. Key to the site is a large evolutionary tree in which one can find the last common ancestor of included taxa, like Gooseneck barnacle and American robin.
Third on Aron-Ra’s list, the online resource eol.org, the encyclopedia of life. He notes it contains every extant taxa, but no fossils. Even so it includes over 1.3 million pages, 3.8 million images and has 93,00+ members.
Fourth on Aron-Ra’s list is onezoom.org According to that website their fractal “Tree of Life Explorer” is, “An interactive map of the evolutionary relationships between 2,123,183 species of life on our planet. Each leaf on the tree represents a species and the branches show how they are connected through evolution.” It lists only recent species.
Fifth on Aron-Ra’s list is timetree.org. TimeTree: The Timescale of Life permits one to enter two extant taxa (from a list of 97,000) and the website determines how long ago they shared a last common ancestor, along with solar luminosity, carbon dioxide levels and oxygen levels. BTW, their estimated time of divergence for the archosauromorph bird, Corvus, and the lepidosauromorph lizard, Varanus, is 280 mya, a wee bit shy of Gephyrostegus at 310 mya or Silvanerpeton at 335 mya.
Sixth on Aron-Ra’s list is Palaeos.com (listed above). Workers formerly associated with this site now work on the PEP site. Unfortunagely some pages at Palaeos.com no longer work as “the site is currently undergoing a major overhaul.”
Apparently ReptileEvolution.com is still not on Aron-Ra’s ‘good’ list.