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Tommy Leung
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Of Pigs, Chimps, And Dinosaurs
[Brace yourself, this is a long read]
It seems like ever since mid-2013, not a month goes by without hearing about what I would call "PigChimpMan theory" of human evolution. This "theory" has been lurking around for a while in its own obscure corner of the internet, but it initially came to the attention of a wider online audience via PhysOrg back in July 2013. However, the idea was well and truly launched like a dysfunctional bottle rocket in November 2013 into the mainstream when it was publicised by that bastion of rigorous science journalism, the Daily Mail. Subsequently, it had spread like a pandemic swine flu across other media outlets.

(BTW, I'm not going to link to those pages directly and give them the hits, but if you wish to see them, they can easily be found via a quick Google search)

But we're not here to talk about that, as the ridiculousness of that theory has been thoroughly addressed by +PZ Myers 
http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/07/02/the-mfap-hypothesis-for-the-origins-of-homo-sapiens/
And it was also addressed on episode 420 of Skeptic's Guide to the Universe (http://www.theskepticsguide.org/podcast/sgu/420).

To say that the originator of the "PigChimpMan theory" has some odd and misguided notions about evolution would be an understatement and it is not on the basis of the "PigChimpMan theory" alone. No, lest you think we are talking about a one-trick wonder, fear not - he also has a website call Macroevolution Dot Net (once again, I'm not linking directly for reasons stated above). This is where he has published many other "theories", though admittedly most of them appear to simply be a variation on a very simple theme, namely "X did the nasty with Y and ended up with Z"

Okay, some #realtalk  here - cross species hybridisation does happen - for example, a mule is a hybrid between a donkey and a horse, and there are also hybrids between domestic cattle and American bisons, and even hybrids between false killer whales and dolphins.

He claims that such hybrids lend support for his "PigChimpMan (and other similar) theory". However such hybrids are often sterile and only occur between species which are closely related - often from the same genus. The "PigChimpMan theory of human origin" is based on a faulty, slippery slope assumption that since hybridisation between closely related species is possible, then species across entirely different orders can readily hybridise. Just because two closely related species can form hybrids does not mean animals from entirely different orders (or entirely different classes as you'll see below) can produce reproductively viable hybrids. Basically, just because there are mules running about doesn't mean that Manx cats came from a rabbit humping a cat.

Oh, I forgot to mention that didn't I? That the creator of Macroevolution Dot Net thinks that Manx cats http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_(cat) are actually cat-rabbit hybrids? Just FYI. But cross-order hybridisation is nothing comparing with his proposed origin of the monotremes (platypus and echidnas) which involve birds hybridising with mammals. Yes. Your read that right. He thinks that the echidna exists because a hedgehog got it on with a kiwi. Don't take my word for it - go to his website and check it out for yourself.

But it doesn't end there (it never does), let me present his "They look kinda alike to me" theory of evolution. He has some very strange ideas about dinosaur evolution which I am sure scientists like +Michael Habib or +John Hutchinson or +Darren Naish or just about anyone else who have at least some interest in and background knowledge about dinosaurs would find, well, questionable to say the least. For example, did you know that according to Macroevolution Dot Net, pangolins evolved from stegosaurs?

His "theory" pretty much amount to "Pangolin looks kinda like a Stegosaurus. An anatomically inaccurate Stegosaurus from an old kids book about dinosaurs I came across. And if I ignore just about everything about both animals. Therefore, I think pangolins are actually descended from dinosaurs and Stegosaurus is a mammal" Go check it out for yourself - I seriously, seriously cannot make this stuff up even if I tried. He thinks that pangolin plates are homologous* with the plates of Stegosaurus and that the tail spikes on the thagomizer of the stegosaur tail actually belong on the feet and were homologous to the pangolin's claws.
*A homologous structure is a one which is found in different species that share a common ancestry; for example, our arms are different from the wings of a bat - both have been modification for different purposes in our respective lineages - but they share a common basic architecture from a common ancestor.

He also claims that:

"The modern giant armadillo is so similar to the ancient ankylosaurs that it is only reasonable to suppose it is descended from them."

According to his theory, thyreophoran dinosaurs are in fact mammals. Well, I guess by that logic, one can claim that it is only "reasonable" that dolphins are descendants of ichthyosaurs, right? Right? Well...when he is not busy trying to claim one group of reptiles are mammals, he is also trying to claim that one group of mammals are in fact reptiles. The mammals in question are the cetaceans - whales.
 
While he is not exactly claiming that dolphins are evolved, modern ichthyosaurs, he does think that whales had evolved from mosasaurs. The mosasaur were a group of extinct marine reptiles which are related to modern monitor lizards and snakes that lived during the late Cretaceous period (http://www.oceansofkansas.com/about-mo.html) and they are essentially a lineage of lizard-type reptiles that had adapted to the aquatic environment.

Despite extensive fossil AND molecular evidence for the actual evolutionary origin of whales, he still cite his "They look kinda alike to me" theory of whale evolution, while being unfamiliar with something call convergent evolution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convergent_evolution) whereby divergent groups of organisms have independently evolve very similar forms as they lived in similar ecosystems/environment and were subjected to similar evolutionary selection pressures.

If you want to read up on the non-unhinged theory about evolution of whales, this Wikipedia article has a good collection of links and references you can look up and read at your leisure: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_evolution

Oh, one more little thing - he also has this annoying habit of repeatedly following and unfollowing people on Twitter to try and get them to follow him back. +Steven Hamblin called him out on this, to which he claims that it was "an accident" (he has also deleted all his tweet correspondence with Steven), but others have mentioned that they have been subjected to the same "follow-unfollow" cycle from him.
https://twitter.com/BehavEcology/status/402239297069129728
https://twitter.com/BehavEcology/status/402246415226658816
https://twitter.com/BehavEcology/status/402253272641064960
https://twitter.com/BehavEcology/status/402255907670609920
I think I'm currently in the third or fourth "follow" cycle from him, though I suspect this post might terminate that altogether.

To lighten the mood a bit after this very long post/rant, I would like to propose a new genre of internet literature call "Macroevolution Dot Net Fan fiction" (I think I have just invented the worst kind of fan fiction). Here are some potential title to start off with, but feel free to make your own.

Loris = Monkey + Owl hybird
Ambulocetus = Otter + Crocodile hybrid
Sea cows = descendants of placodonts (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placodont)

Then again, he is probably working on those very ideas right now...
Sharing for +ScienceSunday 
#sciencesunday   #pseudoscience   #evolution   #evolutionarybiology   #scienceeveryday   

Accompanying photo is "The Listener" (2013) by Patricia Piccinini. You can see the rest of her artwork here: http://www.patriciapiccinini.net/
Photo was taken by Ars Electronica and used here under Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Original here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/arselectronica/9415769898/
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Rio like it
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Shark Parasites, Networks, And An (In)Famous Cat Parasite
I've written a new Parasite of the Day blog post! This is Part 2 of my summary of the  conference which I attended earlier this month. This post features studies on shark tapeworms, lizard ticks, and everyone's favourite cat parasite - Toxoplasma gondii.
I also sometimes talk about parasites (and other weird fauna) on the radio for a segment call Creepy but Curious https://plus.google.com/collection/0fFFg (I also draw the artwork which accompany each of those segments) - if you are interested, you can find a collection links to the backlog here: https://plus.google.com/collection/0fFFg

#scienceeveryday  
This is Part 2 of my report on the joint annual meeting for the New Zealand Society of Parasitology (NZSP) and Australian Society for Parasitology (ASP) in Auckland, New Zealand (#NZASP 2015), which I attended earlier this mo...
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Long-Lived Vampire Of The Deep
Earlier today, I was on ABC New England recording a new episode of Creepy but Curious - a regular radio segment that I go on once a month to talk about the weird and wonderful animals that live on this planet. This week, I talked about the Vampire Squid - which you can listen to here: https://soundcloud.com/abcnsw/creepy-but-curious-the-vampire

#scienceeveryday  
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The Beatles Octopus's garden song now seems soo much more sensuous. 
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Parasitising Parasitoids
Yo dawg, I heard you like parasitoids. So I wrote a new Parasite of the Day post here: http://goo.gl/JvS9Gk about a hyperparasitoid that parasitises parasitoids, so you can read about how this hyperparasitoid manages to parasitise parasitoids which are parasitising caterpillars.
http://goo.gl/JvS9Gk
#scienceeveryday  
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Another day, another prominent male scientist reveals himself to be a completely sexist douche-canoe. For every Tim Hunt, there are a bunch of other male scientists with similar sexist attitudes who simply don't say that stuff in public. And for every man like that, there are a group of apologists waiting in the wings, ready to jump to their defence, and excuse their sexism on the basis of their work - as if somehow being good at your job gives you a free pass to be a complete asshole.
Men, if you are in a position of power or authority and you decide to be quiet about this stuff or simply let it slide, then you are complicit in perpetuating sexism in science - because this shit is everywhere and it happens all the damn time.
 
Lovesick Crybabies?

The problem with "girls" in lab according to Nobelist Tim Hunt: "You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.” Hunt went on to explain that he was in favor of "single sex" labs although he didn't want to "stand in the way" of women.

Sadly, this sort of rubbish is routine for women in STEM. 
#EverydaySexism  
The Nobel Prize winning biologist who thanked women “for making lunch” and berated them for crying too much isn’t an outlier. For females in the science world, sexism is the norm.
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And all this talk about how "his career has been ruined" when that is not true at all, and also what about the career of all the women who have quit academia because of men like him? What's even worse is that based on what Michael Eisen wrote here: http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1728 it's not as if he hadn't known or never been exposed to the fact that women have to go through some really bad shit in science. Additionally, here's an account from Deborah Blum who was actually there when Hunt made those sexists remarks: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/06/16/sexist-scientist-i-was-being-honest.html
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Better Advice From Science Careers
This is a follow-up to a previous published (but quickly retracted) post by Science Careers where a postdoc was suggested to "put up with" her adviser leering down her shirt - to basically "lean back and think of the science".
Due to the flood of criticism that "advice" had (rightfully) attracted, Science Careers has published a follow-up with a collection of posts outlining why tolerating sexual harassment is a bad thing (beyond the blinding obvious).
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When It Pays To Be Quiet
Resharing this as I was reminded of it the other day - about this time last year I was on the radio talking about how crickets on Haiwaii evolved to be silent in response to a parasitoid fly that homes in on the male cricket's chirping. For more stories of weird and wonderful nature, check out my Creepy but Curious collection here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/collection/0fFFg
 
Silence Of The Crickets
Listen to the segment here: http://goo.gl/whxs7T
Earlier today, I was on the local radio for their Creepy but Curious segment. This time I was talking crickets, parasitoid flies, and evolution - a story of how field crickets introduced to the Hawaiian islands lost their song, but in turn gained a new lease on life.
#scienceeveryday   #biology   #evolution   #parasitology   #entomology   #cricket   #scicomm   
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ImpoStory (Impostor Story)
This is a piece which I drew for a radio segment here: https://soundcloud.com/abcnsw/9-6-cbc-imposter-bees-and-birds where I talked about Cuckoo Bees and Cuckoo Birds.
Brood parasitism is common in the animal kingdom and it has independently evolved in many different lineages. This is where instead of raising its own offspring, a species exploits the parental provision and behaviour of another species.
Of course, this is not an easy life style, one does not simply imposes one's babies on another species and expect that they will take care of it. As a result, brood parasites have also evolved numerous strategies for bypassing the defensive mechanisms of their host/foster species. On the flip side, one does not get very far in evolution through raising the offspring of other species at the expense of your own, thus potential brood parasite hosts have also evolved their own counter-strategies.
For insects like cuckoo bees, their survival mechanism often come in the form of chemical mimicry. For birds like cuckoos, it involves mimicking both the visual and behavioural aspects of their host. In another words, brood parasites make their living by being fakes - by being impostors. In this 20 minute long radio segment, I talk about the fakery behind cuckoo bees and cuckoo birds - a story about impostors:
https://soundcloud.com/abcnsw/9-6-cbc-imposter-bees-and-birds

Side note/Trivia: That drawing and its associated radio segment was also basically one big tribute/reference to the anime series Nisemonogatari...
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Seashells On The Seashore To Deep Sea Giant Squid
I've written a new Parasite of the Day blog post: http://goo.gl/KnjDl0
This is Part 1 of my summary of the #NZASP15  conference which I attended recently earlier this month. This post features the parasites of periwinkles, clams, and giant squids. Check out this link to find out more: http://goo.gl/KnjDl0

#scienceeveryday  
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Dead Clade Walking
Koolasuchus was the last of the temnospondyl amphibians, it lived alongside dinosaurs such as Leaellynasaura in southern Australia during the Early Cretaceous. It was the final surviving member of a group which has been a Dead Clade Walking since the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction event.
This weekend, I decided to draw to draw a Koolasuchus as Ononoki Yotsugi - a character from the Monogatari series anime to explain the concept of Dead Clade Walking
Dead Clade Walking is a term coined by scientist David Joblonski to describe a lineage that survived a mass extinction but either (1) died out a few million years later, ;or (2) suffered a sign...
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Promiscuous Ladybirds Pay The Price When It Comes To Parasites
There is a new guest post at the Parasite of the Dayblog! This one is by Katie O'Dwyer (‪https://sites.google.com/site/katieodwyer00/‬) who recently completed her PhD at the University of Otago. She has written a post about a parasitic mites which makes a living as a sexually-transmitted infection between ladybird beetles.

#scienceeveryday  
Today we feature a guest post by Katie O'Dwyer who recently completed her PhD at the Evolutionary and Ecological Parasitology group at Otago University. She has previously written for Parasite of the Day about  Phronima - a p...
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Two maless..female. have longer body..
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Imposter Stories
Earlier today, I was on ABC New England recording a new episode of Creepy but Curious - a regular radio segment that I go on once a month to talk about weird and wonderful animals. This week, I talked about Cuckoo Bees and Cuckoo Birds - animals that make a living by pretending to be something they are not. As usual, I also drew the art that goes with the radio segment, which you can see below. To find out more about these natural-born imposters, follow the link below to download an MP3 of that segment.
P.S. This will most likely be lost on most listeners, but there are numerous subtle references to the anime series Nisemonogatari which I have woven into that radio segment and its associating drawing. 

#scienceeveryday  
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Evolutionary biologist, parasitologist
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Parasitologist, Evolutionary Biologist, Researcher, Lecturer
Introduction
Parasitologist and evolutionary biologist who also happen to write for a blog about parasites, and likes to draw things sometimes.

I am a biologist who conduct studies on various ecological and evolutionary biology aspects of parasitism/symbiosis. I also write for the Parasite of the Day blog, which I co-administrate with its founder, Susan Perkins of the American Natural History Museum.

Outside of my professional field, my favourite thing to do is drawing - some of which (but not all) are inspired by my scientific work. My drawings can be found on my dA account.
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