Jeanson's book "Traced": How to Explain its Faults to Lay People?

I just finished reading Jeanson’s book “Traced.” I almost regret having taken the time to do so, but as a college genetics professor with a degree in plant molecular systematics, I like to keep up on what the YEC crowd is up to in terms of their treatment of evolution, and human evolution has been a more recent interest of mine. Interestingly, I was in the middle of reading the book Origin: A Genetic History of the Americas by Jennifer Raff, and am now back to finishing that. What a refreshing read when contrasted with Traced! So far I am finding Origin a wonderful read and a very positive contrast with Traced.

Suffice it to say, Traced, in my opinion, is one of the more dangerous books to have been published recently on this topic, and I fear that many lay people with little knowledge populations genetics will be taken in by Jeanson’s book. Although his writing about the results of his research is riddled with errors and clear misunderstandings of populations genetics concepts, it has the veneer of being scientific, although much of what he writes is so muddled I am not sure what he is saying in a number of places. He also cites almost nothing, so it is often hard to know where his ideas are coming from.

My main reason for starting this discussion thread is that I wanted to get input from others who may have as much, or hopefully more, expertise than I do in this topic. I am scratching my head trying to figure out how to communicate with lay people I encounter who oft3en ask me questions about this kind of thing. I am dreading the next person who may have seen or read this book asking me what I think. I am trying to decide how to approach that question with those who have little or no background.

Here is what I wrote on my Goodreads account about the book:

I am a plant molecular geneticist by training, so understand a thing or two about population genetics and phylogenetic reconstruction using molecular data. Considering Jeanson is employed by Answers in Genesis, and organization that requires its employees to pledge to a set of beliefs that include that the universe only 6,000 years old and that a worldwide flood occurred about 4,500 years ago as a literal interpretation of Genesis suggests, I expected to be a little skeptical about some of his conclusions. What I was not expecting, however, was to see so many simple, yet profoundly devastating, errors in his understanding of population genetics, gene mutation rates, and the meaning of phylogenies (let alone the proper methods for constructing valid trees).

Suffice it to say, as a geneticist I would not recommend this book to anyone. It is so full of errors and faulty reasoning that one cannot depend on the veracity of anything he says. He also seems to have a poor grasp of world history and has no actual training in population or evolutionary genetics, which shows when he attempts to explain what his findings mean. He also grossly misrepresents the work of other legitimate evolutionary biologists doing similar kinds of research, researchers from whom he has used data since he has generated none of his own data. Besaides, most lay readers would likely not be able to make any sense whatsoever of his explanations. Even I, as a trained molecular systematist, couldn’t make sense of many of his convoluted explanations, and have had to conclude that parts of this book are barely better than word salad.

Lastly, it should be noted that the research on which he based much of this book has not been published in peer-reviewed journals. Every one of his papers on the topic have been published in Answers in Genesis internal journals, which undergo no real peer review. If his results had any validity, their extraordinary conclusions would immediately be published in the likes of Nature or Science, but given the disaster his research represents, such papers would never pass peer review. Thus the reason he chose to share his work in a book like this, I assume.

So, basically, I am hoping for advice or examples of how to deal with this book if approached about it. Have any of the rest of you had such interactions already? What kind of response to the book are any of you seeing in your local interactions, either in person or online? What are some practical ways to counter what I see as seriously flawed disinformation about human history?

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Welcome! I’m afraid you’d be teaching me, but I appreciate the opportunity to learn. @DennisVenema are you by chance around and able to comment? Thanks.

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Not my field to comment on but your review would have been much better if you cited a few of the actual errors you mentioned in a tiny bit of detail. I don’t doubt everything you say is correct since it’s an AiG work but you offer little more than counter rhetoric. Well aside from the last paragraph. Pointing out the lack of peer review is important.

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Something I may add later. I was just dashing that off real fast. Part of the difficulty is identifying the errors in the book being reviewed in a review intended for general readers. For example, a quick and straightforward error on his part is assuming a Y-chromosome mutation rate that is about 50X greater than what is known from the literature. By assuming such a high mutation rate he is able to compress all of human history into the 6,000 year YEC chronology, and is able to fit all human population growth into the 4,500 years since the Noachian flood. This is probably the most serious flaw in his work.

The question when identifying an error like that is whether general readers know enough to see that as a serious flaw. I would think so, but I have also had some nonscience type friends who may need more of an explanation than that to know why that is so serious.

And, BTW, there are a few good reviews out there I could point them too, but those reviews tend to be a bit technical.

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I think putting that paragraph on the mutation rate in would be perfect. An honest researcher or person on the fence will have something of substance to look up. Someone just blindly looking for confirmation bias won’t care what you put in there. The Bible could say “Jonah swallowed a whale for 3 days” and some would believe it because, well, the Bible says it. There is nothing you or anyone could say to convince them the Bible is not the ultimate truth of all reality and that all the details it plainly narrates must be literally true.

Vinnie

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Book Review: “Traced” by Dr. Nathaniel Jeanson - YouTube

Found this video on it. Without having read the book, there’s not much I could say on it.

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@Adrian_B I’ve watched nearly every video where Creation Myths interacts with Jeanson’s work, and that clip you posted is what came to mind. As a lay person, I would assume that sharing Jeanson’s misunderstanding about how that population data set works, and what it actually represents would make a good case. If anyone is actually interested in evidence. The video cut to 8:18 for me, so I’m not sure if I left off there or if that’s what you posted intentionally! @bness2 Do you have thoughts on that one? Thanks!

Dr. Joel Duff of the Natural Historian is a solid scientist as well as a Christian.

He reviews Traced here:

Untraced Lineages Undermine “Traced,” Dr. Jeanson’s Y-Chromosome Rosetta Stone of Human Ancestry

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Paige,

I am not one for watching videos, but I do know that that many lay people seem to find them helpful. I came across the video, but have not watched it. Maybe I should, since I hate to recommend information to others I have not personally evaluated. I did watch a few minutes of it, and it seemed like it might be useful. It would be nice to hear from other lay people what sources they found most compelling in alerting them to the flaws in Traced.

Ah, another video review. Are video reviews more effective? As I mentioned to @KateKnut I am not a fan of watching videos, but if that is what is a more popular and effective way, I may recommend them more often. I do get the sense from my students over the last 10 years or so that fewer and fewer tend to turn to textual material when they have questions. I also hear a lot of TLDR from them. :face_with_diagonal_mouth:

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I thought the response around the 8 minute mark of the video was a solid refutation, not understanding much myself. I listen to videos though out the day, so thanks for sharing your review from Goodreads, that’s another place I’ll have to look for responses to particular subjects!

As someone who isn’t a population geneticist and who hasn’t read Jeanson’s book, but who is otherwise scientifically literate, there are two questions in particular that I’d want to see addressed here.

First, how does population genetics work? What are the basic rules and principles by which it operates? What differentiates a good population genetics argument from a bad one?

Second. how does Jeanson’s book stack up against those rules and principles? Where does it fall short of them?

For what it’s worth, neither am I. In fact, being expected to watch a video is one of my pet peeves, both in Internet debates and in work-related training. If I had five pounds for every time I’ve fallen asleep over one of them, or missed an important point that they’ve made because my attention has gotten diverted for some reason, I’d be rolling in it. I find they’re especially bad for communicating complex technical subjects for this very reason. It’s the one plea that I have for anyone producing technical content in this format: for the love of all that is good, please, please, please, please, please provide a transcript.

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This video (the one by Dan Cardinale above) was highly recommended by scientists in multiple science/faith Facebook groups.

@Joel_Duff made this video:

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I personally hate them, but they seem to be a lot of people’s preferred thing now. But here is something I just learned today. If you click on the three dots beneath a YouTube video you have an option to “show transcript” and you can read it. (@jammycakes )

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There’s the rub, Explaining the basics of population genetics takes a bit of space, but, since this is one of the faults with Jeanson’s work (and of other like him) that does beg to be explained. Part of the problem is, that even though some of his errors in populations genetics are amateurish, it still takes me at least two 50 minute lectures with my first year biology students to explain the basics of population genetics. Given Jeanson’s graduate work was more in pure cell biology than evolutionary biology, chances are the last time he reviewed population genetics was in his undergraduate degree, which is likely why he makes the errors he does.

Without going into deep explanations, one of his most serious errors in the area of population genetics that pervades his book is not recognizing the effect of population size on the fixation or increased incidence of haplotypes within a population. He seems to assume that where he sees a paucity of branching for a period of time in one of his phylogenies, that this is a sign of small population size. This is a completely wrong assumption. Small population size is often the cause of the fixation of a new haplotype due to genetic drift, which would actually result in more branches, not fewer.

Another serious error is equating branching in a phylogeny (which shows evolutionary relationships among populations) with the branching in a family pedigree. In other words, conflating genealogical relationships with phylogenetic relationships. In a bunch of places in the book he makes statements like this:

“Two thousand years ago, around 85 million males were alive. This means 85 million Y chromosome branches existed back then.”

Implying that each branch in a tree is represented by a single man’s Y-chromosome haplotype. I have no idea what he really means when he says this, but it is nonsensical.

LOL. Thank goodness I am not alone. I thought maybe I was just getting old and curmudgeonly. :rofl:

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I figured that out too. The only drawback is that the transcript is usually produced by speech recognition software, and unless the owner of the video edits the transcript (which I suspect most do not) it will be full of errors. As long as the speaker enunciates well the transcripts are usually pretty good though.

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I wrote these comments in another forum…

Aside from Jeanson’s choose your own adventure methodology of migration studies, and assumption of a fixation rate that implies every male child in history has, without exception, in turn sired another male child, Dan’s review highlighted a show stopper. Where does Neanderthal fit in? We can add the Denisovans as well.

Answers in Genesis - Neanderthal People

Neanderthals were a group of humans, descended from Adam and Eve, who lived in the harsh post-Flood world. Archaeology confirms they made instruments, make-up, jewelry, weapons, and ritually buried their dead. Many humans today share DNA with Neanderthals. This fully human lineage died out sometime after the Flood.

Answers in Genesis - Humans Only 1.5% Different from Neanderthals and Denisovans?

These post-flood peoples are descendants of Adam and Eve (and of Noah and his family), made in God’s image, and therefore fully human.

By Y chromosome studies, both Neanderthals and Denisovans have divergence times far earlier than any haplogroups.

The evolutionary history of Neandertal and Denisovan Y chromosomes
The Divergence of Neandertal and Modern Human Y Chromosomes

It is not possible that Noah’s sibling children or more distant offspring include modern human, Neanderthal, and Denisovan Y chromosomes, but do let us try. Indulge the identification of haplogroup divergence with individuals. Imagine that Shem, Ham, and Japheth between them represent these three lineages, or in more mainstream terms - three human species. The immediate collapse of this idea lies in that the Bible itself already assigns nationalities to descendants of the three sons, and as Jeanson and numerous others have laid out, these correspond to populations with familiar haplogroups. There are no sons to spare. So it is not possible to get from Noah to Neanderthal and Denisovan Y chromosomes, and even if it were, it is not possible to reconcile the Biblical genealogies with their presence in post flood populations. In contrast, the genetic evidence all aligns comfortably with the evolutionary time scale and conventional description of human dispersal.

For the most part, AiG has in the past simply acknowledged Neanderthals and Denisovans as descended from Noah while avoiding any discussion of the genetic challenge posed. With the publication of Traced, we can now thank Jeanson for making this omission explicit and overt as the mammoth in the room. The post flood existence of the Neanderthals and Denisovans is incompatible not just with Jeanson’s exposition of genetic history, but any conceivable YEC harmonization which places a bottleneck at the three sons of one couple 4500 years ago. This is bound to be noticed, and it may be the unintended consequence that Jeanson has lobbed a grenade into his own enterprise.

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Actually, although you are correct for the most part, he does mention Neanderthals twice in the book, but he never mentions Denisovans. I know from talking to many lay people in my church that most have never heard of Denisovans, which is yet another sign that Jeanson wrote this book for lay people. If he intended other scientists to read it at all, he would have mentioned Denisovans.

As to Neanderthals, one of his mentions is the standard nod to what the standard theory is so he can dismiss it. Here is the quote from page 352:

From whom did the primitive hunter-gatherers arise? Mainstream science says that they evolved over long periods of time—hundreds of thousands to millions of years—from even more primitive species. Before anatomically modern humans arose, primitive Neanderthals had evolved from even simpler life forms. Before the Neanderthals, Homo erectus had evolved from an ape-like ancestor. This ancestor came from an even more primitive predecessor — one that also fathered the genealogical lineage leading to modern chimpanzees.

He tips his hand a bit in the second quote on page 381:

Presumably, these cradles [of civilization] arose shortly after Babel. This would have placed them within a few centuries after the beginning of human history. Therefore, events dated even earlier in the mainstream version of history, such as the rise and fall of the Neanderthals, the Stone Age, and the Agricultural Revolution, all would have transpired within these early centuries.

Reading between the lines, he seems to be suggesting that Neanderthals arose very early, soon after Noah (maybe even while he was still alive, given Jeanson’s squashed chronology), and then mysteriously died out. The whole statement is ludicrous. He is suggesting that the stone age, etc. all happened in just a few hundred years? I guess he is just hoping readers will read this paragraph so fast they won’t consider its implications.

This does, however, uncover another large flaw in his book. Even though there are now numerous genomic sequences of ancient human DNA (which include Y-chromosome sequences), he never once in the book makes any reference to them. I am not surprised, because were he to do so his entire edifice would crumble immediately, since not only are there presumably some unique haplotypes in those sequences that would be ancestral to some of the modern haplotypes, they would immediately give the lie to his 50-fold higher mutation rates he assumes in his phylogenetic reconstructions.

I am sure this is why he never even mentions ancient DNA samples samples. Can you imagine how it would screw up his assumptions if a skeleton from a Biblical archaeology site that was dated by methods unassailable by AiG standards (i.e., not using carbon dating) to say 1,000 BC was compared to modern DNA sequences? The extremely low sequence difference from modern sequences would be so glaring I am sure Jeanson would just throw it out, assuming it was in error.

I think this is also why he isn’t using the much greater power of more extensive genomic sequences. Although his decision not to go that direction may have more to do with lack of expertise than anything else, who knows.

The last puzzler is his repeated mention in various parts of the book about how few Y-chromosome sequences are currently available, almost as an excuse as to why some of his conclusions are only tentative, or that such and such a mystery remains. According to his Appendix 1 there were only 600 sequences in his analysis, and they are all from other researchers. Last estimate I have seen, more than 30 million complete human genome sequences have now been completed. The estimate includes many that may represent private data, but even if only a million of them are publicly available, surely Jeanson could have used several thousand for his analysis, rather than complaining about how little data are available.

He might have also cited a few of the other studies out there, but wait . . . had he done that it would have quickly become apparent how bogus his work is.

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My understanding is that the book has confused fixation rate with overall mutation rate and has confused phylogenetics with genealogy.

When there is no peer review, the next best thing is selling books and asking questions later.

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Hi Bryan. Write a rebuttal book and give it to anyone who asks what you think about Jeanson’s. In the meantime tell them you’re writing it and that you’ll give them a copy when you’re done. I’d have thought that conversation with any layman who reads Jeanson is utterly futile.

Making 1+1=17 I infer that this is your church. Is YEC a problem in Adventism? I’d have thought so.

BioLogos has made me orders of magnitude more aware of the dire state of liberally educated Americans outside the metropoles.

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