Sounds like the title of a bad horror movie, but it’s true. Run.
All right, you can walk. The link above takes you to a pdf of page 110 of Donald Prothero’s new book, Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). Prothero argues that “all vertebrate embryos start out with a long tail, well-developed gill slits, and many other fish-like features” (p. 108). Thus, he continues, “to the limited extent that von Baer had shown 40 years earlier,” Haeckel’s biogenetic law — ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny — “is true.”
Except sometimes it’s not:
But embryos also have many unique features (yolk sac, allantois, amniotic membranes, umbilical cords) that have nothing to do with the evolutionary past and are adaptations to their developmental environment. Thus it is dangerous to overextend the evolutionary implications of the stages in the embryo, but they are useful guides nonetheless. (p. 108)
Useful guides to what? “Well-developed gill slits” and a long tail are features of adult organisms. Prothero has confused von Baer’s laws (which concern embryonic features) with Haeckel’s biogenetic law, which asserts that the adult features of ancestors are recapitulated during the embryogenesis of their descendants.
In any case, the conservation of embryogenesis is very much in dispute: certainly nothing like a “law” applies. Moreover, the caption to Prothero’s figure 4.10 is wrong. The first stage in the diagram, the so-called “pharyngula,” is actually midway in vertebrate development; these embryos exhibit strikingly different patterns at their earlier stages. There’s just no reason to reprint these figures as an accurate representation of anything; the Haeckel scandal concerned the very accuracy of these drawings.
Flipping to another page of Prothero’s book (p. 45):
In August 2005, an ID creationist article on the “Cambrian explosion” appeared in the obscure Journal of the Biological Society of Washington. According to reports, the peer reviews were scathing and recommended rejection of the article, but the editor had creationist sympathies and let it be published anyway. Once the editorial board and the Smithsonian scientists became aware of what had been slipped past them, they repudiated the article, and the editor resigned. (p. 45)
All wrong (the statements in bold):
1. Steve Meyer’s article was published in August 2004, not 2005.
2. The reviewers recommended publication, as Roy McDiarmid of the Biological Society of Washington acknowledged on reviewing the file of reports.
3. Rick Sternberg’s normal term as editor had already ended by the time Meyer’s article was published. He did not resign as a consequence of the article.
Who is copy-editing at Columbia University Press?