The Ever-Imminent Collapse of Evolution

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Touchstone magazine this month has an issue devoted to antievolution, running under the title, “Darwin’s Last Stand?” In a question and answer section, there is a question that William A. Dembski provides an answer for:

Touchstone: Where is the ID movement going in the next ten years? What new issues will it be exploring, and what new challenges will it be offering Darwinism?

Dembski: In the next five years, molecular Darwinism – the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level – will be dead. When that happens, evolutionary biology will experience a crisis of confidence because evolutionary biology hinges on the evolution of the right molecules. I therefore foresee a Taliban-style collapse of Darwinism in the next ten years. Intelligent design will of course profit greatly from this. For ID to win the day, however, will require talented new researchers able to move this research program forward, showing how intelligent design provides better insights into biological systems than the dying Darwinian paradigm.

(Anonymous (Touchstone Magazine), (2004). “The Measure of Design: A conversation about the past, present & future of Darwinism and Design.” Touchstone, 17(6), pp. 60-65.)

The structure of the answer is quite interesting. Asked about the future of intelligent design, Dembski immediately responds with speculations about Darwinism.

The fact of the matter is that “intelligent design” has not, to date, offered any new challenges to any part of evolutionary biology. Every single argument made by ID advocates had its origins elsewhere, either in the biological literature or in antievolutionary sources. According to Dembski, designers are innovators, but thus far ID advocates have tallied up a big goose egg on innovative critiques of evolutionary biology.

Does ID need talented new researchers? Given the billing that the ID advocates make for themselves as “top scientists” and favorable comparisons of current ID advocates to past scientists such as Newton, Pasteur, and Darwin, it seems that the current crop of ID advocates should have found the wherewithal to “move this research program forward”. (“Create an ID research program” would be more accurate.) That these self-proclaimed wonders of science have thus far produced nothing of scientific merit corresponding to even a scientific theory of intelligent design says to me that ID is a field that talented new researchers would be well advised to assiduously avoid.

Dembski’s invocation of “the dying Darwinian paradigm” is amusing. Evolutionary biology is a dynamic field of research, with theoretical and empirical work going on in hundreds of institutions around the world. The scientific literature shows no tapering-off of reports of research into evolutionary phenomena. If there are death-like references to be made, they should be directed to “intelligent design”, where they have the advantage of accurately describing the topic: still-born, barren, moribund, putrescent. It’s simply the result of ID advocates trying, unsuccessfully, to revive the exhumed arguments of William Paley. The Paleyist corpus of arguments are ready for re-interment.

The claim that evolution will soon collapse is not a new one. In fact, it predates Darwin’s Origin of Species. This point is made clear by Glenn Morton’s More and More essay. Dembski’s claim is simply the most recent “prediction” of the imminent collapse of evolutionary biology.

One has to wonder about the “Taliban-style collapse” Dembski uses as an invidious comparison. Evolutionary biologists haven’t engaged in the egregious human rights violations that characterized the Taliban’s hegemony. The Taliban did not collapse because of consideration of empirical evidence. The Taliban “collapsed” because a massive military operation removed them from power. So, do ID advocates look to a day not far off when, faced with their persistent inability to muster either arguments or evidence that displace evolutionary biology, they will simply take up arms against evolutionary biologists? One hopes that Dembski’s unfortunate rhetoric is simply that, and not a sign of an imminent shift in ID tactics from shady political action to physical terrorism.

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On the Panda's Thumb, Wesley Elsberry dissects a bizarre comment by Dembski (Dembski makes so many...). When asked about the future of Intelligent Design, he replied, In the next five years, molecular Darwinism—the idea that Darwinian proces... Read More

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At what point did ID become - or was it always - the quintessential example of the blind leading the blind? And in this case, was it the self-blinded leading the willfully blind? To give them their due though, it did show some brilliant word-smithing abilities - they’ve managed to keep an empty balloon afloat in the public eye for quite a while.

Wesley wrote:

Evolutionary biology is a dynamic field of research, with theoretical and empirical work going on in hundreds of institutions around the world. The scientific literature shows no tapering-off of reports of research into evolutionary phenomena.

And all of these reports support the notion that random processes and accidental mutations are incapable of generating complex, highly organized structures, processes and adaptations in which multiple processes and multiple structures support multiple functions and are integrated into the system in such a way that the structures and processes not only support their own functions, they also support the functions of other structures and processes and the overall function of the system. Can you cite any particular reference from the literature that supports the notion that random processes have such power? After all, that is the crux of the matter. Dembski is arguing (and so am I) that intelligent input is required for evolution to proceed. You, apparently are arguing that it is not required, that it can be explained by random, accidental processes. Is there anything in the literature that is supportive of your position?

I’ve just updated my ID literature search. Not surprisingly, there’s still little about ID in the science literature and it’s mostly negative. For a detailed list of ID references (with links).

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Let’s try again - I keep hitting the post button instead of preview. I’ve just updated my ID literature search. Not surprisingly, there’s still little about ID in the science literature and it’s mostly negative. For a detailed list of ID references (with links).

charlie wagner Wrote:

And all of these reports support the notion that random processes and accidental mutations are incapable of generating complex, highly organized structures, processes and adaptations in which multiple processes and multiple structures support multiple functions and are integrated into the system in such a way that the structures and processes not only support their own functions, they also support the functions of other structures and processes and the overall function of the system. Can you cite any particular reference from the literature that supports the notion that random processes have such power? After all, that is the crux of the matter. Dembski is arguing (and so am I) that intelligent input is required for evolution to proceed. You, apparently are arguing that it is not required, that it can be explained by random, accidental processes. Is there anything in the literature that is supportive of your position?

The published reports do not show incapability of evolutionary processes to account for the history and diversity of biological systems. Charlie is free to provide citations to the contrary, if he can… Biologists don’t claim that evolutionary biology knows all the answers now. ID is advanced via an insistence that our current state of knowledge must have all the answers or we must turn to a conjecture of ID that has no supporting evidence whatsoever.

I am arguing that intelligent design has failed to make a case for itself. Neither Dembski nor anyone else has put forward a positive empirical test of the notion that “intelligent input is required for evolution to proceed”. All that ID advocates have shown themselves capable of is taking potshots at evolutionary biology. And they don’t even come up with their own novel potshots; they have to borrow all their ammo from others.

Charlie’s conclusions are reasonable if one uses only propositional logic and considers only the macroscopic. Unfortunately, the microsopic level (DNA sequence) suggests entirely random processes. It seems to require more than average intelligence and insight to get beyond propositional logic and to see randomness.

I probably haven’t read all of the literature that has flowed from Charlie’s prolific keyboard, so forgive me if this is well established background.

Given the rather numinous nebulosity and nebulous numinosity of Intelligent Design Design Theory, without nailing down some basics, one never knows exactly what one is arguing with.

I am pretty sure, for instance, that I am genetically descended from my parents, then grandparents, etc. and confidently extrapolate this process back into prehistory. Further, I find compelling the evidence that humans share a relatively recent ancestor with chimps, an older (but still recent relative to geological time) ancestor with the other primates, etc., and confidently extrapolate this process back to at least Cambrian times. Further, I can think of no compelling reason to look further than the basic explanation of “descent with modification” (as that process is understood by modern molecular genetics) to at least broadly understand these phenomena.

Does Charlie take issue with any of this so far?

I would love to know exactly what happened in preCambrian times, but details do get harder to come by looking back beyond that. We have to rely more on molecular evidence and less on durable specimens, but that’s pretty much what one would expect, if one thinks that more complex forms evolved from less complex ones. Further, the molecular evidence is still startlingly compatible with the same processes of descent with modification stretching back way beyond the most ancient fossils.

Does Charlie take issue with any of this so far?

To really know the details of the origin of life would be the intellectual equivalent of, I don’t know, landing a human on Alpha Centauri. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to happen in my lifetime. Nonetheless, I don’t see any reason why, in principle, we need to look further than the kinds of processes we’ve described, if we accept the hypothesis that the ultimate ancestral genome was a molecule capable of self-replication. (How that came to be, is of course another question. But I see no reason to require of it any more “complexity”/”information” than is necessary just for self-replication).

I think I’ve just sketched a view that is generally shared by most scientists. I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the line, Charlie would disagree. I think it might be helpful, if exchanges with a Paleyist are to be anything more than duels in the dark, to know exactly where he agrees and where he doesn’t. But really, as Wes pointed out, there are no published reports showing the inadequacy of evolutionary processes. So it seems to me the onus is on the Paleyist to demonstrate his claim that “intelligent input” is either necessary or likely. So far as I know, Behe and Dembski are the only two who purport to do so, and their claims do not bear scrutiny.

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Les Lane wrote: Charlie’s conclusions are reasonable if one uses only propositional logic and considers only the macroscopic. Unfortunately, the microsopic level (DNA sequence) suggests entirely random processes. It seems to require more than average intelligence and insight to get beyond propositional logic and to see randomness.

The thing about propositional logic is that it does not necessarily have anything to do with an actual physical system. Even if DNA sequences occur via a random process in a population, they occur in an ecosystem which exerts selective pressures. Selective pressures are a non-ramdom thing.

I suspect Charlie Wagner is merely ignorant of how biology works.

Les Lane wrote:

Unfortunately, the microsopic level (DNA sequence) suggests entirely random processes.

On the contrary, it suggests intelligent input. The sequence of DNA bases is not random, anymore than the bits in a computer program are random. They code for specific proteins that are used in specific structures and processes and they have specific functions. If the DNA sequences in the genome were random, no living organisms would ever emerge.

I am sorry to say that the problem with debating ID creationists is that they have really nothing of value for a working biologist; ID theology is a scientific dead-end.

Their position is based on two unambiguous beliefs. First, that biological systems are too complex to arise by physical processes, chance and selection (an idea which they accept blindly and do not attempt to demonstrate through their own direct experiments). I am reminded of many previous assumptions, e.g., that organic molecules could not be synthesized outside a living cell, that were subsequently proven false (Wohler’s synthesis of urea and the Miller-Urey experiment). Second, that an intelligent designer exists and manipulates the physical world (for which they offer no independent scientific evidence and propose no mechanism by which such interventions might occur, or could be detected). Since evolution demonstrably occurs (all the time), it should be possible to measure these periodic interventions, or find clear evidence for them.

I think what draws many, and certainly myself, to science is that it rarely wastes time in futile debate; in fact debate is a sign of uncertainty - the answer emerges not from discussion but through experiments and analysis. Once a question is resolved, we move on to the next question. While some questions, previously thought answered, have to be reconsidered in the light of new data, the end result is a progressive expansion of understanding.

Evolution theory is, in its board strokes, one such resolved question, and it leads to many fruitful new questions and ideas - the sign that a scientific process is taking place. ID is, as are all theological ideas, a dead-end – the only reason that people propose it is that either, their religious beliefs demand it, they do not understand biology, or they have lost their faith in the explanatory power of the scientific process.

Pardon my insufficient concreteness. I’m referring here to DNA sequence “change” (mutation). DNA sequence “change” is what one observes in comparing DNA sequences (among related organisms). Familiarity with DNA replication, recombination, mutation and “neutral evolution” are called for here.

The real issue is that, as creationists, Charlie and his ilk insist that a single random event create all molecular structures as they are now - substituting a single “random” event for their single “creation” event. It presupposes a recent creation.

Molecular evolution (spoken as a mere dilletante) is a series of “random” events, biased by selective “pressures”. The “randomness” is the undirected mutations; evolution is the “selection” from those undirected mutations by survival of whichever mutation “happens” to convey a survival and/or reproductive advantage.

Perhaps a poker analogy? Those players left at the table at the end of the night are those who could take advantage of the random deal of the cards. The deal is random; the play is not.

Charlie simply wants an easy choice, not a thought process; he wants his diety or the “random” diety, not a complex & messy process without a prescribed end.

The real issue is that, as creationists, Charlie and his ilk insist that a single random event create all molecular structures as they are now - substituting a single “random” event for their single “creation” event. It presupposes a recent creation.

Molecular evolution (spoken as a mere dilletante) is a series of “random” events, biased by selective “pressures”. The “randomness” is the undirected mutations; evolution is the “selection” from those undirected mutations by survival of whichever mutation “happens” to convey a survival and/or reproductive advantage.

Perhaps a poker analogy? Those players left at the table at the end of the night are those who could take advantage of the random deal of the cards. The deal is random; the play is not.

Charlie simply wants an easy choice, not a thought process; he wants his diety or the “random” diety, not a complex & messy process without a prescribed end.

Since the subject of “research program” has been broached here, I’d be curious to get some perspective on the requirements for a “research program” from list participants.

Most, if not all, participants may recognize the term as Lakatos’ which contrasts slightly with Kuhn’s paradigm.

Research programs are complex-embodying accepted theories and even metaphysical assumptions. As such, they are not directly testable and never really “refuted”.

The sign of advancing research program is its ability to generate valid, testable hypotheses and explain existing known “facts” as well as account for new ones.

Lakatos argues that this research takes place in the protective belt. Hypotheses generated in the protective belt are “testable”.

My view is that in order to have testability, you must have falsifiability.

On the whole, it seems to me that ID **could** generate testable propositions, but thus far, it has done so to an extremely limited extent, and most of these propositions can be shown to be extremely weak, if not explicitly “falsified” at least at the theoretical level.

As an example, the argument that flagellum cannot evolve can be easily refuted-and has been refuted and thus I will not repeat the argument here. I suspect most list participants are familiar with the argumen and could do a better job than i can in stating it.

What do others think? Is there a possibility of an ID “research program”? What would it have to do?

Finally, what do others think-is falsifiability of propositions in the protective belt essential, possible or even desirable?

Ian to Charlie: I’m sure you’ll just dismiss that as microevolution…

I don’t know. Creationists used to dismiss that kind of evidence as just “microevolution”. But aren’t Dembski and Behe now making the claim that Darwinian processes can’t create effective proteins? That would seem to rule out the possiblity of bacterial resistance occuring naturally. So now even the things they call “microevolution” seem to provide evidence against ID claims.

It seems to me that the only way the creationists can make these arguments hold together is either to make an artifical distinction between “creating a new protein” (which can’t happen in their view) and “tweaking an old protein for improved function”, or they will have to claim that everytime a bacteria/insect etc. gains a resistance gene the designer is at work behind it.

This doesn’t seem to be the first time Dembski has made a “just wait five years”-type statement. In 1998, he claimed that intelligent design would be worthy of funding from the National Science Foundation within five years:

http://www.talkorigins.org/origins/[…]02.html#hon2

I think we are now in a fairly definitive position to evaluate the accuracy of that prediction. It seems that the “imminent collapse of Darwinism” is a mirage, always retreating further and further over the horizon as the poor beleaguered IDers pursue it…

Charlie Wrote:

On the contrary, it suggests intelligent input. The sequence of DNA bases is not random, anymore than the bits in a computer program are random. They code for specific proteins that are used in specific structures and processes and they have specific functions. If the DNA sequences in the genome were random, no living organisms would ever emerge

Of course the sequence of DNA bases is not random but that is not surprisingly given the selective forces. In other words, the non-randomness of DNA shows how information can be ‘inserted’ from the environment into the genome. But DNA bases do mutate and their effect is ‘random’ with respect to their immediate effect in a particular environment.

Examples of how simple processes can increase the information in the genome, how such processes can lead to IC systems can be found in many places. Tom Schneider, Adami, Lenski all have shown how these simple processes can explain the information in the genome. Combine this with the fact that the genome is scale free and it can be shown how simple processes of gene duplication and divergence can explain the observed data. So while intuitively one may reject the notion that such simple processes can be effective, actual experiments show that the various claims by ID proponents are plainly fallacious and contradicted by fact. Examples include “No Free Lunch” theorems shows that evolutionary processes cannot explain the information in the genome, IC systems cannot be explained by Darwinian processes, law of conservation of information shows that natural processes cannot explain information, and so on. ID’s arguments are not only purely eliminative and thus an appeal to ignorance but in addition they have not been shown to be in any manner relevant to scientific inquiry or knowledge and hopelessly flawed at the theoretical foundation. Contrary to Dembksi’s hopes, molecular Darwinism is alive and well. And I guess deep down he knows, hence the reference to the ‘Taliban’.

Mr. Wagner wrote:

“If the DNA sequences in the genome were random, no living organisms would ever emerge.”

Why not? What would prevent them (living organisms) from emerging over time?

A question. Would Dembski retract his statement if he understood mechanisms of DNA sequence change? Both Dembski and Charlie like DNA sequence statics, but seem oblivious to dynamics.

It’s astounding, given ID’s solid roots in religious fundamentalism, that Dembski has the cajones to bring up the Taliban.

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RBH,

I find it funny how Krauze cherry-picks evolution supporters, whereas you looked at everyone in that issue.

Charlie W. states

And all of these reports support the notion that random processes and accidental mutations are incapable of generating complex, highly organized structures, processes and adaptations in which multiple processes and multiple structures support multiple functions and are integrated into the system in such a way that the structures and processes not only support their own functions, they also support the functions of other structures and processes and the overall function of the system.

“All” of them? Really? Charlie, have you personally read every single journal article that deals with molecular evolution?

If so, how did you miss this?

Molecular Evolution of a microRNA Cluster Tanzer A, Stadler PF.

Many of the known microRNAs are encoded in polycistronic transcripts. Here, we reconstruct the evolutionary history of the mir17 microRNA clusters which consist of miR-17, miR-18, miR-19a, miR-19b, miR-20, miR-25, miR-92, miR-93, miR-106a, and miR-106b. The history of this cluster is governed by an initial phase of local (tandem) duplications, a series of duplications of entire clusters and subsequent loss of individual microRNAs from the resulting paralogous clusters. The complex history of the mir17 microRNA family appears to be closely linked to the early evolution of the vertebrate lineage.

I would suggest that in the future, you drop the “all” from your assertion.

Jason: “I would suggest that in the future, you drop the “all” from your assertion.”

Indeed. Which of the following would be a better choice?

(1).….. most (2).….. some (3).….. none

Adam wrote:

This doesn’t seem to be the first time Dembski has made a “just wait five years”-type statement. In 1998, he claimed that intelligent design would be worthy of funding from the National Science Foundation within five years

Well, I’m sure Dembski would agree that ID is worthy of NSF funding now. Nothing should be inferred from the inconvenient fact that ID is not currently funded by the NSF.

(Nothing other than it represents further vicious censorship of creative spirits by a self-appointed elite of materialists. All we need to do is replace the journal editors and reviewers with more open-minded folks, and ID will have made it. And the people did rejoice, and did feast upon the fruitbats, and the orang-utans and the Intelligently Designed Barbecue™.….…..)

Jason wrote:

“All” of them? Really? Charlie, have you personally read every single journal article that deals with molecular evolution?

Of course not…all of the reports that have come to my attention. Are you aware of anything in the literature that supports the position that the evolution of highly organized processes, structures and adaptations can occur through random, accidental occurences?

If so, how did you miss this?

It just so happens that I have read this report. I have a deep interest in microRNAs and follow this fairly closely. Keep in mind the question that we are discussing, whether or not evolutionary processes are the result of intelligent input or random, accidental occurences. I am not disputing that changes occur in processes, systems and structures over time, I am only questioning the mechanism of these changes. Nothing in this report even suggests that the evolutionary changes observed by the investigators are random or accidental. (Nor do they claim that they are intelligently guided). So while this is a very interesting report, it sheds no light on our problem.

So while this is a very interesting report, it sheds no light on our problem.

That’s correct. If you change ‘our’ to ‘my’.

Ian wrote:

a page that includes a summary of Luria and Delbruck’s 1943 paper that demonstrated that mutations which bestow resistance upon bacteria are random rather than arising in response to the anti-bacterial agent.

This paper is 60 years old. A lot has happened in those intervening years. I posted a paper here a while back that demonstrated that much of this kind of resistance is the result of acquired elements such as plasmids and is not the result of random mutation.

Do you have any evidence for the intervention of an intelligent agent?

No.

Charlie still confuses random chance with evolutionary explanations it seems

On the other hand, there are cases where it can be clearly determined that random chance is not at work. This would occur in any system, such as a machine, in which multiple structures exist and multiple processes exist and each of these structures and processes have a function.

What about the Circadian clock for instance Charlie? Function is an inevitable outcome of evolution as are multiple structures. Seems that design in nature is not as much the issue as is the nature of the designer? That’s where ID totally fails since it is based on appeal to ignorance.

Russell wrote:

Though I would be honored if he would address my comments #4733 and #4763.

Unfortunately, there’s only one of me and a lot of you guys. I try to answer everybody when possible. If you go to my website, you’ll find a lot of information and you can also go to talk.origins and Google on my name. I am always ready to answer specific questions if you have any. The literature doesn’t adress directly the issue of random processes or intelligent input. These are interpretations that investigators put on the data. My belief is that as more is learned about the organization, structure and functions of living systems the more obvious it becomes that such systems could not have arisen without insight.

Charlie: Unfortunately, there’s only one of me and a lot of you guys. I try to answer everybody when possible.

Hmmm. Interesting perspective. One “Paleyist” vs. a lot of “Darwinists”? One “iconoclast” vs. a lot of “orthodox”? One “crank” vs. a lot of “mainstream”?

Anyway, I don’t know your web site, and unless it’s a whole lot better organized than the comments posted here, I don’t want to spend more than a few minutes on it.

I just want to know, basically, two things.

1. Where, exactly, do you part company with mainstream biology? E.g., do you accept that humans and chimps are descended from a common ancestor? humans and fish? humans and palm trees?

2. Can you show us even one example to back up this assertion:

And all of these reports [of research into evolutionary phenomena] support the notion that random processes and accidental mutations are incapable of generating complex, highly organized structures, processes and adaptations in which multiple processes and multiple structures support multiple functions and are integrated into the system in such a way that the structures and processes not only support their own functions, they also support the functions of other structures and processes and the overall function of the system.

I have similar questions about the qoute Russell posted of Charlie’s - what reports establish Charlie’s claim as opposed to all the standard philosophical creationist arguments that do not actually point to any empirical evidence?

Dembski: In the next five years, molecular Darwinism — the idea that Darwinian processes can produce complex molecular structures at the subcellular level — will be dead.

Anyone want to take a bet that, in five years time, Dembski will still be saying “In the next five years…”?

A quantitative study of molecular Darwinism. Comments welcomed.

Les,

Did you also do a search for “molecular darwinISM that got no matches?

I love it. Now all we need is the countdown clock!

(Also - might want to fix this typo: “predicition”)

Bob-

I searched for molecular darwin*

The wildcard searches all suffixes

Thanks Les, figured you knew what you were doing, but wasn’t sure how the searches work.

Pertinent to this, Sonleitner says in a Pandas update:

Microbiologists have estimated that there are 5 x 1024 bacteria living on earth in the ocean, in the soil, beneath the surface, in the air, and inside animals. Soil and subsurface habitats account for 94%; the insides of animals account for only a fraction of 1 percent. In the oceans, any given bacterial gene is estimated to undergo an average of 4 mutations every 20 minutes (Anonymous 1998).

[…]

[Anonymous]. Whole lotta bugs. Discover 1998 Dec; 19 (12): 28.

I have seen something similar in An Official Journal like PNAS. Ah yes:

Genes that are widely distributed in prokaryotes have a tremendous opportunity for mutational change, and the evolution of conserved genes must be otherwise greatly constrained. Assuming a prokaryotic mutation rate of 4x10^-7 mutations per gene per DNA replication (86, 87), four simultaneous mutations in every gene shared by the populations of marine heterotrophs (in the upper 200 m), marine autotrophs, soil prokaryotes, or prokaryotes in domestic animals would be expected to occur once every 0.4, 0.5, 3.4, or 170 hr, respectively. Similarly, five simultaneous mutations in every gene shared by all four populations would be expected to occur every 60 yr. The capacity for a large number of simultaneous mutations distinguishes prokaryotic from eukaryotic evolution and should be explicitly considered in methods of phylogenetic analyses.

[William B. Whitman, David C. Coleman, and William J. Wiebe (1998). Prokaryotes: The unseen majority. PNAS. Vol. 95, Issue 12, 6578-6583.]

[wrong thread, ignore previous post]

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RGD asked

Curiosity compels me to ask: what was the right thread?

This one.

RBH

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