Wells at ASCB

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Jonathan Wells has a hypothesis. He thinks that centrioles function as little turbines that generate a force on chromosomes that can destabilize them and lead to cancer; that's fine, I could see where that might be interesting and might be testable. Of course, he also argues that this idea is driven by intelligent design theory, and I don't see that at all. It's a mechanistic hypothesis about current processes in cells, and doesn't say a word about their history, so even if it is demonstrated to be true, there's nothing in it to contradict an evolutionary explanation for its origin.

Wells has been pushing this thing for a while. He presented it in a poster at the 2004 Biola "Intelligent Design and the Future of Science" conference, and published it in Rivista di Biologia (given the reputation of the journal and its editor, that's not a big deal). Now he has presented a poster of the "work" at the American Society for Cell Biology, and some attendees have posted photos and their evaluation. It ain't good.

They've posted a high res photo of the poster. As an old pro at reading posters on the fly, I can tell you what to do: zip over to the bottom right and read the conclusions first. That'll tell you if it's worthwhile to work your way through the whole thing.

The "results", in brief, are "I have a hypothesis. It predicts A, B, and C. If this pans out, it would be good." In other words, there are no results.

Move on, move on, nothing to bother with here. Hey, that poster by the first year grad student with his very first gels that show Obscure Protein Delta is phosphorylated sure looks fascinating…

…well, by comparison, anyway…at least the kid did some work.

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I had noticed a few days back (but didn't post) that Jonathan Witt was been trumpeting that "Wells presents ID-Derived Hypothesis at Scientific Meeting". Correct, if by "present" one means stood by a poster [pdf] for an hour and a half (see here) at th... Read More

30 Comments

Scientific research must be getting a lot easier. One neatly typeset poster with cool technical illustrations and you’re a scientist! Do you think Wells will be adding it to his CV?

Maybe he was hoping for a Behe-type moment and waiting for God to *poof* a conclusion on the page in a puff of smoke?

It’s only a matter of time before this shows up as a “peer reviewed” publication. Wells and the DI will be quick to point out that hundreds, if not thousands of scientists saw the work.

They sure give you a lot of space for your poster at that meeting. And what’s with this deal of publishing the abstracts in a supplimental issue?

Seriously, though, there are posters (and published papers) that do not have original data. These usually present new programs, analytical techniques, or models. This poster could fall into the final class (a new model), but usually you include some test of your model (such as simulations or analysis of published data). You don’t just say, “This is my model.”

I don’t understand, your comments won’t let me post because of questionable content, but I didn’t even cuss. Maybe I’ll try again, but the bar seems kindof high.

Ok, I’m trying again.

I agree with Ethan and RPM, the critical failure is the absence of any work.

The embarrassing thing about this episode is that ASCB let this in in the first place. Abstracts are supposed to be exposed to a cursory peer review and the peer review has clearly failed. ASCB deserves a some criticism over this and should probably consider a retraction. This represents a failure of this journal, especially when you consider the abstract that he got in last the summer which had many more outrageous claims (I blogged this too).

It’s our responsibility as members of the society and as scientists to prevent such claims from getting in, but the desire to create ever more expansive meetings might be causing this failing in quality control.

What I find interesting is that this is apparently the third presentation of the same bloody idea, and there still ain’t no data. How many times does one present the same conjecture in different venues before one is expected to produce some actual research on it?

RBH

RBH, isn’t that what ID is all about, repeating the same conjecture without doing any real research, in the hope that people will take it seriously? How many times was the Meyer Cambrian paper recycled for instance? And still nothing scientific…

I saw it, and I’m not a scientist…perhaps trillions of scientists saw it; this is the claim I’m waiting for.

But in all seriousness, why should we even fear this? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t fear the upcoming insane claim of peer review, but I am resigned to hearing about it in the press as if it were legitimate.

As a relative outsider (an actor, but one with math, physics, and chemistry minors), why can’t we get the idiocy of this claim across to the general public? It seems pretty clear cut to me. The explanation of supplementary issue seems pretty clear to me. Is there some reason that this explanation falls on deaf ears when regarding the public or the press? Or does it? Is there some other problem?

Living less than 2 miles away from Kansas, I realize that there are limits to what common sense and rational argument can accomplish (sad), but isn’t the failure to cross this gap our biggest problem? I would appreciate it if someone could enlighten me on strategies in this area.

quitter Wrote:

I don’t understand, your comments won’t let me post because of questionable content, but I didn’t even cuss.

It may have something to do with the number of links in your post. From what I understand, the spam filter smacks posts with too many links.

Blipey, There is nothing really to fear from this, me and my friends are mostly just embarrassed by this failure of science to regulate itself, the reviewers need to do a better job in the future.

Overall I’m not that worried about intelligent design. It’s just a fad after all, none of us are actually worried that design science will replace modern biology leading to the creation of smite rays and creation guns. I think most people who read and contribute to Pandas thumb aren’t really “worried” for science. We’re concerned about education of young people, because we tend to be liberals who worry too much about everyone else in the world to the point of insanity.

I personally don’t care that much if people want to raise their kids ignorant. I long ago realized there is no point stressing over all the parents who homeschool, or object to good books, or have crazy religious beliefs. That’s just this country and it’s more important to just make sure the moonies or whoever don’t get to your own children. The issue here is the contamination of the scientific literature with ID gobbledegook, and our own personal failure in regulating our profession. Legitimacy in the scientific arena lets ID meet critical criteria established by the Supreme Court for the teaching of a scientific theory in schools, that is the proof of acceptance of a theory by a relevant scientific body. The establishment of ID in public school science curricula is a little more frightening consequence of our failure to regulate abstracts in our meetings. If ID proponents can show it is a “accepted” scientific viewpoint via a bunch of abstracts in peer reviewed journals, that could provide the slim justification for it’s insertion into science curricula under the guise of a secular scientific theory.

I don’t believe this will actually happen, but only because scientists are good at detecting this kind of crap and stomping on it quickly. That is our goal in this current effort, to bring attention to this sly exploitation of a loophole in scientific publishing and preventing the ID quacks from gaining false legitimacy by sneaking in data-free papers and abstracts into our literature.

quitter Wrote:

The embarrassing thing about this episode is that ASCB let this in in the first place. Abstracts are supposed to be exposed to a cursory peer review and the peer review has clearly failed. ASCB deserves a some criticism over this and should probably consider a retraction.

Perhaps things are different over in cell biology (or in the States), but I don’t see that the abstract is that bad: I’ve done worse myself (and was accepted to give a talk!), so I don’t see why it should be rejected.

Call me cynical , but the whole point of giving a poster is that it means that you can get money to travel to the conference. And it would be a brave conference organiser who (in effect) said a student couldn’t come to their meeting.

We all know that posters are the lowest of the low in terms of scientific publication (OK, perhaps blogs are worse). I think we should be stressing the point that science is so open that someone from the DI was allowed to present his poster. And then state that we hope that it will lead to some actual results, that could be presented later.

Bob

Lots of posters are accepted for various reasons at scientific conferences. Posters come from a wide variety of sources, including students and are not usually held to a very high standard in all cases. The fact that Wells produces something that an undergraduate student could be ‘proud’ of is the real hillarity here. Incidentally, if he had a speaking engagement at the conference (rather than just a poster) you would have more reason to be very concerned. Generally, if you’re able to give an oral presentation it’s regarded as more prestigious and important than a poster.

FYI: Rivista di Biologia has an impact factor of 0.256, and ranks (by impact factor) 56th out of 64 Biology journals listed at Journal Citation Reports.

This drongo is going to have to go a lot further than “could cause cancer” to justify that title. Deficiencies of calcium and Vitamin D may well correlate with cancer, but I suspect by means of a mass-action chemical mechanism interacting directly with DNA or (mis)regulation of a repair mechanism or partial misregulation of oxidative processes. To suggest that physical turbulence is a significant contributor without any measure of relative impact is risible. The phrase “these known mechanisms do not explain observed rates of recombination events” should be in there, along with the “with calcium” vs “without calcium” pictures of his one and only experiment so far.

In my dimly remembered experience you can pad up a single poorly focused gel photo into an interstate weekend away, but this fellow seems to have got away with it for free. Then again, neither the school nor the conference paid for his ticket I’m sure.

Rustopher.

Here’s a point that no-one has commented on:

Wells proposes that the “Turbine” is intelligenty designed, yet can malfunction to cause cancer.

How can anyone call such a design “Intelligent”??

Someone more enlightened in cell biology than I please tell me - even if the hypotheses on the poster are correct, what in the world does it have to do with intelligent design?

Absolutely nothing. Isn’t that fun?

Overall I’m not that worried about intelligent design.

I am. And the reasons why have nothing to do with science or science education:

http://www.geocities.com/lflank/fundies.htm

I am. And the reasons why have nothing to do with science or science education:

http://www.geocities.com/lflank/fundies.htm

OK, that’s the scariest thing I’ve ever read. Do you think that there is a significant part of the US population that supports this? If that’s true, or that those who don’t are complacent, we are in BIG trouble.

Well of course even if his hypothesis is correct, it has nothing to do with intelligent design. But the same is true for Behe and his irreducible complexity. Even if totally correct, his ideas have noting to do with supporting intelligent design either.

Except of course that anything against evolution is for intelligent design! That’s just an axiom.

And haven’t we learned already from our esteemed collegue Professor Emeritus John A. Davison that all you need is a hypothesis to break evolution. You don’t need no darned data. It’s up to them to show that your hypothesis is wrong.

I suspect Wells did have a “Behe moment”–remember, Behe said that it was up to the real scientists to test hypotheses because he wasn’t interested.

Maybe these turbines can interact with bacterial flagella and produce turbo-charged outboard motors.

As RBH noted, this has been presented before, and the idea has not progressed. I wonder how many scientists have noted his hypotheses and have investigated those ideas? Although, as noted, nothing in the poster contraindicates evolution, the creationists likely would trumpet any citations of the poster as evidence of the impending demise of evolution.

The embarrassing thing about this episode is that ASCB let this in in the first place. Abstracts are supposed to be exposed to a cursory peer review and the peer review has clearly failed.

Actually, I’ve attended (and presented at) some thoroughly mainstream conferences where they’ve made it explicit in the call for papers that most abstracts would be accepted, especially for posters. Of course, the implicit understanding is that people aren’t going to game the system by submitting joke abstracts, etc. Egregious examples should certainly be caught early, but I can’t imagine that the filter is going to be all that fine at a conference of this size.

The content of the poster, though, is something that I’d expect from an undergrad. Someone putting forth this hypothesis as, say, a proposal for a graduate thesis would have to answer a lot of questions about planned experimental approach before a committee would think of approving it. (How many years is it since Wells got his Ph.D.?)

FYI: Rivista di Biologia has an impact factor of 0.256, and ranks (by impact factor) 56th out of 64 Biology journals listed at Journal Citation Reports.

That high?

I’m suggesting posters deserve the review that a scientific paper does. But you do need to look hard enough at the abstract to tell whether or not it’s a joke or in this case, a ploy to bolster discovery institute’s curriculum vitae.

This poster has nothing to do with ID, this is true. However, it has nothing to do with anything relevant to science either. Wells is just trying to pad the discovery institutes resume with BS publication credits in order to meet the Supreme Court’s requirement that in order for something to be defined as a reasonable scientific theory it has to be accepted by scientists in the relevant field. If Discovery can get a bunch of abstracts published like the one they did last summer, they’ll have at least a leg to stand on in this requirement. That’s why this is embarrassing, and hopefully reviewers at ASCB in the future will pay more attention to where the paper is coming from.

For instance, if I just made up a university name, and submitted an abstract describing the growth-rate of my toe-fungus, the ASCB should be able to detect this and filter such entries out. Alas I believe scientists tend to be too trusting. That is the issue. Not extensive peer review of abstracts and posters, but enough review to prevent fraud.

I meant to say that I’m not suggesting posters deserve the same review, sorry. Posters should be given some slack.

I’m confused. Why did he make a poster of ideas and hypotheses? I’ve never seen that before, really. That’s honestly the first time I’ve seen a poster anywhere, where there weren’t at least some results. Maybe people do it, but I’ve never seen it.

I’m confused. Why did he make a poster of ideas and hypotheses? I’ve never seen that before, really. That’s honestly the first time I’ve seen a poster anywhere, where there weren’t at least some results. Maybe people do it, but I’ve never seen it.

1) So he can brag about an ID poster presentation, and use the abstract as another alleged publication. 2) Because he doesn’t have any results.

Maybe Wells should have taken his poster to Dover.

(snicker) (giggle)

I apologize for gloating.

No, I take that back. I’m gloating all I want. The self-righteous holier-than-thou bastards deserve it. I only wish there were a way to publicly humiliate them even more than the Dover ruling *already* publicly humiliates them.

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This page contains a single entry by PZ Myers published on December 19, 2005 5:25 PM.

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