April 15, 2007 - April 21, 2007 Archives

Those who have been following the comments section of the first post on the PNAS flagellum paper, entitled “Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system,” will see that there have been several developments: ScienceNOW at Science magazine has uncritically reported the PNAS paper’s all-flagellar-genes-came-from-one conclusion; Behe and other IDers are getting into the act, although they are so clueless they don’t really even understand why the PNAS paper is problematic; and PZ Myers and I have dropped hints that several of us PT bloggers are reaching the conclusion that this paper is looking worse, not better, after close examination. We will have more on the technical methodology issues in the next few days. For the moment I would just like to offer a simple response to some comments, and a simple but powerful reason that the “all core flagellum genes are descended from one ancestral gene” does not work.

First, the comments. Some commentators have reacted along the following lines: (1) maybe the paper isn’t so bad, just speculative; and/or (2) maybe I’ve misread the paper or its conclusion was poorly worded, and maybe the authors just meant to argue that some of the 24 core flagellar proteins were related, not all 24 proteins.

Unfortunately – and I mean unfortunately because I wish one of these options was true – neither idea is a supportable interpretation of the authors’ views. Have another look at Figure 3 from the Liu & Ochman paper:

A detailed eyewitness report on the Discovery Institute’s conference revival at Southern Methodist University last weekend has been published. This bit (p. 3) is particularly good:

At this point, we were fed up with the sheer lack of science being discussed. (Remember, ID theorists claim to support a science, not a religion.) So we held up our signs. They bore questions such as, “Why do we have wisdom teeth if they do not fit our jaws?” and “Why did it take 20 species of elephant to go extinct to get two species that survived?” and “Why do the ribosomes (protein synthesizing machinery) in our mitochondria match those of bacteria?” to name a few.

Some recent science journalism from The Onion: Unemployed Scientists Prove Dog Likes Beer

Over at After the Bar Closes, Steve Story has set up a poll asking for educational background from PT/AtBC participants. With 90 responses in, the results so far are:

  • PhD Science 32 [35.56%]
  • PhD Humanities 3 [3.33%]
  • BS/BA/Ma Science 39 [43.33%]
  • BS/BA/Ma Humanities 13 [14.44%]
  • High School 3 [3.33%]
  • Lots of Scientific American 0 [0.00%]
  • I Done Readed a Lot on the Internets 0 [0.00%]

Check it out.

by Douglas L. Theobald

As many of you undoubtedly know, neurosurgeon Michael Egnor is the Discovery Institute’s latest garrulous creationist mouthpiece. In a recent blog entry responding to Michael Lemonick of Time Magazine, Egnor claims that the 19th century scientists Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell used “the inference to design” to study electricity:

“Let’s ask: what role did the inference to design play for scientists who gave us electricity? … The two scientific pioneers of classical electromagnetism, Faraday and Maxwell, were particularly devout Christians who inferred design everywhere in nature. They believed that God designed everything — including electricity. Their approach to science was pure design inference, undiluted by atheism or materialism…. They worked entirely from the design inference.”

Faraday and Maxwell were Christians who did indeed see design in nature. However, Egnor has it backwards.

Today the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) put out an Advanced Online Publication paper on flagellum evolution entitled, “Stepwise formation of the bacterial flagellar system.” The paper is freely available via Open Access. I was initially excited that PNAS had published a paper on this topic, and furthermore that it cited the Pallen/Matzke essay on flagellum evolution, and Ian Musgrave’s excellent book chapter in Why Intelligent Design Fails.

Unfortunately, as I read the paper, my delight turned to concern, and then dismay. The paper makes some potentially useful points and explores new territory in a few areas. But much of it ranges from dubious to just irremediably wrong.

Irony award goes to…

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Salvador Cordova (Young Earth Creationist)

Darwinian TE (Theistic Evolution) just doesn’t cut it scientifically.

What a riot, as opposed to the scientifically defensible Young Earth variant or the scientifically vacuous Intelligent Design variant?

conwaymorris1LR.jpgI missed this one a week or two ago. Simon Conway Morris and his colleague Jean-Bernard Caron published a paper in Science on a new Cambrian fossil called Orthrozanclus. The cool thing about the fossil is that it combines features from two other fossils that Conway Morris previously implicated as transitional stem groups between the modern crown groups (“phyla”) of mollusks, annelids, and brachiopods: Wiwaxia and Halkeria. Of course, according to Discovery Institute propaganda, transitional fossils like this don’t exist.

Here is a news summary. See also the Orthrozanclus post from PZ Myers, his post last year on another stem group mollusk-ish critter, Odontogriphus.

The SMU Campus newspaper carried an opinion piece written by Ben Wells who is a junior anthropology major.

The article starts out by describing the political and religious foundation behind the Discovery Institute’s actions

This weekend Dedman Law School’s Christian Legal Society will be hosting a controversial and well-known institute that preaches a religious message masked in a capsule of pseudoscience.

Indeed, the Wedge document outlines clearly how Intelligent Design is meant to be a religious and not necessarily a scientific issue.

A controversial document (reported as the Wedge Document, a 1998 internal memo) stated the Institute’s goal was to “drive a wedge” into “scientific materialism” in order to divorce it from its purely observational and naturalistic methodology and stop the deleterious effects of evolution on Western culture.

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