The unexpected promotion of Phil Skell

On A Scientific Dissent on Darwinism we find a Discovery Institute press release which includes Philip S. Skell who is described as an Emeritus Prof. Of Chemistry. Strangely enough, in a more recent press release from the Discovery Institute we read

Dr. Phil Skell, a member of the National Academy of Sciences** and a professor emeritus of biochemistry at Pennsylvania State University, has just sent an open letter to the Kansas State Board of Education encouraging them to revise the state’s science standards to allow students to learn the scientific evidence both for and against biological and chemical evolution.

What happened? Chemistry or biochemistry… Intelligent design or evolution…

On the ASA discussion list, people are quickly to point out that

Stephen Matheson wrote:

Sneaky, sneaky. The Discovery Institute identifies Skell as a “professor emeritus of biochemistry.” Nope; he identifies his research interests as “organic chemistry mechanisms, organometallic chemistry, and heterogeneous catalysis,” and his title at Penn State is “Holder Emeritus of the Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry.” He may well know what an Alu repeat is, but he’s not a biochemist.

Naturally this won’t matter to the Discovery Institute, which would surely never be caught dead making a bogus appeal to authority.


On the NAS website Philip Skell describes his research interests as

My research interests are organic chemistry mechanisms, organometallic chemistry, and heterogeneous catalysis.

A quick search of the NAS website returns the following list of biochemistry members. I count 163 members, Phil Skell is not among them. I also count 41 members in evolutionary biology and 84 in genetics and 87 under Cellular and Developmental Biology

The position of the National Academies of Science on science and creationism include

These kinds of actions by members of the school board are classic approaches to introduce Intelligent Design theory into the biology curriculum. Intelligent Design is a recent permutation of “creation science” that is being touted as an alternative to the modern theory of evolution. It is argued that molecular biology has now revealed that cells are formed from such a complex network of proteins and protein-generating processes that they could not have evolved without the intervention of a special outside intelligence. Proponents of Intelligent Design claim that their approach does not involve religious tenets and therefore does not violate the separation of church and state principle on which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in a number of cases involving attempts to teach some form of “creation science” in public school science classes. School board members and the public are bombarded with arguments that including more than one approach to origins of life in science curricula promotes fairness, academic freedom, and intellectual opennes


So here we have the personal opinion of a professor in chemistry, famous for his work on carbenes, commenting on evolution and at the same time his title evolved into professor of biochemistry. If we insist on arguing from authority, may I propose that we thus compare Skell’s opinion with the opinion of the NAS and its members?

A search on Pubmed returns zero hits for Skell and Google Scholar returned 22 links. None seem relevant to biochemistry. One link refers to a response by Skell to an article by Eugenie Scott Not (just) in Kansas Anymore

He describes

Over A half century ago, during WW II, I was personally associated with an antibiotics research group, engaged in the full range of activities, from finding organisms which inhibited bacterial growth to the isolation and proof of structure of the antibiotics they produced

Is that the full extent of Skell’s involvement in biochemistry?

On Stranger Fruit John Lynch describes the situation

I don’t care what he has to say about biological evolution. I’m sure he wouldn’t care about what I have to say about carbenes. And that’s how it should be. Only in the fevered mind of the DI are all scientists equally conversant with biology. Only to the DI does it matter that Skell is a NAS member. NAS members have been wrong before within their field (all scientists have been!), why should we listen when they talk outside their field?

More information can be found Here including the following quote from Skell

Philip Skell wrote:

“the main purpose” of anyone teaching evolutionary biology in our schools is the “indoctrination of students to a worldview of materialism and atheism”

See James Morrow’s response to Skell

James Morrow wrote:

As for the periodic table of the elements – the sooner we expunge it the better. While ostensibly useful to chemists like Skell, the periodic table is a manifestly atheistic schema, implying that every atom boasts a natural internal cohesion requiring no divine glue

ID, always hurting for being scientifically vacuous, has now chosen the predictable and fallacious appeal to authority. In their efforts to sell Philip Skell’s letter they seem to have abandoned reality.

Propaganda at its finest.