Action Potential

Retracting creationism

I decided that all of Action Potential’s many readers down at SfN are probably in need of a little lift at the halfway point of the mother of all neuroscience meetings. It has been almost 3 days of non-stop data input and your brain, if not full, wishes it were. So let’s take a brief interlude from the rigors of neuroscience to discuss a lighter and more relaxed topic: Creationism.

If you didn’t detect the sarcasm in all of that, you aren’t reading enough of my posts. Anyway, I came across an article in the NY Times a week or so back that really gave me a chuckle. Homer Jacobson, a retired chemistry professor from Brooklyn College did a Google search on himself and, to his horror, found several links to creationist websites using his work as scientific evidence that life was no accident.

The NY Times article lists and as two sites using the arguments of Dr. Jacobson’s paper (entitled “Information, reproduction and the origin of life” and published in American Scientist) as evidence that the molecules destined to form RNA and proteins, and eventually the proto-cell, would never have found each other in the primordial soup without the assistance of a supreme being. I clicked through those sites, and found them to be scarier than attending the Alzheimer’s Disease Social: Alzheimer Idol Karaoke Night (for those of you at the SfN meeting who are interested, it will be on Tuesday night, 18:30, at the San Diego Marriott). An entry from one of the websites discussed work published in 1997 on the function of chaperone proteins during protein folding. To quote the author of the commentary, Matt J. Carlson:

The cooperative interdependency of the GroEL and GroES proteins and the chaperoning role they take in the life of misfolded proteins reveal the enormous complexity (to say the least) of just one tiny part of a more vastly complex living system. To credit “chance” with such intricate actions and interactions seems much less reasonable than to acknowledge “intelligent design,” and I only know one Designer skillful enough for the job.

That last line just kills me. Other entries include cartoons and poems stating that monkeys come from monkeys and commentaries personally attacking Darwin for not giving enough credit for his theories to Russel Wallace, who seemed to have simultaneously and independently crafted a theory similar to “natural selection” (Wallace had mailed Darwin a manuscript clumsily titled “On the tendency of varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type”, prompting Darwin to work fast to finish his own book before potentially getting scooped; perhaps both of them should have read and commented on a previous entry of mine…)

But that’s not the best part of the story. Upon re-reading his original paper, Dr. Jacobson found several errors that had gone undetected for decades. Therefore, 20 years post-retirement, and at age 82, he retracted the 52 year old paper. In the retraction letter he stated:

I am deeply embarrassed to have been the originator of such misstatements.

There you have it, justice is done and Jacobson’s scientific evidence refuting Darwin is no more. But don’t think that this minor creationist setback will quell all future Midwestern uprisings burning science textbooks containing teachings of evolution. People always find a way to support their beliefs, for example, by taking advantage of a recent finding in physics; because the speed of light is not constant, this could imply that all geological means of dating are flawed and the world may only be 6000 years old. And Darwinism cannot account for the Cambrian explosion. And the origin of DNA cannot be explained by non-design. Here’s a good piece of advice for everyone, with a post-1995 addendum: Don’t believe everything you read, especially on the internet.


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    Dmitry said:

    In case you also are at the SfN conference and were present today on a wonderful talk by Gazzaniga, I’ve got one stupid question. He finished by telling some story about his son losing a row competition and it was supposed to be an advice for young scientists. Unfortunately I didn’t completely get the point (because of my English not being perfect). Could you briefly retell it?

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    Hu-d'ape said:

    Good post Noah (slow day in clinic). I just saw a special on NOVA about the supreme court trial on the introduction of intelligent design into the Dover school board. Work done by this professor in philosophy was fascinating, in that she found places in the revised manuscripts of the book where they basically replaced the word “creationism” with “intelligent design”, and other places where they did not even take out the words completely for this revision.

    On the other hand, I don’t see how anything could be more interesting than the Alzheimer Idol… I will have to return to SfN again just to see that.