Sunday, December 27, 2009

Philip Skell - The Cowardly Creationist

I recently received some unsolicited e-mail from Philip Skell, an elderly chemist who use to teach at Penn State, and a minor ID creationist. I have to admit, it was a bizarre experience.

Skell is well-known for his monomania: claiming that the theory of evolution is not relevant to medicine or experimental biology, and repeating this claim over and over again in numerous articles and op-eds. This, despite the fact that Skell is not a physician or biologist, and, as far as I am aware, has no training in these subjects. But he does like to flaunt his membership in the National Academy of Sciences.

He started off by saying "You may find the attached essay pertinent to your recent writings concerning the David Koch project." -- which was strange, because I have never written about David Koch or his "project". He then signed off as "member, NAS" and attached one of his anti-evolution opinion pieces, this one published in the journal Politics and the Life Sciences. There is nothing really new in it; Skell made the same points in an earlier piece in The Scientist, and he's recently made them again in an issue of that eminent scientific journal, Forbes.

However, Skell's claims are strongly disputed by actual biologists. For example, Nesse and Williams, in their book Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine, explain in detail how understanding evolution contributes to the improved practice of medicine. P. Z. Myers, in two different posts, has explained in detail why Skell is wrong. And Gary Hurd has also pointed out Skell's misrepresentations.

When I mentioned this to the good Prof. Skell, what happened? Like the brave Sir Robin, he ran away in a huff: "As a follower of PZ you have no intellectual honesty. I prefer not to hear further from the likes of you. Sayonara!!!"

Poor Dr. Skell. He's used to intimidating the rubes with his degree and his NAS membership. But when somebody who actually knows something about the subject is cited, he vanishes in a puff of smoke and three exclamation marks.

Philip Skell - the cowardly creationist.

[For more Skell sessions, see his encounter with Jerry Coyne and his ideas being disowned by a member of his own family.]

64 comments:

Veronica said...

Meyers seems to think that a "story driven by evolutionary theory" proves that theory of evolution was needed in uncovering the story. This ignores the reality that other factors also drove the story.

Also, whereas you wrote, "Skell is well-known for ... claiming that the theory of evolution is not relevant to medicine or experimental biology", Meyers seems to think that a discovery that allows scientists to write up new evolutionary theories, or to fit in the discovery into an existing theory, qualifies as "relevant to medicine or experimental biology."

That sounds very weak.

Bayesian Bouffant, FCD said...

Skell is well-known for his monomania: claiming that the theory of evolution is not relevant to medicine or experimental biology, and repeating this claim over and over again in numerous articles and op-eds.

From this morning's headlines:

Disinfectants Cause Some Bacteria to Adapt, Thrive

manuelg said...

> As a follower of PZ you have no intellectual honesty. I prefer not to hear further from the likes of you. Sayonara!!!

I am jealous. I have never had an idiot remove himself from my person with so little effort. I will wear tentacle themed head-wear from now on.

SLC said...

The fact that Prof. Skell is a member of the National Academy of Sciences does not preclude him from demonstrating scientific incompetence. The current example of HIV/AIDS denier Prof. Lynn Margulis, who is also a member, provides, the evidence for that.

Veronica said...

Bayesian, in that article, what can we do, using what we know about evolution, to help reduce the dangers of bacteria. The answer must be specific. Just saying that bacteria adapts is something that Skell already knows. In other words, he would point to your article as a perfect example of how evolution tells us very little about how to proceed in reducing the dangers of bacteria.

Ty said...

"That sounds very weak."

I agree. Everything you've written in defense of Skell was extremely weak. You're wonderfully self aware.

Also, "Myers". If you don't even know his name, I doubt you are doing his arguments any credit when you describe them for him.

At least the scientists who dismantle Skell's tedious and unscientific claims spell his name correctly.

Veronica said...

Ty contributes a hilarious joke and a comment on spelling.
Wow.

Veronica said...

Ty, calling Skell's claims "tedious" means nothing, and calling them "non-scientific" also means nothing when all he is doing is making a LOGICAL claim. If you disagree with his logic, make your case.

No one here seems willing to touch his statement that summarizes his position well: "I have queried biologists working in areas where one might have thought the Darwinian paradigm could guide research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I learned that evolutionary theory provides no guidance when it comes to choosing the experimental designs. Rather, after the breakthrough discoveries, it is brought in as a narrative gloss."

Tedious? Maybe. Non-scientific? Not relevant. True? I believe so.

Filipe, from Brazil said...

"We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavouring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still." - John Stuart Mill

I agree partially with Veronica; don't you all take me wrong - I've been convinced of the validity of Theory of Evolution; however, the way things go is very strange. People usually come together like herds, and instead of trying to refute every single opposite claim, which would be much more interesting and beneficial to their knowledge, they try to mock the dissident. Then, the proponent of the controversial argument, with reason, will claim that "no one was able to disprove his statements", when in fact, it would be possible to do it, but everybody was too busy with ridiculing its 'enemies'.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Filipe:

I wonder whose opinion you think is being stifled here. I didn't just mock Skell - I gave citations to several different sources that show his claims are wrong.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Veronica:

Have you read Nesse and Williams' book yet?

Anonymous said...

Like the eponymous comic book Veronica of Archie/Betty/Veronica fame, who throws up her hands in French class, "Why can't the French learn English?" our Veronica wants us to excuse our ignorance. Sorry it won't do to say,
...is something that Skell already knows. In other words, he would point to your article as a perfect example of how evolution tells us very little... There are entire libraries of the evolution of resistance and knowledge accumulated over decades. It won't do to shake his head (and you nodding in sympathy). Study the subject, write a paper, throw it open for discussion, run the gauntlet of peer review and so on. But we know that Skell won't do any of that, don't we?

Truti

Anonymous said...

Filipe,

From one Brazilian to another... would you waste your time with giving evidence to someone from Portugal who insisted that Italy had won more world cups than Brazil, or would you just roll your eyes and laugh them out of the room?

Ignorancia tem cura, estupidez nem tanto nao vale a pena abaixar o nivel ;-)

Phil said...

Veronica:
"what can we do, using what we know about evolution, to help reduce the dangers of bacteria"

Evolution is a change in genetic material that occurs in a population over multiple generations (evolution occurs in populations, not individuals). So the adaptation of bacteria to antibiotics IS EVOLUTION (you have to be incredibly ignorant not to realize this).

Now, evolution is very very difficult, if not impossible, to predict. So you can use evolution as tool to collect information, but you cannot use the theory to predict anything with certainty (If you know the basic facets of the theory you should know this).

So what you do is use evolution as a tool to find out about what you want to research about your bacteria. Lo and behold! Scientists have monitored the evolution of bacteria (emergence of antibiotic res. in this case) in terminal patients (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC105492/?tool=pmcentrez). This is VERY useful because it tells us how we can reduce evolution pressure on bacterial populations by administering the antibiotics in a certain way, thus telling us how to proceed to avoid making bacteria very resistant (= reducing the dangers of bacteria, as you put it). So evolution DOES help us in this domain.

The refuting of what is called 'macroevolution' (evolution occurring over very long spans of time) is also stupid because there are mounds of evidence proving this phenomenon is real. There are surely a FEW uses to our knowledge of macroevolution excluding the awe-inspiring fact that it explains the origin of life on Earth. How can you possibly find a use for something that happens over hundreds-of-thousands to millions to billions of years? This is retarded criticism ignoring the main principle of this concept.

You have been pwned by a mere student. That is very weak.

Sincerely,
Phil.

PS: Jeffrey, I believe I saw you at one of the recent RMS dinners, 2008 perhaps?

Kagehi said...

Wait... So base argument Veronica, is that its useless to claim that someone *can* win the lotto, and what odds there are, because the *theory* of picking such lotto numbers can't tell you *who* will successfully pick them?

And, actually, you are partly wrong anyway. If we do know how substance X causes bacteria to die, and we have *seen* cases where they resist and/or are immune to the effect, we can predict that any mutation will either be a) more of the bacteria having that mutation, or b) a new mutation, which provides that immunity. What we can't do, much as with the lotto, is predict exactly how many will have 5 of the numbers needed, or if any of them will have all 6, or during *which* drawing. At best, we can say that the odds increase in certain conditions. In the case of bacteria, its when we *fail* to kill all of them, and the ones that survive already have a resistance, so become a new problem. In the case of the lotto, if your odds are 1:1 billion, One billion people buying tickets *could* increase the odds of one of them buying the right numbers (but only if they all choose unique numbers, or their quick-pick random ones are non-random, and thus every number is represented).

Hmm. Actually, thought of a better example... There is a 5 car pile up, an accident investigator is sent to figure out what happened, and in the process manages to piece together the most plausible set of events, including finding that the *first* car got a flat, and the driver lost control, due to a bag of nails on the road, which dropped out of the back of an open pickup truck (I don't know, maybe part of it got caught on camera, so they know it fell off a truck). By Skell's idiot definition, absolutely nothing the accident forensics expert did was *science*, because his *science* couldn't predict that some moron, that day, 30 minutes earlier, would buy a bag of nails, leave the truck bed open, and then drive home on *that* specific road, nor that the 5 victims of his mistake would be following behind him.

Its the same damn thing. If you can't *predict* it, it can't be science, *at all*. In short, you and him are complete smeg heads. (Red Dwarf reference)

Anonymous said...

Veronica, you are speaking of evolution as if something else had already described the same phenomena, and scientists just made something else up to act as a professional placebo. Making your argument in this way carries shades of typical creationist reasoning in that the criticism isn't so much about the merits of evolution as it is a veiled attack on the character of practicing scientists. Which is why what Ty said was appropriate: Your point of view is tedious because you never say anything, you object to everything without providing logical, evidence-based reasons, and simply assert that because you think evolution isn't true, that your pet story must be true by default. As for Skell's statement, he never says who he talked to, where they work, why they think what he claims they do, etc. Ergo, he has provided no evidence, only an unverifiable anecdote that amounts to nothing he said/she said. So, you have no point of argument, in point of fact. I could also point out Skell's (typical creationist) tactic of asking a question, not listening to the answer, and claiming the entire body of evolutionary theory is thus invalid simply because he raised an objection he wasn't interested in understanding the answer to. I don't understand evolution, but I don't go around calling scientists liars because I don't I also don't understand chemistry all that well, but I wouldn't seek to tell Skell how to do his job.

He's a charlatan seeking attention.

Filipe, from Brazil said...

The links have few objections which can be really taken in account. I have no doubts that their authors could, in practice, do much better in an intellectual and logic point of view. They spend most of their articles whether saying "it has been proven different, don't you be silly", whether mocking Dr. Skell (and over-estimating their abilities with humor). The clear exception may be the book, but I, for one, can't afford books rapidly once I am interested in doing so. And I think it's the case with many people.
I hope anyone does not misunderstand me: I do not defend Dr. Skell's opinions, nor am I against the Theory of Evolution. I just think that it would be much more proper to reunite many concrete cases in which we could understand clearly that the TofE was useful to achieve some results. And we could explain those cases to each other.
Doing this, WE could improve OUR knowledge (if he does not want to listen, it's another issue). But what do we really gain in constantly ridiculing the proponents of ID, without trying to refute sistematically their arguments? Some may say it is amusing, but I hardly think so. I think it might be for the sake of appearing to be clever. Who laughs at the same joke a 250 times in a row?

everettattebury said...

Doesn't the theory of evolution tell us useful things about the dangers of drug-resistant strains of bacteria evolving when antibiotics are over-used?

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Red Dwarf, Season 10 out soon....just a tangent...

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The links have few objections which can be really taken in account.

What can I say? If you don't think the links I posted give numerous objections, then we are just talking past each other. To me they list numerous objections to his claims (the first post of PZ alone has 37 numbered objections!).

Shelley said...

I'm glad Skell decided that PZ's name was enough to leave you alone.

I don't argue with creationists because it tends to make them think they have some kind, ANY kind of credibility.

They don't.

I also don't argue with astrologists, and for the same reason.

Arthur Hunt said...

My own contribution to this subject.

Paul C. Anagnostopoulos said...

I had the pleasure of chatting with Skell on a forum a few years ago. He is indeed a broken record.

So what about that theory of gravity? Do you know any engineers who are concerned with it? I don't. They know an object falls when you drop it and they take that into consideration. But who needs the theory of gravity? They would do their jobs just the same way without the theory.

And those accountants. They don't need mathematics. They would add up the money just the same way without it.

~~ Paul

Filipe, from Brazil said...

The links have few objections which can be really taken in account. (Mine)

" To me they list numerous objections to his claims (the first post of PZ alone has 37 numbered objections!)." (J. Shallit's)
To me, too. But among those numerous objections, I consider few which can be really taken in account: those that do not only mock and that do not only say "someone else has proven it wrong in somewhere else (Where? What do they say?)"
However, it is all about 'offer and demand'. You are not obliged to do anything just because I wish. I will try to learn about Evolution by my own. But I will surely keep reading this blog, which I enjoy a lot.
P.S.: To my anonymous compatriot:
It all depends. If there were a lot of people with some influence and degrees in journalism trying to start a myth/hoax that Italy has more world cups than Brazil (Blasphemy!), it might be a nice idea to start to gather evidences in contrary.
Um abra├žo!

Veronica said...

Boy, y'leave for a day and all hell breaks loose. For crying out loud, guys, you all think that by defending Skell in one of his arguments, that makes me a creationist. I'm a full blooded evolutionist. I shouldn't've had to explained that to you, and you could've just looked at my argument itself without your first putting me in with "one of THEM." It's just that I agree with Adam Wilkins when he wrote, in BioEssays in 2000, "Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one." (Go ahead and provide his subsequent paragraph if you want. I know it, and will show how it's absence or presence does not change the meaning of the first sentence.) I note that he does not say "TOTALLY superfluous." So, if you're going to provide a couple of examples here and there of the usefulness of evolutionary theory in the lab work of bacterial resistance, great. That in no way refutes Skell's overall idea that evolution is oversold with regard to experimental biology.
Similarly, I wrote, "evolution tells us very little about how to proceed in reducing the dangers of bacteria." I only said the words "tells us very little," but you're all pretending that I wrote "tells us nothing." Jumping to conclusions and misrepresenting my position sure makes it easy to argue against me!
Similarly, when Jerry Coyne observed: "Even when it comes to fighting antibiotic-resistant superbugs... evolution hasn't yielded many practical or commercial benefits. Yes, bacteria evolve drug resistance and, yes, we must take countermeasures, but beyond that there is not much to say." Again, he said "not much to say", not "nothing to say." All in all, Skell is right when he complains that evolution is oversold in experimental biology and that Dobzhansky's claim, "nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution," followed blindly by so many of my fellow evolutionists, is mostly just propaganda. Note again, I didn't say it's oversold with respect to scientific KNOWLEDGE. It's not. Only with respect to experimental biology, and medicine, too.

Veronica said...

Out of the 37 objections, only a small handful address the central theme of Skell's arguments, which I think is what Filipe from Brazil was talking about.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Out of the 37 objections, only a small handful address the central theme of Skell's arguments

You mean, like numbers 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25 part 1, 25 part 2 (there were two footnotes labeled 25) 26, 27, 28, 29, and 30?

I wouldn't call that a "small handful".

Really, I find it hard to take Veronica's and Filipe's objections seriously.

Michael Caton said...

Let's look at results. In their quest to save man from the evil theory of evolution, where are all the antibiotics and medical technologies that creationists have developed using their alternative theory? (Insert crickets here.) So if Skell's claim is that evolution is irrelevant to medicine, what does that say about creationism? Come on guys! Where are all your grant proposal? Where's your business plan? You just can't ever seem to get your act together, can you? They just somehow never seem to materialize. It's remarkable how the behavior so closely tracks what you would expect from a group that was trying to *block* inquiry, rather than promote it. As an aside, I went to Penn State for my undergrad degree (molecular biology) but I never heard of this Skell character. Maybe they kept him out of the daylight as much as they could.

Veronica said...

"Let's look at results. In their quest to save man from the evil theory of evolution, where are all the antibiotics and medical technologies that creationists have developed using their alternative theory? "

That's an either-or fallacy, Michael.

Veronica said...

"Really, I find it hard to take Veronica's and Filipe's objections seriously."

I think you left out a couple of words. It should say: "Really, I find it hard to take ~ the time to understand ~ Veronica's and Filipe's objections seriously."

emmie said...

Veronica - there is nothing wrong with questioning the status quo. All too often people (scientists/laymen/creationists etc) make an argument and willingly or unwillingly entwine it with emotion. The argument strays further and further from the objective focus and more towards 1-up-manship. The whole debate becomes a farce and ends up fuelling further emotional retaliation rather than fostering objective debate.

Now getting back on track, I have a few comments:

Veronica:
Ty, calling Skell's claims "tedious" means nothing, and calling them "non-scientific" also means nothing when all he is doing is making a LOGICAL claim. If you disagree with his logic, make your case.
Correct me if I am wrong but a non-empirical, untestable hypothesis should indeed be considered unscientific, and unscientific claims are personal opinions at best, and deception at worst.

As for his claims, arching above them all seems to be the claim that the theory of evolution is irrelevant to 'important' areas like medicine. Phil has largely dealt with this, and I shall just add that we should get our terminology straight - the ToE states 'new' species can result from from pre-existing species through the accumulation of genetic mutations, as described by the somewhat-distinct but wholly entwined process of natural selection. Notice I treat the two as inseparable concepts - when considered together they most certainly are useful (such as the the oft-quoted bacterial resistance to antibiotics - a direct cause-and-effect which has resulted in guidelines for the appropriate use of antibiotics with the intent to save human lives). If the ToE is stripped of its natural selection component then I certainly agree that it is largely useless as a predictive theory.

But what would we predict with evolutionary theory anyway? What kind of humans we will have in 5000 years? This line of argument is largely silly, it's like saying that the theory of relativity is useless because we haven't built a time machine yet. Does it matter that the ToE and NS don't actively help in curing cancer? In my eyes, not really - that isn't it's job, though incidentally cancer cells can be seen to result from a kind of internal NS process selecting for cells that are able to out-pace the homoeostasis of the body :p

In summary, I think that the ToE/NS is in no-way a magical algorithm able to predict cures or single-handedly direct the flow of medical science, and holding it up as though it were is to be ignorant.

manuelg:
I am jealous. I have never had an idiot remove himself from my person with so little effort. I will wear tentacle themed head-wear from now on.
I had a good laugh over this!

Kagehi said...

To be clear, I think my example is a good reason why Skell's thinking is muddled, whether some people may falsely claim that ToE isn't helpful in medicine. Knowing what went wrong "after" the fact is still useful.

However, I would point out that you are looking at "one case", that of bacteria. The majority of research in genetics, as linked to disease, has nothing to do with microorganisms, and deals with, "What does this gene do, so that when its bad, it does the wrong thing?" When a problem crops up, whether it be in a human, or even a plant, they look at the genes that differ, in areas they *know* are likely responsible for the thing that went wrong, and based on more primitive, and thus easier to identify, version in other organisms. Thus, we can predict, accurately, that if gene Q in worms produce neurons, and mucking with it causes them to form wrong, you need to be looking for a **version** of Q in people, if a similar failure happens. Huge swaths of medical science have gone from, "What if we dump these random chemicals in a monkey?", to, "Ok, we know these chemicals seem to affect a cell, that seems to involve genes b, p, and t, so what is it actually doing?", on one end, which makes picking the *right* things to test in the first place easier, to looking at which genes control different things, and **specifically** targeting those genes. At least some progress is even being made for antibiotics based on this, where you target something that the virus or bacteria **requires** to work at all, so that its virtually impossible for it to "evolve" a resistance. If it needs a gene to live, and you knock out the gene, or it needs a specific structure to replicate, and you gum up the structure, its a lot harder to recover from that kind of attack. You could have a few mutants that would survive, but if the mechanism is what "makes them" infectious, or allows them to feed on something critical, etc., the survivors would end up *less* threatening, and attackable using more conventional methods.

This is the "big" part of what is being done, and... complaining that you can't find a lot of it **visibly** on the market is not unlike people whining when the Ford Model A came out that no one in their right mind would want to give up horses, for this unproven "horseless carriage" idea. Certainly, no one would have imagined electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cells, or the guys that just perfected a safe nuclear "battery" for small devices, who are claiming that it might be scalable to vehicles. They would have called you insane, or accused you of suggesting they perform "magic".

Oh, and BTW. Its Myers. If you don't want to get associated with creationist Veronica, it might be a good idea to not repeat the running gag that they are *incapable* of getting the man's name right. ;)

Filipe, from Brazil said...

"Always remember that it is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood: there will always be some who misunderstand you." - Karl Popper
Every single comment I made I have made clear that I am not a creationist. In fact, I'm an atheist, a student of Mathematics and Chemical Engineering which understands TofE as a layman can do, and accepts it. I am not even a defender of Dr. Skell's idea. However, I am against this two-party system that loves mockery. Mockery: this is the key-word. That's what almost all blog posts defending/combating TofE are about. Three words of clear arguments, and 60 words of scoff. Some have called him an idiot, an incompetent, and some have proposed that he is not worthy of discussing. I will, till death, be against this kind of behavior. Karl Popper himself, one of the cleverest men of the late times said that TofE is un-scientific. Then, when he was next to his death, he recognised he was wrong, and said to be "glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation". If KP was wrong, how likely are other skeptical people to err as well!
My point is that we should never ridicule one who thinks differently; it is a shallow thing to do. Instead, we should only refute their statements with reason. But we have freedom; do whatever you want. I will not argue about that anymore.
P.S.: Is my English understandble?

Martin said...

"Let's look at results. In their quest to save man from the evil theory of evolution, where are all the antibiotics and medical technologies that creationists have developed using their alternative theory? "

That's an either-or fallacy, Michael.


No it isn't. It goes right to the heart of application. If, as creationists claim, creationism is not only scientifically valid but a better and more accurate way of understanding the diversity of life on earth, then there should be real-world applications of this science towards such things as health and medicine. To date, understanding of evolution has led to innumerable advances in medicine, while creationism has contributed...what...?

The point is that with creationism, there's just no "there" there.

Michael Fugate said...

I had a short email exchange with Prof. Skell after he sent a letter to the Kansas BOE which was posted on the DI website. He will never accept any answer one gives about the relevance of evolution to biology because he already knows the answer. He also will never answer any question he is asked. For instance, one can easily do chemistry without directly referring to atomic theory, but could you teach chemistry courses without ever mentioning it? No answer.

Plus everything he says about querying biologists is purely anecdote. He doesn't mention who he asked, what he asked, how many biologists he asked and he won't give up their names so no one can verify his conclusion. What is he afraid of? I know he will say he is only protecting his sources, but from what or whom? the evil darwinist conspiracy of "Expelled"?

He really got pissed when I asked him if he endorsed the DI's "Wedge" document.

Hilltop said...

"I had a short email exchange with Prof. Skell"

Can you share your letter (not Skell's, but just yours) with us?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Then, when he [Popper] was next to his death, he recognised he was wrong,

Completely wrong. Popper's original comments about evolution were published in 1957, 1963, and 1976. His paper where he withdrew his previous claims about evolution being a tautology was published in 1978, and he expanded on it in 1981. Popper died in 1994.

See here for more information.

As for mockery, I think it is sometimes an effective tool. As Martin Gardner said, "One horselaugh is worth a thousand syllogisms."

Michael Fugate said...

It was over 5 years ago and I am not sure I can track down the emails. If I remember correctly, I suggested he actually talk to some evolutionary biologists and find out what they do before claiming that biology didn't need evolution.

Filipe, from Brazil said...

"Completely wrong. Popper's original comments about evolution were published in 1957, 1963, and 1976. His paper where he withdrew his previous claims about evolution being a tautology was published in 1978, and he expanded on it in 1981. Popper died in 1994."

Wow, "completely wrong". The man was not that next to his death, then, albeit he was already 76 (or 75, depending on the month). Does it really make my point "completely wrong"?

"As Martin Gardner said, "One horselaugh is worth a thousand syllogisms."
This quote must be attributed to Henry Louis Mencken. Gardner only cited him. "Completely wrong".

P.S.: I was not being sarcastic: is my English understandble?

P.S.2: Happy New Year, to you, and the others.

NAL said...

Of what value is evolutionary biology in medicine?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Thanks for the correction about the quote.

Unlike you, I am happy to have my mistakes pointed out, and I own up to them.

Yes, your claim about Popper being on his deathbed was completely wrong. Too bad you can't admit it.

Filipe, from Brazil said...

"Unlike you, I am happy to have my mistakes pointed out, and I own up to them"
Ah, no, not really. I am, surely, glad to have my mistakes pointed out. Please do not speak for me. I just found strange the expression "completely wrong" in the case.
"Yes, your claim about Popper being on his deathbed was completely wrong"
Did I say he was in his deathbed??? I just said he was next to die. Perhaps it is the same thing in English, and I don't know it. He was 76, darn! However, I was wrong in a strict sense. The man lived a lot.
"Too bad you can't admit it."
I, Filipe F. Calvario, acknowledge that I should not have said "next to his death" in that case, because KP would die more than a decade after his recantation happened. That was a mistake of mine.

Veronica said...

"One horselaugh is worth a thousand syllogisms."

Only in the mind of the person who says it, and the choir that surrounds him.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Veronica:

Still can't admit you're wrong, I see. Happy new year.

Veronica said...

Ha ha ha neigh on your comment.

Was that worth a thousand syllogisms to you?

Well, it was to me.

Filipe, from Brazil said...

After reading "NAS"'s link (Of what value is evolutionary biology in medicine?), I can say: "Now we're talking!" It really shows some clearly good examples.
In that link, in the comments section, one can find those other links:
http://www.venomdoc.com/downloads/2005_BGF_Nature_squamate_venom.pdf
and
http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/04/cephalopod_venoms.php

It's some appropriate stuff.

-------------------------------
I have recognised my mistake about KP. However, don't you think I agree with the mockery thing. I think it can be very good to discourage immoral behavior.
"Castigat ridendo mores" , the wise men have said; We apply it to corrupted politicians, swindlers, charlatans, etc.
However, when it comes to ideas, I think logic and systematic criticism are the only paths. Ridiculing others opinions generally do more evil than good. Anyway, that's what I think. Do as you please.
And I insist: may anyone tell me if my English is full of mistakes? Because it used to be.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Veronica:

Now you're a bore, and wrong.

JohnK said...

Nesse & Williams' 1994 book, referenced by Dr. Shallit, is a bit long in the tooth. Some newer choices:

Journal:
Evolutionary Applications, V. 2 Issue 1 , pps 141 (February 2009) Evolutionary Medicine special issue

Textbook:
Principles of Evolutionary Medicine, August 2009, Oxford University Press, P. Gluckman, A. Beedle and M. Hanson
Collections:
Evolution in Health and Disease, 2nd Ed., 2007, Oxford University Press, Stephen C. Stearns, Jacob C. Koella editors, Bibliography pdf, Chapter 10 pdf, Review in The New England Journal of Medicine
Evolutionary Medicine and Health: New Perspectives, 2nd ed., 2007, Oxford University Press, Wenda R. Trevathan, E. O. Smith and James McKenna editors, Companion website, Chapter 1 pdf
But a few other older works are interesting:
The Evolution of Infectious Disease, 1994, Oxford University Press, Paul W. Ewald
Diseases and Human Evolution, 2005, University of New Mexico Press, Ethne Barnes
Cancer - the Evolutionary Legacy, 2002, Oxford University Press, Mel Greaves

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Thanks, John K. By no means am I an expert in this area, so you've provided a lot more references to read.

But don't expect "Veronica" to admit she was wrong.

JohnK said...

Veronica: I agree with Adam Wilkins when he wrote, in BioEssays in 2000, "Evolution would appear to be the indispensable unifying idea and, at the same time, a highly superfluous one."

Do you agree with Wilkins, the former editor of Bioessays and ace researcher in genetic networks, when he wrote in PNAS 2007:
"a “network perspective” may help transform evolutionary biology into a scientific enterprise with greater predictive capability than it has hitherto possessed.
The analysis of growth is, of course, a major subject area in biology, involving such disciplines as cell biology, traditional developmental biology, developmental genetics, and cancer biology. ... progress is also being made in this area, and some of the relevant networks are beginning to be elucidated. ... My principal suggestion here is that analyses of the networks or network modules that link developmental patterning mechanisms to growth patterns could have special importance in understanding the genetic basis of many microevolutionary-scale events. ...an appreciation of the generic properties of networks and the ways that they transmit effects along functional linear pathways can, when the knowledge of the composition of a network and its inputs and outputs is reliable, lead to predictions about the effects of mutations within network modules on eventual phenotypes. With this sort of analytical framework in place, evolutionary biology will possess a greater degree of predictive capability and potential for the falsification of hypotheses than has hitherto been possible."


(No need to mention what Wilkins thinks of ID.)

Filipe, from you know where said...

I very nice document which can be accessed online :

http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~ecolevol/fulldoc.pdf

Veronica said...

John K: Yes.

"But don't expect "Veronica" to admit she was wrong."

Don't expect Jeffrey to represent my position correctly.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

"Veronica":

Your position is clear from what you have posted, and it's been amply refuted by what I and others have posted.

And if your real name is "Veronica", I'll eat my hat.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

"Veronica":

I have an idea. Why don't you take Art Hunt's post (thanks, Art!) listed above, and tell us why you think this fails to show that evolution is relevant to medicine?

Phil said...

Veronica said "'new' species can result from from pre-existing species through the accumulation of genetic mutations, as described by the somewhat-distinct but wholly entwined process of natural selection. Notice I treat the two as inseparable concepts"

That is incorrect. They are VERY seperable concepts. Although it is difficult for me to explain and illustrate (big lack of knowledge in bacterial science), I can say that a certain bacteria containing antibacterial resistance would not be a seperate species than one without the resistance. Bacteria are largely classified in the same manner as eukaryotes.

I can, however, tell you how natural selection is excluded from the speciation. Here it goes; If you have an allopatric speciation process, one smaller group of individuals get isolated. In this small isolated group, as with all small groups of individuals,you will have a low genetic variability. So if a mutation occurs in one of the individuals, in many generations there are chances that it spreads in the population. This mutation does not necessarily need to be advantageous (latter would lead to natural selection). For example, a species of cave dwelling fish does not have eyes. This was a mutation that did not give an advantage or disadvantage due to their habitat. The trait happened to spread in the population, what is known as genetic drift. Another good example (though I forget which bird genus it is..) is with a group of immensely similar bird species. They look nearly identical, function very similarly, etc. Many if not all of them live in the same habitat. The only thing that is radically different is their song! This difference of tune doesn't give adv or disadv, yet they became seperate species. How? Sexual selection on the females' part; they would choose males with the same song as them. This isolates the populations sexually so that there is no allele exchange between the groups. This allows for each species to evolve seperately, thus gradually having less things in common (i.e. plumage changed ever so slightly). Speciation occuring within a population that is not geographically seperated is called sympatric speciation.

So, natural selection is NOT NOT NOT wholly entwined, nor is it even necessary, to the phenomenon of speciation.

If anyone knows the name of these birds, please post it :-)

Phil.

Veronica said...

Jeffery, your last suggestion to me just proves my point. But you're safe, you won't have to eat your hat.

Phil, where did I write what you said I wrote?

Phil said...

Veronica: Your 12:38 AM post. (just ctrl+f 12:38)

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Phil:

"Veronica" didn't post anything at 12:38. That was Emmie.

"Veronica": this game is becoming extremely tiresome. If you have something to say, why not simply say it instead of claiming I'm misrepresenting you?

Filipe said...

I think "Veronica"'s position is as follows:
- Theory of Evolution is a valid theory.
- It is very important in Biology, to provide an explanation of how everything came to be like it is.
- In other areas but Biology, it is not very really useful. One can use it to give some explanation after things happened but they're useless to help to develop any new thing practice: it would be the same way; with or without TofE.

I think it is a normal thing to think for a start. Any sanely skeptical person could have thought such a thing. However, the links have shown many evidences in contrary. For me, it is clear that that those ideas are wrong.
If it is not what you think, Veronica, please make yourself clear.

P.S.: Why a false name, Veronica? It is so shallow! If it was to remain anonymous, you could choose a clear pseudonym, like many other people.
P.S.2: My name IS Filipe. I have even said my full name here.

Phil said...

Jeffrey - thanks! My mistake. My comment was indeed directed to emmie.

Jay said...

Just the basic understanding of selection is more than enough to show that TofE is incredibly important to medicine, as many have pointed out. The increasing awareness of bacterial survival of antibiotics has changed the face of medicine irrevocably in the last 10 years, and anyone that tries to deny that fact is nothing more than an ignoramus.

To those that have been long steeped in the traditions of evolution, including Skell (although he won't admit it), evolution is passed off as a simple idea. To a great percentage of basic high school graduates, however, the basic idea isn't ingrained, it requires actual thought and sometimes direction.

There is no detailed need to outline cases where evolutionary theory was applied to create cures, to identify specific genomic changes that resulted in X or that created a new variant of organism B in order to refute attention whores like Skell. Just knowing that the practice of medicine has adapted in less than 2 decades to antibacterial resistant organisms should be more than enough proof.

Veronica Bayesian Bouffant FGM said...

"P.S.: Why a false name, Veronica? It is so shallow! If it was to remain anonymous, you could choose a clear pseudonym, like many other people."

Like it makes a difference?

PhoebeH said...

"...elderly chemist who use [sic] to teach at Penn State....Skell is not a physician or biologist, and as far as I am aware, has no training in these subjects."
_________

Ten minutes on Google might do wonders for the extent of your awareness.

Your trashee, Philip Skell, is a Penn State professor emeritus of organic [i.e. bio-]chemistry. From the PSU website:

'Philip S. Skell, sometimes called "the father of carbene chemistry", is widely known for the "Skell Rule", which was first applied to carbenes, the "fleeting species" of carbon. The rule, which predicts the most probable pathway through which certain chemical compounds will be formed, found use throughout the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.'

'Bi·o·chem·is·try (b?'?-k?m'?-str?) n.
The study of the chemical substances and vital processes occurring in living organisms.'
-Answers.com

See also http://chemistry.about.com/od/organicchemistry/Organic_Chemistry.htm

See also the current UCLA catalog, which lists them in the same department:

'Overview/Faculty/Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry/UCLA:
Organic Chemistry at UCLA is molecular machines, exotic organic materials, new synthetic method, total synthesis, chemical biology and organic theory.'

You might recall from 5th grade science class that the human body is 23% carbon (and more if you're fat since fat is ~76% carbon). "All of this [research on carbenes] can dramatically reduce the cost of manufacturing drugs, given that pharmaceutical companies are increasingly using carbene-supported catalysts.
http://www.in-pharmatechnologist.com/news/ng.asp?id=61991-carbenes-indoles-catalysts]

Philip Skell, ret., took his degree long before "Biochemistry" was a separate branch of chemistry at many if not most universities. (e.g., it became such in 1966 at the U. of Minn., 1971 at U.of W.Ontario, 1965 at U.of Edinburgh, etc. )

Skell's assessment of your intellectual honesty suggests to me that his elderliness hasn't affected his judgment.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Ten minutes on Google might do wonders for the extent of your awareness.

I'm sorry that you think a Google search constitutes an education. You don't even understand how to interpret the results. Organic chemistry is not the same as biochemistry.

Skell is dead, for one thing, so his "elderliness" isn't a factor any more.

Second, Skell had no training in biology or medicine, exactly as I claimed. I never said there were not some chemists who were also biologists. Skell was not one of them, as you can easily convince yourself by looking at his papers.

In his dotage, Skell became a crank. Even his own son-in-law disowned his cranky views. That creationists love him says more about them than about evolutionary biology.