The Masked Man speaks

Dr. Phillip Klebba reprises his explanation to ID-theorist William Dembski about how the bacterial flagellum evolved. Dr. Klebba is a scientist doing research into cellular transport mechanisms, among other things. Here’s his page at the university. For the earlier exchange, see “Dembski vs. Masked Man” on Endogenous Retrovirus.

Other Oklahoma University articles about Dembski and Evolution:

I throw in my two cents’ worth:

There is indeed a huge, huge logical fallacy at the base of Dembski’s argument. It’s the assumption that if you pick enough holes in evolution to let the air out, “God did it” is the only remaining conclusion. That’s known as a false dichotomy.In reality, there are a lot more than two choices. If the received explanation of evolution were not true, it would be back to the drawing board for everyone. If it isn’t random mutation plus natural selection plus sexual selection plus genetic drift, then perhaps it’s inheritance of acquired characteristics plus natural selection plus sexual selection plus genetic drift. There’s no reason to jump to the conclusion that unnatural causes are needed.

The result of pushing the false dichotomy is that ID proponents are ready to use every rhetorical trick in the book, misrepresent evolution, continue to quote falsified “facts,” and invent mathematical proofs based on strained assumptions that evolution can’t occur without angels pushing the molecules. Dembski’s arguments have been falsified again and again. Mutation produces new information. Mutation can produce improvements. Mutation can double the genetic material and then modify it (in spite of the “if I copied this paper I haven’t doubled my knowledge” rhetoric). Natural selection is neither directed by God nor random at a particular time and place. It is probabilistic, however. When Dembski claims that something is impossible and actual researchers explain step by step how that could happen, his argument is demolished. The fact that our evidence is always “pathetic” and his evidence is non-existent tells you who has the logic on their side and who is blowing smoke.

See the flagellum explained in Nature Reviews Microbiology.


ERV: DI Fellows EXPELLED for plagiarism

S. A. Smith at Endogenous Retrovirus notes that the Discovery Institute hijacked a science video from Harvard University and re-dubbed it to support a creationist point of view:

This isn’t a case of naive copyright infringement on Dembski’s part, i.e. “Hey! I found this cool video on YouTube, let’s use it!” Though Dembski is pictured here, others have reported multiple DI ‘fellows’ presenting this manipulated animation. The Discovery Institute does not have a license to use this animation, so they downloaded it illegally.Maybe they think it is ‘okay’ to use it anyway, because they stripped off Harvard/XVIVOs copyright and credits.

Maybe they think it is ‘okay’ because they gave the animation a new title (‘Inner life of a cell’ became ‘The cell as an automated city’) and an extraordinarily unprofessional new narration (alternate alternate title—’Big Gay Al takes a tour of a cell!’). Harvard/XVIVOs narration, all of the science, is whisked away and replaced with a ‘surrealistic lilliputian realm’- ‘robots’, ‘manufacturing’, ‘circuitry’, ‘nano motors’, ‘UPS labels’. Maybe they think it is ‘okay’ because they turned all of Harvard’s science into ‘MAGIC!’
Hmm. From my point of view, as a virologist and former teaching assistant, this isnt just copyright infringement. This is theft and plagiarism.

I hope that Harvard and XVIVO are not going to stand for the misuse of their work. It brings a new meaning to “teach the controversy.” Even if all the Disco Inst. can do is PR, they could at least create their own videos.

Tasmanian Devil needs our help

Tasmanian Devil Facial DiseasePZ Myers at Pharyngula has a detailed article about Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease.

If evolution has taught us anything, it’s that if there’s a niche, something wiill fill it, no matter how grisly or yucky from a human standpoint. (I remember learning that many people have almost-microscopic parasites living around the roots of our eyelashes. Squatters! How dare they?)

Others have blogged about the non-fatal Canine Transmissible Venereal Cancer. It was mentioned by Azra Raza at Three Quarks Daily and Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science) and before us all, Carl Zimmer at The Loom. It was written up in Cell* as the oldest known living cancer. Cell Press online also mentions that Tamanian Devil tumour might be another transmissible cancer. [I know that this comment will be delayed because of all the links, but I want to give everyone credit.]

tasmanian devilTo save the Tasmanian Devil, increasing the genetic diversity sounds like a good idea, but expensive and time-consuming. It will take time to identify candidate animals and arrange matings or investigate artificial insemination for TDs.

In the meantime, it might help to identify any areas of the Tasmanian Devil range that are not yet effective; and sling up a few fences to isolate them as much as possible from infected or partly infected areas. Fences are expensive, too, but people who know what they’re saving (a tourist draw, for one thing) might be willing to spend the money. Roads are a gap in the fence unless the public agrees to some kind of double-fence “airlock” system or bridges that are only down when there is traffic. And then hikers and hunters will cut holes in the fences unless there are gated stiles. But I think we’d be talking perhaps three fence lines in the whole island. Maybe one if there’s a heavily infected area that could be isolated to slow things down and give the other plans a chance.

I’m just brainstorming here; it’s probably not practical. But perhaps we could put our collective mind to imagining solutions and then seeing if any of them can be made practical.

*Reference: Murgia et al.: “Clonal Origin and Evolution of a Transmissible Cancer.” Publishing in Cell 126, 477-487, August 11, 2006. DOI 10.1016/j.cell.2006.05.051)


New research on monkeys suggests that the brain is hard-wired to mull over decisions even after they’ve been made.

The researchers, led by Howard Hughes Medical Institute international research scholar Ranulfo Romo, reported their findings in the October 16, 2007, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Romo and his colleagues are at the National Autonomous University of Mexico….

“To our surprise, when the monkeys held the decision for several seconds, what we saw in the activity of these brain cells in the medial premotor cortex is that they were still remembering the sensory information on which the decision was based,” said Romo. “During that time the neurons were recalling the first stimulus, recalling the second, comparing the second against the first, and even reporting in their activity the categorical decision.”

The researchers’ measurements showed that neurons in the medial premotor cortex were switching back and forth between encoding the sensory information and the decision. “It is a dynamic process, as if the monkeys were constantly trying to revise or update their decision. So, whether it is conscious or unconscious, the working memory is still `brewing’ the perceptions that led to the categorical decision,” he said.

So it’s not just me being wishy-washy.

Bromopyruvic acid for advanced cancers

I know that this is only a Wikipedia link, but it links to some supporting evidence and it’s succinct and I’m in a hurry. A simple chemical, bromopyruvic acid, appears to stop advanced cancers in their tracks by competing with lactic acid for the enzyme hexokinase II.

As the article points out, the acid can not be patented, so big drug companies will not conduct the human trials needed to get approval for its use as a medicine. This seems like a good candidate for government funding.

Statins slow decline in lung function

Statins, a class of drugs that lower cholesterol, help to keep the lungs of elders and smokers healthy. They reduce inflammation and may prevent damage from reactive oxygen species and free radicals. I’m not sure what it takes to make an oxygen species.

Results of a study of 800 people are published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society.

Scientists plan to create human stem cells from cows

The procedure would involve taking a human body cell (never to be a person) and inserting it into an enucleated cow ovum (never to be human). The resulting mass of cells would end up as a thin layer in a petri dish, never to be human, but posessing the genetic apparatus of a human (just a a skin cell does). It would enable scientists to create human stem cells without asking for excess embryos from fertility clinics, which could then continue on their accustomed path (either file and forget or dry out and dump).

Cells from patients would create cloned stem cell lines that contain the same genetic mutation that results in these neurological disorders.

“We feel that the development of disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines from individuals suffering from genetic forms of neurodegenerative disorders will stimulate both basic research and the development of new treatments for devastating brain diseases,” Dr. Stephen Minger, of the stem cell biology laboratory at King’s College London, said Monday in a release.

And it would never have been a baby.

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