Wednesday, July 02, 2008

evolution, in some more than others

Amanda Marcotte links to an email exchange between Phyllis Schlafly's idiot son and founder of internet laughing stock Conservapedia, and microbiologist Richard Lenski. The long and short of it is that Lenski has been working a dozen cultures of e. coli for 20 years now and triggered a beneficial mutation in one of the cultures-- meaning, of course, that they evolved-- allowing them to absorb a nutrient called citrate that e. coli normally can't use.

Lenski, I should mention, is no mean scholar; he is a "Distinguished Professor" in the Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Dept. at Michigan State (it tells you something about the caliber of MSU's microbiologists that Microbiology and Molecular Genetics has its own department there; generally universities have one dept. for the full spectrum of biology). He is also a former MacArthur Fellow and current member of the National Academy of Sciences.

So when I tell you that Andy Schlafly emailed Herr Professor and rudely asked for "the data supporting your remarkable claims so that we can review it, and note where in the data you find justification for your conclusions," you can appreciate how far li'l Andy and the He Man Lernin'-Haters Club has waded from the shallow end of the intellectual swimming pool. The first sign it won't go well: Schlafly, in an attempt to burnish his academic credentials, appends the letters of his pedigree to the end of his name, including his Bachelor's degree. Ouch.

It appears, judging from PZ Myers' synopsis of the events, that scientists typically just delete the emails of cretins looking to garble their work and make a scene of it, but Dr. Lenski's inner educator won out, and he decided to make this a teachable moment (the whole conversation is available on Conservapedia's website). He wrote an unnecessarily polite letter very gently pointing out that, ahem, "the data" is all included in the paper he published on the subject and is widely available from a little-known place called "most university libraries" as well as online from his own website!

When Andy writes again requesting "the key underlying data" behind Lenski's paper (and presumptuously CC'ing the journal that published the paper!), Lenski sends a second, much less measured, reply that I strongly suggest you take a look at. The post-scripts are a real dandy.

1 comment:

Zee said...

I love a**holes. They're funny and make me laugh.