All time classic creationist pwnage

June 24th, 2008 by Ben Goldacre in bad science | 46 Comments »

Richard Lenski is a biologist who recently found evidence for the emergence of new traits among E.coli bacteria, in a fascinating experiment which he has described in a paper in PNAS (best lay coverage here). His results look a bit like evolution. You will note that his paper includes the original data.

Andrew Schlafly is a startlingly predictable right wing christian activist who runs Conservapedia. I highly recommend a look around there if you’ve not already had the pleasure, because even the people who run Conservapedia find it hard to tell whether the edits are being made by god-fearing americans or naughty satirists.

Schlafly read Lenski. He got angry. He demanded the original data. It was pointed out to him that the original data was in the paper. He demanded the original data again. With menaces.

The following exchange is mirrored humbly and verbatim in case of disappearance. It represents pwnage on a scale most of us can only dream of.


First letter

June 13, 2008

Dear Professor Lenski,

Skepticism has been expressed on Conservapedia about your claims, and the significance of your claims, that E. Coli bacteria had an evolutionary beneficial mutation in your study. Specifically, we wonder about the data supporting your claim that one of your colonies of E. Coli developed the ability to absorb citrate, something not found in wild E. Coli, at around 31,500 generations. In addition, there is skepticism that 3 new and useful proteins appeared in the colony around generation 20,000. A recent article about your claims appears in New Scientist here:

Submission guidelines for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science state that "(viii) Materials and Data Availability. To allow others to replicate and build on work published in PNAS, authors must make materials, data, and associated protocols available to readers. Authors must disclose upon submission of the manuscript any restrictions on the availability of materials or information." Also, your work was apparently funded by taxpayers, providing further reason for making the data publicly available.

Please post the data supporting your remarkable claims so that we can review it, and note where in the data you find justification for your conclusions.

I will post your reply, or lack of reply, on . Thank you.

Andy Schlafly, B.S.E., J.D. Conservapedia

First Reply

Dear Mr. Schlafly:

I suggest you might want to read our paper itself, which is available for download at most university libraries and is also posted as publication #180 on my website. Here’s a brief summary that addresses your three points.

1) "… your claims, that E. Coli bacteria had an evolutionary beneficial mutation in your study." We (my group and scientific collaborators) have already published several papers that document beneficial mutations in our long-term experiment. These papers provide exact details on the identity of the mutations, as well as genetic constructions where we have produced genotypes that differ by single mutations, then compete them, demonstrating that the mutations confer an advantage under the environmental conditions of the experiment. See papers # 122, 140, 155, 166, and 178 referenced on my website. In the latest paper, you will see that we make no claim to having identified the genetic basis of the mutations observed in this study. However, we have found a number of mutant clones that have heritable differences in behavior (growth on citrate), and which confer a clear advantage in the environment where they evolved, which contains citrate. Our future work will seek to identify the responsible mutations.

2. "Specifically, we wonder about the data supporting your claim that one of your colonies of E. Coli developed the ability to absorb citrate, something not found in wild E. Coli, at around 31,500 generations." You will find all the relevant methods and data supporting this claim in our paper. We also establish in our paper, through various phenotypic and genetic markers, that the Cit+ mutant was indeed a descendant of the original strain used in our experiments.

3. "In addition, there is skepticism that 3 new and useful proteins appeared in the colony around generation 20,000." We make no such claim anywhere in our paper, nor do I think it is correct. Proteins do not "appear out of the blue", in any case. We do show that what we call a "potentiated" genotype had evolved by generation 20,000 that had a greater propensity to produce Cit+ mutants. We also show that the dynamics of appearance of Cit+ mutants in the potentiated genotypes are highly suggestive of the requirement for two additional mutations to yield the resulting Cit+ trait. Moreover, we found that Cit+ mutants, when they first appeared, were often rather weak at using citrate. At least the main Cit+ line that we studied underwent an additional mutation (or mutations) that refined that ability and led to a large improvement in growth on citrate. All these issues and the supporting methods and data are covered in our paper.


Richard Lenski

Second letter

Dear Prof. Lenski,

This is my second request for your data underlying your recent paper, "Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli," published in PNAS (June 10, 2008) and reported in New Scientist ("Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in lab," June 9, 2008).,%20PNAS,%20Blount%20et%20al.pdf

Your work was taxpayer-funded, and PNAS represents that its authors will make underlying data available. I’d like to review the data myself and ensure availability for others, including experts and my students. Others have expressed interest in access to the data in addition to myself, and your website seems well-suited for public release of these data.

If the data are voluminous, then I particularly request access to the data that was made available to the peer reviewers of your paper, and to the data relating to the period during which the bacterial colony supposedly developed Cit+. As before, I’m requesting the organized data themselves, not the graphs and summaries set forth in the paper and referenced in your first reply to me. Note that several times your paper expressly states, "data not shown."

Given that this is my second request for the data, a clear answer is requested as to whether you will make the key underlying data available for independent review. Your response, or lack thereof, will be posted due to the public interest in this issue. Thank you.

Andy Schlafly, B.S.E., J.D.
cc: PNAS, New Scientist publications

Second reply

Dear Mr. Schlafly:

I tried to be polite, civil and respectful in my reply to your first email, despite its rude tone and uninformed content. Given the continued rudeness of your second email, and the willfully ignorant and slanderous content on your website, my second response will be less polite. I expect you to post my response in its entirety; if not, I will make sure that is made publicly available through other channels.

I offer this lengthy reply because I am an educator as well as a scientist. It is my sincere hope that some readers might learn something from this exchange, even if you do not.

First, it seems that reading might not be your strongest suit given your initial letter, which showed that you had not read our paper, and given subsequent conversations with your followers, in which you wrote that you still had not bothered to read our paper. You wrote: “I did skim Lenski’s paper …” If you have not even read the original paper, how do you have any basis of understanding from which to question, much less criticize, the data that are presented therein?

Second, your capacity to misinterpret and/or misrepresent facts is plain in the third request in your first letter, where you said: “In addition, there is skepticism that 3 new and useful proteins appeared in the colony around generation 20,000.” That statement was followed by a link to a news article from NewScientist that briefly reported on our work. I assumed you had simply misunderstood that article, because there is not even a mention of proteins anywhere in the news article. As I replied, “We make no such claim anywhere in our paper, nor do I think it is correct. Proteins do not ‘appear out of the blue’, in any case.” So where did your confused assertion come from? It appears to have come from one of your earlier discussions, in which an acoltye (Able806, who to his credit at least seems to have attempted to read our paper) wrote:

“I think it might be best to clarify some of Richard’s work. He started his E.Coli project in 1988 and has been running the project for 20 years now; his protocols are available to the general public. The New Scientist article is not very technical but the paper at PNAS is. The change was based on one of his colonies developing the ability to absorb citrate, something not found in wild E.Coli. This occurred around 31,500 generations and is based on the development of 3 proteins in the E.Coli genome. What his future work will be is to look at what caused the development of these 3 proteins around generation 20,000 of that particular colony. …”

As further evidence of your inability to keep even a few simple facts straight, you later wrote the following: “It [my reply] did clarify that his claims are not as strong as some evolutionists have insisted.” But no competent biologist would, after reading our paper with any care, insist (or even suggest) that “3 new and useful proteins appeared in the colony around generation 20,000” or any similar nonsense. It is only in your letter, and in your acolyte’s confused interpretation of our paper, that I have ever seen such a claim. Am I or the reporter for NewScientist somehow responsible for the confusion that reflects your own laziness and apparent inability to distinguish between a scientific paper, a news article, and a confused summary posted by an acolyte on your own website?

Third, it is apparent to me, and many others who have followed this exchange and your on-line discussions of how to proceed, that you are not acting in good faith in requests for data. From the posted discussion on your web site, it is obvious that you lack any expertise in the relevant fields. Several of your acolytes have pointed this out to you, and that your motives are unclear or questionable at best, but you and your cronies dismissed their concerns as rants and even expelled some of them from posting on your website. [Ed.: citation omitted due to spam filter] Several also pointed out that I had very quickly and straightforwardly responded that the methods and data supporting the evolution of the citrate-utilization capacity are already provided in our paper. One poster in your discussions, Aaronp, wrote:

“I read Lenski’s paper, and as a trained microbiologist, I thought that it was both thorough and well done. His claims are backed by good data, namely that which was presented in the figures. I went through each of the figures after Aschlafly said that they were uninformative. Actually, they are basic figures that show the population explosion of the bacterial cultures after the Cit+ mutation occurred. These figures show that the cultures increased in size and mass at a given timepoint, being able to do so because they had evolved a mechanism to utilize a new nutrient, without the assistance of helper plasmids. … Lenksi’s paper, while not the most definite I’ve seen, is still a very well-researched paper that supports its claims nicely.”

(As far as I saw, Aaronp is the only poster who asserted any expertise in microbiology.) As further evidence of the absence of good-faith discussion about our research, in the discussion thread that began even before you sent your first email to me, I counted the words “fraud” or “fraudulent” being used more than 10 times, including one acolyte, TonyT, who says bluntly that I am “clearly a fraudulent hack.” In the discussion thread that also includes comments after my first reply, the number of times those same words are used has increased to 20, with the word “hoax” also now entering the discussion. A few posters wisely counseled against such slander but that did not deter you. I must say, it is surprising that someone with a law degree would make, and allow on his website, so many nasty comments that implicitly and even explicitly impugn my integrity, and by extension that of my collaborators, without any grounds whatsoever and reflecting only your dogmatic adherence to certain beliefs.

Finally, let me now turn to our data. As I said before, the relevant methods and data about the evolution of the citrate-using bacteria are in our paper. In three places in our paper, we did say “data not shown”, which is common in scientific papers owing to limitations in page length, especially for secondary or minor points. None of the places where we made such references concern the existence of the citrate-using bacteria; they concern only certain secondary properties of those bacteria. We will gladly post those additional data on my website.

It is my impression that you seem to think we have only paper and electronic records of having seen some unusual E. coli. If we made serious errors or misrepresentations, you would surely like to find them in those records. If we did not, then – as some of your acolytes have suggested – you might assert that our records are themselves untrustworthy because, well, because you said so, I guess. But perhaps because you did not bother even to read our paper, or perhaps because you aren’t very bright, you seem not to understand that we have the actual, living bacteria that exhibit the properties reported in our paper, including both the ancestral strain used to start this long-term experiment and its evolved citrate-using descendants. In other words, it’s not that we claim to have glimpsed “a unicorn in the garden” – we have a whole population of them living in my lab! [] And lest you accuse me further of fraud, I do not literally mean that we have unicorns in the lab. Rather, I am making a literary allusion. []

One of your acolytes, Dr. Richard Paley, actually grasped this point. He does not appear to understand the practice and limitations of science, but at least he realizes that we have the bacteria, and that they provide “the real data that we [that’s you and your gang] need”. Here’s what this Dr. Paley had to say:

“I think there’s a great deal of misunderstanding here from the critics of Mr. Schlafly and obfuscation on the part of Prof. Lenski and his supporters. The real data that we need are not in the paper. Rather they are in the bacteria used in the experiments themselves. Prof. Lenski claims that these bacteria ‘evolved’ novel traits and that these were preceded by the evolution of ‘potentiated genotypes’, from which the traits could be ‘reevolved’ using preserved colonies from those generations. But how are we to know if these traits weren’t ‘potentiated’ by the Creator when He designed the bacteria thousands of years ago, such that they would eventually reveal themselves when the time was right? The only way this can be settled is if we have access to the genetic sequences of the bacteria colonies so that we can apply CSI techniques and determine if these ‘potentiated genotypes’ originated through blind chance or intelligence. But with the physical specimens in the hands of Darwinists, who claim they will get around to the sequencing at some unspecifed future time, how can we trust that this data will be forthcoming and forthright? Thus, Prof. Lenski et al. should supply Conservapedia, as stewards, with samples of the preserved E. coli colonies so that the data can be accessible to unbiased researchers outside of the hegemony of the Darwinian academia, even if it won’t be put to immediate examination by Mr. Schlafly. This is simply about keeping tax-payer-funded scientists honest.”

So, will we share the bacteria? Of course we will, with competent scientists. Now, if I was really mean, I might only share the ancestral strain, and let the scientists undertake the 20 years of our experiment. Or if I was only a little bit mean, maybe I’d also send the potentiated bacteria, and let the recipients then repeat the several years of incredibly pain-staking work that my superb doctoral student, Zachary Blount, performed to test some 40 trillion (40,000,000,000,000) cells, which generated 19 additional citrate-using mutants. But I’m a nice guy, at least when treated with some common courtesy, so if a competent scientist asks for them, I would even send a sample of the evolved E. coli that now grows vigorously on citrate. A competent microbiologist, perhaps requiring the assistance of a competent molecular geneticist, would readily confirm the following properties reported in our paper: (i) The ancestral strain does not grow in DM0 (zero glucose, but containing citrate), the recipe for which can be found on my web site, except leaving the glucose out of the standard recipe as stated in our paper. (ii) The evolved citrate-using strain, by contrast, grows well in that exact same medium. (iii) To confirm that the evolved strain is not some contaminating species but is, in fact, derived from the ancestral strain in our study, one could check a number of traits and genes that identify the ancestor as E. coli, and the evolved strains as a descendant thereof, as reported in our paper. (iv) One could also sequence the pykF and nadR genes in the ancestor and evolved citrate-using strains. One would find that the evolved bacteria have mutations in each of these genes. These mutations precisely match those that we reported in our previous work, and they identify the evolved citrate-using mutants as having evolved in the population designated Ara-3 of the long-term evolution experiment, as opposed to any of the other 11 populations in that experiment. And one could go on and on from there to confirm the findings in our paper, and perhaps obtain additional data of the sort that we are currently pursuing.

Before I could send anyone any bacterial strains, in order to comply with good scientific practices I would require evidence of the requesting scientist’s credentials including: (i) affiliation with an appropriate unit in some university or research center with appropriate facilities for storing (-80ºC freezer), handling (incubators, etc.), and disposing of bacteria (autoclave); and (ii) some evidence, such as peer-reviewed publications, that indicate that the receiving scientist knows how to work with bacteria, so that I and my university can be sure we are sending biological materials to someone that knows how to handle them. By the way, our strains are not derived from one of the pathogenic varieties of E. coli that are a frequent cause of food-borne illnesses. However, even non-pathogenic strains may cause problems for those who are immune-compromised or otherwise more vulnerable to infection. Also, my university requires that a Material Transfer Agreement be executed before we can ship any strains. That agreement would not constrain a receiving scientist from publishing his or her results. However, if an incompetent or fraudulent hack (note that I make no reference to any person, as this is strictly a hypothetical scenario, one that I doubt would occur) were to make false or misleading claims about our strains, then I’m confident that some highly qualified scientists would join the fray, examine the strains, and sort out who was right and who was wrong. That’s the way science works.

I would also generally ask what the requesting scientist intends to do with our strains. Why? It helps me to gauge the requester’s expertise. I might be able to point out useful references, for example. Moreover, as I’ve said, we are continuing our work with these strains, on multiple fronts, as explained in considerable detail in the Discussion section of our paper. I would not be happy to see our work “scooped” by another team – especially for the sake of the outstanding students and postdocs in my group who are hard at work on these fronts. However, that request to allow us to proceed, without risk of being scooped on work in which we have made a substantial investment of time and effort, would be just that: a request. In other words, we would respect PNAS policy to share those strains with any competent scientist who complied with my university’s requirements for the MTA and any other relevant legal restrictions. If any such request requires substantial time or resources (we have thousands of samples from this and many other experiments), then of course I would expect the recipient to bear those costs.

So there you have it. I know that I’ve been a bit less polite in this response than in my previous one, but I’m still behaving far more politely than you deserve given your rude, willfully ignorant, and slanderous behavior. And I’ve spent far more time responding than you deserve. However, as I said at the outset, I take education seriously, and I know some of your acolytes still have the ability and desire to think, as do many others who will read this exchange.

Richard Lenski

P.S. Did you know that your own bowels harbor something like a billion (1,000,000,000) E. coli at this very moment? So remember to wash your hands after going to the toilet, as I hope your mother taught you. Simple calculations imply that there are something like 10^20 = 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 E. coli alive on our planet at any moment. Even if they divide just once per day, and given a typical mutation rate of 10^-9 or 10^-10 per base-pair per generation, then pretty much every possible double mutation would occur every day or so. That’s a lot of opportunity for evolution.

P.P.S. I hope that some readers might get a chuckle out of this story. The same Sunday (15 June 2008) that you and some of your acolytes were posting and promoting scurrilous attacks on me and our research (wasn’t that a bit disrespectful of the Sabbath?), I was in a church attending a wedding. And do you know what Old Testament lesson was read? It was Genesis 1:27-28, in which God created Man and Woman. It’s a very simple and lovely story, and I did not ask any questions, storm out, or demand the evidence that it happened as written at a time when science did not yet exist. I was there in the realm of spirituality and mutual respect, not confusing a house of religion for a science class or laboratory. And it was a beautiful wedding, too.

P.P.P.S. You may be unable to understand, or unwilling to accept, that evolution occurs. And yet, life evolves! [] From the content on your website, it is clear that you, like many others, view God as the Creator of the Universe. I respect that view. I find it baffling, however, that someone can worship God as the all-mighty Creator while, at the same time, denying even the possibility (not to mention the overwhelming evidence) that God’s Creation involved evolution. It is as though a person thinks that God must have the same limitations when it comes to creation as a person who is unable to understand, or even attempt to understand, the world in which we live. Isn’t that view insulting to God?

P.P.P.P.S. I noticed that you say that one of your favorite articles on your website is the one on “Deceit.” That article begins as follows: “Deceit is the deliberate distortion or denial of the truth with an intent to trick or fool another. Christianity and Judaism teach that deceit is wrong. For example, the Old Testament says, ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.’” You really should think more carefully about what that commandment means before you go around bearing false witness against others.

If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

46 Responses

  1. Dr Aust said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    For those unfamiliar with the right-wing fringe of American “politics”, note that Andrew Schlafly is a second-generation right-wing crazy. His mum is (in)famous cold-war warrior Phyllis Schalfly.

    Phyllis spent the 60s advocating building lots more nukes to aim at the Russkies and the 70s lambasting “womens’ libbers” and opposing Equal Rights laws. More recently she has called for the impeachment of any judge on the US Supreme Court who is not rabidly right-wing.

    They do say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree…

  2. aphasia said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:12 pm

    Bravo Professor Lenski! A passionate and cogently argued rebuttal demonstrating Mr Schlafly’s manifest intellectual and moral deficiencies.

  3. tini said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    That was just beautiful. *wipes tear from her eye*
    By the point he was giving the wikipedia link for ‘allusion’ I was laughing helplessly. Shame that all this wittiness is most likely wasted on the recipient.

  4. manigen said,

    June 24, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    Lenski’s second letter is impassioned, forceful, lucid and just plain hilarious. Like tini, by the time I reached the definition for allusion I was rolling on the floor.

    Glorious. Seriously.

  5. Ben Goldacre said,

    June 24, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    Much as I’ve enjoyed seeing Lenski spank the idiot, it’s annoying that he has to waste time on this, time which could be more productively spent.

    yeah it’s interesting. on one hand the greatest harm done by bad science is the distraction: lenski’s time is vampirised; childish fantasies about mmr distract from the real and more complicated ills of big pharma; fish oil pills distract from parenting programmes, the hard work of teachers, social inequality, and councils spending 65p a day on food; etc.

    on the other hand, dealing with morons is funny, and a great way to demonstrate critical discourse and the scientific method on some technically simpler issues.

  6. Phasic said,

    June 25, 2008 at 1:15 am

    That was epic! Well done to Prof Lenski for engaging with the forces of dumbassery.

  7. sampablokuper said,

    June 25, 2008 at 2:26 am

    Funnily enough, Conservapedia seems to be down at the moment. Normally I wouldn’t mind, but on this occasion it’s a little irritating, as it means I can’t follow the links in Ben’s article.

    I know Ben’s blog has a lot of subscribers; I’m curious whether it has enough to have brought down Conservapedia just by following a few links: not so much ‘Slashdotted’, but rather, ‘Goldacred’.

  8. johnnye87 said,

    June 25, 2008 at 2:48 am

    “I’m confident that some highly qualified scientists would join the fray, examine the strains, and sort out who was right and who was wrong. That’s the way science works.” – I guess he wasn’t being quite ‘impolite’ enough to go for the full XKCD effect of “that’s the way it works, bitches!”


  9. Reinis said,

    June 25, 2008 at 4:55 am

    Ambrielle, no, a citation to RationalWiki was omitted, supposedly because of a “spam filter”, and the text didn’t have the same formatting as the original, because it was lacking some bold type. other than that it was the same

  10. Kess said,

    June 25, 2008 at 6:20 am

    Magnificent, especially the multiple PS’s at the end.

    The idea that there may be a billion E.Coli in his bowels, all happily mutating and possibly evolving, should have Schlafly reaching for the colonic irrigation equipment.

  11. davimack said,

    June 25, 2008 at 6:24 am

    While I always enjoy a good slam on the Religious Right, things like this annoy me on another level: people assume that idiots like Schlafly represent Christian Americans, and they so do not. They are the minority, truly.

    At some point, Christians who are scientists need to stand up and disavow any association with his ilk. Any takers?

  12. Kess said,

    June 25, 2008 at 8:04 am

    The discussion of this matter on the Conservapedia site is staggering.

    It’s tempting to join in and request the raw data for their creationist beliefs. Not the Bible, since that was written by men and so could contain exactly the same bias, errors and possible fraud that they automatically assume exists in Lenski’s paper, but the real underlying evidence. As open-minded people I’m sure they would be happy to oblige…

  13. martinr said,

    June 25, 2008 at 10:22 am

    Lenski’s doing one on the poor idiot Schlafly was a pleasure to read. But I can’t thank you for introducing me to Conservapedia. It’s like some big inexplicable turd – it’s awful but you can’t stop looking. On Evolution – “The great intellectuals in history such as Archimedes, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Lord Kelvin did not propose an evolutionary process for a species to transform into a more complex version”. So that’s that then. Frightening.

  14. Chris Hyland said,

    June 25, 2008 at 11:14 am

    I must confess I haven’t been following creationism and ID that closely recently, plus I’ve never looked at Conservapedia. I was wondering when Richard Paley says:
    “The only way this can be settled is if we have access to the genetic sequences of the bacteria colonies so that we can apply CSI techniques and determine if these ‘potentiated genotypes’ originated through blind chance or intelligence.”
    if any creationist had attempted to explain how this might be done.

  15. mikewhit said,

    June 25, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Come on, creationists … why don’t you accept that the universe was created ‘as is’ 1 second ago: prove me wrong !

  16. Jo said,

    June 25, 2008 at 4:59 pm


    I laughed much at this point –

    “Thus, Prof. Lenski et al. should supply Conservapedia, as stewards, with samples of the preserved E. coli colonies so that the data can be accessible to unbiased researchers outside of the hegemony of the Darwinian academia…”

    – it’s a bit “local parish association demands genome” – hilarious 🙂

  17. Vertigowooyay said,

    June 25, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    Perof Lenski’s replies are a thing of beauty. On Conservepedia, someone complains his final PPPPS is ‘childish’. I’d suggest that out of the whole of his admirable reply, it probably speaks the most truth to an idiot like Schlafly.

    Not that he’d recognise or acknowledge it though.

  18. ben_lawson said,

    June 25, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I think this epic pwnage has earned someone a nice new t-shirt from Wear Science!

  19. ayupmeduck said,

    June 25, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    I can’t see the difference between Conservapedia and Uncyclopedia. Uncyclopedia is however sometimes ruined by being dangerously factual, as in this entry on Alternative Medicine:

  20. rsynnott said,

    June 25, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    The big difference is that Uncyclopedia is often rather witty, whereas Conservapedia is written by a combination of morons and dangerous manipulators.

    Also, Conservapedia doesn’t mention Oscar Wilde enough.

  21. The skepTick said,

    June 25, 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Kess said,

    “The idea that there may be a billion E.Coli in his bowels, all happily mutating and possibly evolving, should have Schlafly reaching for the colonic irrigation equipment.”

    Maybe…or maybe God’s got his hand up there right now “potentiating” the little critters.

  22. Dirdle said,

    June 25, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    That’s not God, that’s the clergyman!

  23. Jessicathejourno said,

    June 25, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    Dirdle, Richard Dawkins really is an obnoxious twonk, and I’m basing that on assertions that aren’t part of his popular image.

    In ‘The God Delusion’, he was enough of a historical illiterate to pretend that the Troubles in Ireland would have been so very, very much less troublesome if it hadn’t been for religion. Yeah. . . there’s no need to ignore a history of colonialism, nationalism, racism, and staggering social inequality to make something as comparatively cosmetic as religion the big bad boogeyman of an extremely complex conflict. Unless you’re an obnoxious twonk.

    Also in ‘The God Delusion’, he accused Stephen Gould of being insincere about NOMA – you know, when Stephen Gould was too dead to defend himself. Judging from the second point of your resident haterdom, about respecting the idea a god created the universe, I doubt you’re any fan of NOMA either, and fair enough. But if Dawkins disagreed with NOMA, he could have said so without accusing a recently deceased colleague of lying or insincerity. Unless he was an obnoxious twonk.

  24. Squander Two said,

    June 26, 2008 at 1:02 am

    > are you sure you don’t mean “the popular image of Dawkins” is an obnoxious twonk?

    Like Jessica says, no, he is himself an obnoxious twonk. Though you are correct that he is also rather polite, even when he’s being obnoxious. And he’s a superb and astute writer, despite being a twonk.

  25. Jessicathejourno said,

    June 26, 2008 at 6:19 am

    Dirdle, he could have attacked NOMA as an idea until he was just as dead as Gould and there would have been no need to bat an eyelash, but impugning Gould’s sincerity was rather cheap.

    I’m glad he wrote the book and glad he offended a lot of people with his central thrust – as Squander Two mentioned, he’s an astute writer, though I’d draw the line at superb, and it triggered a great debate.

    But he really could have done so without being peripherally offensive to someone who was not batting for the opposition in the least, and in fact, I’d venture to say, did rather more in his lifetime to constructively oppose them.

    Anyhoo, doesn’t change the fact that creationists are funny. Is Conservapedia back up? I’d check but I need both hands to drink coffee right now.

  26. perspix said,

    June 26, 2008 at 8:32 am

    […climbs back onto chair]

    Shame on Prof. Lenski for making fun of the mentally ill.

    Particularly liked the ‘Unicorn in the Garden’ and the ref to Galileo in the 3rd postscript.

  27. sam_chew75 said,

    June 26, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I don’t want to get too childish about this, but has anyone else noticed that (apparently), Schlafly has “B.S.E.” and, if rearranged, “C. (Conservapedia), J.D.”?

    If it’s ok, I’d like to post a response to Schlafly here. Hello Mr. Schlafly. I’m a Christian. I think that, you know what, science might just be right about evolution. But I also don’t think that it makes the slightest difference to whether my beliefs are ‘true’ or not. What I do think, however, is that you are someone who deliberately mis-represents things which contradict your narrow viewpoint of the world, that you are blind to the truth, that you are associated with a website which has been accused of horrific racism, that you are doing the Church a massive disservice by being so outrageously stupid, and that if Christ came back today, he’d be perfectly just to give you a proper slap round the chops and a good kick in the balls.

  28. hexhunter said,

    June 27, 2008 at 12:43 am

    I read Dawkings’s book and watch his videos, and your comment on his writing about the Trouble’s seems a complete mistelling of what he wrote to me.

    He mentioned the Trouble’s once in the book, carefully tip-toeing around the subject, observing the fact that the causes were wide, including Racism and Classism, but he made a VERY GOOD POINT, that they ongoing segregation between the “Orange” and the “Green” is caused by the fact that one group sends there kids to Catholic schools, and the other sends their kids to Protestant schools.

    It’s like that recent episode of Dr Who (the writer is a fan of his too), where there are 2 armies of clones who are fighting each other, with myths about their enemies invading their planet. Any tension in Ireland NOW is not because we’re racist too them, not that I am an expert on this matter.

    Oh, and I don’t remember him attacking Gould, maybe that his words were put out of context or that he was pressurised into pretending to believe in NOMA.

    And it is true that he is posh and disconnected from modern culture, but then what do you expect of a man who is just about to retire?

    – Deus X Machina

  29. hexhunter said,

    June 27, 2008 at 12:49 am

    Hah, LOL, this site is great,

    They have a page about D Icke too, gotta read that…

    – Deus X Machina

  30. youdthinkwouldntyou said,

    June 27, 2008 at 11:44 am

    Theres a word that outlines the basic differences between the two sets of people involved in all that colonialism, nationalism, racism and staggering social inequality ..

    Can’t quite put my finger on it ..

    Its the way they identified themselves, and perpetuated their differences over an otherwise unfeasable period of time ..

    Oh yes ..


    you twonk.

    I guess Dawkins book could have usefully covered other purveyors of unreasonable, unjustifiable and untrue dogma in the world, (no-one denies there are others), but he choose the big one. Good for him :0)

  31. Jessica said,

    June 27, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    First, how can the point about attacking Gould’s sincerity be a complete ‘mistelling’ to you if you don’t remember it? Because it was there. Maybe you underestimate its importance.

    We’re not just talking about Dawkins attacking Gould’s sincerity over an idea Gould briefly played with and threw as a bone to get religious types off his back.

    With the idea of non-overlapping magisteria, Gould was ready to explore the idea of religion and such being useful regulators of group behaviour – something science can’t be. Just as religious practice can’t be used to reach scientific conclusions, science can’t usefully shape group morality.

    This is directly linked to the idea that some religions give some benefit to some discrete groups by promoting useful behaviour and punishing destructive behaviour.

    The thing is, Dawkins can hardly admit groups exist in any evolutionarily meaningful way.

    So when Dawkins dismissed NOMA partly by dismissing the idea Gould ‘meant it’, he was dismissing one of the arguments against his own conception of evolution as a struggle on eensy weensy, definitely non-groupy genetic level by dismissing the idea his opponent ‘meant it’.

    That’s not just insulting. It’s lazy, it’s unprofessional, and it’s what someone does when they’ve ran out of real ideas and arguments. It’s obnoxious. It’s twonky.

    About as twonky as the idea that you can ascribe a primary importance to Catholicism and Protestantism in the long life of the Irish conflict.

    Religion didn’t make things there any better, but to call it either the chicken or the egg or anything but one of the banners two opposing groups opposed each other behind is just plain lazy.

    Or possibly – and it’s the possibility that leaps to mind when the idea comes from the, shall we say, ‘butch’ half of the couple – a cop-out.

    Dawkins didn’t tiptoe around Ireland in the ‘God Delusion’. He ascribed too much importance to the religiosity of school segregation there; dominantly secular school systems in France, Turkey, and even old Blighty manage to keep social elements far apart from each other even today.

    He generally didn’t give nearly their due to the other socio-economic factors in play there, in play in the Middle East, or in play in every conflict that 24 hour news channels and a lack of research will let you think are about religion. And he could have, while still making the point that the God hypothesis didn’t make sense. But he didn’t. He was lazy.

    I know the man made a lot of fans by making it okay to call yourself an atheist instead of just looking vague all the time, but ‘The God Delusion’ was an obnoxious book that mixed good, ridiculous, and self-serving arguments up altogether in one big mess. And calling me a twonk won’t change that. It’ll just make you look real mature.

  32. Delster said,

    June 27, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Excellently written rebuttal and very much more patient than i would have been

    and Vertigowooyay

    Loved that cartoon, esp the bit about the new drugs being intelligently designed.

  33. brian faux said,

    June 29, 2008 at 1:19 pm

    brainduck: surely the problem that rationalists have with the religious and their scientific enquiries is that the religious bring with them a pre-conceived agenda of belief which has to be somehow fitted to the facts. Most of the time and for many disciplines this may not be an actual problem but it always remains a potential one.
    A disinterested mind may be an impossible ideal but in those who profess beliefs it is a complete non-starter.
    The religious may argue that other ‘beliefs’ (such as marxism) can hold sway with the athiest and to some extent this is a fair point.
    However religion is the only set of beliefs which is based on non material and therefore non-questionable foundations.

  34. JuliaK said,

    July 1, 2008 at 12:37 am

    Shame on you, Dr. Lenski for engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed man.

    (I’ve *GOT* to find a t-shirt about E. coli, unicorns and creationists. Got to be one out there somewhere…)

    I just hope you enjoyed writing this as much as we enjoyed reading it. At least then it could be chalked up to entertainment rather than a waste of your valuable time.

  35. pseudomonas said,

    July 2, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    I see on the front page of the site today that the only reason they’re making a fuss is that they want to have all the data generated by publicly funded research. I think this is a splendid idea, and would be happy to see them receiving full data from as many scientists as are generating the stuff. You know, microarray image files, sequencing traces, those big mass-spec/NMR files, that style of thing. Raw and uncompressed, naturally.

  36. nomre2me said,

    July 4, 2008 at 9:11 am

    this is a clear case of a “Christian” who doesn’t know the book he says he believes. In Genesis 1:11, it says, “And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.” In Genesis 1:20, it says, “And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” In Genesis 1:24, it says, ” And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.” It is clear that a real Bible-believing Christian, of which I am one, understands that all life except human has sprung from, or evolved from, the earth. Science confirms what was written before science. Professor Lenski showed restraint that I would not have with the attacks made against his documented assertions about e-coli. I do not believe theories of randomness and chance, but I do believe replicable data from a controlled experiment. I say to Dr. Lenski, Bravo, you have added another scientific validation to the Bible as inerrant.

  37. bufantas said,

    July 13, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Science will also confirm that Homo sapiens evolved from homonids nomre2me. Professor Lenski will go to hell for proving evolution , where he will share a cell with Ted Haggard and be made to listen to Michael Bolton all day.

  38. malcolm said,

    July 16, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    re: 52 “this is a clear case of a “Christian” who doesn’t know the book he says he believes” –

    quoting Genesis 1 is fine, but ignores the fact that Genesis contains two competing creation narratives – chapter 2 is the Adam and Eve version, which does directly contradict the chapter 1 seven day version if read literally. The Bible is like that all over the place – multiple perspectives on the same event because it is a mash up of different sources.

    I agree chapter 1 is more evolutionary inclined and pretty much leaves room for humanity to evolve as part of creation, whereas chapter 2 explicitly doesn’t – the Adam’s rib nonsense.

    This comes from a practising, church going Christian, albeit of the Rowan Williams persuasion. The fundamentalist claim to the literal truth of Genesis has to be nonsense, because it contradicts itself if taken literally. Try reading someone like the excellent Karen Armstrong on how the Bible was written and how it was supposed to be read at the time it was written, and stop confusing it with a scientific paper.

  39. GH05T said,

    July 17, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    malcolm, it would appear that neither the “Christian” propagandist nor you know what the “book he says he believes” contains. It is equally valid and in my studies more logical to interpret the book, Genesis, as having only one creation narrative. Firstly it lays out the general step by step creation time table. Then, it goes back to focus on the creation of mankind in more detail. Furthermore, there are very few texts written in any language that have absolutely no colorful language such as metaphor, slang, or jargon. To pick those instances where literal translation makes no sense and then declare that it makes no sense if literally translated doesn’t further any point in a debate. Both sides are guilty of propagandist claims and assertions. The only way the individual may hope to come to enlightenment scientifically, religiously, or philosophically is to ignore absolutist authority-based claims and delve into the data first hand. Mr. Schlafly should’ve read not only the paper in question, but every paper published on the subject, and every refutation and response that has already been written. Critics of the bible should read not only the free Gideon’s King James, but multiple versions, concordances, critiques, apologetics, and work their way right on down to the Hebrew and Greek. If you don’t, what’s the difference between you and Mr. Schlafly?

  40. malcolm said,

    July 18, 2008 at 10:14 am

    GH05T, I agree absolutely that you have to know the source of the biblical narrative ie how it evolved – which is why I recommend Karen Armstrong’s work. I still don’t think you can shoehorn chapter two into chapter one – to me it is much easier to see them as different narratives. We both seem to believe in the Christian God, so what are we arguing about – how to understand how two different ancient Jewish communities decided to describe the creation, which was later translated into other languages, with all the translation problems involved.

    All I am saying is that these narratives have nothing to contribute on the theory of evolution – the bible is not a scientific treatise and was never meant to be read that way, neither was it meant to be read as a consistent linear narrative, not is it a verifiably accurate narrative of Jewish history. What it is, is a religious text which repays study, contemplation and prayer.

    The difference between me and Mr Schlafly is that I am prepared to recognise the scientific method and use it where appropriate, and I don’t confuse a religious text full of metaphor with a scientific one which isn’t.

  41. Edward The Booble said,

    September 10, 2008 at 6:29 pm

    Jessica’s observation “… dominantly secular school systems in France, Turkey, and even old Blighty manage to keep social elements far apart from each other even today.” Only holds water to a certain degree. The potentiality (to borrow a word from the above) of integration exists in secular education. In segregated establishments it does not.

    I attended a bog-standard (no Irish slant intended) secondary school in Blighty alongside Christians, Jews, Hindus, Moslems and atheists. Many years later I still know many of them. I can’t see that happening under the Faith School Initiative.

    Since its suppression of rational debate as a problem solving medium only really occurs at the extreme edges of religion (and in the Vatican from time to time), religion presents far more of a threat to society and humanity as a whole in its attempts to segregate children’s education along sectarian lines. This trend comes from the centre, and is in the words of my local vicar “… deeply unchristian, in that it attempts to treat one group of people differently from another because of their beliefs.”

    Dawkins may have ascribed too much value to sectarian divisions (in what the BBC among others described as “sectarian violence”), but the segregation of Northern Irish schools allowed the divisions to entrench and persist long after any rational examination would have allowed. Across generations in fact.

    31,500 generations is a very long time in human evolutionary terms. Fortunately other factors seem to have been at work.

  42. Edward The Booble said,

    September 10, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    Sadly my attempt to create an editor account on Conservipedia has been thwarted, by the site’s refusal to allow the creation of new accounts.

    An intuitive approach might conclude that they don’t want to risk further “Liberal Satirists” logging on.

    Shame, I was desperate to post an item about the use of rectal dilation in the diagnosis of satanic abuse in children. Of course the truth does make the best satire sometimes.

    It’ll have to wait.

  43. DrDCB said,

    September 14, 2008 at 6:26 am

    So Schlafly tried to publish a letter in PNAS (the endless citation of which would no doubt have been used to promote his blinkered world view).

    PNAS rightly slapped him down.
    The talk page for the PNAS slappage is a good ‘un, even by conservapedia standards:

    Particularly, at the very top:
    “Notice: misrepresentations are not going to be allowed on this page. Substantive comments only, please.”

    Followed by a list of bile-ridden, small-minded (etc etc) misrepresentations.

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  45. Canuck57 said,

    May 1, 2012 at 7:12 am

    Too funny…great letters. Wasn’t it Mark Twain that stated never to argue with a moron…he will just drag you down to his level and then beat you with experience :-). Never argue religion with a zealot, or a creationist…it’s simply not worth the effort. They will never grasp what it is you’re trying to say because they are not permitted to think critically. They are only permitted to regurgitate what they have been told, and will never be able to think for themselves.

    It is certainly fun listening to them quoting scripture when trying to argue a scientific point though :-).

  46. andrea_bertocchi said,

    September 20, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Dear Professor Lensky,
    why you wasted your precious time for such an idiot?