Behe gets published

November 29, 2010 • 7:35 am

According to Panda’s Thumb, cdesign proponetist Michael Behe has a paper upcoming in a respectable journal: The Quarterly Review of Biology. Checking their website, it’s sure enough true:

Note also that philosopher Maarten Boudry and his colleagues have an attack on ID. This article is online and Nick Matzke says it’s “quite good.”

The Behe piece hasn’t yet appeared (I’ll let you know when it does), but Nick has this take on it:

If past experience is any guide, Behe’s article will make abstract arguments about the improbability of adaptations *if* many simultaneous events are required, but will present no evidence that many simultaneous events are likely to be necessary for the sorts of adaptations we actually see in biology. Positive evidence for ID will not be provided at all, but the article will be trumpeted as such by the usual ID propagandists. But the article isn’t out yet, so we’ll see, I suppose.

This would make the article similar to Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution, which I reviewed (and panned) for The New Republic, so it’s not clear why the piece is being published. I suppose it’s possible that Behe, blinkered and Jebus-loving as he is, could still produce a decent scientific paper, but I’m not holding my breath.

Behe, meanwhile, is flogging his books on a tour of the UK. You can see reviews of his Glasgow talk at The Twenty-First Floor and The Sensuous Curmudgeon.  And if you haven’t seen his department’s disclaimer of his work, check out this link at Lehigh University’s Department of Biological Sciences.

38 thoughts on “Behe gets published

  1. I made a prediction of the article’s content below Nick’s piece. I’m quietly confident this is what it will be about.

    Judging by the title, I’m going to guess that he may be arguing for some sort of difference between “beneficial” mutations and “constructive” mutations. He’s done this before, in response to Lenski’s work:

    “It’s critical to distinguish between “beneficial” mutations and “constructive” mutations. It can be “beneficial” to an organism in some circumstances to render a gene nonfunctional by degrading it. If that is the case, then any of a very large number of change to its amino acid sequence will do the job, and so the rate of “beneficial” mutations will be very high. I discuss this in The Edge of Evolution. For example, it is beneficial in malaria-ridden territory for humans to degrade the functioning of an enzyme abbreviated G6PD. A very large number of separate mutations to that gene have been isolated, all of which are “helpful” because they all mess up the protein’s activity. In his long term evolution experiment with E. coli Richard Lenski has identified about a half dozen “beneficial” mutations — they *all* appear to be degradative mutations. It seems very likely that the report below is just identifying beneficial-but-degradative mutations. That’s interesting, but degradative mutations tell us nothing about how molecular systems can be constructed.”

    and also in response to the Perfeito, “Adaptive mutations in bacteria: high rate and small effects” paper (which showed a larger number of beneficial mutations than previously thought):

    “While the result is interesting, readers of The Edge of Evolution will not be very surprised by it. As I showed for mutations that help in the human fight against malaria, many beneficial mutations actually are the result of breaking or degrading a gene. Since there are so many ways to break or degrade a gene, those sorts of beneficial mutations can happen relatively quickly. For example, there are hundreds of different mutations that degrade an enzyme abbreviated G6PD, which actually confers some resistance to malaria. Those certainly are beneficial in the circumstances. The big problem for evolution, however, is not to degrade genes (Darwinian random mutations can do that very well!) but to make the coherent, constructive changes needed to build new systems. The bottom line is that the beneficial mutations reported in the new Science paper most likely are degradatory mutations, and so don’t address the challenges outlined in The Edge of Evolution.”

    1. …degradative mutations tell us nothing about how molecular systems can be constructed

      Nor does anything Behe has ever published.

      “God did it” does not describe HOW god did it. You need to describe the mechanism behind which god and only god constructed molecular mechanisms.

      Get it? No. I suspect you don’t.

      It’s an extended argument from ignorance, still filling the gap with god.


      Of course, because the man’s income is tied up with believing his own nonsense, he’s got no incentive whatsoever to be intellectually honest.

      1. Sorry, the ire was directed at Behe, not you.

        Intellectual dishonesty “gets” to me. Especially from someone who should know better.

        1. >>Intellectual dishonesty “gets” to me. Especially from someone who should know better.

          It may be the best he can do. Having a big rock of an idea stuck in the middle of ones mind can make thinking difficult.

  2. When I need a pick-me-up I read the Lehigh Biology Department’s disclaimer. I could have sworn it used to be right there on the main page of the department, but it’s still pretty clearly displayed. Whenever someone says something about some biologists not believing in evolution, I think of this disclaimer, and it makes me smile.

    1. Last time I looked around Lehigh’s website I noticed several bio faculty members also posted disclaimers on their individual web pages.

    1. No they probably won’t – but its content is unlikely to be forcefully pro-ID. In which case, said IDers will need to be reminded of precisely *what* Behe got published.

  3. This isn’t exactly relevant to the topic, but it is, in a sense, pertinent to it. From Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine,

    [referring to the Bible] If you cannot find somewhere in it a verse to take out of context that will answer any question or support any proposition whatsoever, then you simply are not trying hard enough.

  4. I think I comprehend the concept of intellectual freedom, particularly as it functions in Universities. But if you are concerned that employing a knucklehead in your science college will have a deleterious effect on your school’s credibility, why employ the knucklehead in the first place?

    1. As far as I know, Behe became an ID knucklehead only after he got tenure, when he started all the ID stuff. Had they known about his ideas and bad science in advance, I’m sure they wouldn’t have hired him.

      1. Ah.

        Well, that’s a bad day, isn’t it, when you hire a scientist, only to learn later, after he’s unzipped his sheep suit, that the scientist is . . . not.

  5. and the chorus goes…

    The Michael Behe mini-van (once),
    The Michael Behe mini-van (altogether),
    It’s irreducibly complex my man.

    (2nd chorus) add new verse: “It runs on bacterial flagell-um.” (“um” pronounced as “am” for sake of rhyme)

    1. Yes!, and isn’t it lovely that it’s almost right next to whatever Behe manages to produce? His whole context is dissolved in the same issue!

    1. He published another paper a little while ago (to be fair, there have been much worse papers than this published over the years).

      Given who the author was, the Editor of Protein Science wrote an editorial in that issue:

      The paper has been cited a few times (19 to be precise), in various ways. It can be found in the intro to a paper and goes along the lines of “this is an area requiring further study, some even believe it points to limitations in conventional understanding (Behe)”. Before going on the provide some of that further study (as opposed to saying goddidit). For example (the ref of the Pigliucci paper here is a bit odd):

      “Understanding the mechanistic origins of complex adaptations (here defined as character alterations requiring more than one novel mutation to yield a functional advantage) remains a central challenge for evolutionary biology (Hartl and Taubes 1998; Orr 2002; DePristo et al. 2005; Dean and Thornton 2007). Some have even questioned whether conventional mutational mechanisms and current principles of population genetics are capable of explaining the emergence of complex adaptations on reasonable evolutionary time scales (e.g., Behe and Snoke 2004; Pigliucci 2008).”

      Lynch, M. and Abegg, A. (2010) The Rate of Establishment of Complex Adaptations. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 27, 1404-1414.

      Some authors directly attack the paper:

      “Indeed, the evidently wrong assumption that neutral mutations cannot possess an adaptive potential is the main factor behind the absurdly low probabilities for neofunctionalization seen in Behe’s simulations (Behe and Snoke 2004).”

      Bershtein, S. and Tawfik, D.S. (2008) Ohno’s Model Revisited: Measuring the Frequency of Potentially Adaptive Mutations under Various Mutational Drifts. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 25, 2311-2318.

      Other authors are fairly neutral about it, just presenting it as an ordinary data point (it’s ref 8 here):

      “If mutations arise independently of their phenotypic consequences, then how can adaptations occur that require multiple amino acid mutations and for which the intermediate stages are either selectively neutral or disadvantageous? Large populations can climb multiple fitness peaks, even with disadvantageous intermediate alleles [8,9]. Although no new mechanisms are therefore required to explain the evolution of complex proteins [10], we propose that errors in transcription and translation (phenotypic mutations) allow the selection of the intermediate mutations of a multiple-mutation requiring trait, and can thus speed up the evolution of complex traits.”

      Whitehead, D.J. et al. (2008) The look-ahead effect of phenotypic mutations. Biology Direct, doi:10.1186/1745-6150-3-18.

      And finally some papers are pretty much all out attacks against Behe’s work:

      Durrett, R. and Schmidtt, D. (2008) Waiting for Two Mutations: With Applications to Regulatory Sequence Evolution and the Limits of Darwinian Evolution. Genetics, 180, 1501-1509.

      1. Thanks. I guess it happens all the time, but it really does science a disservice unless it is roundly refuted. Even then, the damage has been done outside scientific circles. You know, like ID.

      2. Of course, this points out the value of peer review and the scientific process.

        Nobody is rising up and declaring Behe to be the next Newton, Einstein, or (gasp) Darwin. Instead, they’re doing what scientists do. Which is to evaluate his claims and dismantle them, bit by bit.

        It doesn’t take religion to make a formerly good scientist a bad scientist. All it takes is failure to recognize when your ideas have been trashed.

        The HIV denialist crowd is STILL going, despite having each and every one of their assertions disproved — some as long as a decade or more ago. Yet they persist.

  6. “OK. I can understand how Behe snuck past tenure, but how on earth is he getting legitimately published?”
    This is a review article, not a piece of original research, so it is possible that nothing particularly controversial may be mentioned. At the same time it probably wont be that interesting.

  7. Yeah, it’s not primary science. From the title I assume it’s going to be a critique of the relevance of Lenski’s work to “real” evolution.
    He also seems to have made up a new Rule; searching the string “first rule adaptive evolution” yields only references to the title of this paper.

    If you think Behe has any new thoughts, read this:

    same ol’, complete with mousetraps(!) and bacterial flagella(!!).

  8. BTW, if people fancy lamenting the failure of peer review, here’s a current example. There’s a mildly noteworthy troll that goes by the name of atheistoclast – he’s banned at Pharyngula and various other places. He has spent the past year or so writing papers (I’m still not sure if he’s serious or not, or if it’s an elaborate hoax) that get sent to places like PNAS and promptly rejected. Noting that this strategy wasn’t working, he instead approached a minor journal, the Journal of Biocomplexity and a couple of weeks ago got something published:

    It’s a genuinely atrocious paper, so bad that the fact that it has been published is actually almost ausing. But it reflects very badly on the journal in question. Apparently another minor publication, Complexity, has accepted another of his papers and that will see the light of day soon.

    Just some of the fun surrounding the paper can be seen here:

    1. Get a PhD in biology and then start writing.

      Throw enough spaghetti against the wall and some of it eventually sticks.

  9. In the New Republic review Coyne says that Behe is a “genuine biologist”. Is it normal to refer to a biochemist as a biologist? I tend to think of molecular biologists as biologists and biochemists as chemists. Am I just splitting hairs?

    1. Re: biochemistry, in a certain sense you are splitting hairs. And it has to do with what people define as “biochemistry” in different departments. Certainly, a huge amount of what we call biochemistry would be considered biology if it were described without a label.

      But you are also making an understandable mistake with regard to molecular biology. Molecular biology rarely directly concerned with chemical mechanisms and is more often concerned with how biomolecular systems interact in a functional sense. Questions like, “what are the mechanisms of replication, transcription, and translation?” or “how are these biological processes regulated?” are important questions in molecular biology. Typically, the questions aren’t those of interest to what we normally think of as chemistry any more than than the questions of chemistry aren’t the same as those of physics. Of course, in certain research circumstances, reductionism can show a gradient between “adjacent” disciplines, but that doesn’t mean that molecular biology is just a subset of chemistry in practice.

  10. Argh. This is as annoying as hell. Surely Behe knows the answer to this damned question. No, loss of function mutations aren’t the only adaptive changes. In fact, there are many constructive adaptive changes, like gene duplication and exon shuffling. This was actually covered in the Dover trial. I trust Behe roughly knows the content of that trial since he was a witness. In fact, they submitted into evidence testimony concerning a review written by Manyuan Long’s laboratory group (whose lab shares a floor with Jerry and whose office is directly above Jerry’s).

    Why does this persist as an issue? Structural variation is ubiquitous in natural populations. (Others: 1, 2, 3, 4, et cetera ad nauseum).

    1. If there were any nuance and novelty to what Behe publishes regarding the pseudoscience of intelligent design, you might just maybe have a scintilla of a point. But given the high prior probability that these criticisms are on target, why wait?

      Seriously, the point of science is to collect data, make models, and disseminate these results. Since when is it “unscientific” to have a discussion about a topic just because the source material isn’t out? The worst case scenario is that people have “wasted” time discussing and issue that isn’t treated by the paper. Is that a waste of time?

      In any event, what will you say in December when the paper goes live and it is exactly the same argument he’s made before? “NOW is the appropriate time to for the very same commentary that before were inappropriate.”?

      And finally, isn’t it a bit presumptuous of you to claim to be arbiter of what is and isn’t scientific?

      And to other people to put this in perspective:

      Enezio etc. is a “post Darwinian” and sympathizer of ID. He also appears to be a conspiracy theorist with regard to academia’s relationship to the evidence for evolution. Basically, a classic ID/conspiracy nut.

    2. If the earth shatters because of Behe’s publication, we will apologize profusely for having doubted him all along.

      My prediction of the likelihood of that happening is precisely and absolutely nil.

      He’s not going to be presenting evidence. He’s going to be presenting an argument.


  11. The review is now published. At first glance it’s a strange mish-mash of novel and rather arbitrary classification of mutation types, which leads to his “First Rule of Adaptive Evolution”.

    The creationists around the web are pushing it as undermining the molecular basis of evolution.


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