Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Panda's Thumb weighs in, especially on Seelke

God bless the Internet. In a day, we've managed to dig up all sorts of interesting facts about the creationists coming to testify before the Board of Education.

Here are some interesting comments from the Panda's Thumb discussion on the list.

RPM comments:

Here’s what I could find regarding the some of the witnesses to be brought in to testify. I limited my discussion to the "biologists" with PhD’s as people way out of their field and with less than "expert" qualifications hardly warrant mentioning.

Bruce Simat, PhD Biochemistry and Human Physiology, Associate Professor North Western College, St. Paul, MN Date of anticipated testimony: May 6

See previous post.

Daniel Ely, PhD Professor of Biology, University of Akron, specializing in cardiovascular physiology Department of Biology, University of Akron Date ofanticipated testimony: May 6

There’s not much on him at the Univ of Akron Biology Department website, but he specialize in physiology. He should be aware of the importance of evolution in his research considering he uses rats as a model for human behavior. Apparently he does not understand why we can use model organisms for biomedical research. I’d be interested to hear his opinion on IDC.

Giuseppe Sermonti, PhD Chief Editor of Rivista di Biologia/Biology Forum (Genoa), one of the oldest extant biology journals in the world; retired Professor of Genetics, University of Perugia Date of anticipated testimony: May 7

Apparently he’s buddy-buddy with JAD. How seriously can we take him? Well, not only is the editor of Riv Biol, it’s also the only place he’s published recently according to a PubMed search (Riv Biol has an impact factor of 0.5). I’m not too sure what to think of him. He appears to be a credible scientist (at least judging by his early work), but his recent work attempts to find purpose in nature; kinda off the beaten path if you ask me.

John Sanford, PhD Geneticist, Associate Professor Cornell University Date of anticipated testimony: May 6

I graduated with a Bachelors in Genetics from Cornell, so I was extremely interested to find out who John Sanford was. I thought, no way he was really in the Molecular Biology and Genetics department, and I didn’t remember him from my undergrad days. For those of you unfamiliar with the field, Cornell is a leader in evolutionary genetics. It turns out Sanford is at the agricultural research station in Geneva, NY (about an hours drive from the main campus in Ithaca). He’s in the Dept. of Horticultural Sciences, and he describes his research as “at the interface between molecular genetics and plant breeding, for the purpose of crop improvement.” I’m not sure what to make of him.

Michael Behe, PhD Biochemist, Professor of Biochemistry Lehigh University, Author of Darwin’s Black Box Date of anticipated testimony: May 5

Enough has been written about him, so I won’t add any more.

Ralph Seelke, PhD Professor of Microbiology, University of Wisconsin - Superior Date of anticipated testimony: May 5

He’s one of the few (only?) people trying to study ID using laboratory experiments. For that, we must give him some credit. I’ll leave it for another place/time/person to discuss the credibility of his research design and/or findings.

Robert Disilvestro, PhD Biochemist, Professor of Nutrition, Ohio State University Date of anticipated testimony: May 6

He’s a nutritional biochemist (what is it with chemists & biochemists and understanding evolution?), which doesn’t say whether or not he has a firm grasp on evolutionary theory. He has a response to critiques to Darwin’s Black Box here.

Russell Carlson, PhD Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology University of Georgia Date of anticipated testimony: May 6 University of Georgia Complex Carbohydrate Research Center

Another biochemist! He studies the interaction between plants and bacteria (specifically microrhizae). UGA has an excellent evolutionary genetics program, and I wonder if Reed (or Dr. Steve Steve) have anything to say about this fellow.

Scott Minnich, PhD Associate Professor of Microbiology at the University of Idaho Date of anticipated testimony: May 6

Minnich is the bacterial flagellum expert witness. See here for a discussion of the flagellum argument.

William S. Harris, PhD Biochemist, Professor of Medicine, University of Missouri at Kansas City, Director of the Lipoprotein Research Laboratory, St. Luke’s Hospital, Kansas City, MO Date of anticipated testimony

Another nutritional biochemist. He can tell you all about why you should eat fist, but I’m not sure what he’s knows about evolutionary theory. He was an author (along with John Calvert) of Intelligent Design: The Scientific Alternative to Evolution.
Steve Reuland replied that:

Actually, [Seelke's] studying evolution. There’s no indication that he’s doing anything that would qualify as “ID research” unless one takes the position that any observed anomoly or difficulty in evolution automatically counts as studying ID. (If that’s the case, then it may as well count as studying panspermia, or spontaneous generation.) There’s no mention of ID on that page, nor do the experiments seem to contradict evolution in any way. (So much evolution is going on that they haven’t even made it past a few hundred generations.)

Speaking as someone who is in a biochemistry department, I can attest that many (if not most) biochemists come from a strict chemistry background, and have never studied biology. They usually know about the system that they work on (maybe a protein or cellular system) but have usually had no exposure to any other kind of biology. Certainly not subjects like ecology, organismal biology, and, you know, evolution.

A correspondent says:
Ralph Seelke is an interesting case. His research – on evolution – is similar to that being done by evolution guru Richard Lenski at Michigan State. It seems that Dr. Seelke does buy the Behe IR argument on molecular machines, but Seelke can't possibly argue that evolution never leads to gain-of-function--as Behe does--because Seelke's own research is on gain-of-function mutations in evolving bacteria. Interestingly, most creationist Google hits for Seelke just cite his signature on the weakly-worded "doubts about evolution" petition. His own website makes it clear that he's a fairly fundie Christian--but he seems to be a real scientist, although sympathetic to ID.

More interestingly, in this article he writes:
"Much has been written about whether ID can result in a viable research program (see, for example, Moreland, 1994). I believe the time has come for ID proponents to be actively contributing to important research areas. The examples I have given are meant to stimulate thinking about areas of research for ID proponents; they are by no means exhaustive. The ID interpretation of the results of this type of research will clearly be different from they typical neo*Darwinian explanation. But in time, the weight of the evidence would make the design inference more and more attractive."

Since Dr. Seelke wrote that ID should be "actively contributing to important research areas" in 1999, I think [we] should press him on this point: Where is the active ID research program competing with evolutionary science? What are some experiments that ID allows him to do that evolutionary theory does not? Why does he think Lenski's research (with which he's clearly familiar) is inadequate in showing evolution of complexity?