Last week I wrote about the fact that Michael Behe claimed under oath in the Dover case that his book, Darwin’s Black Box, received even more thorough peer review than a scholarly article in a refereed journal. Now more and more facts are coming to light. We only know the names of 3 of the 5 reviewers – Michael Atchison, Robert Shapiro and K. John Morrow. Atchison, I’ve already documented, did not review the book at all. He had a 10 minute conversation about the book over the phone, without ever seeing the text, with an editor who was concerned about whether it would sell, not whether the science was solid. Skip Evans contacted Robert Shapiro and was told that he did review the book, and while he agreed with some of his analysis of origin-of-life research, he thinks his conclusions are false. He did, however, say that he thought that Behe’s book was the best explanation of the argument from design that was available.
Now, what of Morrow? As it turns out, this is the best of all. Over on the Panda’s Thumb, a commenter has left the text of an email from K. John Morrow in response to an inquiry about his review of Behe’s book. I contacted Dr. Morrow and we’ve spent some time on the phone over the last couple days discussing the situation. He has given me permission to post his response in full, with one disclaimer:
He dashed this response off pretty quickly in response to an inquiry and in retrospect he isn’t certain whether he reviewed the book for Free Press, who ultimately published the book, or for an earlier publisher who was considering publishing it. His recollection from a decade ago is that after he had given his review of the book and the review written by Russell Doolittle of part of the book, the editor told him that they didn’t think they were going to go ahead with publishing the book. But he can’t be certain at this point whether that was an editor for Free Press or an editor from a different publisher who was considering the book for publication. Ultimately this doesn’t matter. Behe himself named Morrow as a reviewer of the book in his testimony, so his views on the book are obviously germane to the question of the rigor of the peer review and whether it determined whether the book should be published. With that disclaimer, the post of his full response after the fold:
I did review Behe’s book for a publisher who, if I recall correctly, turned it down on the basis of my comments, and those of others (including Russell Doolittle who trashed it). When I reviewed Behe’s book I was much more polite than Doolittle, who didn’t mince words. Eventually Behe found another publisher, so he’s right; it was peer reviewed. What he doesn’t say is that is was rejected by the first set of reviewers.
I also debated Behe in Dallas in 1992. Once, again, I attempted to be civil, professional and dignified. Behe’s response was aggressive, condescending and simply rude.
I will say, unequivocally, I am (as practically every professional working biologist I have ever met) convinced by the overwhelming body of evidence that Darwin’s concept of evolution, and its subsequent modifications by the last 150 years of investigation, is the correct, and the best explanation for the great cornucopia of living creatures with which we share this planet.
I’m absolutely appalled by Behe’s arguments, which are simply a rehash of ideas that Darwin considered and rejected. There is not a shred of evidence to support intelligent design, and a vast body of evidence that argues against it. It is not a scientific hypothesis, it is simply the philosophical wanderings of an uniformed (or disingenuous) mind.
At present I’m involved in product development for an immunodiagnostics company, and we are discussing how to approach to Avian flu, and how we can design a test that takes into account the constantly evolving nature of the RNA viruses. Do the intelligent designers want to return us to a time when mankind attributed disease to evil spirits, and allow us no tools to understand the ravages of epidemic diseases, and how to design therapies and diagnostics against them?
I believe that the argument is not about science at all, but simply right wing fundamentalists using a different tactic to force religious teaching in the public schools. I thought that Judge Overton had put this case to rest 30 years ago, but apparently not.
Thanks for this opportunity to clarify my feelings on this subject.
He mentioned Russell Doolittle in that letter. Dr. Doolittle is perhaps the world’s foremost expert on the evolution of blood clotting, so Dr. Morrow asked him to review the section on blood clotting in Behe’s manuscript. He then sent Doolittle’s brief review to the publishers along with his own review of the rest of the manuscript. Both Morrow and Doolittle have given us permission to make public the review Doolittle wrote back in 1995. Here is the full text:
November 14, 1995
Professor K. John Morrow, Jr.
Dept. Cell Biology & Biochemistry
School of Medicine
Texas Tech University
Health Sciences Center
3601 4th Street
Lubbock, TX 79430
Dear Dr. Morrow,
I read the draft of the chapter for a proposed book by Micheal Behe that you sent me. As you warned me on the telephone, my own writings play a prominent role in his attack on evolution. I don’t know whether the word ingenious or disingenuous is more appropriate here, but he has certainly turned all my thinking completely around to suit his own ends. That it is really disingenuous is clear from the fact that he has managed to belittle important scientific findings by couching them with sarcasm.
But what annoyed me the most in the chapter was the author’s appeal to Rube Goldberg, one of my favorite cartoonists, and a person I often refer to for my own perspective. On numerous occasions I have shown the two enclosed Goldberg cartoons as examples of how evolution works! Indeed, I used them in (trying to) teach our medical students about how complicated cascades work in contemporary cells. Also, I have used the same cartoons in debating our local creationist (Duane Gish), pointing out that certainly no Creator would have designed such a circuitous and contrived system. Instead, this is how the opportunistic hand of natural selection works, using whatever happens to be available at the moment. (I wonder if he knew about this?)
But let me back up a bit. First, the 1993 article of mine, which is so heavily quoted from and intentionally disparaged, was the text of a lecture I presented at an international conference on blood clotting. It was presented to an audience of mainly clinicians and biotechnologists, not persons well versed in the rudiments of protein evolution. The tone was intentionally light and breezy. My “casual language” has to be viewed in this light. My main point was to demonstrate that the delicate balance of forward and backward reactions that regulate blood clotting came about in a step-by-step process. I emphasized that the Yin-Yang was simply a metaphor and that other similar point and counterpoint comparisons could be made.
A more rigorous development of these ideas can be found in the cited references, one of which (Doolittle & Feng, 1987) is enclosed. This article predicted that certain components of the cascade appear relatively late in vertebrate evolution, and data in support of this contention are just now forthcoming (lower vertebrates appear to lack the equivalents of factors XI and XII).
A wonderful example of how gene duplications operate in this regard was noted almost 25 years ago. Thus, in hemoglobin, similar sequence extrapolations backwards in time suggested that the gene duplication leading to alpha and beta chains occurred at about the time of the diversification of fishes (see Fig. 1 of Doolittle, 1987, (enclosed). Indeed, when hemoglobin from lampreys and hagfish were examined, they were found to be single-\|chained! They had diverged before the key alpha /beta duplication that has led to the allosteric regulation of oxygen transport. Max Perutz has written elegantly about this.
Here are a few of his comments that I found most irritating.
On page IV-29 the author bold-facedly claims that “the (Doolittle) article does not explain.. how clotting might have originated and subsequently evolved.” and then in italics “..no one on earth has the vaguest idea how the coagulation cascade came to be.”
I disagree. I have a good idea, shared by most workers in the field, and it is a matter of the (important) details that we are trying to establish.
On page IV-24, Behe underscores that no “causative factors are cited.” “What exactly is causing all this springing and unleashing?” Gene duplications, of course, the frequency of which is difficult to measure (I often note that “duplication begets more duplication,” for reasons of the misalignment of similar sequences), but which is turning out to be enormously more common than expected.
Causation is tricky. Sometimes environmental or internal benefits are obvious. Often however, the rule for survival is “no harm, no foul,” with adaptations occurring subsequently. For the moment, they don’t even have to be slightly improved.
As for the “enormous luck needed”, we are now into the crux of all evolutionary problems, which is to say, what is the probability of survival? Population geneticists are attempting to answer such questions in general terms (see, e.g., J. B. Walsh, Genetics, 139, 421-428, 1995). In fact, the product of most gene duplications, which are the heart of the evolutionary process, are doomed to random oblivion (see enclosed, Doolittle, Science, 1981).
Also, on page IV-26, he states, “the crucial issues of how much? how fast? when? where?” are not addressed. These are relevant and not unknowable matters. There is a wonderful article about to appear in Molecular Phylogenetics by D. Gumucio et al on how fetal hemoglobin has evolved in primates and that also outlines exactly the regulatory circumstances that allow its differential expression. Finally, my “model” does give some important numbers. The power of sequence-\|based analysis is that it reveals the order of appearance of new proteins, even when the sequences are limited to one or a few species. As noted above, it also has the power to make predictions about the occurrence of proteins in different creatures.
In the meantime, we must ask Mr. Behe whether he doubts the existence of gene duplications? (There are many examples of closely related species where one has n copies of a gene and the other m.) If he acknowledges their existence, then how does he account for the pseudogenes that these duplications often give rise to? Does he think they have a function? And what does he think was the origin of allosteric hemoglobins in all but the most primitive vertebrates? As I say, even his derisive comments call attention to a system that could only have come about by natural selection.
Should the book be published? Scurrilous as it is, I am a believer in a free press. I also know most publishers will publish anything that can make money, and I’m sure there’s a naive market for claptrap like this.
I only ask that if you do recommend publication that you suggest that I be invited to review the book, so I can put my own Rube Goldberg cartoons to use.
Feel free to phone if there are other questions.
Russell F. Doolittle
of Biology and Chemistry
Dr. Morrow further said in his email to me what I said a few days ago, that books and refereed journals are very different and that no book is ever as rigorously peer reviewed as a journal article for the simple reason that the book publisher’s primary concern is whether the book will sell or not. He notes, “I think Mike is being pretty disingenuous (I use that word a lot) to say that the manuscript was subjected to rigorous peer review. Everyone knows that the criteria that book publishers use are mainly financial and economic.”
Let me also say this: I think the book should have been published. I agree with Dr. Shapiro that while I think much of his argumentation is less than honest and his conclusions absurd, it’s very well written and is probably the best example of the argument from design that has been published since Paley’s day. It’s a provocative and well written book on a hot subject. From the perspective of a book publisher, that certainly means the book should be published. The point of all of this is not to say that his book should have been rejected by the publishers. It is only to say that the claim that it underwent more rigorous peer review than a journal article is patently absurd and contrary to the facts.