Respectful Insolence

from one of Michigan State University Professor Richard Lenski’s E. coli cultures.

Lenski’s second response to the clueless “request” of the creationist idiot Andrew Schlafly to provide his raw data to him for “independent review” supporting a recent PNAS paper (more here) by him that is yet another in a line of papers by evolutionary biologists that pretty much destroy the myth of “irreproducible complexity” deeply humbles me. It’s a classic in sliding the knife into one’s foe, carefully dissecting free an organ, pulling that organ out with a flourish, only to plunge to plunge the knife in again to continue the ruthless dissection, smiling politely all the while, leaving Schlafly utterly in the dark about his Epic Fail.

i-1c4084a6f0139562381f723ba36168cb-epic-failure.jpg

Although the second letter is pure genius, perhaps the first sentence of his first response to Schafly is the best:

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.

Or maybe this gem from his second letter is even better:

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?

No, no, it’s got to be this gem of utterly brilliant sarcasm:

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! [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unicorn_in_the_Garden] 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. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allusion]

Damn, him, he’s out-Respectful Insolenced™ Respectful Insolence™! (And he’s at Michigan State, too, not my alma mater the University of Michigan. Damn. He should start a blog.)

Unfortunately, because, like all creationists, Schlafly suffers the “arrogance of ignorance,” he’s probably totally unaware that he’s just been pwned on such a massive scale that it’s as though a strategic thermonuclear weapon was used to obliterate an ant colony (or an Erlenmyer flask full of an of E. coli culture, for that matter). After having seen Schlafly fail so epically at his tactic of “burying the opponent in discovery,” my guess is that he’ll whine about how the nasty scientist subjected him to ad hominem abuse and then bluster about making FOI requests for the data, assuming Lenski’s work was funded by the NIH or NSF. It’ll never once enter his tiny little brain that he’s just been dissected, sliced, and diced in such a painstakingly thorough manner that he should just quit before there’s nothing left but individual organs sitting in formalin in glass jars. (I’m a surgeon; I’m fascinated by anatomy; so sue me.) So should all the ID-apologists currently making hilarious comments on the matter over at Conservapedia and Uncommon Descent.

Comments

  1. #1 Steve
    June 25, 2008

    I’m so glad I met him a few times while I attended MSU. Now maybe people will start to take my MSU Zoology degree seriously. Rock on MSU Dept. of Zoology!

  2. #2 D. C. Sessions
    June 25, 2008

    Schlafly suffers the “arrogance of ignorance,” he’s probably totally unaware that he’s just been pwned on such a massive scale that it’s as though a strategic thermonuclear weapon was used to obliterate an ant colony (or an Erlenmyer flask full of an of E. coli culture, for that matter).

    Please, Orac! A little respect for precision. You are, after all, a surgeon — and this little exercise, while overkill, was not sloppy enough to take a leg to get a hangnail.

    Think instead of a high-grade military laser in the gigajoule range aimed at that anthill. Nothing left but vapor, but minimal collateral damage.

  3. #3 Leesy
    June 25, 2008

    So instead of captioning for the humor-impaired as Dave Barry once did, now you have to caption for the clue-impaired? With Wikipedia as a source?

  4. #4 Orac
    June 25, 2008

    Not if you consider Conservapedia to be the target. Then my analogy works. ;-)

  5. #5 Eamon Knight
    June 25, 2008

    Lenski’s reply is up there with Seidel’s evisceration of Shoemaker in its creatively condescending use of URLs (“literary allusion”, heh).

    Best (unintentional?) description of Schlafly I’ve seen in a long time:
    an Erlenmyer flask full of an of E. coli culture.

  6. #6 D. C. Sessions
    June 25, 2008

    Hmmm …

    Best (unintentional?) description of Schlafly I’ve seen in a long time:
    an Erlenmyer flask full of an of E. coli culture.

    Let’s see — both are brittle. Both are transparent. The best thing about both is the kilogram or so of bacteria, but you don’t want to consume the products of either. In both cases gas is their main output.

    PS: Still hoping to hear from you by e-mail, Orac.

    I can see how the idea of being related might be offensive to one of them, but all things considered Schlafly should be flattered since the bacteria are at least useful.

  7. #7 JC
    June 25, 2008

    I’m still utterly mystified by what Schlafly hopes to find. A note in the margin of a lab notebook: “Memo: Don’t forget to forge data”?

  8. #8 Felstatsu
    June 25, 2008

    I actually couldn’t help but laugh from the third part quoted. If Schafly were at all smart he’d know how burnt he just got and that the only action to save his remaining face would be to walk away with his tail between his legs. I doubt he’s that smart so I imagine there will be another burning response sometime soon for us to all enjoy, except maybe Orac, who I believe may be out-Respectful Insolenced™ again.

  9. #9 Interrobang
    June 25, 2008

    Considering that Schlafly wouldn’t know a lab notebook from a laptop, he’s not “hoping to find” anything; he’s hoping to “win on a technicality” by making an impossible demand that Lenski can’t (and won’t) meet, which he can then use to club Lenski et al about the head by saying they must be faking or perpetrating fraud or whatever because they didn’t capitulate somehow to his impossible demand.

    What we’re seeing is a real-time example of “moving the goalposts” applied to tangible objects. The lay articles weren’t enough, and the paper itself wasn’t enough, so now Schlafly thinks he can collapse the goalposts into an unreachable singularity of right-wing argumentation by asking for all the data.

  10. #10 Julie Stahlhut
    June 25, 2008

    I have to admit that during the whole exchange I had fantasies of several thousand biologists dumping photocopied bench and field notebooks and instrument printouts on Andrew Schlafly’s lawn. Here y’go, Andy. Take five or ten minutes of your time to skim through it and keep us all honest.

    But please don’t compare Schlafly’s site to an anthill. Ants are much more interesting and much better organized than the clowns at Conservapedia. And given a choice between the two, I’d much rather have ants in my kitchen than Andrew Schlafly in my living room.

  11. #11 ecoli
    June 25, 2008

    the response from Uncommondecsent is equally ridiculous… (http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/first-paragraph-of-lenski-paper-contains-an-error/)

    DaveScot misrepresents a perfectly good study done by the Scripps institute, to attempt to show that E. coli controls its own mutations. He confuses mutations with the mutation rate. An important difference.

    My response: http://blogs.scienceforums.net/ecoli/2008/06/25/davescot-on-lenksi/

  12. #12 JakeR
    June 25, 2008

    Orac: my guess is that he’ll whine about how the nasty scientist subjected him to ad hominem abuse and then bluster about making FOI requests for the data, assuming Lenski’s work was funded by the NIH or NSF.

    Schlafly (in toto): Lenski’s latest response to a request for his data is revealing … about Lenski’s attitude. Take a good look at the attitude our tax dollars are paying for.

    Scorer: Add to Orac.

    Orac: It’ll never once enter his tiny little brain that he’s just been dissected, sliced, and diced in such a painstakingly thorough manner that he should just quit before there’s nothing left but individual organs sitting in formalin in glass jars.

    Scorer: Game, set, and match to Orac.

  13. #13 Orac
    June 25, 2008

    There’s even more hilarious stuff there on the page, so much so that I may have to do a brief followup. It’s astoundingly clueless. Well, it is Conservapedia; so I guess it’s not that astounding.

  14. #14 Christie
    June 25, 2008

    You know, I was having a pretty awful day until I read this. Thanks, Orac. Dr. Lenski is truly a class act.

  15. #15 JC
    June 25, 2008

    I had fantasies of several thousand biologists dumping photocopied bench and field notebooks and instrument printouts on Andrew Schlafly’s lawn.

    I don’t envy the grad student who gets the photocopying gig.

  16. #16 Zeno
    June 25, 2008

    Larry Fafarman @ UD: Richard Lenski showed excessive impatience in his second response when he said, “And I’ve spent far more time responding than you deserve. ” That’s nonsense — it only took a few minutes to write the second response.

    Larry doesn’t get it, does he? In Andy Schlafly’s case, “a few minutes” is quite enough to qualify for “far more time … than you deserve.”

    Such a sad lack of discernment!

  17. #17 robert estrada
    June 25, 2008

    Oh great Orec,
    When linking to sites like those there needs to be a legal disclaimer like one declaring that “This site is known to the State of Insanity to contain subjects and comments that can cause brain damage, cerebral atrophy and microcephaly” (sp? sorry I am an engineer. I cannot spell) I went there, first time, and the doctors say I may never recover.
    Robert

  18. #18 Adrienne
    June 25, 2008

    Oh, please, please post a follow-up, mighty Orac. This is such a great topic, it could provide literally hours more of enjoyable reading. Kudos to Dr. Lenski!

  19. #19 anon
    June 25, 2008

    Wow! That was, I must say, the biggest ass-kicking of the year. I wish I could have been with Andy Schlafy when he read that second response. Classic.

    It was well deserved, too.

  20. #20 Dan
    June 25, 2008

    PZ Myers wrote about this yesterday. More here

  21. #21 Jon H
    June 25, 2008

    “and then bluster about making FOI requests for the data, assuming Lenski’s work was funded by the NIH or NSF.”

    Ha. Everyone knows Lenski is funded by Big Coli.

  22. #22 PSC
    June 25, 2008

    I don’t know if anyone’s posted this one recently, but it seems apposite:

    Prov 26:11: As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

  23. #23 Anonick
    June 26, 2008

    After reading the post-second reply discussion on the Conservapedia talk page, I wondered if Prof. Lenski had done a good thing by using sarcasm, because the talk page there is all about the “ad hominem” attacks, and Schlafly is letting them divert attention from the fact that the data has been offered.

    But then I think, even if Lenski had sent a very polite reply offering the data and the bacteria, the people at Conservapedia would find faults with his conditions about their credentials and facilities available to them. Granted that, this was certainly much better. It showed how hollow Schlafly’s intentions where.

  24. #24 DLC
    June 26, 2008

    I am of two minds regarding how to deal with such things as Schafly. My first thought was to simply ignore such blather.
    It’s not really worth the (to me) valuable time of such a man as Prof. Lenski to write back and correct Schafly and his Constipaedia cronies. But, on further reflection, it seems to me that the best course of action in this case is to do what Lenski did. Write back and hand Schafly his posterior in a basket.
    Oh, and Orac — you may have been out-Respectful-Insolenced™
    but you do have a way with words!
    “in sliding the knife into one’s foe, carefully dissecting free an organ, pulling that organ out with a flourish, only to plunge to plunge the knife in again to continue the ruthless dissection, smiling politely all the while. . .”
    Loved it!
    Seeing Schafly’s (rhetorical) organs displayed in little jars of formalin !

    Epic Pwnage!

  25. #25 Fragano Ledgister
    June 26, 2008

    Orac, you should look up the article on ‘Meerkat’ on Conservapaedia. It is, shall we say, a fascinating description of the little creatures.

    Schafly’s comment on Lenski’s letter on the Conservapaedia comment thread is a textbook example, as it were, of complete misunderstanding of what laboratory research is, and what data from laboratory research is. As John Stuart Mill said ‘Conservatives may not be stupid, but stupid people are generally Conservative.’

  26. #26 Eric
    June 26, 2008

    “Unfortunately, because, like all creationists, Schlafly suffers the “arrogance of ignorance,” he’s probably totally unaware that he’s just been pwned on such a massive scale that it’s as though a strategic thermonuclear weapon….”

    “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

  27. #27 Thehaymarketbomber
    June 29, 2008

    I read the “meerkat” section of Conservapaedia and I see what you mean. If the bit about grizzly bears appeared on any other web page, I’d put it down to some sort of inside joke, but, given the pervasive air of militant dunderheadedness they maintain, I suspect its just an example of ignorance or sloppiness that would embarrass a bright eight-year-old.

    Also, did everyone notice the article which begins “And the dumbing-down continues in public schools?” I checked and, no, they are not claiming credit.

  28. #28 Samwise
    August 21, 2008

    @Thehaymarketbomber: It’s obviously ignorance *and* sloppiness on the part of the true believers. Certainly Conservapedia, with its open registration and total lack of clueful sysops, could not possibly be a magnet for practical jokers of all stripes. No, nobody ever posts pages full of total nonsense just for the lulz. You shouldn’t start doing it yourself, either; it’s not a lot of fun.