Mike the Mad Biologist

binoculars
To prevent brain damage, the Surgeon General recommends that statements by Michael Egnor be read using approved devices such as the StupidView9000

Orac bravely dives deeper into the Discovery Institute’s creationist drivel, and reports on the continuing ignorant idiocy of Michael Egnor. I don’t know what’s worse: Egnor’s willful ignorance, or his pseudo-victimization complex. Let’s deal with the ignorance first.


In an interview with Casey Luskin, Egnor states (italics mine):

EGNOR: Well, it’s a pretty funny claim on the part of Darwinists. It’s sort of like Al Gore claiming that he invented the Internet, that he was the basis for Love Story. I mean, people who are infatuated with their ideas can claim credit for everything. The reality is that bacteria are killed or not killed by antibiotics because of reasons that have been uncovered by molecular biology, by pharmacology, by all sorts of very important parts of medicine. We don’t need the Darwinists to tell us that bacteria that are killed by antibiotics don’t survive and that bacteria that aren’t killed by antibiotics do survive. We don’t need to read Origin of Species to understand this. Perhaps a Darwinist physician does, but other physicians don’t. The idea that Darwinists can take credit for the simple observation that bacteria that aren’t sensitive to antibiotics aren’t sensitive to antibiotics is astonishing. It’s a ridiculous notion. Darwinism is nothing in our understanding of that.

I’m going to spell this out really slowly so that even Egnor can understand (and here’s a picture that might help). In every bacterial population, there are pre-existing genetic variants that are resistant to antibiotics. When that population is exposed to an antibiotic, the sensitive bacteria die (or stop growing), while the resistant bacteria multiply. Over time, resistant bacteria (the resistance is genetically based) replace the sensitive bacteria: resistance genes become predominant. In other words, the bacterial population has experienced a change in genotypes–the genetic composition of the population has been altered. The change of gene frequencies in a population, in its most simple and reductionist sense, is evolution. (In fact, it is evolution by natural selection).

It would appear that Egnor has never met a single doctor who has had to decide whether or not to prescribe an antibiotic to treat a child’s ear infection. The reason doctors don’t always (or usually) prescribe an antibiotic is that they are concerned that unnecessary use of antibiotics will lead to the evolution of antibiotic resistance.

Since Egnor tugs on patients’ neurons for a living, I don’t think this or his misstatement that “Darwinists can take credit for the simple observation that bacteria that aren’t sensitive to antibiotics aren’t sensitive” stem from an inability to cogitate successfully: this is clearly willful ignorance.

But what is even more galling is the perpetual creationist arrogance evinced by this gem (italics mine):

LUSKIN: Well, I really enjoyed talking to you last time. We learned about some of the reasons that you are a scientific skeptic of evolution. After all, you’re only a Professor of Neurosurgery. So what do you know about this subject?

[Both laugh]

EGNOR: Right.

LUSKIN: But I’d like to know some more about, you know, I think that maybe some of our Darwinist friends, if you don’t have a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology, they complain that you aren’t qualified to talk about the subject. Even if you do have a Ph.D., sometimes they will complain if you don’t have the right views. But in this case, you are clearly an outstanding representative of the medical field, and you are fully qualified, there’s no one can dispute that–you are more than able to talk about…you know, how does the medical field interact with neo-Darwinian theory. And I’d like to find out from you: Does neo-Darwinism play a large role? By the way, I dispute anyone who says you are not qualified to talk about evolution, but I think that no one would argue that you are qualified to talk about the medical field. So, talk to me about the medical field, and does it rely on neo-Darwinism in, you know, everyday practice of medicine?

Luskin and Egnor are treating this as a case of arrogant Ph.D.s beating up on a simple country neurosurgeon who is armed only with common sense. This is a lie. Egnor is not speaking truth to power. He is a willfully ignorant man, who is rightfully being called out for his promotion of ignorance. As Orac notes, and I explain above, Egnor has demonstrated that he can not or will not understand concepts that high school students can readily master.

This idiocy unfortunately matters. If creationists manage to convince enough people that the problem of antibiotic resistance has nothing to do with evolution, it will make it that much harder to combat the problem of antibiotic resistance. And I’ve already posted about the consequences of that.

Comments

  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    March 15, 2007

    I don’t know what’s worse: Egnor’s willful ignorance, or his pseudo-victimization complex.

    Well, I suggest that there’s a third candidate – the inability of you and some others at ScienceBlogs to address situations such as Egnor’s silly attitudes without using terms such as “stupid people, “fucking morons,” “idiots,” and the like. Whatever Egnor is, he’s not stupid.

    I have no truck whatever with Egnor’s creationist drivel. And you’ll no doubt be gratified by the support of the choir to whom you’re preaching. But you don’t seem to have any idea about or any interest in how unattractive this style of “takedown” is to many folks on the outside. You know, those people who you’d like to get on your side.

    Mind you, I’ve made similar comments before on other blogs, and I don’t expect any better reaction this time …

  2. #2 Roy
    March 15, 2007

    You’re catching on — ‘willfully ignorant’. Yes, he chooses to be wrong because he likes that particular wrongness (and no doubt many other), preferring it to the truth. This is deliberate refusal to learn on his part.

    See him as a willful unruly child, for that is what he is, just the body has grown up.

    Quit trying to reason with him. He’s being salvation. He was educated earlier, but he refused to learn things he didn’t like.

  3. #3 T. Bruce McNeely
    March 15, 2007

    Scott said: the inability of you and some others at ScienceBlogs to address situations such as Egnor’s silly attitudes without using terms such as “stupid people, “fucking morons,” “idiots,” and the like. Whatever Egnor is, he’s not stupid.

    He may not be stupid, but he sure DOES stupid really well. He earns those epithets. If I were on his hospital’s infection control committee, I’d be on his ass like yesterday.

  4. #4 ERV
    March 15, 2007

    Luskin and Egnor are treating this as a case of arrogant Ph.D.s beating up on a simple country neurosurgeon who is armed only with common sense.

    *giggle* Im not a PhD. Im a kid. hehehe Poor babies. Being attacked by vicious young women.

    Scott: Whatever Egnor is, he’s not stupid.

    Well, he could be. I mean thats one of many options. Its possible he is simply stupid, but I personally dont think thats the case. I think hes an arrogant idiot/asshole/jerk. Thats very different than just being stupid. Stupid would almost be an excuse.

  5. #5 Baratos
    March 15, 2007

    Well, I suggest that there’s a third candidate – the inability of you and some others at ScienceBlogs to address situations such as Egnor’s silly attitudes without using terms such as “stupid people, “fucking morons,” “idiots,” and the like. Whatever Egnor is, he’s not stupid.

    If he was not stupid, his brain would not turn off whenever his ignorant, medieval beliefs were insulted. I support my right to condemn and insult those who are actively fighting reality.

    I am going to be blunt: if, upon seeing the word “idiots” you lose all ability to gauge the truth of an argument, then you might not be an idiot. Your mind might simply be a wasteland where the only thing that matters is emotion, with no room for logical thought.

    This is what is wrong with too many people today. They dont actuallly read what someone is writing. They glance at it, and if anything in it offends them they start throwing a fit. The only way to deal with arrogant fools who want to take medicine back into the Dark Ages is force.

  6. #6 Joshua
    March 15, 2007

    We call Egnor stupid because the other option is that he’s a liar, and we like to extend that small bit of courtesy in assuming that the other party is arguing in good faith. Egnor’s been stretching that assumption a lot, though. A lot.

  7. #7 MarkP
    March 16, 2007

    Indeed Scott, echoing Joshua, would you object to us calling Egnor a liar? If you disallow us the “stupid” option, there are precious few other options, given the blatant untruth of what he says. Or is the only style of argumentation you find “attractive” that which is devoid of negative adjectives, whether they are accurate or not?

  8. #8 mark
    March 16, 2007

    LUSKIN: Well, I really enjoyed talking to you last time. We learned about some of the reasons that you are a scientific skeptic of evolution. After all, you’re only a Professor of Neurosurgery. So what do you know about this subject?

    [Both laugh]

    EGNOR: [Who cares? The ignorant masses I talk to believe whatever I say, because I'm a Professor of Neurosurgery.]

    LUSKIN: [Tee-hee.]

    Really, now, being a professor of neurosurgery instead of professor of evolution (or even auto mechanic) does not in any way preclude someone from being knowledgeable about evolution. Egnor is abysmally ignorant about evolution (and/or lying about it) in spite of his opportunities to learn about it.

  9. #9 Joshua
    March 17, 2007

    I just commented on Orac’s latest Egnor post, but I think the content is pretty relevant to this blog, so I’m cross-posting it here.

    Oh, this is interesting. This Week in Evolution mentions a paper by Weinreich et al. (Science 312:111-114) that determines likely paths for a five-step mutation to resistance from non-resistance in a beta-lactamase gene. Bam goes “irreducible complexity”, because they’ve clearly shown that out of 120 possible 5-step paths, 18 paths resulted in a gradual increase in resistance. Even not all of those paths were created equal, so the paper in essence tells us how to determine what sequence of mutations takes a population from non-resistant to resistant. Many of the other 102 paths resulted in less resistance.

    If that’s not medically useful knowledge based on an evolutionary analysis, I don’t know what is!

    I can think of so many possibilities there. If we can determine likely paths for the development of antibiotic resistance, we can examine the intermediate stages in that path and possibly develop treatment strategies that prevent resistance from developing. For example, maybe one of the intermediate stages grants higher resistance to one type of antibiotic but decreases resistance to another, maybe a “weaker” antibiotic that wouldn’t normally be used or an antibiotic that is typically prescribed for another kind of infection. You could then come up with a treatment cocktail that attacks the intermediate stages as well as the original bacteria, so the infection either never develops resistance or does so too slowly to matter.

    That’s something that we only get from taking an evolutionary view of antibiotic resistance. The design inference doesn’t even allow us to imagine possibilities like this.

    Consider this a sanity check. Is the scenario I suggested plausible?

  10. #10 QrazyQat
    March 17, 2007

    Egnor here also shows himself to be a standard issue wingnut by repeating two of the bogus and and long-discredited anti-Al Gore stories.

  11. #11 Stein
    March 18, 2007

    WTF is “willful” ignorance?

    And how DARE some WILLFUL person not agree with your spin?

    How DARE they?!

    Their WILL must be CRUSHED so that they will SUBMIT!

    SUMIT, DAMN THEM!

    SUBMIT!

    There will be no WILLFULLNESS tolerated here!

  12. #12 MarkP
    March 18, 2007

    WTF is “willful” ignorance?

    It is the ignorance of one who has been informed, and remains ignorant. Contrast this to ignorance due to lack of exposure to information.

  13. #13 mirc
    March 25, 2009

    thanks a lot. nice pagee.
    Judging what is hanging between that elephant’s legs (look just to the left of the

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