Pharyngula

My opinion of Wired magazine just dropped a couple of notches. They’ve got Gregg Easterbrook pontificating on a science issue, the origin of life. Easterbrook is a sports writer with absolutely no clue about science—I’ve commented on his incompetence a few times before (OK, more than a few times). This time he’s soberly stating that no one has done any research on abiogenesis since Miller/Urey, or what they’ve done is a series of failed experiments, and that there are no hints in nature about the chemical origins of life, therefore, maybe a god did it … while completely oblivious to the fact that no one has ever done any research on gods or higher beings, and that there is no evidence for their existence. The man is an idiot. I am still utterly baffled why anyone consults that twit for his opinion on science.

Well, I don’t need to dirty my hands with the fool this time. Smithers, release the Poor Man Institute!

(By the way, I’ll plug it again: if you’re looking for a good summary of the research in early chemical evolution written for a lay audience, I recommend Hazen’s Genesis. I guarantee you that Easterbrook hasn’t read it, from his comments in that article linked above.)

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Wisker
    March 25, 2007

    It should be clear that you, Ken Miller, me and anyone else who pursued a higher education in biology has simply wasted their life. Understanding biology takes nothing more than common sense. Biology is so simple even a caveman could do it.

  2. #2 Francesco Franco
    March 25, 2007

    Easterbrook, and those who think like him, boiled down to the basic syllogism:

    a) X is a difficult puzzle.
    b) science is a very powerful approach to gathering knowledge about difficult problems such as X and has solved many such problems like y and Z in the past.
    b) science has not resolved X.
    c) therefore, god explains X.

    Thank you very much, ladies and gents.

    Go back to logic 101, Greg.

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    March 25, 2007

    Hey, mice, fruit flies, and E. coli do biology, too. Biology is so simple that even Myxoplasma do it.

    That single-celled slime are biological actors perhaps explains how editors and publishers see Easterbrook as a natural for their science columns — there’s not much difference between the two.

  4. #4 hexatron
    March 25, 2007

    I looked at the wired page. It is a treasury of duh-isms. I think it is myopic to single out Easterbrook from

    How does a fertilized egg become a human?(Duh-Idunno)
    How do entangled particles communicate?
    What is the purpose of noncoding DNA?
    What causes ice ages?
    Why can’t we predict the weather?

    All these little articles disregard any science newer than the authors’ high school graduation.
    But at least they don’t mention God, or predict what ‘we will never know…’

  5. #5 Blake Stacey, OM
    March 25, 2007

    Dear Lady Isis, that was awful. Easterbrook graduated from the “on notice” board to the “dead to me” list long ago; I need a new degree of superlative to express the disdain he provokes in me. It all becomes much worse because I watched the evolution episode of Cosmos just two nights ago, on our wonderful new video projector. Clicking on the “Wired Wiki” link made me feel a little better: at least a few of the people contributing there have a clue. (There’s also an irritating amount of creationist drivel, but hey, don’t get your blood pressure up over things we’ve all heard a thousand times before.)

    hexatron:

    The “how do entangled particles communicate” non-answer made my head hurt. In fact, it reminds me of Robert Lanza‘s solipsistic quantum woo.

  6. #6 tikistitch
    March 25, 2007

    Hey PZ, I’m in total agreement that Easterbrook is a tool, but don’t slam all sports writers–Olbermann is an ex-sports reporter, and he’s one of the best newsmen on G*d’s green earth.

    As for Wired, well, it’s been kind of teh suck for some years now. A couple years ago, I worked at a place where they gave out free issues of several mags, and even then I usually didn’t even bother to lean over to pick up a copy of Wired.

  7. #7 tim gueguen
    March 25, 2007

    Wired is all too often simply an upscale version of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. “Oh wow, that there technothing REWLS!!!” You could also consider it the contemporary version of Omni. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if some of the same names that turned up 20 years ago in Omni turn up in Wired.

  8. #8 Stuart Coleman
    March 25, 2007

    Abiogenesis is an interesting topic, it’s too bad that he would spout nonsense about it without having read anything (although not surprising, given the stuff he’s previously done). I’m just disappointed that Wired didn’t, you know, fact-check it. They seem to have dropped the ball on that one.

  9. #9 Carlie
    March 25, 2007

    Can we yell “Stop mixing fields!” in his ear until he gets it? Just because natural selection doesn’t cover every single question in all of science doesn’t make it invalid.

    “But Darwin’s theory is silent on how organisms came into being in the first place, which he considered a deep mystery.”

    I took a CPR class Friday, tailored for college campuses. My training was silent on how to perform infant CPR, which my trainer considered a deep mystery. By Easterbrook’s logic, that means the explanation of infant CPR doesn’t exist at all, anywhere.

  10. #10 QrazyQat
    March 25, 2007

    I’ve always had Wired described to me as a tech mag with a libertarian bent, and by now we should all be aware that “libertarian” generally means “conservative not honest enough to say they’re conservative”. Perfect fit for wingnutty pseudoscience.

  11. #11 Tyler DiPietro
    March 25, 2007

    Meh, WIRED has it’s ups and downs. But I would agree, this is a major down for them. Giving a platform to Easterbrook to write about science is incomprehensibly stupid.

    I’m more of a fan of MAKE magazine now of days, anyway. Too bad it’s only a quarterly release.

  12. #12 Unfrozen Caveman Biologist
    March 25, 2007

    Biology is so simple even a caveman could do it.

    Oh, I see how it is. Just because this guy is an idiot, the years I spent working for *my* degree are suddenly meaningless?

    You know, your strange modern world never ceases to frighten and confuse me.

  13. #13 Chris Bradley
    March 25, 2007

    Articles like that are so . . . bad. I’m sure the people on this blog know the reasons why as well as I do (like the bad syllogism of assuming because biology hasn’t solved each and every little bit of evolution that the massive collection of evidence that supports evolution should be ignored . . . especially when IDers can’t find the designer which would seem to me to be saying that, y’know, our theories need proof while theirs need a lack of proof), but my favorite is the statistical argument.

    They say, “Life is so improbable you can’t discard a god doing it.”

    We say, “But you contend that we don’t know how life came about. How can you even remotely begin to calculate the odds of life occuring if part of your thesis why we evolution is wrong is that you don’t know how life came about? If we’re in the dark about how life came about, how can you calculate the odds?”

    Them: “Look, a red herring!”

    That’s my favorite part. When they bandy around statistical arguments like they have meaning.

  14. #14 Monkey
    March 25, 2007

    I know this is off-topic, but I had to throw this out there. In Canada, the CBC is ‘usually’ a place of good media. And today as I finished listening to a given program, the announcer exclaimed that next week the most recent winner of the Templeton Prize will be a guest and did some literate boasting of this person.

    I duely wrote to the station.Just thought I would share that religion is still a strong part of Canadiana…I though we were getting beter.

    Just some sunday morning musings….

  15. #15 Corkscrew
    March 25, 2007

    Hazen’s Genesis is an excellent book – I bought and read it on your recommendation :)

    Can anyone recommend an equivalent book corresponding to the later stages of abiogenesis (e.g. RNA world onwards)? I find myself sadly lacking in knowledge of this period.

  16. #16 blf
    March 25, 2007

    I’m astonished Wired even still exists. It was horrible when it first appeared, and when I had the misfortune to skim through a later edition some years later, it was still horrible. Un(?)fortunately (and I supposed unfairly), it’s been a long long time since I’ve seen a copy, so I have only a dim recollection of what most irked me about it…

  17. #17 Millimeter Wave
    March 25, 2007

    Hey PZ, I’m in total agreement that Easterbrook is a tool, but don’t slam all sports writers–Olbermann is an ex-sports reporter, and he’s one of the best newsmen on G*d’s green earth.

    Of course, I’m forced to remind everybody at this point that David Icke used to be a sports reporter too…

  18. #18 llewelly
    March 25, 2007

    Oh wow, that there technothing REWLS!!!

    Props to tim gueguen for using that gem of a word, ‘technothing’,
    which can be read ‘techno-thing’ or ‘tech-nothing’ .

  19. #19 Fred Mim
    March 25, 2007

    Hey, if a high school gym coach can teach biology, why can’t a sports writer write about abiogenesis?

    Come to think of it, I did get a C- in high school biology.

  20. #20 autismvox
    March 25, 2007

    Easterbrook wrote about the “TV causes autism theory” last fall and launched too many an article treating this as a “scientific” topic.

  21. #21 David Livesay
    March 25, 2007

    They’re still publishing Wired?

    Maybe someone should ask Easterbrook if he’s seen that ad for ESPN where the guy realized he was talking out of his, uh, ignorance.

  22. #22 TTT
    March 25, 2007

    In Easterbrook’s anti-environmentalist book “A Moment On The Earth,” he said he hoped one day humans will genetically engineer all predatory animals into being peaceful herbivores and that this would improve nature and make it more like the garden of Eden.

  23. #23 Peter Backus
    March 25, 2007

    no one has done any research on abiogenesis since Miller/Urey?

    I guess he never heard of the International Society for the Study of the Origin of Life (ISSOL). The society is organizing the 15th International Conference on the Origin of Life in Florence, Italy, August, 24-29, 2008. Origin of life research is alive and well in many countries. The society is considering broadening its scope to include Astrobiology, the study of the origin evolution and distribution of life in the universe.

  24. #24 Kristjan Wager
    March 25, 2007

    Gregg Easterbrook a step up or down from George Gilder? Discuss.

  25. #25 Ole Mikkelsen
    March 25, 2007

    One of my colleagues has recently published a paper on how a proto-RNA molecule can have formed, which would be able to both mutate as well as replicate and pass the mutation on to following generations: Greenwell HC, Coveney PV (2006): Layered double hydroxide minerals as possible prebiotic information storage and transfer compounds. Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere 36(1): 13-37. That seems to answer Easterbrook’s problem with the ‘RNA first’ idea.

  26. #26 BillCinSD
    March 25, 2007

    Hey PZ, I’m in total agreement that Easterbrook is a tool, but don’t slam all sports writers–Olbermann is an ex-sports reporter, and he’s one of the best newsmen on G*d’s green earth.

    Of course Olberman was a good sports reporter, while Easterbrook generally speaks from his ignorance in sports too.

  27. #27 Pieter B
    March 25, 2007

    My opinion of Wired magazine just dropped a couple of notches.

    Mine couldn’t get any lower. It was, after all, Declan McCullagh of Wired News who started the “Al Gore claimed he invented the Internet” smear. Yes, it was.

  28. #28 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 25, 2007

    Origin of life research is alive and well in many countries.

    That is good, since astrobiology, including abiogenesis studies, is taking a hit in the NASA budget. “NASA astrobiology funding has declined 50% over the last 2 years, and funding isn’t likely to be restored anytime soon.” ( http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_development/previous_issues/articles/2007_02_23/caredit_a0700025/(parent)/68 )

    And this at a time when several bodies in the planetary systems have been discovered to contain bodies of water.

    ‘technothing’, which can be read ‘techno-thing’ or ‘tech-nothing’ .

    Huh! Seems english isn’t really made for nice concatenations. Can we all switch to a germanic language now, prettyplease? :-)

  29. #29 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 25, 2007

    Origin of life research is alive and well in many countries.

    That is good, since astrobiology, including abiogenesis studies, is taking a hit in the NASA budget. “NASA astrobiology funding has declined 50% over the last 2 years, and funding isn’t likely to be restored anytime soon.” ( http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_development/previous_issues/articles/2007_02_23/caredit_a0700025/(parent)/68 )

    And this at a time when several bodies in the planetary systems have been discovered to contain bodies of water.

    ‘technothing’, which can be read ‘techno-thing’ or ‘tech-nothing’ .

    Huh! Seems english isn’t really made for nice concatenations. Can we all switch to a germanic language now, prettyplease? :-)

  30. #30 PZ Myers
    March 25, 2007

    English isn’t a Germanic language now?

  31. #31 volver
    March 25, 2007

    Thanks for pointing this out. I am glad I no longer subscribe; Wired is really desperate for “readers” these days and it shows!

  32. #32 David Marjanovi?
    March 25, 2007

    Seems english isn’t really made for nice concatenations.

    Don’t be fooled by the orthography. English is chock full of compound words, such as “compound words” — it just keeps putting spaces between the parts.

  33. #33 David Marjanovi?
    March 25, 2007

    Seems english isn’t really made for nice concatenations.

    Don’t be fooled by the orthography. English is chock full of compound words, such as “compound words” — it just keeps putting spaces between the parts.

  34. #34 llewelly
    March 25, 2007

    Torbj&ouml rn Larsson :

    tim gueguen:

    technothing’, which can be read ‘techno-thing’ or ‘tech-nothing’ .

    Huh! Seems english isn’t really made for nice concatenations.

    In the context of Wired, a technology magazine by and for those
    who are dangerously clueless about technology, the double meaning is
    all too often entirely appropriate.

  35. #35 Andrew Cooper
    March 26, 2007

    Why do Wired and Slate publish this piffle? BECAUSE WE VISIT THEM WHEN THEY DO!! That’s it, folks. That’s all there is to it. Every time you feature a moron like this on your mind blowingly excellent blog, PZ, tens of thousands of people like me click on the link and visit the inane wafflings to which you refer.

    I only discovered Scott Adams’ tedious drivelings thanks to you, PZ. (Adams’s blog almost put me off the whole idea of blogs: as a Dilbert fan I was very disappointed to discover that he is, as we say here in Merrie England, so ‘up himself.)

    Not quite sure what we do about this problem. Perhaps you could tell us about these inanities without including links to the driveller in question. I’m sure that would reduce the hit rate on the offending blog.

  36. #36 Andrew Cooper
    March 26, 2007

    PS, here’s the forecast for my neck of the woods this week http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/5day.shtml?id=3193 .
    PPS: when are you guys going to join the rest of the world and start using CENTIGRADE for goodness sake? Took us a while to make the switch here, admittedly, and we still measure distances in miles and yards but really…

  37. #37 stogoe
    March 26, 2007

    Can we all just stop the ‘they just want attention, don’t give it to them’ concern trolling, please? Staying silent in the face of such virulent idiocy hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work now.

    And re: centigrade, America will never switch because the SI isn’t Murkin enough.

  38. #38 Pete Dunkelberg
    March 26, 2007

    (By the way, I’ll plug it again: if you’re looking for a good summary of the research in early chemical evolution written for a lay audience, I recommend Hazen’s Genesis. I guarantee you that Easterbrook hasn’t read it, from his comments in that article linked above.)

    Agree about Hazen’s book, and there’s much more experimental work under way. But I want to plug another good new book:
    deDuve’s Singularities

  39. #39 Greg Peterson
    March 26, 2007

    I want to do a little Hazen pluggage, too. Coincidentally, I spent part of the weekend listening to a CD series of lectures (part of the “Great Courses” series) from the library of Robert Hazen, “The Origen of Life.” The guy is awfully good. He makes the science clear and accessible without seeming to dumb things down too far. What is abundantly clear from what I heard on the CDs (from a lecture series delivered in 2005) is that a TON of origins research has been undertaken (including a lot of fascinating stuff that Hazen himself worked on). He was quick to admit challenges with the various views, but the notion that interesting hypotheses haven’t been advanced and researched is gobsmackingly ignorant.

  40. #40 Keith Douglas
    March 26, 2007

    “BECAUSE WE VISIT THEM WHEN THEY DO”

    Oh, when will the pyramid scheme of net.payments collapse?

  41. #41 arensb
    March 26, 2007

    I’m in the middle of Hazen’s Genesis right now. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that the problem isn’t a lack of testable hypotheses, but a surfeit of them.

    That is, it’s not that nobody has any idea how life started. Rather, there are lots and lots of ideas, and the problem is sorting through them, finding the time, money, and equipment to test them, and figuring out how all of the puzzle pieces go together.

  42. #42 Zelc
    March 26, 2007

    I think Easterbrook is a pretty good sports writer, at least in American football. Of course, there isn’t much correlation between ability to write about American football and ability to write about evolution.

  43. #43 Hadyn
    March 26, 2007

    sob sob sob,

    I’ve been reading Easterbrook’s football column, TMQ, for years and loved it. I knew he had a “thing” for God but, y’know, he seemed open about it. I kinda lept over his pieces on science simply cause I can read better ones in other places.

    But now, I don’t know what to do? What a second yes i do…

    By Grabthar’s Hammer I Will Be Avenged!

  44. #44 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 28, 2007

    Sorry about the delay.

    English isn’t a Germanic language now?

    Uuups! Hmm, what about North Germanic-German, language then?

    Don’t be fooled by the orthography.

    There is that too.

    Seems I just have to get used to being spaced out.

  45. #45 Torbjörn Larsson
    March 28, 2007

    Sorry about the delay.

    English isn’t a Germanic language now?

    Uuups! Hmm, what about North Germanic-German, language then?

    Don’t be fooled by the orthography.

    There is that too.

    Seems I just have to get used to being spaced out.