It just gets worse for Behe

Nick Matzke has dug into the literature on evolution of chloroquinone resistance in a comment so substantial it ought to be a post on the Panda’s Thumb. This magic number of 1 in 1020 as the probability that a specific two-amino acid change could evolve that Behe uses as his linchpin metric for evolvability throughout his book turns out to not actually describe the probability of a pair of mutually dependent mutations…

So it looks like resistance actually occurs by the gradual accumulation of several mutations, and that what you are seeing in the wild is not a few rare double-mutation events, but instead a few much-evolved strains that have accumulated a large number of resistance mutations.

…and the number itself is of rather shaky provenance.

The evolution of malaria really is the major theme running throughout the book, and it’s looking like he hasn’t gotten any of it right. I wondered how such sloppy scholarship could have passed muster, so I took a look at the acknowledgments page to see who had helped him out. Here’s the roster of great minds:

Lydia and Tim McGrew, Peter and Paul Nelson, George Hunter, David DeWitt, Doug Axe, Bill Dembski, Jonathan Wells, Tony Jelsma, Neil Manson, Jay Richards, and Guillermo Gonzalez read the manuscript, and Bruce Chapman, Steve Meyer, John West, and Rob Crowther provide support.

In other words, his reviewers were the gang of incompetent philosophers, theologians, and creationist ideologues who willingly associate themselves with the Discovery Institute, with nary a real biologist among them. No wonder such bad science could slip into publication.


  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    June 6, 2007

    Why are Americans wasting their time re-hashing this tired old anti-evolutionary crap?

    Because those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.

    BTW, it’s “vertebrate eye”, not “mammalian eye”.

  2. #2 Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    June 6, 2007

    Dear PZ, I need your advice.

    I am currently trying to convince people to put money into a political movement. The movement is founded on that reality is a scary thing.

    Personally I get really, really afraid when I open a book based on observational facts. Especially in biology, because I feel my own person to be the most important there is, and evolutionary biology says it is not so. Quite frankly, I don’t really read whole biology books anymore.

    So we are going to use sciency words to hide our fear and get money for printing more sciency words. Since biology is so complicated the first thing I came up with was the notion of “Irreducible Complexity”. (I use upper case to make it look important and sciency; clever, ain’t it?)

    Well and good, I could point at anything disconcerting and mumble “IC!” and the herd was happy. So I stopped thinking about it, or anything else concerning reality, for a while.

    But lately it has become so hard to get the message out and the money in. People complain about some business in Dover, which I know almost nothing about because I wasn’t really there, and the papers have started to question us. They also complain that all I use is my ability to overlook biology, and use “the large number fallacy”, whatever that is.

    So I ask you, dear PZ, could I instead use very, very small probabilities? Say like 10^-20, to be really, really sure that nothing ever gonna happen when I point and spell “IC!”. Surely such small numbers are all right when really large numbers seems to be a problem?


    Michael Baahaa

  3. #3 David Marjanovi?
    June 6, 2007

    Am I missing something?


    For many years I’ve harbored the thought that Behe doesn’t actually believe the stuff he writes. He makes money selling junk to the true believers.

    Make money.
    Make more money.
    – L. Ron Hubbard