Pharyngula

Professor, you fail!

Don’t you just love how Mike Behe is getting a serial reaming from a ‘mere’ student?

Comments

  1. #1 Janus
    November 5, 2007

    That womans is pretty impressive. Womans. Womans.

    Not to sound IMPATIENT OR ANYTHING *cough*, but when can we expect your comments on the Beyond Belief II conference?

  2. #2 craig
    November 5, 2007

    That’s gonna leave a mark.

  3. #3 Moody834
    November 5, 2007

    Behe Several Years Hence

    Old man cries in beer:
    “Thank God I at least have this!”
    Chokes on a peanut.

  4. #4 Brian Macker
    November 5, 2007

    Interesting. She should have also given him a reaming on his claim:

    “Darwinists overlook the considerable power of the example of the relatively minor changes in HIV: there have been a truly astronomical number of copies produced in just the past fifty years or so. And because of its much increased mutation rate, it has undergone in the past half century as many of some kinds of mutations as all the cells have undergone in the history of the world. If Darwinism had the power that its boosters claim, we should expect to see truly fundamental changes. Yet despite the enormous number of opportunities, only minor changes have appeared. That is very strong evidence of the strict limits on what Darwinian processes can accomplish.”

    I don’t know if his math is correct but he’s missing some very important points about this virus vs. “cells”.

    One is sex which allows the combination of all the best guesses (mutations) from each generation in future ones. Asexual organisms have to guess serially which is vastly less efficient. In fact if you have two good mutations in a generation with asexual organisms the best will likely wipe out the second best even if in combination they would be additive or even synergistic.

    Furthermore, HIV has to pass through the bottleneck of passing to a new host each generation. It essentially has two different environments it has to deal with which by definition have different selective pressures. The first environment is the current host and the second environment is the juncture of passing to a new host.

    Most of that variation he talks about and vast quantities of viruses happens within a single host. The selective pressure there is to produce the most copies as fast as possible, but this will tend to kill the host too fast for transmission. Thus this selective pressure is counter to what is needed in the second environment of passing to a new host.

    In the long run adapting to the single host is far less important than the selective pressures of getting into a new host. (Empirically true as shown by the research on why HIV-C. Which is evolving to be less virulent.)

    This means the timing of the mutations are very important. Mutations for decreased virulence that occur too soon before transmission will be drowned out by virulence mutations long before the opportunity for transmission occurs.

    Mutations for decreased virulence can only gain a foothold if 1) They occur immediately prior to transmission and 2) During transmission only viral particles containing the mutation (and not virulent ones) get transmitted.

    It is easy to see that 2) is required because if the more virulent strain gets transmitted it will surely out compete the less virulent in the new environment (body). Since by definition the new strain is less virulent it will tend to be less represented in the total pool of viral particles in the body.

    Thus of all the vast quantities of viruses that Behe mentions a small fraction are actually important to evolution of decrease virulence. In fact the number must be far less than the population of humans infected with the AIDS virus. Most of those people infected will have gotten a large dose of the virus when they got infected. Only those people who were initially infected with at most one or a couple homogenous particles can count as opportunities for variation in the direction of decreased virulence.

    So in fact the actual numbers that count are not vastly more than the number of cells ever existing on the planet but instead far less than the number of aids victims.

    Because of the lack of sex in the aids virus the effect 1) comes into play. If decreased virulence has the most selective pressure then it will not matter what great mutations the other trillions of viral particles came up with in the original host body. They will be lost due to the fact that they cannot combine.

    Note too, that prevention of reinfection of host cells is vastly more important to the evolution of less virulent strains of the virus than the more virulent. The less virulent strain can gain a safe haven where it can bide it’s time when reinfection is prevented. If not then a more virulent strain could take over it’s cell and destroy it prematurely.

    Of course the opposite is not true. If the selective pressure is the other way for increased virulence then evolution can occur at an increased pace. Start drawing your drinking water from a well contaminated by fecal matter, or cramp people or livestock close together so transmission is easy and evolution to increased virulence can happen quickly in comparison.

    BTW, I did not read this anywhere. Certain details are just plain obvious from a mechanistic point of view, and I am an engineer.

  5. #5 Brian Macker
    November 5, 2007

    BTW, I’m a computer scientist and I could write a computer simulation of my claims if I so wished. Pretty obvious to me what the result would be but it might be interesting to try. It would certainly blow a big whole in Behe’s claim. It’s quite apparent he doesn’t understand the mechanics of his subject nor the odds involved. HIV has actually had far less opportunity to evolve then he has calculated. It has restrictions that asexual organisms in open environments and sexual organisms don’t have.

  6. #6 386sx
    November 5, 2007

    That kid’s got a lot of spunk for a pre-grad student. And a girl pre-grad student too! With a puppy! Wow…

  7. #7 PsychoAtheist
    November 5, 2007

    Ouch! Remind me never to get on the wrong side of Abbie.

  8. #8 rutty
    November 5, 2007

    I love how she’s repeated linked his name in her article to pictures of Lindsay Logan. What could she be suggesting? ;)

    I know sod-all about HIV or biology in general, but I can recognise a bloody good reaming when I see one. Good work!

  9. #9 Zhaphod
    November 5, 2007

    Not sure how many of you have seen Behe getting ripped by Stephen Colbert who by no means is a scientist. When Behe brought up that tired old example of the mouse trap, Stephen said that in a mouse trap, wood and spring by themselves are of no use unless they come together and form the mouse trap.

    That was good.

  10. #10 Dahan
    November 5, 2007

    Very nice! One of my favorite bits:

    “noticing that I am indeed a woman appears to be the crown jewel of your observational capabilities”

    Priceless.

  11. #11 Cuttlefish
    November 5, 2007

    Freud would call it “castration anxiety”

    No surprise that “doctor” Behe
    (*snorfle* *chuckle* *giggle* *tee-hee*)
    Will belittle, mock, misrepresent
    The actions of a female

    For since the time of Adam
    Men could rib each miss or madam
    And with Freudian analysis
    Conclude they want to be male

    Now he tries to bore and tire us
    With a rant about a virus
    That he clearly doesn’t comprehend
    (one wonders if he can)

    What I guess I really mean is
    He is thinking with his penis
    I suppose it’s too important that
    He shows that he’s The Man.

    http://digitalcuttlefish.blogspot.com/2007/11/freud-would-call-it-castration-anxiety.html

  12. #12 Dan
    November 5, 2007

    This is not going to help me overcome the madman’s crush I have on ERV.

  13. #13 zer0
    November 5, 2007

    I think I love her.

  14. #14 DS
    November 5, 2007

    Well, obviously God’s tinkering with HIV to prevent us poor, misguided humans from undermining his wrathful pursuit of vengeance upon gays and black people.

    Oh, I’m sorry. That was out of order. God has nothing to do with ID.

  15. #15 ERV
    November 5, 2007

    Brian– There are going to be several follow up posts, including one addressing tristeros great points. There was just too big of a mess in Behes Amazon post to make one response :)

    rutty– Lindsay Lohan was Behes choice of analogy, thus I am simply granting his premise. You know reality is funnier than fiction! I couldnt make that stuff up!

    DS– Well, thats the joke, really, from my end. If Behe had read the literature Im referring him to before he wrote ‘Edge’, HIV would be in the same pile as malaria as ‘evidence for Creation.’ Wouldnt be ‘pathetic’ at all.

  16. #16 melior
    November 5, 2007

    The fact that the chimp and human versions of VPU have 39% identity indicates they are structurally virtually identical.

    Behe’s own logic proves that males and females are also “structurally identical”, so whyfor does he bring teh misogyny?

  17. #17 firemancarl
    November 5, 2007

    Gosh, i just love Abby *blush* I tell ya, we need more students like her. Not afraid to question the crap that is put forth and yes, layeth the smacketh down upon the fundies!

  18. #18 Uber
    November 5, 2007

    Was Behe’s book really granted the title of ‘one of the 100 most influential books’?

  19. #19 arachnophilia
    November 5, 2007

    the only word i can think of to describe that is:

    “PWN.”

  20. #20 Dreamer
    November 6, 2007

    I’ve always considered my only cursory knowledge of genetics to be a failing, reading Abbie’s work makes me more determined to correct that.

    It’s kind of amusing to read his response, which accuses her of a crime that he goes on to commit… quite liberally. Had the writing style of her essay been more appropriate for peer reviewed publication (as opposed to being appropriate for the blog it was posted on! *gasp* ) he would have then accused her of scientific obfuscation. Against pseudoscience there is no winning, only degrees of defeat in their eyes.

  21. #21 Brandon
    November 6, 2007

    Wow! Behe IS taking a reaming. I wonder if he is sitting in his office with the door locked, sucking his thumb and rocking back and forth? This chick (I can say this because I know her) rocks!

  22. #22 earlofhuntingdon
    November 6, 2007

    Whatever happened to just calling this sort of thing what it is, mumbo jumbo?

    “Darwinists overlook the considerable power of … minor changes in HIV: there have been a truly astronomical number of copies produced in just the past fifty years or so. And because of its much increased mutation rate, it has undergone in the past half century as many of some kinds of mutations as all the cells have undergone in the history of the world….”

    That’s adspeak; he’s selling toothpaste. Behe isn’t offering research results that differ from yours. He is barely offering an argument. Since what he wants most is visibility, don’t give it to him. Ignore him. If you must argue with him, pick your ground. Save the arcane statistics for peer reviewed articles. Write for the lay person who might have read Dawkins or Gould.

    A devastating, tightly reasoned argument that descends into detail understandable only by a fellow researcher has lost its audience and its persuasiveness. Which means Behe wins. Because he doesn’t care about the science. He cares about political victory.

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