Pharyngula

Creationist crooks pilfer Harvard’s work

Once upon a time, a company named XVIVO put together a beautiful computer animation of molecular activity in the cell — you may have already seen it. I have some quibbles with it — there is no water shown, and the behavior of the molecules is too simplistic, without enough noise (molecular behavior at the scale shown ought to be rich with Brownian phenomena) — but it’s dramatic and spectacular, which was the intent. The whole thing was made to inspire and inform Harvard biology students, so it’s actually owned by Harvard and XVIVO.

Now for the curious and nefarious part of the story. Fellows of the Discovery
Institute love this video. It shows the complexity of the cell, and that there are all kinds of specific functions going on within it, so to them, ignorant as they are of the evolutionary history of any of the molecules involved, it seems to support their contention that cells are full of arcane molecular machines that must have been designed. Never mind that these are proteins and other molecules; never mind that we have identified gene families and patterns of descent within these molecules; never mind that complexity is a hallmark of evolutionary processes and products. This is a movie they can show the rubes and say “Wow! I don’t understand that (always true)! You don’t understand that (usually true)! Therefore, JEEEZUS!” That’s their goal.

So what would a group of good Christians with the aim of renewing American culture do? Simple. Steal the video. They’ve grabbed the video, retitled it, removed the biological explanations for the phenomena, dubbed in a really bad, unprofessional narration on top of it, and stripped off the credits. Now, in their various traveling patent medicine shows, they flaunt this unattributed, modified video ripped off from Harvard Biology, and use it in their generic argument from ignorance for anti-evolutionism.

They are shameless thieves.

ERV has documented one example — Dembski used it in his talk at the University of Oklahoma, at which he profited to the tune of about $10,000. If you find yourself at a DI event and see the video played, you might want to take note and let her know.

Comments

  1. #1 Engr Tony
    November 20, 2007

    You shall not steal. [Exodus 20:15 (NIV)]

    The DI must have forgotten about this one from their precious ten commandments. Amazing how these religious freakazoids who claim the ten commandments to be the basis of United States law (and seek to ram them down the throats of everyone around them) seem so willing to ignore them when it suits their goals.

    Hypocrites.

  2. #2 Ted D
    November 20, 2007

    This would have pushed my opinion of these people even lower, only that would contravene the laws of physics and possibly break open the space/time continuum like an egg hitting the pavement. Despicable.

  3. #3 Faithful Reader
    November 20, 2007

    Harvard and the company ought to have their lawyers looking at this as a serious copyright violation.

  4. #4 Triphesas
    November 20, 2007

    I was going to say that, but seriously, isn’t there a way for Harvard to get them for theft, or at the very least, copyright violations?

  5. #5 ethan
    November 20, 2007

    That video’s beautiful, as are most biological functions when viewed close up.

    If I were God, though, I think I would have designed something with less moving parts. He’s kind of a shitty designer, if all his designs are so complicated.

    Unless, maybe, he was in the Baroque school? Rococo?

  6. #6 Blake Stacey
    November 20, 2007

    Ah, the Discoverup Institute. Those are the sort of plagiarists you’d like to have a beer with!

  7. #7 dogmeatib
    November 20, 2007

    I would think that complexity would be a sign that there isn’t a creator. It would make much more sense for cells to be opaque “magic blobs” that defy our every effort to understand them. Instead they seem to be more of a hodge-podge of environmentally driven compromises.

  8. #8 Randolph Carter
    November 20, 2007

    Someone should go to UD and ask Dembski why he used a video that was severely edited without the consent of the copyright holder.
    It would be interesting to see how long it would take them to axe the comment.

  9. #9 Hank Roberts
    November 20, 2007

    Is there anything in those ten commandments that says they apply to the heathen outsiders who it’s okay to slaughter if you want their property? I thought not.

  10. #10 Justin Moretti
    November 20, 2007

    Do these DI people have an unhealthy obsession with finding out what Hell is like?

    Harvard have got to know about this by now, for sure? I can’t see them letting it rest. I hope they nail the DI to the wall and clean them out for the maximum allowable.

  11. #11 raven
    November 20, 2007

    Definitely sounds like some sort of copyright violation. Even with generous offers to use freely use IP, they ask that the authorship be kept with the work.

    Creos don’t need reasons anyway. You could show them the movie Aliens with a lizard bursting out of someone’s chest and they would think that it was factual and god is clever at designing parasites.

  12. #12 salient
    November 20, 2007

    “I would think that complexity would be a sign that there isn’t a creator.”

    True enough, but given that science has demonstrated that biological systems are complex, the creator has been forced to shift his manifestations into forms that confuse and dazzle creationists.

    “It would make much more sense for cells to be opaque “magic blobs” that defy our every effort to understand them.”

    This is the old, more magical conception of cellular function. Which, of course, was much easier for creationists to understand and was taken to be a manifestation of the creator’s machinations.

    Descartes actually thought that having been born to his parents, his continuing existence from one moment to the next was a direct result of God’s intervention. God isn’t a designer — God is a phosphate bond! I guess that Descartes’ death after catching the infamous cold was due to God’s having grown tired of intervening. Perhaps God caught a cold too.

    “Instead they seem to be more of a hodge-podge of environmentally driven compromises.”

    Oh, ye of no faith in IDiocy, don’t say that! The intelligent designer would never settle for a hodge-podge, the intelligent designer concocted every design complete, just as we see it, in all its complex wonder.

    As to the Inner Life of the Cell, I think that Harvard should sue for desecration of their work of art.

  13. #13 DSKS
    November 20, 2007

    “He’s kind of a shitty designer, if all his designs are so complicated.”

    Actually, you touch on a good argument against design. The progressive nature of physiological complexity is clear. True designers, assuming humans are a good example, generally start off with a product, add a few upgrades until the base model becomes a limiting factor, then scrap the base model and start from scratch in order to streamline function. Natural selection just piles on the upgrades ad infinitum, only removing previous hardware if it becomes a specific hindrance.

    In fact, like 1990’s PCs, I’d vouch that the majority of human frailties, including a preoccupation with the supernatural, is due to our rather primitive base memory.

    IMHO, If there was a designer involved, then he probably shuffles around Heaven with a pencil in his ear, scratching his arse crack, and muttering, “Aw gee… that’s gonna cost ya; I can fix it, but I won’t get the parts still Thursday latest…”

  14. #14 Dan
    November 20, 2007

    If humans were designed, they’d be smarter.

  15. #15 AlanWCan
    November 20, 2007

    $10,000? How come these morons get 10 grand to give a talk and everyone else gets the busfare and maybe lunch? I’ve never known a scientist get more than a few hundred bucks and a thank you for giving a seminar (including real luminaries like John Maynard-Smith and John Sulston).

  16. #16 Hermagoras
    November 20, 2007

    I transcribed Dembski’s introduction to the plagiarized video at parlepsis. It’s clear that Dembski wanted people to think that the video was original work, just like he wants people to think that Behe “found” the “molecular machinery” of the cell. Plagiarism isn’t accidental with these guys: it’s their modus operandi.

  17. #17 Spaulding
    November 20, 2007

    I think this plagiarism highlights a common language that’s worth remembering in conversation with creationists.

    Creationists, like people who understand biology, geology, physics, etc., are moved by awe of the natural world. The difference is that creationsts’ awe has been directed away from study and understanding – instead, the magnificence of the world overwhelms them and they retreat into ignorance (arbitrarily decreeing that some subjects are unknowable), consoling themselves with simpler mythologies.

    There’s no reason to fight or deny that sense of awe. I’m sure it’s familiar to most of us. Our task is to show that a retreat into ignorance is not the only way to act when faced with a beautiful and complex and harsh and simple world. Instead, we can map out the details and the patterns, get glimpses of the big picture. And as we uncover that sort of truth, we learn to cure diseases and build computers and spaceships and all kinds of sci fi toys. How awesome is that?

    And we can do it without dogmatic fairy tales made from wishful thinking or bronze age sky gods.

  18. #18 Bert Chadick
    November 20, 2007

    A truly beautiful work. I think this video points out the complexity of irreducibility. I mean do you really think a deity with a whole universe to run would have time to oversee all those little fiddley bits? Obviously it had to evolve from less complex chemistry.

    The IDiots have stolen the work, defaced it and now use it for their own rotten ends. Why doesn’t that surprise me?

  19. #19 HumanisticJones
    November 20, 2007

    I’m not surprised they’d steal something and use it to their own effects. It’s a clear, accurate depiction of cellular workings… or is it…

    In some instances, that meant sacrificing literal accuracy for visual effect. “What we did in some cases, with the full support of the Harvard team, was subtly change the way things work,” Liebler says.

    It is beautiful. And in its own way shows how those wonderful little bits of matter scurry about giving us the opportunity to be amazed by them. But its “perfection” of appearance is mostly due to artistic license on this. The real thing is a lot messier and scrunched up. No less impressive or beautiful, but harder to render, and certainly less usable to show the “apparent design”.

  20. #20 Ex-drone
    November 20, 2007

    To avoid copyright infringement, DI would have to replicate the video. To replicate the video, they would have to understand the science behind it. So you can see the bind that they are in.

  21. #21 toomanytribbles
    November 20, 2007

    i’m having a violent physical emotional reaction against both the unethical-ness of their actions and the length, breadth, depth of their stupidity.

    excuse me while i get a grip.

  22. #22 molecanthro
    November 20, 2007

    Hey…since you’re up there in MN…maybe you should check out the next DI talk at the University of Minnesota!
    http://events.umn.edu/event?occurrence=405638;event=119008

    OK…so I’m pretty sure that this lamewad isn’t going to get into the science and show this video…but just wanted to make people aware of this and see if some of your minions had planned to attend this talk 🙂
    I would…except I’m all the way over here in East Germany!

    On another note, does anyone happen to know where I can download a copy of ‘Judgement Day?’ I watched it online and would like to show it over here at the evolutionary anthropology institute where I work…and I got an email from someone at PBS saying that yes, it’s ok for me to show a copy that has been recorded.

    *sorry for the derail…just really want to show it and have a discussion about it since ID is creeping across europe these days and many scientists i know aren’t aware of all the issues.

  23. #23 factician
    November 20, 2007

    molecanthro,

    Google video has the first two parts up that you can download. I’m sure the next parts will show up soon. Just make sure you’re googling “Judgment Day” and not “Judgement Day”.

  24. #24 Brownian, OM
    November 20, 2007

    I’m rich with Brownian phenomena!

    I can’t believe those despicable losers ripped off something so cool, especially since if they had their way, we wouldn’t bother studying the cell, we’d spend all our time swooning over the mysteries of God instead like a bunch of vegetables.

    I hope their legs fall off and they get dirt in their sandwiches because they have to walk on their hands.

  25. #25 HalfMooner
    November 20, 2007

    All of Judgment Day is here:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/program.html

  26. #26 miko
    November 20, 2007

    The video is aesthetically beautiful and fun for people who can recognize their favorite protein/process/organelle but I’ve always disliked it as a pedagogical tool. I would argue that it does in fact lend itself to the DI’s shallow propaganda.

    The concentration of many cellular proteins is in the mg/ml range, total protein is far higher than that used by structural biologists to form crystals. There is literally no empty space. It should be a shimmering, jittery crush that would “look” absolutely nothing like anything that could be “designed.” Add all the lipids, metabolites, etc, and it’s a molecular kumbha mela.

    To me, it just seems like an expensive, 3D rendering of these outdated linear signaling diagrams from textbooks that have nothing to do with how protein interactions are currently understood. It’s simplified well past the point of being misleading.

  27. #27 vhut
    November 20, 2007

    Dembski did not receive an honorarium of $10,000, but something less than $5000 – still too much for what they got! I have detailed the finances, etc., of Dembski’s visit in a comment on the stolen video post onERV.

  28. #28 foxfire
    November 20, 2007

    This theft is just so vile – but then again, I’m an atheist so what would I know about morality. Heck, if I was a theist I could justify the taking the same way it was done in the past: God *gave* the DI this video the same way God handed out the land of the Canaanites.

    Nice catch Abbie!

    I hope this makes the circuit on cable news – about the time Faux News “addresses” the DI vs PBS issue on teacher material associated with “Judgement Day”, most likely to appear on O’Reilly or Hannity.

  29. #29 DLC
    November 20, 2007

    Uh huh. So, Dembski’s friend and fellow cdesign proponentists Behe found the address labels on the proteins ?
    Do they use bar-code? Oh nevermind. I never could stand an argument from ignorance “Gee this is hard” for very long.
    Excellent graphics production though, in the original, even if it had things missing.

  30. #30 knutsondc
    November 20, 2007

    A friend of mine took me to a presentation that Jed Macosko, a former DI Fellow, gave here in the Twin Cities a few months ago in which he used the DI’s ripped-off version of this video. I remember thinking that although DI’s “science” was a joke, they sure did a slick-looking video. I should have known better. I’m going to have to send a link to this story to my friend so he can see how moral and upstanding the good Christians at DI are.

  31. #31 hexag1
    November 21, 2007

    I agree that this video doesn’t reflect the Brownian motion of organic molecules enough. The video makes it seem like the movement of these molecules is like a ballet. The animation of the nucleotides forming a DNA strand is particularly misleading. They make it seem like the motion of the pieces is helical -before- they link together.

    Here is a much better vision:

    http://sciencehack.com/videos/view/E8NHcQesYl8

  32. #32 AttemptingReason
    November 21, 2007

    One of the first things I thought about that video was “wow, thats graceful and uncluttered, way to easy to mistake it for mechanical precision” or something like that. So I’m not surprised to hear this, though it does anger me that they completely stripped the video and aren’t attributing it.

  33. #33 Dan
    November 21, 2007

    Man… Why doesn’t Abbie have a place on the ScienceBlogs’ mantle?

  34. #34 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 21, 2007

    Blake Stacey:

    Ah, the Discoverup Institute. Those are the sort of plagiarists you’d like to have a beer with!

    Ick. Blake, Blake, Blake. I love you like a fellow Molly winner, but please don’t mention the codswallop which is DI in the same paragraph with something as wonderful as beer.

    Speaking of which, howabout a thread on beer, PZ, it’d be a fun read….SH

  35. #35 G. Tingey
    November 21, 2007

    Apart from Harvard sueing for intellectual property theft &/or copyright violation etc, there is one other OBVIOUS suggestion.

    If anyone hears about one of these shows in advance, they MUST go along, and as soon as question time comes around ask – the obvious one: “Dear Mr Dembski (or whoever) why have you used Harvard’s film, altered and bodged, without their approval and consent?
    Isn’t this theft, and would you care to explain yourself?”

  36. #36 Ed Darrell
    November 21, 2007

    “Why, That’s Delightful” has the video that DI should have used (it’s an Orangina ad) — featuring cephalopods in harmonious living arrangements with mammals, a good sign, some would say, but a sign that needs a lot of explainin’ as only the DI can do:
    http://whythatsdelightful.wordpress.com/2007/11/20/if-you-lived-in-france-youd-have-to-watch-this-over-and-over-again/

  37. #37 HalfMooner
    November 21, 2007

    With student scientists blessed with the brains and chutzpah of an Abbie Smith, I feel very good about the future.

  38. #38 Pharmer
    November 21, 2007

    Speaking of credible renditions of the inner workings of the cell… NOTHING beats the 1971 Stanford version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9dhO0iCLww

  39. #39 David Utidjian
    November 21, 2007

    So THAT is where pus comes from! I never knew about the narrated version. Absolutely fascinating… like a real Fantastic Voyage.

    Many thanks to PZ and ERV for (re)posting this.

    -DU-

  40. #40 Bronze Dog
    November 21, 2007

    I loved that video. It’s like the DI threw poo at Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

  41. #41 Galbinus_Caeli
    November 21, 2007

    You know, perhaps this explains everything.

    Perhaps there WAS an Intelligent Designer, but she designed a DIFFERENT universe, and we just got the work of the Divine Plagiarist. He copied off some other god’s work, but was in a hurry and lazy, so botched the job. Then he got a D so he dropped it in his holy recycle bin and we have been on our own ever since.

    All Must Repent! Trash Day of the Spheres Approaches!

  42. #42 Don
    November 21, 2007

    ‘If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,’

  43. #43 Kristine
    November 21, 2007

    Blake Stacey: Ah, the Discoverup Institute. Those are the sort of plagiarists you’d like to have a beer with!

    Scott Hatfield: Ick. Blake, Blake, Blake. I love you like a fellow Molly winner, but please don’t mention the codswallop which is DI in the same paragraph with something as wonderful as beer.

    Okay, no mention of hot tubs from me. But, isn’t there some kind of hazing ritual that these guys have to go through now, because they stole that vid? And does this mean that we have permission to pirate (arrh, yes) their awful Privileged Pooplet crockumentary for our own purposes?

    I envision something along the lines of MST3000…

  44. #44 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 21, 2007

    Kristine:

    (affects raptured H. Simpson voice) Molly winners….hot tubs….beer….!

    G. Tingey:

    If anyone hears about one of these shows in advance, they MUST go along, and as soon as question time comes around ask – the obvious one: “Dear Mr Dembski (or whoever) why have you used Harvard’s film, altered and bodged, without their approval and consent?
    Isn’t this theft, and would you care to explain yourself?”

    I am sharpening my beak and claws in readiness, sir.

  45. #45 Ace of Sevens
    November 21, 2007

    When Harvard does sue, what are the chances it’s the secularists trying to cover up the truth and withdrawing their own work when someone realizes it supports ID?

  46. #46 Epistaxis
    November 22, 2007

    Gee, I’m not sure what to think. Harvard doesn’t need the royalties, but I’d love to see DI money go toward real science.

  47. #47 Dragonbait
    November 22, 2007

    Creationists seem to do a lot of that. At least one of the Kent Hovind videos has a scene with dinosaurs ripped straight from the BBC’s great ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ series.

  48. #48 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 22, 2007

    ripped straight from the BBC’s great ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ series.

    Tell that to Auntie Beeb, and Hovind is toast.

    Oh, wait. Oopsie. He’s already in jail…

  49. #49 David Marjanovi?, OM
    November 22, 2007

    ripped straight from the BBC’s great ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ series.

    Tell that to Auntie Beeb, and Hovind is toast.

    Oh, wait. Oopsie. He’s already in jail…

  50. #51 Kelly
    November 22, 2007

    Nevermind, the above link probably doesn’t even work. I just noticed the tag on it that read, “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” I suppose it won’t make it up there at all.

  51. #52 raven
    November 23, 2007

    Ace of Morons:

    When Harvard does sue, what are the chances it’s the secularists trying to cover up the truth and withdrawing their own work when someone realizes it supports ID?

    Zero. This video just points out that the cell is complex. Which has been known for a hundred years or so.

    The ID fallacy is argument from ignorance and incredulity. They have been making it since Paley’s time, way before Darwin, 200 years. It proved nothing 200 years ago and it will not prove anything in 200 more years. Real scientists do science not repeat centuries old fallacies.

    Normal honest people don’t steal intellectual property and re-edit it for their own twisted ends. If you were a normal honest person you would know that.

  52. #53 McLir
    November 23, 2007

    This was my response on the MetaFilter thread:
    http://www.metafilter.com/66737/Surrealistic-Lilliputian-Realm

    ? The shorter original video from XVIVO is one of the most spectacular and painstaking visualizations I’ve ever seen.
    ? The longer original (with narration) is the product of decades of hard-core research for an audience with very serious cellular and molecular biology chops. (I understood precious little of the details, but I know some CMB people who understand these amazing processes.)
    ? The hijacked version that DI is spinning shows a smug disregard (or even hostility) for both topic and audience. They reduce all that research into the dopiest and most cartoonish terms. “Look at the pretty pictures. Feel the pixie dust. Revel in the Designer’s mysterious ways. See, it’s like Lilliput with a United Parcel Service.”
    The fact that they dropped XVIVO’s and Harvard’s attributions pretty much seals the dishonesty verdict.
    Like most “think tanks,” the Discovery Institute is not a think tank but a public relations outfit. I pray they continue to have a low regard for the biologists and evolutionists whose hard work they parasitize.

    On the subject of whether the original video misrepresents cells: If everything happening in a cell was displayed simultaneously from all the various molecules to the Brownian phenomenon, it would be visually incomprehensible.
    I would expect Edward Tufte — who is the guru for rigorous visualizations (WWTD?) — would give the XVIVO video a pass. It’s OK to select out and illustrate specific processes just as statistics select out specific variables.

  53. #54 Ace of Sevens
    November 25, 2007

    Dearest Raven,
    Please check your reading comprehension. Thank you.

  54. #55 Heather Kuhn
    November 27, 2007

    Having just reviewed the plagiarized version as shown on ERV’s blog, I can state categorically that DI didn’t strip the narration off. There’s two legitimate versions of the video: A short version with music and a long version with narration. They overdubbed narration on the short version. Play the video on ERV’s blog and you’ll hear the music. So, they were sloppier and less sophisticated than you think.

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