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 Blake Stacey
    November 20, 2007

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

  2. #2 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.

  3. #3 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

  4. #4 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…

  5. #5 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…

  6. #6 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.

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