Two of Behe's Reviewers Speak Out

Last week I wrote about the fact that Michael Behe claimed under oath in the Dover case that his book, Darwin's Black Box, received even more thorough peer review than a scholarly article in a refereed journal. Now more and more facts are coming to light. We only know the names of 3 of the 5 reviewers - Michael Atchison, Robert Shapiro and K. John Morrow. Atchison, I've already documented, did not review the book at all. He had a 10 minute conversation about the book over the phone, without ever seeing the text, with an editor who was concerned about whether it would sell, not whether the science was solid. Skip Evans contacted Robert Shapiro and was told that he did review the book, and while he agreed with some of his analysis of origin-of-life research, he thinks his conclusions are false. He did, however, say that he thought that Behe's book was the best explanation of the argument from design that was available.

Now, what of Morrow? As it turns out, this is the best of all. Over on the Panda's Thumb, a commenter has left the text of an email from K. John Morrow in response to an inquiry about his review of Behe's book. I contacted Dr. Morrow and we've spent some time on the phone over the last couple days discussing the situation. He has given me permission to post his response in full, with one disclaimer:

He dashed this response off pretty quickly in response to an inquiry and in retrospect he isn't certain whether he reviewed the book for Free Press, who ultimately published the book, or for an earlier publisher who was considering publishing it. His recollection from a decade ago is that after he had given his review of the book and the review written by Russell Doolittle of part of the book, the editor told him that they didn't think they were going to go ahead with publishing the book. But he can't be certain at this point whether that was an editor for Free Press or an editor from a different publisher who was considering the book for publication. Ultimately this doesn't matter. Behe himself named Morrow as a reviewer of the book in his testimony, so his views on the book are obviously germane to the question of the rigor of the peer review and whether it determined whether the book should be published. With that disclaimer, the post of his full response after the fold:

I did review Behe's book for a publisher who, if I recall correctly, turned it down on the basis of my comments, and those of others (including Russell Doolittle who trashed it). When I reviewed Behe's book I was much more polite than Doolittle, who didn't mince words. Eventually Behe found another publisher, so he's right; it was peer reviewed. What he doesn't say is that is was rejected by the first set of reviewers.

I also debated Behe in Dallas in 1992. Once, again, I attempted to be civil, professional and dignified. Behe's response was aggressive, condescending and simply rude.

I will say, unequivocally, I am (as practically every professional working biologist I have ever met) convinced by the overwhelming body of evidence that Darwin's concept of evolution, and its subsequent modifications by the last 150 years of investigation, is the correct, and the best explanation for the great cornucopia of living creatures with which we share this planet.

I'm absolutely appalled by Behe's arguments, which are simply a rehash of ideas that Darwin considered and rejected. There is not a shred of evidence to support intelligent design, and a vast body of evidence that argues against it. It is not a scientific hypothesis, it is simply the philosophical wanderings of an uniformed (or disingenuous) mind.

At present I'm involved in product development for an immunodiagnostics company, and we are discussing how to approach to Avian flu, and how we can design a test that takes into account the constantly evolving nature of the RNA viruses. Do the intelligent designers want to return us to a time when mankind attributed disease to evil spirits, and allow us no tools to understand the ravages of epidemic diseases, and how to design therapies and diagnostics against them?

I believe that the argument is not about science at all, but simply right wing fundamentalists using a different tactic to force religious teaching in the public schools. I thought that Judge Overton had put this case to rest 30 years ago, but apparently not.

Thanks for this opportunity to clarify my feelings on this subject.

He mentioned Russell Doolittle in that letter. Dr. Doolittle is perhaps the world's foremost expert on the evolution of blood clotting, so Dr. Morrow asked him to review the section on blood clotting in Behe's manuscript. He then sent Doolittle's brief review to the publishers along with his own review of the rest of the manuscript. Both Morrow and Doolittle have given us permission to make public the review Doolittle wrote back in 1995. Here is the full text:

November 14, 1995
Professor K. John Morrow, Jr.
Dept. Cell Biology & Biochemistry
School of Medicine
Texas Tech University
Health Sciences Center
3601 4th Street
Lubbock, TX 79430

Dear Dr. Morrow,

I read the draft of the chapter for a proposed book by Micheal Behe that you sent me. As you warned me on the telephone, my own writings play a prominent role in his attack on evolution. I don't know whether the word ingenious or disingenuous is more appropriate here, but he has certainly turned all my thinking completely around to suit his own ends. That it is really disingenuous is clear from the fact that he has managed to belittle important scientific findings by couching them with sarcasm.

But what annoyed me the most in the chapter was the author's appeal to Rube Goldberg, one of my favorite cartoonists, and a person I often refer to for my own perspective. On numerous occasions I have shown the two enclosed Goldberg cartoons as examples of how evolution works! Indeed, I used them in (trying to) teach our medical students about how complicated cascades work in contemporary cells. Also, I have used the same cartoons in debating our local creationist (Duane Gish), pointing out that certainly no Creator would have designed such a circuitous and contrived system. Instead, this is how the opportunistic hand of natural selection works, using whatever happens to be available at the moment. (I wonder if he knew about this?)

But let me back up a bit. First, the 1993 article of mine, which is so heavily quoted from and intentionally disparaged, was the text of a lecture I presented at an international conference on blood clotting. It was presented to an audience of mainly clinicians and biotechnologists, not persons well versed in the rudiments of protein evolution. The tone was intentionally light and breezy. My "casual language" has to be viewed in this light. My main point was to demonstrate that the delicate balance of forward and backward reactions that regulate blood clotting came about in a step-by-step process. I emphasized that the Yin-Yang was simply a metaphor and that other similar point and counterpoint comparisons could be made.

A more rigorous development of these ideas can be found in the cited references, one of which (Doolittle & Feng, 1987) is enclosed. This article predicted that certain components of the cascade appear relatively late in vertebrate evolution, and data in support of this contention are just now forthcoming (lower vertebrates appear to lack the equivalents of factors XI and XII).

A wonderful example of how gene duplications operate in this regard was noted almost 25 years ago. Thus, in hemoglobin, similar sequence extrapolations backwards in time suggested that the gene duplication leading to alpha and beta chains occurred at about the time of the diversification of fishes (see Fig. 1 of Doolittle, 1987, (enclosed). Indeed, when hemoglobin from lampreys and hagfish were examined, they were found to be single-\|chained! They had diverged before the key alpha /beta duplication that has led to the allosteric regulation of oxygen transport. Max Perutz has written elegantly about this.

Here are a few of his comments that I found most irritating.

On page IV-29 the author bold-facedly claims that "the (Doolittle) article does not explain.. how clotting might have originated and subsequently evolved." and then in italics " one on earth has the vaguest idea how the coagulation cascade came to be."

I disagree. I have a good idea, shared by most workers in the field, and it is a matter of the (important) details that we are trying to establish.

On page IV-24, Behe underscores that no "causative factors are cited." "What exactly is causing all this springing and unleashing?" Gene duplications, of course, the frequency of which is difficult to measure (I often note that "duplication begets more duplication," for reasons of the misalignment of similar sequences), but which is turning out to be enormously more common than expected.

Causation is tricky. Sometimes environmental or internal benefits are obvious. Often however, the rule for survival is "no harm, no foul," with adaptations occurring subsequently. For the moment, they don't even have to be slightly improved.

As for the "enormous luck needed", we are now into the crux of all evolutionary problems, which is to say, what is the probability of survival? Population geneticists are attempting to answer such questions in general terms (see, e.g., J. B. Walsh, Genetics, 139, 421-428, 1995). In fact, the product of most gene duplications, which are the heart of the evolutionary process, are doomed to random oblivion (see enclosed, Doolittle, Science, 1981).

Also, on page IV-26, he states, "the crucial issues of how much? how fast? when? where?" are not addressed. These are relevant and not unknowable matters. There is a wonderful article about to appear in Molecular Phylogenetics by D. Gumucio et al on how fetal hemoglobin has evolved in primates and that also outlines exactly the regulatory circumstances that allow its differential expression. Finally, my "model" does give some important numbers. The power of sequence-\|based analysis is that it reveals the order of appearance of new proteins, even when the sequences are limited to one or a few species. As noted above, it also has the power to make predictions about the occurrence of proteins in different creatures.

In the meantime, we must ask Mr. Behe whether he doubts the existence of gene duplications? (There are many examples of closely related species where one has n copies of a gene and the other m.) If he acknowledges their existence, then how does he account for the pseudogenes that these duplications often give rise to? Does he think they have a function? And what does he think was the origin of allosteric hemoglobins in all but the most primitive vertebrates? As I say, even his derisive comments call attention to a system that could only have come about by natural selection.

Should the book be published? Scurrilous as it is, I am a believer in a free press. I also know most publishers will publish anything that can make money, and I'm sure there's a naive market for claptrap like this.

I only ask that if you do recommend publication that you suggest that I be invited to review the book, so I can put my own Rube Goldberg cartoons to use.

Feel free to phone if there are other questions.


Russell F. Doolittle
Research Professor
of Biology and Chemistry

Dr. Morrow further said in his email to me what I said a few days ago, that books and refereed journals are very different and that no book is ever as rigorously peer reviewed as a journal article for the simple reason that the book publisher's primary concern is whether the book will sell or not. He notes, "I think Mike is being pretty disingenuous (I use that word a lot) to say that the manuscript was subjected to rigorous peer review. Everyone knows that the criteria that book publishers use are mainly financial and economic."

Let me also say this: I think the book should have been published. I agree with Dr. Shapiro that while I think much of his argumentation is less than honest and his conclusions absurd, it's very well written and is probably the best example of the argument from design that has been published since Paley's day. It's a provocative and well written book on a hot subject. From the perspective of a book publisher, that certainly means the book should be published. The point of all of this is not to say that his book should have been rejected by the publishers. It is only to say that the claim that it underwent more rigorous peer review than a journal article is patently absurd and contrary to the facts.


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It's a shame they couldn't have used that in the cross examination, but I suppose Behe made enough of a fool of himself and ID anyway.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 26 Oct 2005 #permalink

Is impeachment a possibility now?

I want Behe to review all papers I submit to
journals from now on!

By Tracy P. Hamilton (not verified) on 27 Oct 2005 #permalink

[quote]Is impeachment a possibility now?[/quote]

The plaintiffs would have to re-call the witness for the purposes of impeaching his testimony, and then they would have to find some method for getting these documents into evidence to present to Behe. The best method for doing that would be to call Morrow and/or Doolittle, which is extremely difficult at this point. Leaving aside the issue that the plaintiffs have already rested their case, these witnesses would have to be summoned and deposed by both sides, their depositions and expert reports would have to be entered into the record, and then they would have to testify on the stand and be cross examined. All this so that they could then re-call Behe to impeach one small part of his testimony? Unlikely.

A far more likely option would be for Morrow and Doolittle to submit these letters as Amicus briefs, offered to impeach testimony made by Behe where he mentioned them by name.

Otherwise, though, this is a really small matter on which to impeach a witness, especially given the amount of hurdles that would need to be jumped to do so, the fact that the trial is wrapping up, the fact that they will probably win the case, and the extreme unlikelyhood of an appeal.

Extremely unlikely to appeal?
According to the Dover school board's lawyer Richard Thompson on C-SPAN, they plan to appeal and basically expect the SCOTUS to invalidate the religious purpose prong of the Lemon test at (if not before) that time.

...they plan to appeal and basically expect the SCOTUS to invalidate the religious purpose prong of the Lemon test at (if not before) that time.

But isn't their case built on the idea that ID is permissible, even under the Lemon test, because it's not religious??

Yeah, that's just preening for the cameras. This case is unlikely to be appealed because it is an extremely bad test-case from the ID perspective.

Between the "revivals" at the school board meetings, the fact that the judge allowed the Wedge Document and much other evidence to be admitted, and the truly schocking incompetence of the Thomas More lawyers, not to mention that some of the defense lawyers basically made the plaintiffs case and the fact that there may be some perjury issues involved with Buckingham's testimony, this just stinks. While they could appeal a minor issue, such as the admissability of some evidence or testimony, they really don't want to appeal the decision itself and they definitely do not want this to go to SCOTUS.

Even if it did, and even if Thomas More could get the DI behind it, I doubt SCOTUS would grant certiorari. You need four justices to agree to hear a case, and since Edwards is established case law, only a pro-ID justice would vote to hear it, and that's basically just Scalia and Thomas, which isn't enough. Furthermore, justices try to avoid granting cert if certain conditions exist:

If a case is similar to existing and recently established case-law, such as Edwards in this case, and there is no new justiciable question or an overriding reason to revisit that ruling.

If a case is the first of many that are being tried in lower courts. In this situation, justices usually wait until a few cases have been heard.

If there is little or no disagreement between SCOTUS, state courts, and federal courts at the various levels. That is, if every court is ruling similarly, and there is enough established SCOTUS case-law to guide them, why would SCOTUS feel the need to step in?

If a case involves a number of irrelevent or frivolous issues that have no bearing on the ruling. This was the excuse in the Newdow Pledge case, where they ruled that the custody issues themselves were enough to prevent them from ruling on the actual justiciable issues in the case itself.

There is no true litmus test for determining whether SCOTUS will hear a case, but the rule that has been followed for over two centuries is that four justices must agree to hear the case, and that the vast majority of appeals are either refused outright or else sent back to appellate courts with a summary ruling, usually to reconsider a certain issue in light of recent rulings. The court receives about 70,000-80,000 appeals for certiorari each year. They agree to hear only about 80 cases.

So in short, the plaintiffs aren't going to appeal this, the DI people aren't going to want to appeal this, and SCOTUS isn't going to want to hear the case.

Now, a potential case in Kansas might be a different story. It's a state school board that has been anticipating this case for years, they have a strategy ready, and they'd probably be more willing to go the long haul. There's also more at stake in Kansas, their policy is farther reaching. Nobody is going to spend the millions of dollars that it takes to put a case before the Supreme Court over a sentence at the beginning of class, they want more than that, and they're going to use their resources wherever they're most likely to get what they really want.

We only know the names of 3 of the 5 reviewers - Michael Atchison, Robert Shapiro and K. John Morrow.

The 4th reviewer...Russ Doolittle!

As to the decision to appeal or not to appeal... something that several people predicting the TMLC not to appeal this case are assuming is that the TMLC is operating under some sort of rational decision-making process. I'd just like to point out that this is not necessarily the case. The TMLC seems to have not only bought the most virulent sort of propaganda presented by the Discovery Institute, but also they seem to think that they are still doing well. When one has that outlook, why not appeal? Remember also that appeals mean publicity, and if victory is not forthcoming, there's the Christian consolation prize of martyrdom that may be obtained thereby.

By Wesley R. Elsberry (not verified) on 27 Oct 2005 #permalink

A thought: Even if Behe's testimony can't be impeached due to issues of being "out of turn" and the court's reluctance to accept witnesses this late in the came, it can still be used against Behe in court. No not this court, but rather in the upcoming Kansas case assuming it goes to trial and Behe is a witness. If he is asked if his book was peer reviewed then if he gives the same answer as in Dover, the evidence can be used to impeach him. If he changes his tune, then that he said something different in Dover can be used to impeach him.

By Michael Hopkins (not verified) on 27 Oct 2005 #permalink

I agree with Wes. This case will be appealed by either side regardless of the outcome. I've been observing the TMLC up close over the last year and I've come to the conclusion that they aren't making decisions based on whether they'll win or not. I think they've decided that they wanted to join the "big boys" of Christian legal defense (the ACLJ and the ADF) and the publicity here is the way to do that. On top of that, I don't think it's really all that certain that they would lose on appeal - or even that they're going to lose at this level. I would caution against overconfidence at both levels. Yes, the trial has gone brilliantly well for us to this point and the TMLC's strategy has been a disaster for them. But that doesn't necessarily indicate how the judge is going to vote. And if it reaches the Supreme Court, all bets are off. We've got a shaky Lemon rest as it is, with some on the court explicitly calling for its demise, and by then we'll have two new justices on the court. So while we can observe and be pleased with how this case is going at this point, let's not kid ourselves into thinking the outcome is certain.

The big two questions for whether TMLC would appeal are whether they have the money to take a case to that level, and whether the DI and others would go along with them or throw their chips into a different pot in Kansas. I don't doubt that TMLC wants to take one of these cases to the Supreme Court, of course they want to reverse Lemon and Edwards, and eventually Epperson. The question is whether they'll take this particular case, though, and I could definitely foresee a situation where they might just consider this a dress rehearsal.

And I still say that they wouldn't get four votes for cert. I don't doubt that certain justices would like to review Lemon and maybe even Edwards, specifically Scalia and Thomas, but I don't know that they've got two other votes just for that. I can also see them saying that this particular case is just too circus-like for their tastes. If this was still the Rhenquist court, I'd say there was absolutely no chance of ever hearing Dover, just like they found an out for Newdow. However, I will grant you that we have a new CJ and none of us have any idea what direction he might choose to take this court.

As for the trial itself, if it was a jury trial, I'd give us about 60%, but it's a bench trial, and everything that the judge has said in sidebars, in chambers, and in open court seems to indicate that we've got a good chance of winning, and unless I was sleeping through more cons law classes than I thought, plaintiffs usually don't appeal cases that they win.

A note on federal court procedure: Regardless of the outcome of this case, an appeal goes not directly to the Supreme Court, but to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. The appeal is by right; a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit must hear the case if it is appealed. Only once the Third Circuit affirms the lower court's opinion or reverses and renders, can the case be appealed to the Supreme Court.

I agree with Hyperion on this - I don't think the Supreme Court would grant certiorari on this case. Despite varied criticism of the Lemon test by several justices over the years, the Court has consistenly upheld and applied it, at least as recently as Santa Fe I.S.D. v. Doe in 2000. I've seen little in the transcripts I've read that would bring this case outside of Edwards v. Aguilllard.

The plaintiff's lawyers have done an excellent job of pointing out that intelligent design is nothing more than creationism in sheep's clothing. (Dr. Forrest's "word substitution" testimony was particularly brutal to the defendants.) It really is nothing more than Phillip Johnson's attempt to game the system, and the judge's comment and rulings indicate to me that he understands this. One cannot predict the findings of a jury or judge, but I see little reason for the defense to be feeling confident right now.

By Kenneth Fair (not verified) on 28 Oct 2005 #permalink

Most importantly, while an appeal to the 3rd circuit would certainly be their right, they would need something procedural for the 3rd circuit to overturn. The 3rd circuit would be unlikely to strike down Edwards completely, but they could make a ruling along the lines that the trial court was mistaken in concluding that ID is creationism. However, they have to find a way to do that using the evidence from the case itself, and there simply isn't much in this case that they could use for it.

So I'll correct myself. I don't doubt that they might appeal it to the appellate court, but I doubt that the appellate court is going to surprise anyone. If the 3rd circuit finds no reason to overrule the trial court, in a situation where this is the first case of its kind with others in the pipeline, then it would be extremely unlikely and highly unorthodox for the SC to grant cert.

And just to head off the obvious question: No, I don't think that TMLC and the DI are "playing to lose" so that they can then appeal. You don't do that in trial court, where evidence is admitted and findings of fact are made. You especially don't "play to lose" when you are trying to overturn precedent. Quite the opposite, they actually need to win at the trial court level, or at least get a favorable appellate ruling, which would require a far better showing at trial than this, so that they can set up a conflict between a district or appellate court ruling and the existing case-law. Those are the situations that are most likely to make it to the Supreme Court, not three-ring circuses with semi-competent defense counsel in which the decision reached is fully in concordance with recently set precedent.

The 3rd circuit would be unlikely to strike down Edwards completely, but they could make a ruling along the lines that the trial court was mistaken in concluding that ID is creationism.

Kinda/sorta. The 3d circuit could not strike down Edwards, since that was a US SupCt ruling. The most they can do is try to distinguish its case from Edwards. That may or may not prompt the US SupCt to take an appeal. If the US SupCt takes an appeal, they may or may not accept the distinction, or they may or may not overturn Edwards.

Or the SC might just return the case with a summary judgement that the appellate court should review the case in light of Edwards.

Regardless, I think that the ID crowd would have a better shot at trying to get a favorable opinion from a justice in Kansas, maybe like the kind of nutjob ruling from the Alabama trial court judge in Jafree v. Wallace. They need to establish lower-court controversy if they want to take this all the way.

That being said, I kinda would like to see TMLC take this to SCOTUS, if for no other reason than Muise and Thompson would get eaten alive at oral arguments. Scalia especially does not suffer fools gladly, even if he agrees with their side.