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Professor James Tour accepts Nick Matzke’s offer to explain macroevolution


In my last post, A world-famous chemist tells the truth: there’s no scientist alive today who understands macroevolution, I wrote about Professor James Tour, who is one of the ten most cited chemists in the world – and a Darwin skeptic. Professor Tour is not an Intelligent Design proponent, but he is openly skeptical of macroevolution, which is generally defined as “evolution happening on a large scale, e.g. at or above the level of species, over geologic time, resulting in the formation of new taxonomic groups.” In 2001, Tour, along with over 700 other scientists, signed the Discovery Institute’s “A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism”, which read: “We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

On Professor Tour’s Website, there’s a very interesting article on evolution and creation, in which Tour declares that he does not understand how macroevolution could have happened, from a chemical standpoint (all bold emphases below are mine – VJT):

I simply do not understand, chemically, how macroevolution could have happened. Hence, am I not free to join the ranks of the skeptical and to sign such a statement without reprisals from those that disagree with me? … Does anyone understand the chemical details behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught, so I invite them to meet with me.

In a recent talk, entitled, Nanotech and Jesus Christ, given on 1 November 2012 at Georgia Tech, Professor Tour revealed that he had a long-standing offer to buy lunch for anyone who would sit down and explain evolution to him, but that no-one had taken him up on his challenge:

But about seven or eight years ago I posted on my Web site that I don’t understand. And I said, “I will buy lunch for anyone that will sit with me and explain to me evolution, and I won’t argue with you until I don’t understand something – I will ask you to clarify. But you can’t wave by and say, ‘This enzyme does that.’ You’ve got to get down in the details of where molecules are built, for me.” Nobody has come forward.

The Atheist Society contacted me. They said that they will buy the lunch, and they challenged the Atheist Society, “Go down to Houston and have lunch with this guy, and talk to him.” Nobody has come!

Nick Matzke makes an offer…

Nick Matzke, who is is currently a doctoral student in evolutionary biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and who is also the former Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education, declared on February 18 that he would “love to” take up Professor Tour’s offer of a free lunch, “if someone pays my airfare.”

Two offers to contribute towards the cost of Mr. Matzke’s air travel were made. Mung kindly offered to pay for part of the cost. Another contributor, groovamos, went further and declared: “I will buy a ticket for Nick to Houston and will buy a night at a hotel on a weekend.” Groovamos added that he lives in Houston and would like to attend the meeting. He also promised that he would remain silent throughout the meeting, requesting only that he be permitted to ask questions after the meeting.

… which Professor Tour accepts…

I have just received an email from Professor James Tour, in response to Nick Matzke’s invitation. I trust that he will not mind me quoting a brief excerpt, as it directly pertains to the terms of the invitation:

If you would please inform Mr. Matzke that I would be delighted to have him to lunch at the Rice faculty; my treat. I really want to learn this, and I hope he can help me. And I shall be fine with groovamos paying his airfare and joining us in the meeting, which will not extend beyond the three of us, please. I shall pay for groovamos’s lunch too as only members can pay at the faculty club. So if groovamos agrees to stay quiet and settle in as a quiet observer only, I am fine with that as long as Mr. Matzke agrees.

Professor Tour added that he would do his very best to listen attentively to Mr. Matzke’s description without interjecting, and that he would only question Mr. Matzke when he did not understand what he said. Professor Tour also expressed his deep appreciation to Mr. Matzke, saying that it was very kind of him to propose such an offer.

… on one condition!

There’s just one condition that Professor Tour attached to the meeting, however. In his email to me, he stated: “It shall not be recorded or extend beyond the three of us as this is not for show but for my edification.”

In my original invitation which I issued to Professor Tour, when I informed him that Nick Matzke would like to explain macroevolution to him in person, I naturally mentioned his wish that someone pay his airfare, but I neglected to mention his wish that the meeting be recorded. I gave Professor Tour the address of my Web post, to which the conditions of Nick Matzke’s offer were attached. However, Professor Tour is a busy man, and he informed me in his email that he has not viewed my post, as he rarely reads blogs.

Barry Arrington recently wrote a very entertaining post about the “No true Scotsman” logical fallacy. Well, Nick Matzke may not be a true Scotsman; but he is certainly a true scientist. And what distinguishes a true scientist from ordinary mortals is that he/she is passionately motivated by the pursuit of truth for its own sake. Mr. Matzke is also the the former Public Information Project Director at the National Center for Science Education. In other words, he’s someone who really cares about educating people in the truth. I take it, then, that Mr. Matzke would regard the goal of setting Professor Tour straight about evolution as a worthy objective, in and of itself. Let me add that in my experience, Mr. Matzke has always shown himself to be a true gentleman. I trust, therefore, that he would happily respect another gentleman’s wish for privacy – particularly when that gentleman is an esteemed and distinguished scientist.

Professor Tour is a very kind and courteous man, and he has also informed me that there is a chance that Mr. Matzke can get a flight to Houston from SFC in the morning, have lunch, and fly back on the same day. Professor Tour adds (and I hope he won’t mind me quoting him here): “If he needs a night here in Houston, he is welcome to stay in my home. Maybe we can have more conversations at our family dinner table. I enjoy seeing my children exposed to diverse insights from kind people.”

Finally, Professor Tour writes that Mr. Matzke is welcome to contact him directly to arrange a mutually agreeable time when they can reserve a couple of hours for a private lesson over lunch. He also suggested that Mr. Matzke contact groovamos. To facilitate matters, Professor Tour’s contact details are here and Mr. Matzke’s contact details are here. I sincerely hope that the parties concerned can make suitable arrangements.

I also asked Professor Tour about the Atheist Society’s offer to cover the cost, and he replied that the offer had been made from the national office, and not from Rice University. He added that it was made many years ago, and said that it might still be somewhere on the Web. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to locate it, so I presume that the relevant page must have been taken down.

In any case, it is now up to Mr. Matzke to respond to Professor Tour’s offer. The ball is in his court. Your move, Nick.

Examples of microevolution: 1- The beak of the finch 2- Anti-biotic resistance in bacteria 3- Lenski's E. coli with aerobic citrate utilization 4- Nylon-digesting bacteria Not one of the above can be extrapolated into macroevolution. Keep changing the length of the beak and you won't get another type of organism. Anti-biotic resistance is pretty much always a loss of function. Can't keep losing functionality and hope to build irreducible complexity. Only imagination can get from the finch's beak to evolutionism. Joe
EA: Thanks for bringing this back up:
The adverting to a “difference” between living and non-living systems based on self replication is of course one reason why I have prioritised — along with other design thinkers and commenters — the OOL situation. Second, the objectors should be familiar with the observation since Paley [Ch II Nat Theol, which usually does not come up in discussions], that the ADDITIONALITY of a self replication facility ADDS to the complex integration and co-ordination of the system. Going further, with the observation since von Neumann, that the self replication facility integrated with an entity that carries out separate function is likely to fit into his kinematic self replicator model, we see that code, code readers, position-arm devices to effect operations etc all have to be integrated with the main entity. Indeed, to create a novel body plan with its development process or the equivalent, will require that the capacity be created for function in the body, AND that it be integrated successfully, step by step with the self replication facility. Thus, the concern on system integration is multiplied by the addition of self replication, not removed. The reason this is not readily apparent, is that we do not tend to discuss the self replication process in that way, and we don’t realise as a result that the same problems are happening all over again. The real answer to all this from the blind watchmaker viewpoint, is that there needs to be empirical observation showing a case of origin of a major novel body plan feature by incremental blind chance variation and differential reproductive success. The problem being — as Tour is in part hinting at — that his seems to be conspicuously missing in action, with particular reference to molecular level.
I would indeed like to see a good answer. KF kairosfocus
KF @69: Well said. The "because they self replicate" canard as an answer to the issues in question should be an embarrassing statement for anyone to put forth. Eric Anderson
i have a very strong evidence for design in nature a) we know that a self replicate robot that made from dna need a designer b) the cat is a self replicate robot a=b= the cat need a designer ?plus: if a self replicate car cant evolve into an airplan, how can a bacteria can evolve into human about the similarity argument: a 2 cars of honda can look very similar to each other. but this is because they made by the same designer- honda company the human has 7000 spacial alu. 1 fixation for alu is about 10000 years=70 milion years to make this chang. but the evolution time scale has only 6 milion! mk
Oh great, Mike Elzinga chimes in:
As I understand the ID/creationist argument, they seem to think that a new genetic mutation in an individual would leave that individual without any choice of mates because it would be one of a kind (pun not intended); therefore it can’t propagate.
LoL! Just how did you come to tat understanding Mike? I ask because it is so wrong that you pretty much prove that you have no integrity at all with respect to this debate. Joe
The Septic Zone has joined the fray pertaining to micro-macroevolution. However they don't have any evidence that supports macroevolution either. Joe
Indeed. How does one model genetic innovation? Mung
From his third comment after the one linked, Allen MacNeill said: " In other words, microevolution (i.e. natural selection, genetic drift, and other processes that happen anagenetically at the population level) and macroevolution (i.e. extinction/adaptive radiation, genetic innovation, and symbiosis that happen cladogenetically at the species level and above) are in many ways fundamentally different processes with fundamentally different mechanisms. Furthermore, for reasons beyond the scope of this thread, macroevolution is probably not mathematically modelable in the way that microevolution has historically been." Charlie
You're welcome and thanks, UB. I still check in quite a bit, but engaging much internet conversation is detrimental to both my time management and blood pressure. :) You all are doing a far better job here than I ever could, anyway. Charlie
Charlie, thank you for the link. **it sure would be a pleasure for you to rejoin the conversations here. Upright BiPed
vjtorley @ 93
Hi groovamos, Thanks for following through on this one. It looks like this meeting is really moving forward. Wonderful news!
Personally I'm not going to hold my breath.
II Corinthians 10:10 For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.
From my disinterested observation of him, unlike the Apostle Paul to whom this did not apply, I'd bet a sawbuck to a donut that it does to Matzke. In short, I think the guy is chicken. And I'll gladly thank you for the Krispy Kreme the day he cops out on an oh-so-convenient technicality. *brawk* *brawk* brawk* jstanley01
https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/we-is-junk/#comment-75548 MacNeill versus the claim that macroevolution is just microevolution times a billion. Charlie
Dr. Tour's resume does prove one thing about evolution: it's absolutely unnecessary to excel in science. lpadron
Folks: Re, MN as Mung picked up:
The claim that microevolution can’t be extrapolated to macroevolution is ubiquitous among ID advocates and the creationists who preceded them. …it is nothing more than standard creation science terminology for the creationist claim that various groups of organisms were specially created by God, with specified limits on how far they could change over time.
I think this captures a lot of the underlying problem we have here. We can start with the tone problem and the willful conflation of design- and analysis- issues with Creationist views. It seems the NCSE alumni have a "believing their own propaganda" problem. Dudes, even the Creationists themselves make it plain that design thought does not equal Creationism, as can easily be ascertained from the leading Creationist groups. (And, beyond a certain point this is so blatant a violation of duties of care to truth and fairness that it is a case of speaking with disregard to the truth in order to profit by the hope that what is said is perceived as true. There is a short three letter word for that sort of thing, starting with l. Please, do better than that, no matter how irritated you are. If you refuse to get something so simple straight, you are telling us all that you cannot be trusted with matters of greater moment but which require us to trust you to be careful, fair and truthful.) Next, the issue is that there is a tendency to make a presumed "simple" extrapolation that macro- evo is simply accumulated micro- evo. That is not and cannot be so, on grounds related to the nature and behaviour of perturbed systems. As has been outlined. (And, those of us who have spent years studying and working with complex highly integrated systems and so also with their general pathologies and often unexpected properties, perverse behaviours due to interactions and debugging or troubleshooting challenges, hear that sort of simple extrapolation approach as telling us that we are dealing with people who do not understand systems.) Complex systems in the sense we are interested in, are made up from many integrated, interfaced, interacting parts, often in a hierarchy down to basic devices, structures and components with materials -- which are often systems with considerable complexity in themselves. Wood and bone being two notorious cases in point of materials/structures of extreme complexity. A first rule of thumb is that because of the cascading interactions, any change anywhere affects everything everywhere, and may often feed back to the initial conditions and trigger one or more of several kinds of instability, oscillation, saturation, limiting, etc etc etc. As a direct consequence, a complex system that does a definite job, is as a rule finely tuned and so its nodes-arcs "wiring" diagram is highly information-rich. Indeed, we speak of tuning a control system, to get it to work together at some operating point, with some room for variability, drift and tolerance. (For instance, at was not that long ago, where in manufacturing rifles or guns, one had to adjust pars skillfully to get them to fit and work together, due to the then inescapable variability of components. IIRC, the classic 0.303 British Empire rifle that is still in standard issue in odd corners of the world and in a variant form in India for police, is a good case in point. Getting parts to be "blindfold, pick out of the bin" - compatible with one another is a very difficult industrial engineering job. One-off products or batches with skilled workers filing to fit or picking to fit, etc, are nothing like what has to come from an assembly line or the like.) But that is a mere mechanical analogy, and analogies break down; life forms are not like that! Really? Let's see, cells are made of of highly organised networks of molecules, forming a complex overall system that is a metabolic, self replicating automaton. One that uses a code based von Neumann kinematic replication mechanism. Which implies the following irreducible cluster of components:
(i) an underlying storable code to record the required information to create not only (a) the primary functional machine [[here, for a "clanking replicator" as illustrated, a Turing-type “universal computer”; in a cell this would be the metabolic entity that transforms environmental materials into required components etc.] but also (b) the self-replicating facility; and, that (c) can express step by step finite procedures for using the facility; (ii) a coded blueprint/tape record of such specifications and (explicit or implicit) instructions, together with (iii) a tape reader [[called “the constructor” by von Neumann] that reads and interprets the coded specifications and associated instructions; thus controlling: (iv) position-arm implementing machines with “tool tips” controlled by the tape reader and used to carry out the action-steps for the specified replication (including replication of the constructor itself); backed up by (v) either: (1) a pre-existing reservoir of required parts and energy sources, or (2) associated “metabolic” machines carrying out activities that as a part of their function, can provide required specific materials/parts and forms of energy for the replication facility, by using the generic resources in the surrounding environment. Also, parts (ii), (iii) and (iv) are each necessary for and together are jointly sufficient to implement a self-replicating machine with an integral von Neumann universal constructor. That is, we see here an irreducibly complex set of core components that must all be present in a properly organised fashion for a successful self-replicating machine to exist. [[Take just one core part out, and self-replicating functionality ceases: the self-replicating machine is irreducibly complex (IC).] This irreducible complexity is compounded by the requirement (i) for codes, requiring organised symbols and rules to specify both steps to take and formats for storing information, and (v) for appropriate material resources and energy sources.
That requires a lot of matching of interacting parts, to get the function, and that the core parts have to all be in place or no function. That is why I continued:
Immediately, we are looking at islands of organised function for both the machinery and the information in the wider sea of possible (but mostly non-functional) configurations. In short, outside such functionally specific -- thus, isolated -- information-rich hot (or, "target") zones, want of correct components and/or of proper organisation and/or co-ordination will block function from emerging or being sustained across time from generation to generation. So, once the set of possible configurations is large enough and the islands of function are credibly sufficiently specific/isolated, it is unreasonable to expect such function to arise from chance, or from chance circumstances driving blind natural forces under the known laws of nature.
When it comes to the metabolic side and the general structural side, proteins are the workhorse molecules. These, are assembled -- going uphill energetically -- by copying a code tape from DNA, setting up the mRNA, carrying it to the Ribosome and feeding it in, using tRNA's loaded with appropriate amino acids, and then chaining from start to stop. Then, there is folding and in some cases chaperoning to make sure the right fold [i.e. there are prions out there], and perhaps agglomeration etc. Where a lot of this requires precise key-lock fitting to work. Anyone who has worked seriously with complex systems is going to have some serious questions to anyone who wants to suggest that such a system originated in some warm little pond as chemicals that formed in lightning strikes or the like just pooled and got together happily. But, you will tell me, this is OOL it is not macro evo. Indeed. It is the very root of the tree of life that you have touted since 1859. No root, no shoots and no branches or twigs. More directly, this underscores the molecular level systems challenge, in a context that has first got the self replication side track off the table, so we have to focus on the issue of getting to the required functionally specific complex organisation and associated information [FSCO/I] by mechanical forces and chance circumstances. It is notorious that OOL is in trouble on the blind watchmaker thesis, once we rise about the level of just-so stories. But then, let us move on, to body plan origination. There the now sock answer to the sort of FSCO/I challenge just highlighted is that by "natural selection" of chance variations, we can incrementally do almost anything, so hey presto, macro evo is simply accumulated micro evo. And in particular, so-called irreducible complexity -- cases where there is a core cluster of matching parts that must all be present in the right config to work -- can be answered by co-opting parts that happen to be lying around. That brings up the Menuge C1 - 5 challenge (cf. 57 above) that is being so consistently ducked:
For a working [bacterial] flagellum to be built by exaptation, the five following conditions would all have to be met: C1: Availability. Among the parts available for recruitment to form the flagellum, there would need to be ones capable of performing the highly specialized tasks of paddle, rotor, and motor, even though all of these items serve some other function or no function. C2: Synchronization. The availability of these parts would have to be synchronized so that at some point, either individually or in combination, they are all available at the same time. C3: Localization. The selected parts must all be made available at the same ‘construction site,’ perhaps not simultaneously but certainly at the time they are needed. C4: Coordination. The parts must be coordinated in just the right way: even if all of the parts of a flagellum are available at the right time, it is clear that the majority of ways of assembling them will be non-functional or irrelevant. C5: Interface compatibility. The parts must be mutually compatible, that is, ‘well-matched’ and capable of properly ‘interacting’: even if a paddle, rotor, and motor are put together in the right order, they also need to interface correctly. ( Agents Under Fire: Materialism and the Rationality of Science, pgs. 104-105 (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004). HT: ENV.)
This challenge is a way of elaborating the systems function interfacing and organisation issue, in the iconic case of the bacterial flagellum. The issues are instantly familiar to anyone who has had to seriously work with complex systems involving hardware. (Computer programmers are a little less familiar with the above, but C1 - 5 are linked to the need for the relevant symbols and structures in the language, the need for correct syntax and semantics, plus a machine to run them on.) As has been outlined repeatedly, the living cell works based on organised sets of molecules. These are built up from monomers and atoms, and they are using the relevant chemistry and physics to work. What is different here is the degree of complexity, organisation and co-ordinated integration, not the presence of self-replication. Which as we have seen, is itself another sub-system to be integrated. Where also, in many relevant cases, the overall organism unfolds from a zygote or the equivalent, through processes of body plan development under ultimately genetic regulatory control. So, we have a further level of complexity yet: the system must be able to self assemble, with all the co-ordination in time and space that is implied by that. All of this, in the end, is happening at molecular levels, where the molecules are using a lot of information, and they are also pretty much all highly endothermic, i.e. assembly is energetically uphill. So, the challenge to warrant blind watchmaker incrementalism as being able to step by step move across the tree of life from some common unicellular ancestor is a big issue. One that requires empirical warrant at molecular level, not just appeals to claimed chains of ancestors and descendants. Where did the functional organisation and information come from, how. How did the molecules that carry this come to be. What is the observational basis for this that shows that blind chance variation and differential reproductive success are sufficient to do this without intelligent direction? And underneath, how did the first living cell get organised so it could have this supposed capability, from that warm little pond or the equivalent? In light of known physics and chemistry. I would suggest by contrast that the only empirically established repeatedly observed source of FSCO/I is design. Where also the needle in haystack config space search challenge suggests that the atomic resources of not only our solar system but also our observed cosmos, are incapable of grounding a sufficient search of the config spaces to develop that first life form, much less to explore onwards the config spaces required to get major body plans. Where, just 500 bits of info swamps the resources of our solar system, and 1,000 bits,the cosmos. Life forms, per simplest observed ones, start at 100,000 - 1 mn bits. I think it is a non-sequitur to infer that macro- evo can be simply extrapolated from micro evo, under these circumstances. So, we need to be shown how that happens. KF kairosfocus
Alan Fox:
If evolution is true,
Which "evolution" are you referring to, blind watchmaker evoluton or Intelligent Design evolution? Joe
The claim that microevolution can't be extrapolated to macroevolution is ubiquitous among ID advocates and the creationists who preceded them. ...it is nothing more than standard creation science terminology for the creationist claim that various groups of organisms were specially created by God, with specified limits on how far they could change over time. - Nick Matzke
Really Nick? Really? Is this what you're going to take into your discussion with Prof. Tour? Mung
So another observation. Nick seems to think that macroevolution is a field of study. Prof. Tour seems to think that macroevolution is something that actually happens to real living systems by means of real chemical changes. That seems to me to be a pretty wide gap. Any way to narrow it? Just for grins I went to Amazon and typed in Macroevolutionary Theory. Mung
JT: Now, in order for me to dispel any misunderstandings I might have, it is essential that I have the freedom to ask any question I see fit – no matter how ill-informed it may seem to you. That’s how people learn: by asking silly questions, and then they end up asking intelligent ones.
Oh. That's how it's supposed to work? I never seem able to get beyond asking silly questions. Doh! Well, if they want someone to sit in who doesn't mind asking silly questions and having them published on the web... Mung
JT: Now I think you’ll agree that the process by which the bacterial flagellum originated would count as an example of macroevolutionary change, right? NM: OK.
I honestly think Nick would deny this. By the way, if Prof. Tour doesn't have access to a free copy of the book in which Nick appears to endorse the macroevolution is just more microevolution canard I'd be happy to send him a copy. Mung
Good point Mung. (95 & 101) I imagine Groovamos would like to know about all this. Box
I agree with Box @99. Nick needs to stick with species where the biochemical details must be what is behind macroevolution. Single-celled organisms. Mung
Personally, I am convinced that the basic laws of physics and chemistry and physics hold for living organisms as well as they do for cars.
Says the person who in the prior breath had just denied that cells were like cars. I laugh.
I would simply say that a living cell or living organism bears only superficial resemblance to a car or a computer. Mechanical objects don’t reproduce for example.
Therefore the cell is not a mechanical object. So much for mechanistic explanations of cells and other living organisms, including natural selection. How does one live in a world where what they they say is at such odds with what they believe? Mung
I would like to hear from Nick if he intends to inform Professor Tour on the chemical details behind macroevolution.
Professor Tour: Does anyone understand the chemical details, behind macroevolution? If so, I would like to sit with that person and be taught so I invite them to meet with me.
Alan Fox:
What you fail to see is not really my problem and I am not here to champion evolution as a concept.
Yes, this from the person who not too long ago saw the importance of definition of terms. But now, not so much. I laugh. Mung
God was invented to explain mystery. God is always invented to explain those things that you do not understand.
This is why, when we watch a magician and are amazed at the mystery but don't know how it was done, we say GOD DID IT! This is why every good Sherlock Holmes mystery ends with GOD DID IT! Mung
In other words, it is prima facea impossible for major innovations in living organisms to come about in Darwinian fashion, no matter how much time is available.
I have to disagree with this based on the use of the analogy involved. Complex software is constantly evolved a little bit at a time, in fact that's about the only reasonable way to do it unless you just don't care if you break something. Mung
I'd like to hear Nick's comments on macroevolution as it relates to single-celled organisms. If it's not biochemical differences which brought about macroevolution among single-celled organisms, what did? Mung
NM: I’m glad to hear that. Well, I’d better let you get back to work, Jim. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. JT: Likewise. Bye, Nick! NM: Bye, Jim. Talk to you soon. ==================== There, now. That wasn’t so hard, was it, Nick?
That was an interestingly delusional imaginary story you just told. Tour has not shown anything like the background research and thoughtfulness you wish he had, instead, we have him on video grandstanding while simultaneously demonstrating his ignorance on macroevolutionary topics. NickMatzke_UD
Hi groovamos, Thanks for following through on this one. It looks like this meeting is really moving forward. Wonderful news! vjtorley
OK guys I just emailed Dr. Tour and reiterated my intention to follow through on my offer if the two principals come to an agreement. June is far enough in advance to where I should be able to get particularly good deals on travel and lodging. And early June in Houston is not necessarily hard, but someone from the Bay Area may not agree. Now would it be asking too much that after I pay the airfare, and someone cancels, that in some fashion I can be compensated for the loss? Not sure how to propose this. The good part is that there are loads of non-stops for the route. groovamos
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