PZ Myers and Abbie Smith have an hour-long video conference here. A few surprising things, not the least of which is neither of them thought to bolster their points with the cussing that characterizes their blogs.
Anyhow, the first 15 minutes they talk about epigenetics, the Altenberg 16 conference, Susan Mazur, and try to downplay the Altenberg theme that evolutionary biology is in a vast state of disarray. Abbie lets us know how little she understands epigenetics and is evidently still laboring under the outdated Dawkins era notion that genes and proteins are everything. PZ, who is more up on the subject, looks a bit aghast after Abbie describes her understanding of epigenetics. If Abbie had been one of us he’d have called her an idiot but since she’s on his side he gently tried to correct her, saying his students have the same misunderstandings and it’s difficult to teach. Abbie rudely interrupts over and over as PZ attempts to explain. Several epigenetic mechanisms were discussed. One that wasn’t touched on, remarkably, was RNA in the cytoplasm. When a cell divides the cytoplasm of the mother is divided up among the daughter(s) and the vast, complex assortment of RNA molecules which participate in and control a huge number of cellular processes (more roles for RNA are constantly being discovered) is inherited by the daughter. Ostensibly this process of dividing up the cytoplasm along with copying the DNA goes back in an unbroken line of cells for billions of years… but I digress.
The next 8 minutes focuses on the 20 year long Lenski experiment with E.coli. PZ at this point reveals how little he knows about E.coli mistakenly saying that it is characterized by its inability to metabolize citrate while many other microorganisms can. To be fair that’s sort of true. Unlike many other microorganisms E.coli can’t metabolize citrate in the presence of oxygen (aerobic) so that’s one of the tests you make to help identify it. That’s a convenient test because it can be done on a petri dish in room air. The part he left out is that E.coli can metabolize citrate anaerobically. It has everything it needs to do the job except a cell wall transport protein (a shuttle that ferries a citrate molecule from outside the cell to the inside called citrate permease) that functions in an aerobic environment. Getting the citrate molecule across the cell wall in the presence of oxygen is the only hurdle the organism had to overcome. The rest of the process is hugely complex and all the necessary pieces for it are already there. The most amazing thing about Lenski’s experiment is how long it took for his original culture to find the few mutations necessary to get citrate molecules across the cell wall. When the exact sequence of mutations is ascertained I’ll bet dollars against donuts it falls well within Behe’s “Edge of Evolution”. Lenski is going to end up providing yet another confirmation for Behe’s predictions in EoE. Mark my words. But I digress again.
The next 7 minutes is about the life of grad students. PZ teaches at an undergrad university so he’s curious if things are still the same – low pay, long hours, etc. Abbie says it is with an exception that the vast majority of biology students are now female while the professors are all male. I’m not sure how new that is. When I took Human Anatomy and Physiology in college in 1979 there were 25 students in the class and I was the only guy if you don’t count the professor. To be quite honest it was possibly the most enjoyable class I ever took. All those young women and me the only young man – plus I was the best student who always had the answers when the prof asked a question. That’s as close to what it must be like to be a prince with a harem as I’ll ever experience! But I digress once again.
The last half hour is creationist bashing. Science pretty much left the building at that point. This is an improvement however. Usually these people spend about 75% of their time whining about creationist this and creationist that. They’ve got creationists-on-the-brain. It reminds me of one of my dogs with his ball. He always has it close, carries it around everywhere, always wanting someone to play fetch or catch. Nothing much new there either.
One thing I did find interesting at the very end was PZ still being clueless about specified complexity. He uses a beach full of sand as an example in complexity. All those grains of sand in a very complex unique pattern but all placed there by storms and tides and other chaotic processes. Yes PZ, the sand on a beach is exceedingly complex. What you don’t seem to grok is that it has no specification. It doesn’t have component parts that function together in a machine that performs some specific task. There are no abstract codes in a pile of sand like there is in a strand of DNA. There is no ribosome translating those codes into instructions for assembling a protein. There is nothing like that in a pile of sand. There is no specification. Maybe pictures will help him:
Complex unspecified sand
Complex specified sand
What part of that don’t you understand, PZ?
Another surprise was that PZ and Abbie both think our little blog at Uncommon Descent is the most popular “creationist” blog on the web. I’m flattered but I don’t know if that’s true. However, they try to play it down by saying it’s dwarfed by their blogs and is really insignificant in comparison. That is probably both true and false. True in the sense that the traffic is scads lower but not true in the sense of insignificance. They wouldn’t have much to talk about on their blogs if you take away their obsession over intelligent design (like my dog with his ball) and they get much of their source material from us. We seem to have overwhelming significance in that respect and we don’t get the traffic because they reproduce it on their own blogs. We still get the eyeballs on our material just not direct from the source. If it wasn’t for scientists like PZ and scientist wannabees like Abbie Smith there’s a good chance we indeed would not be noticed. Thanks PZ and Abbie. We don’t know what we’d do without you!