Readers will perhaps recall Brian Miller’s fact check of an overblown RNA origin of life claim which, if true, might have netted the researchers a Nobel. Curiously, neurologist Steven Novella fell for it. Brian Miller has the story:
Novella is a prominent atheist who jumped at the chance to promote the secular creation narrative of life’s origin. In his blog post, he even included a figure from an article published in the journal Cell depicting the RNA world hypothesis. The diagram includes a long RNA chain folded into an enzyme-like structure (aka ribozyme) that can perform biologically relevant functions such as replicating RNA templates. The diagram depicts the journey of the ribozyme and neighboring peptides into modern cellular machinery.
However, Novella’s depiction of the experiment is completely inaccurate. The RNAs did not fold into ribozymes that replicated other RNAs or directly performed any other function. Instead, the investigators supplied all the cellular machinery to manufacture proteins. They also supplied the “host” RNA that encoded the information to generate proteins that replicated RNA templates. The “translation-coupled RNA replication (TcRR) system” did not generate anything truly novel or grow in biologically relevant complexity. The RNAs solely acquired mutations that altered the translated replicase’s efficiency and accuracy.Brian Miller, “Yale’s Steven Novella Falls for Origin-of-Life Hype” at Evolution News and Science Today (March 24, 2022)
And the irony:
The irony of Novella’s pollyannish description of the research is that he is a host of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast…
If Novella had consistently applied his hype-detection tools to the press release from the University of Tokyo, he would have described the research in dramatically different terms.Brian Miller, “Yale’s Steven Novella Falls for Origin-of-Life Hype” at Evolution News and Science Today (March 24, 2022)
But he won’t, of course. His skepticism only points in one direction.
Note: Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor has been known to clash with Novella on matters more closely related to the discipline. See, for example, Tales of the mind: A neurologist encounters the house of mirrors Materialism is an intellectual trap, out of which neuroscience needs to climb. Neurologist Steven Novella refutes himself. He first asserts that everything he knows is an illusion. Then he insists that his illusions slap him in the face with reality.
By the way, the University of Tokyo paper is open access.
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So why aren’t the RNA OOL researchers in the running for the Nobel Prize? When a story is the one people need to believe, they don’t ask for detailed demonstrations of how it could have happened that way. Chances are, they don’t even want them because then they would be responsible for knowing that it didn’t really happen.
OOL claim: RNA molecule develops complexity following Darwinian evolution. Bottom line: A lot of the machinery that supposedly spontaneously created complexity was in fact borrowed. We’re told that James Tour gets quite angry about what amounts to cheating in the claims about origin of life.