Total Drek

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Thursday, June 19, 2008


Some of you may remember a few days back when I posted on Richard Lenski's exciting research and, in turn, on Andrew Schlafly's demand to be given access to the data. To wit, Schlafly doubted the veracity of the research since "evolutionists have a long history of deceit" and insinuated that Lenski would not be cooperative.

Well, as you may recall, Lenski responded to Schlafly's rather insulting e-mail in a very gracious manner, correcting Schlafly's misconceptions and directing him to numerous papers relating to the subject. This has not, however, satisfied Schlafly who appears to want access to the complete twenty-year database of Lenski's research. And, as long as we're on the subject, Schlafly seems undeterred by the fact that said database is not only likely to be in excess of one terabyte in size but also that it is likely to be entirely uninterpretable to someone who lacks Lenski's training. So, you might wonder, what is Schlafly going to do about it?

Staying true to form, he has decided to send another e-mail. And not just any e-mail! Oh, no! This e-mail is not only more insulting that the last one, implying that Lenski has been uncooperative, but it has also been CC'ed (allegedly) to the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences and New Scientist. Check it out:

Or, in super neat texty format:

Dear Prof. Lenski,

This is my second request for your data underlying your recent paper, "Historical contingency and the evolution of a key innovation in an experimental population of Escherichia coli," published in PNAS (June 10, 2008) and reported in New Scientist ("Bacteria make major evolutionary shift in lab," June 9, 2008).,%20PNAS,%20Blount%20et%20al.pdf

Your work was taxpayer-funded, and PNAS represents that its authors will make underlying data available. I'd like to review the data myself and ensure availability for others, including experts and my students. Others have expressed interest in access to the data in addition to myself, and your website seems well-suited for public release of these data.

If the data are voluminous, then I particularly request access to the data that was made available to the peer reviewers of your paper, and to the data relating to the period during which the bacterial colony supposedly developed Cit+. As before, I'm requesting the organized data themselves, not the graphs and summaries set forth in the paper and referenced in your first reply to me. Note that several times your paper expressly states, "data not shown."

Given that this is my second request for the data, a clear answer is requested as to whether you will make the key underlying data available for independent review. Your response, or lack thereof, will be posted due to the public interest in this issue. Thank you.

Andy Schlafly, B.S.E., J.D.
cc: PNAS, New Scientist publications

Now, a couple of observations here. First, Richard Lenski is not just some random-ass biologist. He's an elected member of the U.S. National Academy of the Sciences and a recipient of a MacArthur "Genius" Grant. For those who don't know, the "Genius Grant" is basically an award of a helluva lot of money so you can research whatever the hell you feel like for a few years- it's a huge honor and Lenski won it in 1996. So, on the most basic level, I seriously doubt that Lenski* is going to be all that impressed by "Andy Schlafly, B.S.E., J.D."

Secondly, however, let's consider what has just happened. Schlafly has just been quite rude to a guy who has racked up enough scientific accolades that, were there to be a Science All-Star Team to play an exhibition match against the Zion Zealots,** he would stand a good chance of being in the starting lineup. Had Schlafly just sent this e-mail to Lenski, I suspect he may have just ignored it but Schlafly didn't just send it to Lenski, he also sent it to important folks in science. And while I suspect that PNAS and New Scientist will laugh themselves incontinent at Schlafly, I would not be surprised if Lenski were a bit pissed. So, in short, I am really curious to see what happens next. Stay tuned.

As for me, I am proud to report that I have at last earned my first blocking on Conservapedia:

Cheap shot? Sure but, after a while, I just get so sick of not having people respond to actual points, that I get kinda antsy. Who can blame me? I admit, however, that I wonder if XKCD isn't right about this situation as well as many others.

Eh. Oh well. Until magic flying girls arrive, I guess we'll just have to muddle through.

UPDATE: No word from Lenski, who is probably lost in the usual Schlafly-inspired What-the-fuckery. Andy, however, is apparently feeling emboldened by Lenski's silence:

Or, in text form:

Aaronp, either you're naive or you're engaging in bullying if you maintain that Lenski plans to release his raw data soon for independent, public review. I asked him last Friday to release it, and his reply declined to do so. I asked him again yesterday, and he predictably has not replied. It now seems to me to be likely that the peer reviewers for his paper did not even see the raw data. I think it's likely that only Lenski and his grad student have seen the raw data underlying that paper (note its footnote). Don't pretend that Lenski welcomes independent review of the data.--Aschlafly

And thus we answer the question "Does Schlafly have any decency left" with a resounding "no." I admit, I'm actually disappointed.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: As Lenski has not yet replied (though it hasn't even been 48 hours yet) Schlafly is concluding that Lenski really is concealing fraud. His newest schtick is that the peer review at PNAS was obviously inadequate and he claims to be asking the editors some stern questions. Seriously:

Or, in texty format (FYI: Schlafly is in plain text, another Conservapeon is in bold):

Lenski has essentially refused my request that he make his underlying data available for public scrutiny, despite his use of public funding. Given the remarkably short time between submission of his PNAS manuscript and its acceptance (only 14 days), I doubt his paper even had meaningful peer review.

It's unscientific for others to repeat as true an unverified claim based on concealed data. I wonder if PNAS violated its own stated policies by publishing Lenski's paper, and I'm going to email its Editor-in-Chief to request an explanation.--Aschlafly 11:19, 20 June 2008 (EDT)

How long does peer review normally take? And what PNAS policies do you think may have been violated? Philip J. Rayment 11:32, 20 June 2008 (EDT)

Other articles in the same issue of PNAS:

Effective tumor treatment targeting a melanoma/melanocyte-associated antigen triggers severe ocular autoimmunity approved April 14, 2008 (received for review November 18, 2007)

Localized and extended deformations of elastic shells approved March 11, 2008 (received for review August 7, 2007)

Characterization of the structure–function relationship at the ligament-to-bone interface approved April 11, 2008 (received for review December 28, 2007)

Mutations in the telomerase component NHP2 cause the premature ageing syndrome dyskeratosis congenita approved April 14, 2008 (received for review January 3, 2008)

Experimental evidence for negative selection in the evolution of a Yersinia pestis pseudogene approved April 15, 2008 (received for review February 13, 2008) --Aschlafly 11:36, 20 June 2008 (EDT)

The average length of peer review for PNAS, based on a sample, is over 120 days. Lenski's paper was accepted within only 14 days of submission.--Aschlafly 11:53, 20 June 2008 (EDT)

I concede I'm curious about the difference in review times BUT I very much doubt anything nefarious is afoot. Can't wait to see what, if anything, Schlafly finds out- especially since his own determined ignorance will always get in the way. Not to mention his typical mean-spiritedness, but I digress.

In more amusing news, however, my resolute following of this insanity has earned Total Drek a very peculiar honor. It appears that, for the moment, if you enter the search terms "Schlafly" and "Lenski" into google, we're the very first hit. We even edged out Conservapedia itself! Seriously:

And as we know from Conservapedia, being rated highly by search engines means that you're totally right!

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Just noticed this over on the usual den of iniquity:

Or, in text form:

I have to run an errand but want to you everyone know, as I've said before, that it's only productive to discuss something with somebody who has an open mind. If you agree with my statement that "It's unscientific for others to repeat as true an unverified claim based on concealed data," then let's talk. If not, then please rant somewhere else. Thanks.--Aschlafly

Translation: "It's pointless to talk to people who aren't willing to consider alternative viewpoints so, if you don't agree with my narrow framing of this issue, I won't talk to you." Huh-WHA?!

Hey, Andy? Yeah. I don't think what word means what you think it means.

But, then again, you and I have talked about openmindedness before, albeit without much success.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE TO THE UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: Richard Lenski responds and it's f-ing beautiful!

* And in a totally awesome twist, Richard Lenski is also the son of Sociologist Gerhard Lenski.

** Their mascot is a burning bush. Looks totally awesome on the sidelines, but the costume sure seems like it'd be uncomfortable to wear.

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Anonymous Unsympathetic reader said...

Regarding publication turnaround: The PNAS is the publishing journal of the National Academy of Sciences. One advantage of being a member of the Academy (which includes Prof. Lenski) is expedited handling and publication.

I've enjoyed watching the ensuing discussion on the Conservapedia site and in particular, Shafley's complete lack of comprehension. Indeed, all the relevant data and experimental description is already *in* Lenski et al.'s paper. Any biologist would find it easy to replicated that work.

I also found the request someone made in the Conservapedia discussion for samples of Lenski's strains completely comic. I suppose the requester has a -80deg C freezer or liquid nitrogen dewar handy for proper storage of the strains. Hopefully he also has facilities for properly handling E. coli.

Sunday, June 22, 2008 12:34:00 PM  
OpenID cpcolumn said...

Lenski has now replied, in a letter that runneth over with awesomeness. CP is down ATM (coincidence?), but the letter's up at RationalWiki:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008 1:44:00 AM  

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