Sunday, November 04, 2007

Hello again, Michael Behe!

Hello again, Michael Behe*! Im glad you found the time to reply to my essay, as your response provided me with yet another opportunity to write about really cool research that you are blissfully (arrogantly?) unaware of, and yet another opportunity to expose the fact you are a charlatan to the entire planet! Yay!

For instance, though your hackneyed attempts at personal insults might have offended Arnie**, I see them as a great opportunity to highlight the arrogance of Creationists like yourself. One defining characteristics of Creationists is that no matter what their educational background, their highest attained degree is treated as a carte blanche for authority in any topic under the sun. For example, when I recently attended a presentation by William Dembski, I found out that a PhD in a field of mathematics automatically makes one an authority in microbiology, quantum mechanics, and even architecture. Hence no one should be surprised at your arrogance, claiming you know more about HIV-1 evolution than everyone in the HIV research community, even the people whos papers you chose to cite (more on that later).

Yet despite this fixation on ‘credentials’ you found it appropriate to misrepresent *my* qualifications to write about HIV evolution. I’ve been involved in researching HIV-1 evolution in various capacities since 2003—from undergraduate research assistant, to laboratory technician, to current graduate student in the field of retroviral evolution. Though you, Behe, hump your credentials on the legs of every book you write and presentation you give, you curiously made the decision to exclude all of *my* research experience and chose to refer to me as some ‘woman.’ ‘Woman’. Powerful observation, Michael Behe.

Alas, noticing that I am indeed a woman appears to be the crown jewel of your observational capabilities, and nicely explains why you yourself are not involved in the research world in any meaningful capacity. For instance, you, as an ‘ID scientist,’ proclaimed that the amino acid similarities between HIV-1 Vpu and SIVcpz Vpu is “not a fundamental change.” While I only mentioned their ~37% AA similarity as part of an intro, Behe, if you had taken a few moments to think about this topic as a competent scientist, you would have thought “Hmm. The gene that codes for env, the target of the immune system, is ~59.5% similar between HIV-1 and SIVcpz. Env should be changing the most, but it is out-mutated by Vpu! I wonder why! Whats going on? How are these changes effecting the functioning of the virus? What are the physiological and epidemiological implications of these changes?”

But your ability to ask questions and use PubMed has atrophied, Behe. Your only recourse to my essay was Creationism. You made the decision to ignore everything I said about Vpus differential evolution between subtypes and pubjack a review like a Creationist. As I mentioned before, Cristian Apetrei’s paper in no way, shape, or form supports the claims made in ‘Edge of Evolution’ about HIV-1. The authors point out that we haven’t figured out the physiological and epidemiological significance of inter-subtype differences, and you made the decision to distort their critique of HIV research into ‘HIV hasn’t evolved.’

Alas, a problem with using arguments from ignorance as a positive argument like this, Behe, as you also do with Intelligent Design, is that gaps are ultimately filled, and you are left with your pants around your ankles:

Modulation of the severe CD4(+) T-cell loss caused by a pathogenic simian-human immunodeficiency virus by replacement of the subtype B vpu with the vpu from a subtype C HIV-1 clinical isolate.

Sarah Hill (just some woman), shares one of my concerns with the epidemiology of HIV-1—Subtype C HIV-1 is a less fit virus in all of the systems we have used to study HIV in vitro… but it has overtaken all the other subtypes to compose ~50% of HIV-1 infections in the real world! Why? How?? I think it might have something to do with evolution in env and differential transmissibility. Hill’s lab thinks it might have something to do with Vpu. Unlike Intelligent Design ‘scientists’ who unquestioningly dismiss potentially significant data as ‘pathetic’, Hill looked at the variation between Vpus and wondered, “Where is this gene going? What is it doing in humans?” Then she did something that ID 'scientists' really wont understand... she designed... an experiment! To figure out if anything interesting is going on, she used a classic animal model to study the pathogenesis of HIV. They used a standard SHIV containing a Subtype B Vpu to infect pig-tailed macaques, as well as multiple SHIV alternates—ones with the Subtype B Vpu cut out, and Subtype C Vpus pasted in! A lot like what I do!

Contrary to the claims made on your Amazon blog, Behe, their results were anything but ‘insignificant’:

In our studies presented here, we have concentrated on the contribution of the subtype C Vpu in the pathogenic SHIV/macaque model system. We hypothesized that if a SHIV expressing a Vpu protein from another subtype of HIV-1 (in this case, subtype C) still resulted in severe CD4+ T-cell loss, it would suggest that the divergent sequence of this Vpu (particularly the carboxyl terminus) was not a factor in disease progression. Our results presented here indicate that a SHIV constructed with the Vpu from a subtype C Vpu (SHIVSCVpu) significantly differed in the rate of CD4+ T-cell loss compared to parental pathogenic SHIVKU-1bMC33.

Translation: If Behe is right, the changes in Vpu are ‘pathetic’, they would have seen no difference between the monkeys that got the Subtype B SHIV or the Subtype C SHIV. Behe is not right.

I cant post the figures here, but there *was* a significant difference between the animals that got different SHIVs. The Subtype B infected animals had no CD4+ T-cells by week 2. It took the Subtype C infected animals ~4 months to show the same CD4+ numbers. Slower you progress to AIDS, the more time the virus has to spread to new hosts. What does this data mean to you, Behe? Do you understand how this relates to SIV? Do you understand what this might mean for the evolution of HIV-1 in humans? Do you know what this might mean for potential anti-retrovirals?


So whats your deal, Behe? You stepped waaay too far out on a limb with ‘Edge of Evolution’ and left a gaping hole for any HIV researcher to catch. The rather baffling claims you’ve made subsequently have done nothing to support ID Creationism as *science*—Amino acid similarity = Structural similarity, viral protein-protein interactions with cellular proteins or other viral proteins ‘are like chewing gum’ so they ‘don’t count’, ignoring Vpu forming viroporins, pubjacking others’ publications, sexist and other unprofessional comments-- basically acting like a common gutter Creationist. Why? Youre doing this in the name of ‘Intelligent Design’, and the Discovery Institute doesn’t even like you.

So whats your deal? Is it just for the money? You’ve got a litter of kids, and I admit I would find the $20K you get for selling out rather tempting in todays funding climate. Do you just like how you get treated by your followers? Or do you like how you get treated by your opponents, in a Mel Gibson sort of way? Or is your involvement in this whole thing a crazy idea that got out of hand, and you don’t really mean any of it, you don’t really believe any of it, and youre throwing softballs to grad students because you want to get ‘caught’ and give up the whole charade?

*shrug* Or maybe you do mean it. If that is the case, youve seen how I respond. Think very carefully about whether it is in your best interest to continue making claims about HIV-1 in the future. If you are planning on making more incredible claims about HIV, I would appreciate it if you at least made future statements more challenging.

* For some reason, Behe thinks he is Lindsay Lohans character in 'Mean Girls.' Me and the Pandas Thumb contributors are The Plastics. I have no idea what possessed Behe to make this analogy, but far be it from me not to respect Behes wishes. You know Im starting to think analogies arent Behes forte...

** Arnie really is a loyal pup. It doesnt help Behe didnt even acknowledge him in his blog post. Behe probably should apologize to him.


Jim Wynne said...

Nice job, Abbie. I expect a response from Behe wherein he ignores the evidence and refers to its source being a "right spirited little filly."

Sergey said...

Good analisys. It's pity it will be completly misunderstood and ignored by its target.

And, btw, about "woman". As man, who, sometimes, take part in scientific conference, i can only regret there is too few womans in science. At least in physics. There talks are more pleasant to watch....:0

Jon Voisey said...

Astronomy has more womens than any other scientific field ;)

Dan Cardinale said...

Nicely done. And for a minute I was somewhat confused, with the notion that the least fit virus was the most common, but it all makes sense. Less fit=healthier host=more transmission. Learn something new everyday. And at only 1 AM on Monday, ahead of the curve.

The Promiscuous Reader said...

I like a girl with spirit!

coturnix said...

Thanks for the links to Lindsay Lohan ;-)

And of course, nothing hurts him more than the fact you are woman. He is a creationist because he is one of those pathetic, limp, self-loving men.

Jeff Fecke said...

A thing of beauty is a joy forever. And this takedown of Behe is a thing of beauty.

Art said...

Your links to Behe's pictures shows he's looking much better these days, and appears more intelligent than he did before.

Really, Abbie, Behe should not have sought to minimize you for this reason if none other:

He's now been thoroughly trashed point by point by a "mere" female pre-grad student. By minimizing you, he's made his own failing look all the more ridiculous.

The Behes of the world would like everyone to think of rational, scientific people as ideologically-driven, money-grubbing bullies.

Hmmm... Where do they get that image, I wonder?

-- HalfMooner

Kristjan Wager said...

Nice take-down of his pathetic attempts of scientific-sounding arguments.

I also love how neo-Creationists (and old school Creationists for that matter) always hump their degrees, yet fail to recognize real authority on a subject (i.e. those doing science in the field). Behe's description of you is a prime example of that.

As an aside, I have a hard time getting some peoples' obsession with titles. I have yet to address any of my professors by anything but their first name, and would certainly never think of addressing them by their title (heck, I often don't know what their precise title is).

Fred Ross said...

To completely miss the point of this, and point out an interesting connection with the spread of the less virulent serotype...

Abbie, do you know Sally Blower's work on TB epidemics? (Blower et al, Nat Med, Vol. 1, No. 8. (1995), pp. 815-821.) I'm sure someone's tried this model on HIV, but it's not a literature I keep up with. The time aren't all that different, and at the level of detail of SIR models, the transmission dynamics really aren't either.

Though if Behe does refer to you as a "right spirited little filly," it will make my day. Laughing that hard is good for the soul.

scienceteacherinexile said...

actually, if he does in fact have the Mel Gibson mentality going, instead of "a spirited little filly", he may go for "sugar tits".

RobHu said...

You rock :-)

Russell Blackford said...

Wow, Behe is really pretty.

Torbjörn Larsson said...

Slower you progress to AIDS, the more time the virus has to spread to new hosts.

The slower you progress to ass-kicking, the more time the creationists have to read the old posts.

I like the tactics of ERV's.

Okay, the post and comments have pitter-pattered all over this subject, but there was one more:

gaps are ultimately filled, and you [Behe] are left with your pants around your ankles

Creationist quote-mining leaves disturbing imagery. But I do think ERV stuck his credentials where they belong.

cuttlefish said...

Freud would call it "castration anxiety"

No surprise that “doctor” Behe
(*snorfle* *chuckle* *giggle* *tee-hee*)
Will belittle, mock, misrepresent
The actions of a female

For since the time of Adam
Men could "rib" each miss or madam
And with Freudian analysis
Conclude they want to be male

Now he tries to bore and tire us
With a rant about a virus
That he clearly doesn’t comprehend
(one wonders if he can)

What I guess I really mean is
He is thinking with his penis
I suppose it’s too important that
He shows that he’s The Man.


DS said...

Seriously. I used to think that Behe had an agenda and was just blinded by his faith. He has become such a caricature that I now think he merely likes the attention (and the money). As you pointed it out beautifully (especially in the last few paragraphs) he's not even making an effort to make sense anymore. He's mailing it in because he knows the people who agree with him don't care what he says, and he will get ripped to shreds by science no matter what he says. It's getting sad (I guess it never wasn't).

Matt said...

Wow. I think I love you. ID 'science' asskicking as part of a discussion of SHIVs? Hea-ven! You're on my blogroll now . . .

Mike said...

ERV, you've hit the big time! You've been discussed and linked at Digby's Hullabaloo!

The Inoculated Mind said...

Very nice.

It's telling to see that Behe has disabled comments on his blog posts now.

Matt Hayden said...

Thank you very much for a well-written and polite critique of Behe's deliberate obscurantism. You've taken the high road and provided an evidence-laden, logical argument based in observation rather than dogma.

It's nice to see. You're on my blogroll, now - that was a great post.

Ian Musgrave said...

I'd just like to point out that the changes in the spread of subtype C HIV-1 is due to HIV-1 subtype C gaining a new binding site, DXXXLLR, which binds to AP proteins on clatherin coated pits, and targets the Vpu protein to the cell membrane, rather than the Golgi apparatus. This slows down the destruction of CD4, allowing the cell to live longer.

Once again, a new binding site has arisen which has a significant biological effect, one that Behe is completely ignorant of.

Antonio Mas said...


Erik said...

I admit I am only a fringe follower of the Creationist/Evolutionist "discussion". A chain of evidence need not be entirely linked together to lead to a sound conclusion. It's certainly better than amorphous puffballs in the sky jibbiling the important bits.

When 99.99% of biologists provide *evidence* that evolution is a fact, it's hard to argue with sensibly.. (the other .01% are dead)

All the creationists have to say is "Because I said so". Sorry, that didn't for for my parents, it's certainly not going to work for some schlep who can't get his facts straight.

And I will be damned if I'll pay attention to an indivdiual who bases 90% of his argument (in one case) on the fact that his opponent is a woman! That alone should tell you something is not right with the man.

Such an individual belongs herded into a box canon with all the other racists and bigots. We can fence them in and feed them jelly-babies with a sling shot.

What's sad is that this kind of con game is not illegal. Behe's not trying to convince us that he's right - he's trying to convince his fellow creationists that he's trying to convince us. Thus, he can legitimately ask for money to support his "good fight"

Oh.. wait.. that's just what the church does... go figure.

Unfortunatey, Evolutionists (I really hate that tag, but will use it for now) are in a lose/lose situation with his ilk. If we ignore him, he's won (in the eyes of his supporters). If we respond in ANY fashion, we're either misrepresenting what he said, , not answering his challenges, or mis-quoted so as to appear either wrong or supporting his position.

It's obvious that the Jihadists are not the only ones who believe that anything done in the name of God is acceptable.

Robb said...

If Mike Behe draws the tentative edge of evolution at 2 protein-protein binding sites, and even gives human sickle cell as one example, how does this one more example of HIV-1 refute his thesis? I think his book is still quite valid in its claims, even if there were many more examples. When you do the math, the number of protein-protein mutations couldn't have happened in 3 billion years. I'm not a biologist, but I don't find this one discovery changes much in his book other than he may want to include this example in a subsequent edition. But that's just me..