Thursday, November 08, 2007

Quick Translation for Laymen II

There have been several calls for a “Quick Translation II”*, and thy wish is my command! Luckily someone else already did most of the work for me! :P From a poster over at After the Bar Closes:

As a non-scientist, it has been hard going, but rewarding, educating myself on the whole HIV issue so I can see the holes in Behe's argument. It still boils down to
Behe: X and there are no studies contradicting this
Others: What about all of these studies?
Behe: Insignificant
Others: They are not insignificant because Y and Z.
Behe: Gratuitous Insults
Others: Wanker

What happened:
Behe: HIV cannot do X and there are no studies contradicting this.
Me: What about all of these studies?
Behe: Insignificant.
Me: They are not insignificant.
Behe: Mean girl.
Me: Charlatan.

What I want to emphasize to laymen is that a talking a major talking point of Creationists is that “All they want is some evidence! If anyone could just show them an amino-acid-by-amino-acid evolution of something new, they wouldn’t be Creationists anymore!”

And that’s exactly what I did (and Ian, and other PT contributors). Amino-acid-by-amino-acid differences between the Vpu gene in two major subtypes of HIV-1, and the biological results of those differences. This was not *new* or *secret* information. This was all publicly available (certainly to Behe, with his Ivory Tower access to scientific journals), but Behe made the decision to write about a field he is not at all familiar with, and to kick and scream when people corrected him.

Rather than accepting refutations of his claims or responding to me in a scientific manner, Behe changed his song. He declared that the changes I pointed out were ‘insignificant,’ carefully omitting the fact that both of the subtypes I discussed formed new molecular machinery (a viroporin), and one of the subtypes evolved a special amino acid sequence that allowed it to be targeted to the cell surface to preferentially make viroporins compared to Vpus other function. Behe says in ‘Edge’ new changes and new protein-protein interactions don’t exist in HIV. Zero. None. He even has a picture with “0”. Magically, when it is pointed out that his ‘zero’ is not accurate, we learn he didn’t really mean zero. He acknowledges my essay, but the changes I mention are now ‘pathetic’.

Only a Creationist could argue zero doesn’t really mean zero.

But lets look at his new claims more closely. What does he say exactly?
  • That doesn’t seem like a fundamental change to me.
  • As I wrote, there are many more ways to cripple a machine than to build one, so destructive Darwinian processes can appear to accomplish more.
  • She goes on to list several other properties of Vpu, but, while interesting, none at all are what one should call “fundamental” changes.
  • I don’t think that’s biochemically fundamental at all.
  • The question, however, is to what extent the immense variation has produced novel virus systems or machinery? And, as I indicated, the answer is very little.
We’re all very clear now, right? The changes I wrote about are pathetic according to Michael Behe. So if Michael Behe were in a lab performing HIV research (instead of sitting in his Ivory Tower, pooping out a book ever decade as if thats an accomplishment, completely isolated from the real world), he would have looked at the data in the papers I listed and thrown them in the garbage.

Again, I want to make sure I am very clear: Behe just said if he was a scientist, he would have dismissed the changes I listed between a couple of HIV-1 subtypes as ‘pathetic.’

It’s a good thing Behe is safe in his Ivory Tower, away from research labs.

A recently published paper revealed that those ‘pathetic’ changes have a HUGE impact on how fast a person gets AIDS after they have been infected with HIV-1. They made two different HIV-1 viruses—One that used the Vpu gene from a Subtype B virus, and another virus that was identical to the first, except it had a Subtype C Vpu gene instead.

The primates infected with Virus 1 lost all of their CD4+ T-cells (the target of HIV, and the measure of progression to AIDS) in 2 weeks. Primates infected with Virus 2 didn’t lose their CD4+ T-cells until about 4 months later!

So say you found out today you just got infected with HIV-1. Would you rather live for months, or years? Would you find that difference ‘pathetic’?

Additionally, contrary to Behes claims about gum and machines and cripples, these differences were a result of one of the subtypes evolving something new. Something new so it wouldn’t cripple your immune system, but still keep the viral load high! Yeah, those researchers measured how much virus was floating around in those infected primates, and the viral loads were about the same—Not only did this evolution not ‘cripple’ the cell, it didn’t ‘cripple’ the virus either!

So what does this mean from the viruses point of view? If it doesn’t kill you, you stay alive (might not even know youre infected…*sigh*) with lots of virus in your system, and you can spread the virus to other people. If you are a female, you could pass it on to your child… and they might even live to reproductive age to pass it on to their children…

But those pathetic changes go even further! So say you found out today you were infected with one of the ‘slower’ HIV-1s. Um, you still don’t want to die of AIDS or give it to your loved ones, right? The good news is those pathetic changes Behe dismisses provided us with brand new, previously unknown, chinks in HIV-1s armor! A chink we are already familiar with! That pathetic viroporin Behe ignored could be blocked with drugs similar to the ones we use against influenza to potentially decrease viral loads.

I don’t think laymen should have any problems seeing whats going on here. You dont have to know any virology or biochemistry or immunology. Just step back, and take all of this at face value. Once again, ID Creationism is a science stopper. Once again, ID Creationism is very, very wrong when applied to the real world. Once again, an ID Creationist falls flat as a ‘scientist’.

Once again its those ‘mean’ scientists saving the world while the Creationists do nothing.

Dare I say it, but even Lindsay Lohan could see whats going on here.

* Quick Translation I
** Illustrate Guide to Vpu


Unknown said...

Thank you, Abbie! That was quite understandable to this layman. As for Behe, I suspect even he understood and agreed more than he seemed to, but found that it made his Creationism feel uncomfortable, so pretended to disagree. Pious lying has a long and inglorious career, after all.

The strongest objection to evolution Michael Behe has yet contributed is his interesting Mean Girl Hypothesis. In the sciences, Behe is insignificant and pathetic.


Jacob Wintersmith said...

But ERV, it's easy to mathematically demonstrate that 0 != 0, starting from the universally accepted* fact that 1 = 3.

*Well, accepted by everyone except a few misguided souls with heretical views on the Trinty, that is.

Anonymous said...

Of course they're science stoppers. If Newton had listened to IDers nobody would have ever known that the LORD didn't make rainbows from out of "poofy" miracle stuff. (Or something.) They might be science stoppers but they are looking quite lovely these days I must say.

Bob O'Hara said...

Only a Creationist could argue zero doesn’t really mean zero."
Hey, we statisticians do this too. We just claim it's due to censoring.


Chris Noble said...

All they want is some evidence! If anyone could just show them an amino-acid-by-amino-acid evolution of something new, they wouldn’t be Creationists anymore!

That's straight out of the Denialist for Dummies book.

Step 1: Assume the position of arbiter. All I want is evidence.

Step 2: That's not evidence because ....

Step 3: That's not evidence because ....


Step N: That's not evidence because ....

Reverted said...

Nice nipple/areola there, Behe! (your first "Behe link")

LOL @ the wizard shirt Behe---I mean, Lindsey---is wearing in that last link. Is that God... no wait, I mean... Is that the designer-who-remains-obtrusively-unnamed working his intelligent designyness? =P

(Note to self: research question, "Could Gandalf be the designer?")

Koldito said...

I agree with you that Behe doesn't know what he's saying, but I also think that you are wasting your breath. He's not going to admit you are right, so you'd better use your efforts in your research. Imagine the outcome: ERV and Behe in a room full of HIV patients. Behe says "I don't think that you can be cured, and I've been actively stopping anybody from even trying" -- ERV "I've contributed to find a cure *and succeeded*". Can you imagine a sweeter victory?

xfin31 said...

I imagine someone else has already made this point before, but let me ask the question anyway.

Suppose we knew nothing about the prior history of HIV with respect to the formation of VPU and its action with respect to interacting with the host cell. Given what we know about the mechanism of action, the binding sites and so on, could the argument reasonably be made that the system is, in fact, irreducibly complex?

Abbie - it would be mildly amusing for see an ID-type argument made for how the amazing complexity of the function of VPU against host cells makes it impossible to conclude that it was evolved, rather than being designed.

Of course, this leads necessarily to the conclusion that actually, for your PhD, you're studying the work of a designer.

Anonymous said...

Well Art, at least you've been able to get more productivity done with "Intelligent Design" than Behe has:

ex)"It was not meant to Behe"

Andrew T. said...

Although so much of what Abbie writes is fantastic, I nominate this for "ERV post of the year." It's unbelievably persuasive and clear to even the most non-sciencey types.

Blake Stacey said...

I'm going to have to find something interesting to do with my list of Behe critiques. It started in May, and it hasn't stopped growing yet.

Paholaisen Asianajaja said...

Excellent post. I translated some poits of it into Finnish and posted it on my blog, so your Finnish fans can enjoy it too.

Bill said...

Great! I'm delighted to read that Behe is Finnished.

Anonymous said...

Of course, this leads necessarily to the conclusion that actually, for your PhD, you're studying the work of a designer.

Sounds good to me. IDers should be happy and settle for that. But they don't because ID is a religious movement and/or a con game... of course.

Torbjörn Larsson said...

Just then I thought that Behe and IDC couldn't look more pathetic, they show it in my face again. Excellent quickie, thanks!

0 != 0, starting from the universally accepted* fact that 1 = 3

But of course 0 != 0! . ;-)

I'm going to have to find something interesting to do with my list of Behe critiques.

Good idea.

You could maybe give it the (simile of the) topology of a Möbius strip, to show how one-sided IDC is with only criticism of evolution and no science.

Or point out the low probability that Behe is correct given the number of critical reviews he has to answer scientifically.

Or see if you can match every review to Lindsey Lohan reviews.

Bram Hengeveld said...

Hello ERV,

I've been reading your blog for a while now, after getting here somehow. (I believe it was through the PZ blog, but I like yours better actually, because it makes it easier to stay 'focussed' on a specific subject)
I want to thank you for this last post.
It eased my brain after talking to Dutch (I'm from Holland) muslim fundamentalist, actually bringing op de laws of thermodynamics as opposing to the theory of evolution. Some even said that if evolution would be true, we should by now have evolved wings to get by traffic jams.

I'm actually thinking of translating your article and putting it online, as it is adressing some of the major point
I've been discussing on that muslim forum. (talking to creationists does indeed make you more aware of what you're talking about :D)
If thats okay with you ofcourse. (since there are some that aren't so stupid you could sell a telephone pole to them saying it would make a great toothpick)

I've learned a lot from your 'sack of doorknobs'.
Although I'm not nearly as educated as you guys are (I'm a male nurse student) and I totally get a headage reading some of the stuff I find throught this and other blogs, common descent hit me in the head.
Big Time.

keep up the good work 'Mean Girl'!

p.s. Say hello to Arnie from Holland! (I love dags)

Unknown said...

Anyone who doesn't understand that evolution science continues unabated while ID is a humiliating failure, please open up these two links

evolution journal:

ID journal:

and look back and forth, for hours if need be, until you understand that one is productive science, and the other a dead end. Normal people should see this in seconds, but ID supporters could take years or decades to get it.

oleg said...

That was awesome.

"Q" the Enchanter said...

Very fine work.