Nature Blog Network

Monday, February 4, 2008

Oops! Another Discovery Institute Abuse & Misuse

I guess its to be expected, Intelligent Design proponents just can't seem to tell the truth. Case in point: Casey Luskin, a Discovery Institute lackey attempts his first take at participating in the Bloggers for Peer-Reviewed Research Reporting (BPR3) with a post demonstrating how a recently published article in PLoS ONE using the icon copyrighted by BPR3. Anyone is free to use this icon, you've seen it many times on this blog, so long as they register their blog and abide by the guidelines of this organization. The icon is important not only because it signifies that a post is a thoughtful commentary on a peer-reviewed research article that goes beyond the press releases, but because it contains code that aggregates your post onto an RSS feed with all the posts using the icon and centralizes commentary on peer-reviewed research reporting. I include the icon in post as I will discuss the article simultaneously with a discussion of this issue of fraud.

Luskin failed to register his blog and merely copied and pasted the icon image without any code. Though this is a copyright violation, it also violates a couple of the guidelines.

4. The post author should have read and understood the entire work cited.
This is of course arguable but reading the conclusions Luskin draws from his perverted view of the article in question (open access download here), it may be indeed be argued he didn't understand the "entire work cited". But thats not enough. Anyone is allowed to use the icon and aggregation service in so far as the user abides by the rules and the work is peer-reviewed. What two scientists really have the same interpretation of an experiment?
5. The blog post should report accurately and thoughtfully on the research it presents.
As Mike at The Questionable Authority succinctly states in his analysis of the issue:
"The hard part is ensuring that the posts more or less fulfill the "accurate and thoughtful" part of that equation. That's handled as a community effort."
Luskin's commentary is not accurate. I'll leave the "thoughtful" open to your interpretation.
Editor's Note: Here is where I'll discuss a few items of the paper in reference to Luskin's post and what Orgel's article stated. I believe this follows the guidelines of BPR3 while counteracting erroneous claims of another blogger.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe article in question is an essay by the late Leslie Orgel of the Salk Institute that discusses the challenges facing the formation of metabolic cycles on prebiotic earth. It is a well-written and thoughtful essay that explains the difficulties with the evolution of the reverse citric acid cycle, hypothesized to operate under a prebiotic chemical environment. Luskin attempts to frame Orgel's essay under an irreducible complexity filter. He claims that Orgel
"... essentially assumes that cyclic metabolic pathways are irreducibly complex systems that require a large number of parts in order to function—including many side pathways that can remove products that will disrupt the cycle. In Orgel's view, it is not plausible to contend that such complex systems, with all of their numerous required components, would simultaneously come into existence."
Orgel in fact didn't make any assumptions about irreducible complexity. Luskin is putting words into his mouth. Orgel lays out a road map for making progress with the origins of life question:
"What is essential, therefore, is a reasonably detailed description, hopefully supported by experimental evidence, of how an evolvable family of cycles might operate. The scheme should not make unreasonable demands on the efficiency and specificity of the various external and internally generated catalysts that are supposed to be involved. Without such a description, acceptance of the possibility of complex nonenzymatic cyclic organizations that are capable of evolution can only be based on faith, a notoriously dangerous route to scientific progress." (emphasis added)
Orgel's problem is with the lack of experimental evidence to support some of the theory. He does not hint at the possibility of giving up on the questions, throwing his arms up and shouting "It was an intelligent designer!" Quite the contrary, he wants more work to be done and encourages further investigation into the evolvability of cyclic metabolic pathways. In the section of the essay called "Peptide Cycles" he states:
"More complex proposals along these lines need to be supported by experimental evidence or compelling theoretical arguments based on the known properties of amino acids and peptides. Claims that they exist cannot be taken seriously without support from experimental or theoretical chemistry."
To me, this statement sounds very anti-ID, since ID and the concept of irreducible complexity asserts that in the end all we have are claims and faith and no hard statistical evidence. One of his concluding sentences really hits home the authors dedication to promoting hard, evidential science:
"Theories of the origin of life based on metabolic cycles cannot be justified by the inadequacy of competing theories: they must stand on their own."
More breakdown at The Questionable Authority and go to's blog to weigh in and join the discussion with the 20+ commenters there! Law Evolution Science and Junk Science weighs in.

Orgel, L.E. (2008). The Implausibility of Metabolic Cycles on the Prebiotic Earth. PLoS Biology, 6(1), e18. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060018


  1. Kevin Z, this is an awesome post. I thoroughly enjoyed your point-by-point trouncing of Luskin. Of all the nerve, putting words into a dead man's mouth; words with the exact opposite meaning from what said dead man intended. I also love that it is your critique and not Luskin's original post that makes it onto the ResearchBlogging site.

  2. P.S. The Questionable Authority tells me that Dave Munger at ResearchBlogging now has a post up asking for opinion on whether Luskin's post meets ResearchBlogging criteria. Tell 'em what you think:,%20but%20...-2.EML/?cmd=editrecipient&Index=-1

  3. While I agree with the entire content of this post, I think the use of the icon HERE is just as, maybe even more, questionable than Luskin's use of it. This is a blog post about a blog post, not at all about peer-reviewed research, even if some PRR is mentioned. To have any credibility on this issue, I think you should remove the logo from this post.

  4. I think it is relevant to BPR^3. It's a legitimate debate over the paper.

  5. Last time I checked, Orgel's wikipedia page linked directly to the "irreducible complexity" page...groan...

    Kevin's post is definitely BPR3 compliant - he quotes Orgel directly and summarizes what the paper is actually saying about chemical evolution, unlike Luskin's willful misrepresentation.

  6. Redheaded, I appreciate for your comment. I made a small edited note in the article to make it more clearer (mid way down) where I am blogging about the Orgel paper in particular. I moved the icon down to that part as well. I believe that I am within the guidelines of BPR3.


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