Skell pwned again

by Greg Mayer

I think I’ve been able to figure out why chemist Philip Skell’s attack on Jerry in Forbes was so unresponsive to what Jerry actually wrote: he probably wrote most of it before seeing Jerry’s article!  P.Z. Myers noted a piece in the Eugene, Oregon, Register-Guard by teacher Stuart Faulk rebutting Skell’s arguments.  Addressing Skell’s claim that evolution is irrelevant to medicine, Faulk (who is Skell’s son-in-law!) does some research:

The contention that evolutionary science is not useful is easily shown false by counter-example. The necessary research is accomplished by walking the five feet to my coffee table and picking up the March edition of Scientific American magazine, in which the article “New Tactics Against Tuberculosis” describes progress against the spread of drug-resistant TB….As the authors state of one promising approach, “It allows us to harness the power of natural selection in our quest to thwart (drug-resistant TB).”

He also notes that Skell’s claim that for evolution to be relevant  to medicine, then paleontology must drive its research agenda, is an “absurd idea”,  “introduced by Skell, not evolutionary scientists.” Faulk goes on to note that Skell’s real concerns are religious, not scientific, as “any Web search will show”.

That Skell’s arguments are easily rebutted is not surprising; what is surprising is that Faulk was responding to something Skell wrote in the Register-Guard that appeared February 12, the same day as Jerry’s piece in Forbes, and 11 days before Skell’s piece in Forbes.  The Register-Guard piece is only available on the web as an excerpt, but it seems to be much the same as what appeared in Forbes. You compare:

The Register-Guard, Feb. 12: “Darwin was great, but too often he’s oversold”

In 1942 Nobel Laureate Ernst Chain wrote explicitly that his discovery (with Florey and Fleming) of penicillin, and the development of bacterial resistance to that antibiotic, owed nothing to Darwin’s and Alfred Wallace’s evolutionary theories. The same can be said about a variety of other 20th century discoveries: that of the structure of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; and various new surgeries.

Forbes, Feb. 23, “The dangers of overselling evolution”

In 1942, Nobel Laureate Ernst Chain wrote that his discovery of penicillin (with Howard Florey and Alexander Fleming) and the development of bacterial resistance to that antibiotic owed nothing to Darwin’s and Alfred Russel Wallace’s evolutionary theories.

The same can be said about a variety of other 20th-century findings: the discovery of the structure of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes; research on medications and drug reactions; improvements in food production and sanitation; new surgeries; and other developments.

I can understand why Jerry found Skell’s Forbes piece off-point:

The curious thing is that Skell’s piece is not, as it pretends to be, a critique of what I said in Forbes, but merely a repetition of the argument, which he has been making for years, that evolution is of no practical use for humanity and of no use to experimental biology

The one thing I would add to these critiques of Skell is to point out his curious use of the phrase “experimental biology”, and his disdain for what he seems to consider unobservable or uncertain knowledge.  He seems to imply that chemistry and “experimental” biology, are good science, because they are observable; other sorts of biology (i.e. evolution), and (if the apparent criterion is to be applied uniformly), geology and astronomy are not, because we have not seen a live trilobite, or Gondwanaland, or a star moving along the main sequence.  Thus creationists seek not just to eliminate biology, but much of the rest of science as well. All knowledge in empirical science, including chemistry, is tentative; and the changes in the kinds of plants and animals you see as you travel up slope on a fossiliferous exposure are much more observable than any chemical bond.

9 Comments

  1. Occam
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    As I’ve written before, Skell’s argument is refuted by just four letters: MRSA. Want to see natural selection and evolution at work in speed-motion? Watch the havoc we’ve wrought with antibiotics abuse, it’s an evolutionary education.

    What I’d like to know:
    1. How come Skell values Ernst Chain’s utterances of 1942 more than what’s been available as accumulating evidence in every microbiology lab ever since? What kind of scientist does that?
    (OK, maybe the kind who thinks “revelation” and “scriptures” matter more than reason and evidence; but what kind of scientific mind is that?)

    2. How come Forbes invites the publication of such nonsense?
    Forbes, the bastion of American capitalism? The “Home Page For The World’s Business Leaders” ?
    Maybe there’s a connection between the mindless, irrational way money and the economy have been mismanaged for so long, and the kind of irrational drivel that gets published in the opinion-shaping media our Masters of the Universe rely upon.

  2. Loc
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Occam,

    I believe there most definitely is a connection between the mismanagement of money and the irrational responses to evolution. Painting with a broad brush, I would contend that most “free-market” capitalists are as every bit indoctrinated into their fiscal ideology as they are into their own religion. Cognitive dissonance and the discontinuous mind are very difficult to overcome.

  3. Posted March 5, 2009 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    Cancer is increasingly seen in evolutionary (“darwinist” in ID terminology) terms, as it all too quickly evolves defenses against both the body and to chemo-therapy.

    The obvious old standby value of evolutionary biology, the fact that it is important to choosing laboratory models of humanity, and in interpreting those results, was mentioned recently by Douglas Futuyma at the Vatican meeting regarding evolution. It looks like the Vatican is more up to speed on these things than Skell is.

    Even Behe has mentioned the fact that evolutionary studies are quite valuable, even as he seeks to diminish the ability to perform such research.

    Glen D
    http://tinyurl.com/6mb592

  4. Hempenstein
    Posted March 5, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Faulk (good for him!) would surely not be the first son-in-law trying to distance himself from his father-in-law’s absurdities and/or making it clear that he wants nothing to do with the family business.

  5. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    The same can be said about a variety of other 20th-century findings: the discovery of the structure of the double helix

    Here’s a tidbit for you: Francis Crick’s scientific career was explicitly motivated by his atheism. Source: the Eighth Day of Creation by Horace Freeland Judson

  6. origin
    Posted March 7, 2009 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Good find with all of the above articles! I hope Skell feels a bit of embarrassment for being corrected by his own son-in-law, but guys like him are in so much denial already, it probably didn’t even make him think twice.

  7. Posted March 17, 2009 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Natural selection is NOT evolution. How many times people (scientistS) have to say that?
    Dr Skell is absolutly right again. Darwinian speculations are worthless for medicine, and for science in general. They may serve a secular purpose, but it’s irrelevant for the progress of science.

    Secondly, if the4 best “evidence” for “evolution” you guys can offer is something that is agreeded upon by everyone (including creationists) then your theory is in a worth shape thant you thought.

    • David Johnson
      Posted May 4, 2010 at 2:47 am | Permalink

      Mats, what planet are you on?

      “Dr Skell is ABSOLUTELY RIGHT again. Darwinian speculations are worthless for medicine, and for science in general. They may serve a secular purpose, but it’s irrelevant for the progress of science.”

      Haven’t you just seen Skell’s ludicrous statements shattered by the real world? Absolutley right eh? Ever heard of the Dunning Kruger effect? Please read the article where it goes on about about TB resistance, and the ways to combat that.
      As for evidence of evolution check out Richard Lenski, and his team, and their experiments with bacteria.

  8. Faulk Jr.
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    While natural selection and evolution are different matters, if they truly are, that does not change the fact that things have the ability to adapt and change as they are exposed and that the only way they can do that is by changing the manner in which they are structured. I find it hard to believe that appendages that look like vestigial arms and the like were put there because a higher being thought they would be useful, even though they are quite useless. If everything were developed by a supremely intelligent being then there would be nothing extra that was without a cause. All beings would be streamlined, sleek, strong, fast and perfect. Pick any animal you want and there are obvious errors with it. It is not simply enough to say that evolution isn’t valid and therefor creationism is. What you need to do, Mats, is prove that things in fact didn’t evolve but were designed by a creator. When there is scientific proof of this then the creationists will be left alone. And it is worth noting that Skell is the only person in the family who actually holds these values. The rest of us think it is absolutely absurd.
    -Thorin Faulk


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