Back in June, Science published a review authored by Sean Carroll which was a very negative response to Mike Behe's new book. This was the subject of comment here where I concluded:
The real issue is: will a debate within science be allowed? If Behe is not allowed the right of reply, this review should be treated as an exercise in polemics, designed to protect the world of science from ever having to face up to evidences of ID. If there is the opportunity to reply, readers will enjoy a genuine scientific debate.
Well, an exchange of sorts has been permitted within the pages of Science - in the correspondence section of the 12 October 2007 issue. Behe was allowed less than 200 words to refute the claim that he failed to discuss pyrimethamine resistance in malarial parasites and to explain that his book illustrated "the crucial difference between beneficial intermediate mutations and deleterious intermediate ones."
Carroll had nearly 500 words of response. This disparity is worthy of note, because Behe has since pointed out that his letter was edited to remove at least one significant paragraph.
Carroll conceded that Behe did not fail to discuss pyrimethamine resistance in malarial parasites. But instead of apologising for implying that Behe had overlooked this data, he changed the charge to say that Behe had misread the data. "My criticism is that Behe omitted the clear evidence for the cumulative selection of multiple changes in the drug target protein in nature and that he invoked an altogether different and unsupported explanation in an attempt to bolster his main premise."
The normal flow of academic exchange after Behe's correspondence would be for Carroll to graciously admit he had made a mistake and apologise for making a false claim. Then, it would be appropriate for any new charge to be discussed so as to allow both parties to explore the issue rationally. This was not how the editors of Science saw fit to conduct the exchange. Rather, Behe has had to resort to the internet to post his further response to Carroll.
The reality seems to be that Carroll is reading the evidence through Darwinian spectacles. He finds it incomprehensible that anyone could read things in any other way. As an illustration, consider this section of his letter:
He [Behe] speculates that "two further, simultaneous mutations seem to be necessary" for the evolution of pyrimethamine resistance, despite the fact that the authors I cited (2) explicitly demonstrated two different pathways to triple and quadruple mutants via stepwise processes. Behe does not cite this work and he obfuscates the clear but inconvenient message in this body of data.
Compare this with Behe's internet response:
It was hypothesized that multiple mutations in different genes might be required:
"Because concurrent mutations in two different genes occur at reduced frequency, this would help explain the rarity with which resistance has evolved." (Nair, S., et al. 2003. A selective sweep driven by pyrimethamine treatment in southeast asian malaria parasites. Mol. Biol. Evol. 20:1526-1536)
(By the way, Hayton and Su 2004 also remark that, "Based on the mutant pfcrt haplotypes known so far, it is likely that simultaneous multipoint changes in pfcrt are necessary to confer [chloroquine resistance]".)
Carroll implies I'm somehow less than honest for passing on the thinking of workers in the field in this area, while he passes off as near-conclusive ambiguous work done in vitro.
Some of us think that there is scope for a genuine academic debate here, but it is hard work interacting with people who appear to have a deductive agenda (i.e. some advocates of Darwinian evolution). We need editors who can manage these debates and provide forums for genuine exchanges about the implications of evidence.
Letters: Addressing Cumulative Selection
Michael J Behe, with response by Sean B. Carroll
Science 12 October 2007: 318, 196 | DOI: 10.1126/science.318.5848.196
Behe, M.J. Back and forth with Sean Carroll in Science, Amazon Blog, October 17, 2007
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