Creationists claim +/or disown Crick

Sparked by a May post and comments on Hells Handmaiden’s always-interesting blog. Hell’s Handmaiden was reasonably challenging the absurdity of Denyse O’Leary’s claim that Francis Crick (one of the people who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, do keep up) would not get tenure today because he propounded the theory that human life was seeded by aliens. This post brought out a pretty incensed series of anti-PC comments from one Wakefield Tolbert. (I admit to being impressed at the Pythonesque surname, fitting so well with my mental picture of the commenter.)

I googled for evidence, with a half-thought out idea that the alien seeding idea was more associated with Fred Hoyle – a former Royal Astromer (thereby giving the lie to the “no honours for eccentric scientists” idea) – and Chandra Wickramasinghe.

Creation Web seems pretty clear that Crick is the enemy:

Long before he ever discovered DNA’s structure, he held strong atheistic views. The news article even reported that Crick’s distaste for ‘religion’ was one of the prime motives that led to his discovery, and also said, ‘The antipathy to religion of the DNA pioneers is long standing. In 1961 Crick resigned as a fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, when it proposed to build a chapel.’

They then attack him for suggesting at one point that life is seeded through the universe.

Cross-currents go further in that they try to claim Crick for a slightly misguided one of their own:

What he proposed is, of course, Intelligent Design without a Divine designer—essentially putting off the question of Who or what (be that a Designer or spontaneous process) created life structures able to develop the space-travelling aliens….There’s certainly a lot more evidence for the Hand of G-d than there is for visiting space aliens—but none other than Sir Francis Crick was willing to grab for the latter in order to avoid the former.”

Well, no. There isn’t much evidence for either as far as I can see.

Except that Panspermia itself doesn’t exactly require a belief in visiting space ships. It seems a perfectly rational hypothesis as defined by Answers. com

The theory that microorganisms or biochemical compounds from outer space are responsible for originating life on Earth and possibly in other parts of the universe where suitable atmospheric conditions exist.

There are some fundamental issues of logic here.

Firstly, Crick was indulging in scientific speculation, as the discoverers of the double helix did. They had to test that theory and it proved to fit the observations. If they had found out that DNA molecule was connected in the shape of a teapot or a Mobius strip, they’d have changed their views. Crick did in fact come to modify his views on Directed Panspermia.

Secondly, the reliable authority fallacy is rearing its head again. Crick was successful in one area of thought, ergo, everything he says must be equally respected. I bet Francis Crick was probably not a good breakdancer. That is not to say that he couldn’t try a few fancy moves, if he so chose. However, being part of the team that discovered the structure of DNA would not, in itself, reflect on his skill as a break-dancer. He wouldn’t win an MTV B-boy competition just on the basis that he’d published a Nobel-prize-winning paper on molecular structure.

So, why do ID-proponents care about Crick’s speculations on the origins of life? Because they get a bit miffed that any respected scientist (read – an Authority) is an atheist.

Any potential Authority is going to get dragged in to support their arguments – from Einstein (because he spoke using the odd spiritual metaphor) to Chuck Norris (because he was in a film with Bruce Lee once.) So Crick is no exception. Try to get him on-board somehow.

From the Wikipedia entry on Crick and Creationism

It has been suggested by some observers that Crick’s speculation about panspermia, “fits neatly into the intelligent design concept.” Crick’s name was raised in this context in the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial over the teaching of intelligent design. However, as a scientist, Crick was concerned with the power of natural processes such as evolution to account for natural phenomena and felt that religiously inspired beliefs are often wrong and cannot be trusted to provide a sound basis for science……In a 1987 case before the Supreme Court, Crick joined a group of other Nobel laureates who advised that, “‘Creation-science’ simply has no place in the public-school science classroom.”

Obviously, if you are trying to claim the advantages from borrowing Authority (e.g. those trying to use Crick to support the Dover School Board) you’re stuck when your Authority opposes you. So you have to deAuthoritise them pretty damn quick.

DNA database

The review for the new Police and Criminal Evidence Act includes a plan to capture the DNA of millions more people, by taking DNA from people accused of the most minor offences, according to the Observer.

Unsurprisingly, this is worrying civil liberties groups. In particular, there is a fear that there will be so many people’s DNA on file that it will seem unfair to miss off the rest of the population, so there will be a strong argument for getting everybody’s.

Of more immediate concern is how much the present system is collecting and how biased in its range.

Liberty claims that, per head of population, the UK has five times as many people on the DNA database as any other country. The government estimates that even if the database is not expanded to include the details of minor offenders, some 4.5 million people will still be on it by 2010.

The expansion of the database is prompting fears that people from ethnic minorities are being stigmatised. According to research by the Liberal Democrats, under the existing system within three years the details of more than half of all black men will be on the DNA database.

Do I really need to even comment on this stuff? It sets off too much knee-jerk 1984 incoherent ranting in me.

5 times as many people’s DNA as any other European country? More than half of all black men on it in 3 years? What a proud national record.

There will apparently be a few month’s public “consultation”. The road-pricing and ID petitions give you a fair idea of how far the government will diverge from whatever path it is set on, even if the whole country rises up and says mildly but assertively, “Hang on a minute. We’re not completely convinced that totalitarian control of every aspect of life is the only way to run a society…..”

Crackpot McKeith Punished

Well it is about time.

has been a prominent enough person in the general UK media to have her own category on Ben Goldacre’s fascinating Bad Science blog. If you dont know about her this extract from Bad Science gives a bit of background:

Call her the Awful Poo Lady, call her Dr Gillian McKeith PhD: she is an empire, a multi-millionaire, a phenomenon, a prime-time TV celebrity, a bestselling author. She has her own range of foods and mysterious powders, she has pills to give you an erection, and her face is in every health food store in the country. Scottish Conservative politicians want her to advise the government. The Soil Association gave her a prize for educating the public.

She is a force of pure marketing evil. She bullies fat people to the point at which they burst into tears. She advocates all manner of weird and wonderful woo as cures for various illnesses. Her ideas about health diet defy belief. She claimes eating Chlorophyl will oxygenate your blood. She claims DNA/RNA is only present in growing cells and defies aging. “In the heart,” she explains, “chlorophyll aids in the transmission of nerve impulses that control contraction.”

In short, she is completely off her head.

You can read more about McKeith on Quackwatch – or better still, Ben Goldacre’s blog where you can read the full details of her current problems with the Advertising Standards Agency.

In association with Channel 4 Nutjob McKeith pushed herself onto the UK public as a “Clinical Nutritionist” (woo-title if ever there was one). She is often called Dr McKeith, or even “Dr Gillian McKeith PhD,” with the implication she is a medical doctor when in fact she has a PhD. However, this PhD is from a woo-factory of dynamic proportions. She has her “PhD” from the Australasian College of Health Sciences (Portland, US), yet you cant find out any of the details of her final thesis. She touts her “professional membership” with the American Association of Nutritional Consultants, yet this is the same level of membership Ben Goldacre’s dead cat has.

The amount that could be written about McKeith is phenomenal. She combines ignorance, voodoo-woo and an a massively outspoken personality. She capitalises upon lazy people not bothering to understand science but who are enamoured by the trappings of science and the weird rituals she practices (sniffing crap for example). To paraphrase a USENET post I read, as people move away from religion, the void is filled by conspiracy theories, sprituality and mumbo-jumbo – it is the conservation of idiocy. McKeith is a prime example of this.

Anyway, it seems a reader of the column has actually gone to the advertising standards agency and complained about her use of the title “Dr” and “PhD.” The ASA has upheld the complaint, but to avoid a formal ruling, McKeith has voluntarily agreed to stop calling herself “Dr.” This is not as toothless as it may sound, as she has spent a lot of time building a rep based on her status as “Dr McKeith.” She claims that she will continue to call herself Gillian McKeith PhD but from Ben Goldacre’s leaked wording of the ASA text that was also going to be prohibited (note: this is in relation to advertising materials only).

This may be a small victory for common sense but it is still a victory!