Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Scientific community, a brutal place

There's an interesting article in today's NY Times Science Section on the dispute over who discovered 2003 EL61, a large orbiting object in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune.

Seems like an observatory in Granada, Spain may have obtained information over the internet (using a search engine) to find data that a second group of scientists have been collecting for quite a while. It's entirely possible that the first group was indeed tracking the object and just discovered that they had competitors.

One thing that the public does not fully appreciate about Science is that it is a brutal place to work in. There is massive competition and you are constantly defending your views (or models) this leads to a massive amount of introspection regarding your beliefs and a fair amount of stress. Reading the news papers and watching stupid debates such as the whole ID affair I'm just amazed. Clowns like Michael Behe, who parades around misquoting people and never backing up his assertions with data, would perish in a moment in the highly competitive landscape of Science (at the highest level). People are constantly judged ... not on their personality but on the quality of their data, and the ability to come up with novel concepts and the INSIGHT their models provide. If you don't believe me go to PubMed (THE search engine for biological abstracts) and type in the search Behe_MJ. What do you get? 37 Abstracts. Here are the first 10:

1: Behe MJ, Snoke DW.
A response to Michael Lynch.Protein Sci. 2005 Sep;14(9):2226-7. No abstract available. PMID: 16131653 [PubMed - in process]

2: Behe MJ, Snoke DW.
Simulating evolution by gene duplication of protein features that require multiple amino acid residues.Protein Sci. 2004 Oct;13(10):2651-64. Epub 2004 Aug 31. PMID: 15340163 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

3: White S, Meier W, Lovell F, McCoy A, Robinove CJ, Creelan TF, Brun R, Gordon I, MacWest R, Collier IE, Gish DT, Hartmann WK, Behe MJ.
Educators have hard choices; nationally, not just in Kansas.Science. 2000 Aug 11;289(5481):869-71. No abstract available. PMID: 10960317 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

4: Behe MJ.
Tracts of adenosine and cytidine residues in the genomes of prokaryotes and eukaryotes.DNA Seq. 1998;8(6):375-83. PMID: 10728822 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

5: Behe MJ.
Embryology and evolution.Science. 1998 Jul 17;281(5375):348. No abstract available. PMID: 9705708 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

6: Mahloogi H, Behe MJ.
Oligoadenosine tracts favor nucleosome formation.Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1997 Jun 27;235(3):663-8. PMID: 9207216 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

7: Agarwal S, Behe MJ.
Non-conservative mutations are well tolerated in the globular region of yeast histone H4.J Mol Biol. 1996 Jan 26;255(3):401-11. PMID: 8568885 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

8: Behe MJ.
An overabundance of long oligopurine tracts occurs in the genome of simple and complex eukaryotes.Nucleic Acids Res. 1995 Feb 25;23(4):689-95. PMID: 7899090 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

9: Puhl HL, Behe MJ.
Poly(dA).poly(dT) forms very stable nucleosomes at higher temperatures.J Mol Biol. 1995 Feb 3;245(5):559-67. PMID: 7844826 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

10: Puhl HL, Behe MJ.
Structure of nucleosomal DNA at high salt concentration as probed by hydroxyl radical.J Mol Biol. 1993 Feb 20;229(4):827-32. PMID: 8445650 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

OK so since 1993 what has he done? The last time he published an experiment on the bench was 1997 ... in BBRC??? (A third rate journal, sorry to all those that have published there, but it's the truth). And before that, a paper on how Histones (which are used to package DNA) can TOLERATE mutations (so much for his irreducible complexity) - and is actually not very interesting. If anything he makes a big deal about how histones could potentials change faster than they actually do. Then some other minor papers (#9,10). The rest? OPINIONS in various journals (#1,3,4,5,8) and a computer model of how its hard to evolve (#2) - hmm I guess he's trying to be a Systems Biologist.

Now there is some "politics" in Science, but compared to other fields it's not that bad, and there are so many institutes and funding agencies that even people who have many enemies, but still produce interesting data and models (sorry that disqualifies you Behe), can make a living and be heard in the scientific discussion.

Reading Behe's website, he sites all this old data he published over 10 years ago (except for the BBRC publication). This lab is dead. And what has he found, how nucleosomes bing poly-pyrimidine tracks? My oh my. Excuse me for sounding like some snotty Ivy League researcher, but my PhD thesis provided more insight than this guy's work! And this fight that he leads of ID over evolution is so stupid. But meanwhile real battles over data like the one above, or over models, rage on in Science ... out of the public spotlight.