Friday, July 18, 2008

Good Old Boy #63

Professor Richard Lenski is an evolutionary biologist. His research drew the unwelcome attentions of the man who runs Conservapedia, who made all sorts of criticisms of his work from a creationist perspective and demanded to see Lenski's research. Lenski gave a polite response, which led to a further tirade and set of bullying demands.

This prompted a lengthy, beautifully written and totally crushing response from Lenski:

It begins:

"I tried to be polite, civil and respectful in my reply to your first email, despite its rude tone and uninformed content. Given the continued rudeness of your second email, and the willfully ignorant and slanderous content on your website, my second response will be less polite. I expect you to post my response in its entirety; if not, I will make sure that is made publicly available through other channels.

I offer this lengthy reply because I am an educator as well as a scientist. It is my sincere hope that some readers might learn something from this exchange, even if you do not.

First, it seems that reading might not be your strongest suit given your initial letter, which showed that you had not read our paper, and given subsequent conversations with your followers, in which you wrote that you still had not bothered to read our paper..."

My favourite bit is:

"But perhaps because you did not bother even to read our paper, or perhaps because you aren't very bright, you seem not to understand that we have the actual, living bacteria that exhibit the properties reported in our paper, including both the ancestral strain used to
start this long-term experiment and its evolved citrate-using descendants. In other words, it's not that we claim to have glimpsed "a unicorn in the garden" - we have a whole population of them living in my lab! [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Unicorn_in_the_Garden]
And lest you accuse me further of fraud, I do not literally mean that we have unicorns in the lab. Rather, I am making a literary allusion. [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allusion]... "

and the letter finishes with four postscripts, culminating with this:

"P.P.P.P.S. I noticed that you say that one of your favorite articles on your website is the one on "Deceit." That article begins as follows: "Deceit is the deliberate distortion or denial of the truth with an intent to trick or fool another. Christianity and Judaism teach that deceit is wrong. For example, the Old Testament says, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.'" You really should think more carefully about what that commandment means before you go around bearing false witness against others."

Via Crooked Timber, the whole correspondence can be found here

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