Thursday, May 31, 2012

"Signature in the Cell," A review

I posted this to the US Amazon.com site, and have echoed it here in its original. My review provoked a particularly amusing response from the Disco'tute attack gerbil, Casey Luskin.

Regarding the grossly false creationist claims in "Signature in the Cell," I would first point out one of the things that most irritated me.

From about page 223 to 226, we have a cut n' paste with only trivial alterations from an 1998 article Meyer wrote, "DNA by Design," published in the prestigious biological journal "Journal of Rhetoric & Public Affairs." (Yes, that was sarcasm). Text from "DNA by Design" appears quite often in "Signature." The most irritating feature is that in ten years between that early text and "Signature," Meyer had not even bothered to update critical references, let along his outdated thinking. Most obvious was that in both publications, a footnote (#21 in "DNA") appears with nearly identical citations as the 1998 article. I'll quote it below, because if illustrates another problem with Meyer's so-called scholarship.

(from Meyer 1998, which appeared with trivial alteration as footnote 10-15 in Meyer 2009) 21. L. C. Berkner and L. L. Marshall, "On the Origin and Rise in Concentration in the Earth's Atmosphere," Journal of Atmospheric Science 22 (1965): 225-61; R. T. Brinkman, "Dissociation of Water Vapor and Evolution of Oxygen in the Terrestrial Atmosphere," Journal of Geophysical Research 74 (1969): 5354-68; Erich Dimroth and Michael M. Kimberly, "Pre-Cambrian Atmospheric Oxygen: Evidence in Sedimentary Distribution of Carbon Sulfur, Uranium and Iron," Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 13 (1976): 1161-85; J. H. Carver, "Prebiotic Atmospheric Oxygen Levels," Nature 292 (1981): 136-38; H. D. Holland, B. Lazar, and M. McCaffrey, "Evolution of Atmosphere and Oceans," Nature 320 (1986): 27-33; J. F. Kastings, S. C. Liu, and T. M. Donahue, "Oxygen Levels in the Prebiological Atmosphere," Journal of Geophysical Research 84 (1979): 3097-3102; Kerr, "Origin of Life: New Ingredients Suggested," 42-43; Thaxton et al., Mystery of Life's Origin, 73-94.

How did this vary in Meyer's "Signature?" Well, the publication dates, and journal data were all removed to a bibliography. But aside from formatting, Meyer added a two additional outdated references, Towe (1996), and Kasting (1993).

What did Meyer use this group of citations to support? That the late-Hadean, early-Archean had an oxygenated atmosphere, and that without "intelligent intervention," which in IDC speak means "goddidit," all chemical reactions on the primitive Earth result in "biologically irrelevant compounds-chemically insoluble sludge." (Meyer 2010, pg 226).

Meyer, in 1998, might have been justified in thinking that scientific opinion was divided among geochemists regarding the Earth's early redox state. After all he is not really a geologist, nor a chemist. But, even though his under-graduate geology degree was from a religious school, his continued ignorance was not justified in 2008-2009.

Publications, several by the very people Meyer has cited, since 1998 have conclusively made the case for a late-Hadean / early-Archean reduced atmosphere, or at most a neutral atmosphere with common, strongly reducing oasis. Even articles readily available prior to 2008 make this obvious, and subsequent research has "capped" the argument.

(For example, Catling, David C., Kevin J. Zahnle, Christopher P. McKay 2002 "Reply to Towe (2002)" Science letters v.295 (5559):1419a

Genda, Hidenori & Abe, Yutaka 2003 "Survival of a proto-atmosphere through the stage of giant impacts: the mechanical aspects" Icarus 164, 149-162 (2003).

Holland, Heinrich D. 1999 "When did the Earth's atmosphere become oxic? A Reply." The Geochemical News #100: 20-22

J. F. Kasting, J. L. Siefert,
2002 "Life and the Evolution of Earth's Atmosphere" Science 296:1066

Pavlov, Alexander, James K. Kasting, Jeninifer L. Eigenbrode, Katherine H. Freeman
2001 "Organic haze in Earth's early atmosphere: Source of low-13C Late Archean kerogens?" Geology v.29 no. 11:1003-1006

Ricardo, A., Carrigan, M. A., Olcott, A. N., Benner, S. A.
2004 "Borate Minerals Stabilize Ribose" Science January 9; 303: 196 (in Brevia)

Tian, Feng , Owen B. Toon, Alexander A. Pavlov, and H. De Sterck 2005 "A Hydrogen-Rich Early Earth Atmosphere" Science 13 May; 308: 1014-1017; published online 7 April 2005

And most recently,

E. T. Wolf and O. B. Toon 2010 "Fractal Organic Hazes Provided an Ultraviolet Shield for Early Earth" Science 4 June 328: 1266-1268 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1183260] (in Reports). Read their references for background.

Further, the late Stanley Miller's last posthumous publication, Cleaves, H. James, John H. Chalmers, Antonio Lazcano, Stanley L. Miller, Jeffrey L. Bada 2008 "A Reassessment of Prebiotic Organic Synthesis in Neutral Planetary Atmospheres" Orig Life Evol Biosph (2008) 38:105-115

makes the entire redox issue moot. The prolific natural production of complex biomolecules can take place in neutral to even slightly oxic atmospheres. And this was published in plenty of time to have been included in Meyer's thinking- if only he had been thinking.

1 comment:

EastwoodDC said...

And the Attack Gerbil responds in NINE parts. I think maybe you hit a sore spot.