Monday, April 29, 2019

James Tour: The Mystery of the Origin of Life

James Tour is a professional chemist. His principle work area was synthetic organic chemistry directly focused on building nano machines. He is published, and a tenured professor at Rice University, Texas.

Years ago he experienced a religious conversion and joined the “Jews for Jesus” faction. More recently he also began a second career of giving public lectures denying evolutionary biology, and particularly implying that life cannot exist without supernatural intervention by the Biblical God.

A recent example hosted by the Discovery Institute is a classic of its kind. It is both revealing that the Intelligent Design movement is just plain vanilla creationism, and that James Tour lies his ass off for money, adulation, and I suppose his hopes for salvation. The talk was presented at the 2019 Dallas Science and Faith Conference at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas and was sponsored by Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture.

There are too many falsehoods, and misrepresentations to review in detail. However, at about 43 minutes into the video, James Tour starts a rant accusing Harvard University professor, and Nobel Laureate Jack Szostak of lying. The Szostak article that Tour falsely claimed was "part of the primary literature" was a 2 1/2 page sketch published 9 May, 2018. It was not in the main section of Nature magazine, nor was it part of the "primary scientific literature." The Nature website makes this adamantly clear at the end of this short little intro to prebiotic sugar and the origin of life, quote, "This article is part of Innovations In The Biggest Questions In Science, an editorially independent supplement produced with the financial support of third parties."

This popularized, simplified item is just an outline, a sketch from the actual “primary literature.” The lead cartoon of an imaginary molecule hatching a bird sets the tone.

So who is lying?

James Tour shows a slide at 45:20 that was a clip from Szostak's little paper. The molecule structures are presented in a very simple manner. The core atoms are represented as colored dots, Carbon, Nitrogen, Oxygen, and Phosphorus. Hydrogen atoms are not shown, and all chemical bonds between atoms are represented by simple lines. The actual professional publication of this chemical reaction pathway is “Prebiotic synthesis of simple sugars by photoredox systems chemistry”


Highlighting the upper left molecules, Tour shouts, "Those are not sugars!" blah blah "That is fictitious! I don't know of any sugars that have that chemical composition. You don't know that! He is lying to you! That's not real!" 

The truth is that the illustration showed the structure of glyceraldehyde. This is the core of all sugar on Earth. This is undergraduate chemistry. This is the molecular structure James Tour insisted did not exist. This undergraduate level chemistry!

Seriously- undergraduate level chemistry.

Who is lying? 

Moving on we see another undergraduate level chemistry error that Tour made. At 45:58 of his little rant about Szostak, he insisted that there was no cyanide in the illustration above. There isn't any. The graphic clearly states "Cyanide derivatives."

In fact, the structural formulas are of cyanide derivatives. The one on the left is CN2, or cyanonitrene.

On the right is Cyanoethynyl

Create Date: 2005-08-08 

At 46:10 Tour starts to yap that the right most stick drawing is "not a nucleotide." From 46:10 to 46:20 Tour shouts “it is not the right structure, he could have at least used the right structure … “ In fact it is cytosine bound to ribose and the phosphate to the ribose. This is RNA's nucleoside cytidine. It is directly and spontaneously formed in nature from the starting chemistry.  It is the “right structure.”

And again showing the addition of the phosphate;

Above are two excellent graphic presentations that expose the failure of James Tour's grasp of basic biochemistry. They were prepared, and shared to me by the blogger "Evograd"

Who is lying?
There are multiple reaction pathways that would have been supported in the ancient Earth environment. I find that James Tour is badly mistaken.

In fact he is a liar.

The actual primary literature that Szostak used for his sugar origin illustration was “Prebiotic synthesis of simple sugars by photoredox systems chemistry” (Ritson, D. and Sutherland, J.D., 2012 Nature chemistry, 4(11), p.895).

There is in fact a large literature on the prebiotic origin of sugars essential for the origin of life that demonstrates many different reaction pathways. Here is a small sample;

Vázquez-Mayagoitia Á, Horton SR, Sumpter BG, Šponer J, Šponer JE, Fuentes-Cabrera M. 2011 "On the stabilization of ribose by silicate minerals" Astrobiology. 2011 Mar;11(2):115-21. doi:10.1089/ast.2010.0508. 

Weber AL. 1997 "Prebiotic amino acid thioester synthesis: thiol-dependent amino acid synthesis from formose substrates (formaldehyde and glycolaldehyde) and ammonia" Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere 28: 259-270.

Matthew W. Powner, Béatrice Gerland & John D. Sutherland, 2009 "Synthesis of activated pyrimidine ribonucleotides in prebiotically plausible conditions" Nature 459, 239-242 (14 May 2009)

Springsteen G, Joyce GF. 2004 "Selective derivatization and sequestration of ribose from a prebiotic mix" J Am Chem Soc. 2004 Aug 11;126(31):9578-83

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

It is very important to recognize that this chemistry even happens in outer space as demonstrated by this finding;

Cooper, George, Novelle Kimmich, Warren Belisle, Josh Sarinana, Katrina Brabham, Laurence Garrel 2001 "Carbonaceous meteorites as a source of sugar-related organic compounds for the early Earth" Nature 414, 879 – 883.

From 43:04 to 46:51, James Tour told 9 individual lies (not counting repeats, or what could be charitably attributed to his gross ignorance). 15 lies in under 4 minutes counting repeated lies. That is Trumpian. And, his lies are exposed by undergraduate level chemistry. They are not even sophisticated lies. They are stupid obvious lies.

Edit to add:  In a new development 3 May 2019, James Tour claimed he personally has apologized to Jack Szostak.

Dear Peter, thank you for writing to me. That was a strong word (“lying”) which I regret saying. I have already apologized to Jack Szostak by phone, and he very graciously accepted the apology. If given a chance, I would likewise apologize to any of those cited in that talk to whom I said such a thing. My behavior was inappropriate.

Like many things that I do and say in life, there are elements upon which I have regrets and wish that I had done differently. My life is filled with those occasions. In fact, I can literally claim almost daily I do something or say something which I wish I had not. Those closest to me get the brunt of it, but thankfully they have also been gracious in forgiving me. And for that I am thankful.

“O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:24-25a.

I do not read or write on blogs-- or almost never. So if you wish, you may post this on Peaceful Science, though my words were far from peaceful, to my shame.

God bless,
James Tour

(He did not post this to his YouTube rant slandering Prof. Jack Szostak and others. So, this slander is still ongoing).

Of course there are new questions that are suggested. I learned that at least one person emailed to Szostak about the Disco'tute YouTube. They also included a link to this blog post. Prof. Szostak replied that he would leave a personal message for Prof. Tour.

He said he might send Tour a personal message, but that publicly responding would be pointless because these people don't respond to facts.

The intermediary (They asked to be left anonymous. Why???) sent a similar email to James Tour suggesting he take down the Disco'tute YouTube to avoid "embarrassment," and also included the link. Tour's reaction was far different. He sent emails to the university where the intermediary teaches. His emails were to the Dean of the School of Medicine, and the Uni HRS. Tour accused that I was a stooge of the 'intermediary' and hinted we were merely trying to extort Tour, and the Disco'tute.


Well, things have certainly escalated.  I had also contacted Tour about this issue, and mentioned that your video might be coming out so he should consider getting ahead of the curve and taking down the video to reduce the damage that might be done to his professional reputation.  He has interpreted this as a threat and seems to think I am now the head of some vast conspiracy to extort him.  He has gone so far as to forward my emails to the dean of my department as well as other adminstrators.
What a drama queen.
So, the new questions added to all the others above;

Did Tour really apologize? After all, he lies his ass off for applause lines.
Will Tour post the "new facts" to the YouTube?
Will Tour insist that the creationists take down the Disco'tute video slandering Szostak, and others?

Inquiring minds... 


Joe G said...

Your entire position is a lie based on falsehoods.

Gary S. Hurd said...

That was your one, and only post Joe.

Azirahael said...

You mean Tour, right?

Gary S. Hurd said...

We got a push back from James Tour, and the Disco'tutes.

I have not even read it yet.

Gary S. Hurd said...

So, I read the Disco'tute whine.

It deserves a full force reply. Now I have a plan for tomorrow.

Azirahael said...

I look forward to reading it.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gary S. Hurd said...


Thanks for the content of you recent comment. However, I do not allow anonymous posting.

A minor quirk of mine.

Hill Strong said...

Mr Hurd,

I have only come to this post of yours because it is referenced on the Youtube video by Mr Tour. It is a part of the update relating to the comments about Mr Szostak and what is now available on Mr Tour's own website.

As you are a phychiatrist/anthropologist/archeologist, one would expect you to be somewhat more detailed in your criticisms. In your comment above as per "From 43:04 to 46:51, James Tour told 9 individual lies (not counting repeats, or what could be charitably attributed to his gross ignorance). 15 lies in under 4 minutes counting repeated lies. That is Trumpian. And, his lies are exposed by undergraduate level chemistry. They are not even sophisticated lies. They are stupid obvious lies.", you have not in any way detailed what lies Mr Tour has stated, nor why undergaduate level chemistry would show them as such. You do need to keep in mind that undergraduate chemistry doesn't really get into the complex organic chemistry that Mr Tour does in his normal day job.

In doing so, you have left yourself open to quite severe criticism. Unless you are willing to detail each occurrence and what in point of fact was the specific lie, one could take from this that you are simply offended and have decided that ad hominem attacks are an appropriate methodology.

I find this kind of thing distastful when non-experts engage in this, but it is even more so when those purporting to be experts in their respective fields carry this out.

As far as I am concerned, Mr Tour has his points to make and you have your points to make. However, his points about the lies being perpetrated by the Origin of Life researchers holds more weight based on the facts as presented and from my own study into the matter over the last forty years. Unless you can demonstrate that Mr Tour has deliberately and consistent lied about the matter, you are in a less tenable position.

So, again, detail the "lies" that you claim Mr Tour has made in the segemnt you mentioned and why they are lies.

I put this as a challenge to your scholarship.

Azirahael said...

"However, his points about the lies being perpetrated by the Origin of Life researchers holds more weight based on the facts as presented and from my own study into the matter over the last forty years." Then where is your case? Where is your evidence?

Unknown said...

Mr Strong,
I believe the lies are detailed clearly, particularly in the section "Who is lying?"

One obvious lie is that this is not the primary literature, as is explained in "In fact he is a liar." The primary literature is cited right at the top of this section. Another is that what Tour claims "isn't even a nucleotide" is. The textbook diagrams are on the right for comparison. If you don't see how they are the same, perhaps you could elaborate so I can better clarify your confusion.

Hope that helps.