Having discussed Conservapedia the other day it’s incumbent on me to provide a link to perhaps its most notorious run-in with the real world. It’s also an example of a wicked takedown, which appears to have become a recurring theme of this blog during its short life.
This is the writeup by a website called RationalWiki. Richard Lenski is a microbial biologist at Michigan State University, best known for a long-running experiment in which he has observed changes in the biology of cultures of bacteria that he has cultivated over tens of thousands of generations. The fact that this suggests the bacteria are evolving is offensive to Conservapedia editors, who appear to hold the view that evolution does not occur and that scientists who claim it does are deliberately falsifying their research. Andrew Schlafly, the founder of Conservapedia, wrote to Lenski to try to clear up some difficulties he had with one of Lenski’s key papers. The resulting correspondence became heated.
You really need to read through all the letters to appreciate the full force of Lenski’s closing diatribe, but some choice excerpts include:
…it is apparent to me, and many others who have followed this exchange and your on-line discussions of how to proceed, that you are not acting in good faith in requests for data. From the posted discussion on your web site, it is obvious that you lack any expertise in the relevant fields. Several of your acolytes have pointed this out to you, and that your motives are unclear or questionable at best, but you and your cronies dismissed their concerns as rants and even expelled some of them from posting on your website.
It is my impression that you seem to think we have only paper and electronic records of having seen some unusual E. coli. If we made serious errors or misrepresentations, you would surely like to find them in those records. If we did not, then – as some of your acolytes have suggested – you might assert that our records are themselves untrustworthy because, well, because you said so, I guess. 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]