Friday, October 26, 2007

Science at its best when at its worst

Brought to you by way of my friend Eric from NC, here's a wonderful story from the NY Times. I also gaffled the title of this post from him. Hey - I might not be original with this post, but at least I give credit where credit is due.

Essentially, the story is about a retired chemistry professor, Homer Jacobson, who discovered that a paper he published in 1955 has ben much cited by creationists to discredit Darwinism. D'OH!! The paper, " Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life" was published in American Scientist, and deals with speculations on the chemical qualities of earth in Hadean time, billions of years ago when the planet was beginning to cool down to the point where, as Dr. Jacobson put it, “one could imagine a few hardy compounds could survive.” Apparently, nobody cared about the paper then, but when Prof. Jacobson Googled his own name, he discovered to his great dismay that in addition to links to his work on polymers and information theory, there were many entries for and links to creationist sites that have taken up his 1955 paper as scientific support for their views., for example, says Dr. Jacobson’s paper “undermines the scenario that life could have come about by accident.” Another creationist site,, says his findings mean that “within a few minutes, all the various parts of the living organism had to make themselves out of sloshing water,” an impossible feat without a supernatural hand.

“Ouch,” Dr. Jacobson said. “It was hideous.”

So as he re-read his paper, he found some errors (after all, it was 1955, and it would have been downright miraculous if a state-of-the-art hypothesis presented then wouldn't have been at least upgraded more than 50 years later), following which the good Professor went right ahead and retracted it. In response to the context in which his work has been cited, Dr. Jacobson writes in his retraction letter “I am deeply embarrassed to have been the originator of such misstatements.”

That is old-school.

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