Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, December 30, 2005

What's wrong with this experiment?

I thought I had a McGuffin when I saw this in a presentation at the Norheast Epidemiology Conference. At a Creation Science Fair in Texas, First Prize went to Eileen Hyde and Lynda Morgan (grades 10 & 11) who "did a project showing how the power of prayer can unlock the latent genes in bacteria, allowing them to microevolve antibiotic resistance. Escherichia coli bacteria cultured in agar filled petri dishes were subjected to the antibiotics tetracycline and chlorotetracycline. The bacteria cultures were divided into two groups, one group (A) received prayer while the other (B) didn't. The prayer was as follows: "Dear Lord, please allow the bacteria in Group A to unlock the antibiotic-resistant genes that You saw fit to give them at the time of Creation. Amen." The process was repeated for five generations, with the prayer being given at the start of each generation. In the end, Group A was significantly more resistant than Group B to both antibiotics."

Alas (or perhaps fortunately), this turns out to be a parody, which took in a lot of people. (Yes, we have a crack team of fact checkers.) However, there are real Creation Science Fairs, although it turns out the students seldom do anything that resembles an experiment, they just ramble on about how the Bible explains everything. The same turns out to be true of grownup "Creation Scientists". (I particularly recommend the essay entitled, "In the Early Earth, Were All the Months Exactly Thirty Days Long?")

The occasion for inflicting all this dreck on you is the astonishing case of Hwang Woo-suk. Now that it turns out his entire portfolio of biotechnological breakthroughs was fraudulent, and that the South Korean government's $65 million investment in his work was simply stolen, many people, particularly of the ilk linked above, are triumphantly claiming that the fundamental credibility of orthodox (as it were) science has been exploded.

The precise opposite is true, of course. Creation science cannot possibly be falsified, because it begins with the conclusion and reasons backward from there. If someone has the temerity to question some part of the chain of reasoning, creationists just introduce more epicycles. Real science, however, is credible precisely because it is falsifiable. If Hwang worked for the Institute for Creation Science, his pursuits obviously would have been different, but whatever they were, it would be impossible to discredit him.

And in this connection, I highly recommend the comments to my previous post.

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