Nobody Does It Dumber

« July 2008 »

Memo to Andy Schlafly: YOU ARE DUMB.

You gotta hand it to creationists. They're like the Terminators of stupid. They can't be bargained with, they can't be reasoned with, and they absolutely will not stop until long after you've given up and moved onto something more interesting. On the off chance you persist in thinking that eventually, a preponderance of scientific evidence will win them over, then let Andy Schlafly be your guide to enlightenment through lack of enlightenment. It's very Zen.

Andy Schlafly is the founder of Conservapedia. You remember Conservapedia. It's that right-wing answer to the ostensibly fact-based Wikipedia. It's also the only website on the planet to derive 99.5% of its traffic from the drive-by horrified mockery of people with functioning brain stems. Schlafly took issue with the biological research of Richard Lenski, who's been working with the nice version of everyone's favorite spinach contaminant, E. coli.

You see, E. coli doesn't eat citrate. You put E. coli in a petri dish full of citrate, and it's like bringing a vegan to a McDonalds. They'll smile politely, tell you they'll pick something up later, and secretly wonder what the fuck you were thinking bringing them there. But then a funny thing happened. A random mutation produced some E. coli that would, if you'll pardon the extension of the analogy, "try the Chicken McNuggets". And it wasn't long before the McNugget-loving bacteria thrived in the McNugget-rich environment. This is what those in the know call EVOLUTION.

This is a bit of a problem for creationists, because one of the things creationists like to say is that evolution has never been directly observed in a laboratory setting. And here we have the culmination of 20 years of work, directly observing evolution in a laboratory setting. Given the choice between reconstructing an entire, heavily-invested worldview based on known fact and remaining asshole creationists, Schlafly took the path of least resistance* and decided to discredit Lenski and his research.

If you're familiar with any of the right-wing attempts at investigative journalism over the years, from the Dan Rather memo to the 12-year-old kid promoting SCHIP, then you know the pattern. You start with a desired endpoint, and assume that every single thing you do not understand is a bread crumb leading to that endpoint. And since creationists are by their very nature obscenely lacking in understanding, their underlying principle of "If I cannot conceive of it, it is therefore inconceivable" got quite the hefty workout.

In this particular case, Schlafly read a New Scientist news article about Lenski's paper and fired off a request to Lenski for his data to help him assuage his skepticism. Lenski responded that, with a few minor omissions due to space considerations, that all the data was in the paper, which Schlafly hadn't read, and the rest of it would be on his website. Schlafly responded with what essentially boils down to "Why won't you give me your data, what have you got to hide?" Lenski, knowing full well what he was dealing with, responded appropriately.

Lenski's full and utterly devastating smackdown can be found here, but for those who enjoy paraphrasing, allow me to summarize in bullet form:

  • You're not very bright, are you?
  • I'm sorry, but this appears to be a twenty-dollar Wendy's gift certificate with the Wendy's logo crossed out and the words "PHd in Bilology" written over it in crayon. And "biology" has one "l".
  • I'm not sure what you think scientists do all fucking day, but I've got the bacteria right here. I've got the old bacteria, I've got the new bacteria, I've got genetic analysis coming out my tenured and well-toned ass. I've spent twenty years on this, and you run one of the biggest laughingstocks on the Internet, an environment where competition amongst laughingstocks is brutal and fierce.
  • You can have the data. Heck, you can have some of the bacteria. Of course, there are necessary regulatory and bureaucratic hoops you'll need to go to, as we don't actually pop used Styrofoam cups full of E. coli in the mail to any right-wing douchebag with an e-mail address.

At which point Conservapedia took the bold step of acting all hurt and putting lots of middle-school snark in any page even remotely related to the nouns and verbs under discussion, all the while looking way, way up at us from what they, with their keen grasp of science, perceive as the moral high ground. I'm not sure why they're bothering. It's not like Lenski's work is going to stop creationists from saying evolution has never been observed in the lab. They lie about six things before breakfast. They can fit in a seventh just by lingering over their Jimmy Dean patty.

Still, righteous indignation works better when you can convince yourself you've proven something, and I'm sure the Conservapedia Conservafluffle will provide just enough cover to allow creationists to sleep comfortably at night, convinced that Lenski is just one more cog in the great conspiracy Satan started when he buried all those bones.

*Also known as the path of most resistance to reality