Career day at the Discovery Institute preschool

“Hi, kids! My name is Barbie, and I’m like Britanny’s aunt, and I’m a model, you know? And I don’t like math? And you know, I never use math? But you know, when you grow up, you can just hire an accountant, so you don’t need math! Skip math class and hang out in the girl’s room touching up your makeup!”

“Greetingth, young mathterth. I am Igor, thon of Igor, father of Igor. I dig graveth for a living. You don’t need to read to do thith work: a thtrong back, a lack of thcrupleth, and a willingneth to do dirty work will carry you a long way. The mathter may thend you to fetch thingth now and then, but by not reading the labelth on the jarth, you will get fun thurpritheth! Tell your English teacherth they are only good for thpare partth.”

“Dudes and dudettes! Have I got good new-ews for you-oos. I’m Pauly Shore, the wea-sel, and that’s my nephew, the lit-tle wea-sel, eating paste over there…and guess what? No, guess what? There’s a mar-ket for being really, really, really dumb! Don’t go to school, PAR-TAY!”

“My name is Dr. Michael Egnor, M.D., and I am a neurosurgeon. Doctors don’t study evolution. Doctors never study it in medical school, and they never use evolutionary biology in their practice. There are no courses in medical school on evolution. There are no ‘professors of evolution’ in medical schools. There are no departments of evolutionary biology in medical schools.

In case you ever doubted that the Discovery Institute’s real goal is the promulgation of ignorance, that’s a genuine quote: Michael Egnor is directly addressing high school kids and telling them they don’t need to learn basic biology, because he doesn’t use it. I well believe he doesn’t — he does seem to be woefully ignorant of the subject, that’s for sure — but then, he’s not asking the kinds of questions that are answered with evolutionary biology. I don’t expect my auto mechanic to have a mastery of evolutionary principles, either, but I’d be a bit pissed off if she were telling the school board to shut down everything but the shop classes at the high school.

That same arrogant ignorance also leads him to misrepresent modern medicine. Of course there are doctors who study evolutionary biology and use it in their research, and there are professors who study evolutionary issues in medical schools. Egnor is being as unethical and dishonest as my imaginary career day advocates who suggest that their personal stupidity about a subject means it has no utility in any context at all.

Check in to the Panda’s Thumb —Burt Humburg has finished a rebuttal that shreds Egnor. Northstate Science has more, ERV tears him a new one, and Afarensis exposes more lies.


  1. says

    If you needed treatment for a brain tumor… There would be no evolutionary biologists on your team.

    Oops! Guess I might as well not go into work on Monday! Looks like I dont exist, nor does my boss or his collaborator, and certainly not our current research where we are trying to increase the efficacy of traditional cancer therapies through a process that would be impossible without evolution.


  2. Bob O'H says

    Igor is clearly a pseudonym: he’s actually a well-known ex-marine and retired Dell millionaire.


  3. waldteufel says

    I was dumbfounded by Egnor’s bald and proud ignorance of basic biology.

    I could almost imagine Casey Luskin prancing about and clapping his little hands with glee as Egnor rendered his paen in praise of ignorance.

  4. aiabx says

    Don’t be hard on Igors. They are a well respected class on the Discworld, and definitely a cut above (oops!) creationists.

  5. says

    Egnor is proud of being a highly-paid plumber who only fixes things that are broke, without any understanding of how they came to be what they are or how they fit into the rest of the world.

    I might want him to be the guy at the other end of a scalpel. His manual dexterity, eyesight and nerves might be good enough to carry out the mere technical aspects of an operation well. I wouldn’t want him as my doctor because I want curiosity, openness and, above all, intelligence in the person who I am entrusting my health to. There is more to being a doctor than just technique.

  6. Bob O'H says

    In the article, Egnor wrote:

    No Nobel prize in medicine has ever been awarded for work in evolutionary biology.

    Note firstly that the prize is for Physiology or Medicine. Then, look who got the prize in 1973. Part of the press release reads:

    The way out of this dilemma [between vitalists, reflexologists and behaviourists] was indicated by investigators who focused on the survival value of various behaviour patterns in their studies of species differences. Behaviour patterns become explicable when interpreted as the result of natural selection, analogous with anatomical and physiological characteristics.

    and ends

    Research within these fields has led to important results for, e.g. psychiatry and psychosomatic medicine, especially as regards possible means of adapting environment to the biological equipment of man with the aim of preventing maladaptation and disease.

    I hate to say this about a fellow academic, but Egnor lied.


  7. complex_field says

    A standard text, in use at SIU Medical School:

    Biochemistry by Voet and Voet. (Wiley Publishers, 2004, ISBN 0-471-19350-x)

    Description at “Don and Judy Voet explain biochemical concepts while offering a unified presentation of life and its variation through evolution. Incorporates both classical and current research to illustrate the historical source of much of our biochemical knowledge.”

    Doctors don’t use evolution? Dork

  8. Bryn says

    Fascinating. A neurosurgeon that can’t figure out how to enter the words “medical school” and “evolution” into a Google search. It’s not as many as I’d like to see, but according to the *very first hit*, there’s an article from the Summer 2006 issue of Stanford University’s “Stanford Medical Magazine” that says:

    “A query of an American Association of Medical Colleges database that contains detailed information about the course offerings of the majority of U.S. medical schools turned up only eight medical schools with any courses mentioning “evolution.””

    Last time I checked, 8 is greater than “none.” I can only hope that any research he does into a medical problem is more thorough than that which he does on evolution.
    The full article is here:

  9. Elf Eye says

    Hmm. Let me apply Egnor’s approach to Copernicus. Copernicus figured out that the earth revolves around the son without the benefit of the data and theories generated by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton. I guess that means the theory of gravity and the theories of motion are either wrong or unnecessary. Yep. No need to study to classical modern physics or astronomy or shite like that. Let’s just stop with Aristotle.

  10. Elf Eye says

    Sigh. Let me try again: No need to study modern physics or astronomy or shite like that.

  11. says

    Wow. Rarely does one see a supposedly educated person write such a dedicated paean to willful ignorance.

    BTW, I don’t think there are any departments of plant biology in medical schools either, despite the fact that digitalis, aspirin, morphine, and Taxol are among the many drugs with botanical origins. Are people really swayed by Egnor’s demented “logic”? That would be really, really frightening.

    (I can picture Egnor’s comment on the above: “Besides, everyone knows that a plant poisoned Socrates.”)

  12. melior says

    I’ve performed over 4000 brain operations.

    How many of his patients did God let die anyway?

  13. says

    Dr. Egnor is woefully ignorant of the potential applications of evolutionary biology to the study of medical pathologies. Here‘s a paper that my old lab was involved in where they identified one of the genes responsible for Bardet-Biedl Syndrome (a disease involving kidney malfunctions and mental retardation) by doing a three-way genome comparison in which they subtracted the nonflagellated proteome of Arabidopsis from the shared proteome of the ciliated/flagellated organisms Chlamydomonas and human. If that’s not DIRECT application of evolutionary theory to medicine, I don’t know what is…

  14. DC says

    “…Tell your English teacherth they are only good for thpare partth.”

    I think you channeled Daffy Duck for that paragraph.

    B-b-be, b-b-b-be-buh-buh, b-b-b-Right away, Captain Dodgers!

  15. T. Bruce McNeely says

    I guess Dr. Egnor(amus) was doing bong hits during his microbiology classes in med school. I wonder if he’s still using sulfasoxazol and penicillin G for all his patients with infections?

  16. says

    Choose 0, 1, 2, 3, or 4 of these:

    (1) Brain Surgery: It’s not Rocket Science.
    (2) Rocket Science: It’s not Brain Surgery.
    (3) Creation Science: It’s Not Science.
    (4) Medical School: It’s Not School.

    Charles Darwin dropped out of Med School when he fainted at the sight of blood during the first time he observed a sliced-up human at an operating theatre. Dr. Michael Egnor, M.D., graduated from and teaches at a medical school, so we are supposed to presume that he’s the greater man than Charles Darwin?

    Intelligent Designers with knives in hand… scary thought!

    Oh, and what do you call the Med School student who graduates with the lowest grade point average?


  17. Rey Fox says

    I feel so deprived now. I went through six years of post-elementary and pre-college education and not once did I ever hear from an authority figure that I need not know anything of any subject I wasn’t interested in and yet was still required to learn, like history. How nice it would have been for my cynical laziness to be encouraged! What a field day I could have had with my history teacher! What a banner day it could have been for teenagerdom!

    It was just a couple weeks ago that the people on this blog tried patiently to educate him on evolution (well, not everyone was patient and nice, but enough people were), and look where it got us.

    It’s a good thing he’s just ranting on a fringe web site and that most likely no actual school would let him anywhere near their students with such claptrap.

  18. demallien says

    In the interest of summarising, I’ve taken the last word of each post, and put them in a list. They do a fair job of hitting the highpoints of a summary I think :-)

    Here they are:

    Jerk, millionaire, ignorance, creationists, technique, no!, meesh, lied, dork, here, Aristotle, aneurysm!, that, Socrates, anyway, immoral, is, Dodgers, infections, Doctor, claptrap.

  19. Graham Douglas says

    As aiabx (sort of) says: don’t diss the Igors. You never know when you might need a hand.

  20. hooligans says

    I recently had a wisdom tooth pulled. I asked my dentist, who I respect immensly, why do these teeth come in and always cause people trouble? He, who didn’t study evolutionary biology, replied that, back in our human history, we didn’t have the same diet as we had now and that our wisdom teeth would move into place about the time our others were worn out. He said that this was an important evolutionary adaptation, but in our modern society, it often caused people problems. Gee, he didn’t have to know that to pull my wisdom tooth, but he did and it made sense. I was impressed.

  21. BlueIndependent says

    Well Mr. Egnor’s article should be perfect for use as leverage against him any time he feels the need to talk about evolution. We’ll just present that little piece by him, and say “before you move further with this guy’s argument, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention this…”

    For Mr. Egnor to advocate people not going into a particular field, let alone in front of budding high school students, is a sign that he’s not all that interested in learning, only taking in enough to do a job, and then going for it. Mr. Egnor likely didn’t take a Quantum Physics class in school, either; Is that subject now in question? And the pontificating about the uselessness and empty contributions of evolution…he apparently doesn’t like reading. It’s even more tragically ironic for him to claim he’s the one seeing design, when he doesn’t even deal with the very basic biological level required for him to see what he sees in his work. “Astonishing evidence for design”? It amounts more to astonishing evidence of incredulity, and a lack of belief in LLL (Lif-Long Learning).

  22. AL says

    So when Egnor claims that doctors never use evolutionary biology in their practice, does that include doctors who are cautious about over-prescribing antibiotics because they are aware of the evolutionary consequences of selecting bacteria for resistance?

  23. says


    I think the wisdom teeth explanation is more complicated.

    Millions of years ago, our ancestors had larger mouths and jaws. (Think of the snout on a chimp.) The wisdom teeth fit nicely into their heads. Wisdom teeth haven’t been that much of a problem for humans and may have been an advantage because of the reason the dentist explain: missing teeth left room to push the teeth around. However, the main reason they get impacted is because we have evolved smaller jaws.

  24. says

    I wish Michael Egnor was my patient. He wrote an article for the Discovery Institute arguing that there’s no reason for doctors to study evolution. If Egnor was my patient, I’d have a use for all that expired influenza vaccine. I could jut give him the same vaccine year after year as there would be no reason to give a new one. (We’ll ignore the question of whether he’d even need to repeat the influenza vaccines. After all–he ignores basic biology.)

    Egnor would also be great as an HMO patient. No need to use those expensive new antibiotics under any circumstance. As antibiotic resistance cannot occur, I could always stick with the older, cheaper antibiotcs.

    More at Liberal Values

  25. Steve_C says

    We know it’s all superstitious hooey but I respect the intentions… hehe;_ylt=AjPDyiau30FwCwqUCwsQefTMWM0F

    GUATEMALA CITY – Mayan priests will purify a sacred archaeological site to eliminate “bad spirits” after President Bush visits next week, an official with close ties to the group said Thursday.

    “That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture,” Juan Tiney, the director of a Mayan nongovernmental organization with close ties to Mayan religious and political leaders, said Thursday.

  26. Rey Fox says

    Ron & AL: Yeabut yeabut yeabut…that’s all micro. Them viruses didn’t turn into cockroaches.

  27. Dianne says

    There are no courses on evolution in med school? There aren’t any courses on arithmatic, organic chemistry, or basic biology either. You’re expected to know that sort of K-12 level stuff before you start med school.

  28. says

    AL: Indeed. Isn’t microbiology, immunology, pharmacology, nutrition, etc. to some degree in the medical school curriculum? Not to mention genetics, anatomy (surely cadavers aren’t used for everything), physiology, biochemistry, psychology, etc.

  29. says

    Considering the preceeding article, isn’t a little “spocking” called for? Can’t you be disbarred from the medical profession, or at the very least from scientific bodies for exhibiting such idiocy? Shouldn’t he be called to explain himself before his peers?

    It’s one thing to have a wacky theory, it’s another to enforce ignorance on yourself and others. Too spanish inquisition?

  30. says

    Oh no! This guy is going to give Orac an aneurysm!

    True, and I wouldn’t want Egnor to operate on me for that aneurysm.

    Patience, though, any who might be expecting me to comment. I’ll probably write something about this tomorrow. Everyone’s already said so much and Burt’s fisking is truly epic; so I need a different angle if I’m to write about it at all.

  31. ProfWombat says

    Evolution is, of course, utterly basic to the day-to-day practice of infectious disease specialists…

  32. Corn says

    No evolution in medicine, right?

    Nature Reviews Cancer 2007 Mar;7(3):213-21.
    Title: “Darwinian Medicine”


    Nature Reviews Cancer 6, 924-935 (December 2006)
    Title: “Cancer as an evolutionary and ecological process”

    Case closed.
    P.S.: Neologism of the day “Egnorance”.
    Let’s coin this!!!