I got email this morning…and so did every member of the science & math division at the University of Minnesota, Morris. This happens every once in a while, since our official email addresses are all publicly accessible, and anyone can grab them and spam the heck out of us all. What was unusual is that this email was directly addressed to me, personally, and the sender decided that he needed to put me in my place and flaunt his erudition to every one of my colleagues.
I am unperturbed by his effort, because in every case, without exception, the loon just ends up exposing his inanity. I mean, you’ve got to realize that trying to harass an entire university division is a poor decision in the first place, right? That thinking that most of the faculty are at all interested in your disagreement with me is somewhat delusional? That you’ve immediately put the wrong foot forward by arbitrarily spamming a whole mob of disinterested people with your long-winded and ultimately pathetic excuses?
You should have known that I’d happily post your email to my blog, where people can opt-in and choose to read the whole thing voluntarily. So yes, I include every word of the thing below.
It’s from Ted Steele, who wrote that very silly article, Cause of Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic?, in which he proposed that squid fell to earth in comets. I laughed at it in my article, Squids from SPAAAAAAAAACE!, and what has irritated him is that my criticisms were picked up by that prestigious newspaper, The Sun, in an article titled ARE YOU SQUIDDING? Are octopuses aliens? Bizarre new theory suggests the sea creatures’ eggs arrived on earth on a comet from outer space. So the real concern is that a bunch of working class blokes are going to be reading their paper down at the pub, looking for topless pics and anti-immigrant rants, and they’re going to stumble across this weird American egghead who thinks Ted Steele is full of crap.
I think he should be more concerned that The Sun finds his work amusing than that I think it’s garbage. But read on. He’s indignant.
Dear Dr Myers:
I am molecular immunologist and evolutionist of 50 years standing working on RNA and DNA editing processes couple to reverse transcription (RT) in the somatic hypermutation process and the germline evolution of antibody variable genes. I joined with Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues 2 years ago as there is too much evidence now to ignore that mature life forms have been impacting and seeding the Earth starting from about 4.1 billion years ago.
I am writing concerning your very public emotional reaction to our paper https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2018.03.004
You have just been quoted in The Sun (UK) 18 May 2018 as saying: “…. biologist P.Z. Myers ( University Minnesota , Morris) , who debunked the paper as “garbage,” and urged that the “novelties” in cephalopod evolution don’t point to octopuses having originally come from another planet.”
By Saqib Shah 18th May 2018, 10:01 amUpdated: 18th May 2018, 1:11 pm The Sun (UK)ARE YOU SQUIDDING? Are octopuses aliens? Bizarre new theory suggests the sea creatures’ eggs arrived on earth on a comet from outer space https://www.thesun.co.uk/tech/6316662/octopus-aliens-scientific-theory/
OK you have strong feelings here. No doubt the tabloid newspaper knew that, and that is why they contacted you – you make great copy for tabloids.
Whoa there, Dr Steele. That isn’t true. They give all of one sentence to mentioning me — I’m nothing but the briefest of nods towards researching any voice of dissent to your paper. They give two paragraphs to Karin Moelling, who points out that there is no evidence for your conclusion. We’re kind of tacked on to the end as the ignorable voices of reason, while 16 paragraphs and the title are all about your work. It’s quite clear that what makes “great copy for tabloids” is your loony ‘theory’.
Let me Dot–Point some key responses and share it all with your colleagues at University of Minnesota at Morris:
Do you really think they care? All this means is that I’m going to have to get on the university listserv and apologize for the kook who followed me home.
• List the “garbage” you say is in our paper. We are not garden variety Creationists nor Religious Cranks as you often put it – if you think that, you have made a huge mistake and have engaged the wrong guys here.
I never accused any of these guys of religious motivations — they are devotees of an entirely secular brand of nonsense. It’s also quite a long paper, a regular Gish Gallop of a paper, so no, I’m not going to dissect it line by line. It simply isn’t worth it. But one example of the kind of garbage ‘evidence’ they present is how they claim that diatoms are examples of organisms that fall to Earth from outer space, citing work by Wickramasinghe and Wallis, published in the Journal of Cosmology. They say they’ve identified diatoms in a meteorite. Unfortunately for them, it was then found to be a specific Earthly species of diatom, suggesting that all they’re looking at contamination.
• List also how the novelties in cephalopod evolution can be explained by current extant phylogenetic or other data.
We know that many of the novelties in cephalopod morphology arise as the product of genes shared with other molluscs…and with arthropods and vertebrates. In fact, core genes for metabolism, for instance, are shared with earthly bacteria. The cephalopod genome has been sequenced, and what leaps out at us is that it is an animal from planet Earth, sharing gene sequences with other organisms on this planet, and is linked to us by common descent. That is the hard fact that your panspermia theory pointedly ignores, that your squid from space somehow arrived here already carrying genes for protocadherins and zinc finger genes and Hox genes that were already universal among the animals on this planet.
• Clearly you have not read and understood our paper, otherwise you would never have deported yourself in public with such unscientific unbecoming statements.
I read your paper. I’ve also read extensively in the relevant scientific literature. You apparently have not, or you wouldn’t have made the absurdly comical claims in your paper. How did it get published, by the way? I can’t imagine how it could have made it through peer review. I see that Denis Noble, another antique anti-evolution crackpot, is one of the editors, so I suspect it got a little biased boost.
• Panspermia crowds out all Abiogenesis thinking and makes it quite unnecessary for understanding the Origins and further Evolution of Life on Earth. Such a perspective makes rapid adaptive Lamarckian mechanisms essential in Cosmic Biology – a living system travelling though space in a protective nurturing matrix (comet) will need to adapt quickly or die in its new cosmic niche after landing – a Darwinian necessity. This is the main reason I joined with Chandra Wickramasinghe in late 2015 – early 2016.
It would also make it unnecessary to consider the chemical origins of life on Earth if I claimed a space wizard poofed it into existence with his magic wand. That doesn’t make it true. Your logic is rather dubious here.
Also…comets are protective and nurturing? What universe are you from?
• In our view “Extraordinary evidence requires a complete rethink and then requires an extraordinary explanation” – this reverses the oft used skeptical mantra ” Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. It needs reversal here because the extraordinary evidence now exists.
Except that you didn’t provide any evidence in your paper. Waving your hands vigorously and citing the same fringe pseudoscientists over and over again is not evidence.
• All current facts in biology are interpreted within the frame of the “Terrestrial neo-Darwinian Paradigm”. We ask, among other questions, how many unusual facts can this theory accommodate? We have no doubt there are ongoing evolutionary processes also on Earth involving Darwinian and non-Darwinian mechanisms, as there would be in all other Cosmic habits.
No. They have to be interpreted within the known body of evidence, which points overwhelmingly to common descent and the origin of all known life on earth from a single ancestral source. You have to ignore a heck of a lot of evidence to postulate that squid are not related to jellyfish, fruit flies, and mice.
• Here are just two examples from our paper, which are paradigm shifting (that is, pure nonsense under the dominant terrestrial neo-Darwinian paradigm):
Finally, you get it right. Your claims are pure nonsense.
1. The Murchison meteorite (landed in Murchison, Victoria in 1969 and was immediately recovered, and curated in the city museum in Melbourne). It has eukaryotic fossils, at > 4.5 billion years old – older than the Solar System. EM Scans of internal sliced structures independently assessed by highly reputable workers show distinct biological cells and microfossils (some look like fruiting bodies typical of slime molds). Give me an explanation that avoids Panspermia for that finding. There are other carbonaceous meteorites with microfossils examined the same way. Contamination has been ruled out (Pflug and Heinz 1997, Hoover 2005, 2011, Miyake et al 2010). Thus eukayotic life is external to the Earth and at least >4.5 Billion years old.
No, billion year old life was not found in the Murchison meteorite. The kinds of evidence the panspermia guys cite is always embarassing: they throw bits of meteor in an EM and look for blobs that look to their untrained eyes like bacteria and algae and fungi. It’s pure undiluted pareidolia, and is totally unconvincing. You know, NASA has found bacteria on the Murchison meteorite, which is a totally mundane and even expected result…but it’s all contemporary organisms, which can be identified right down to the species level, and is the result of contamination.
2. The infra red extinction spectrum for interstellar cosmic dust in our Milky Way galaxy has the same signature as freeze dried E. coli (a common complex living cell). All our knowledge of the Universe, delivered by the scientific discipline of “Astronomy” has been built this way – get the spectrum (emission, absorption) in the laboratory on Earth- then focus the telescope on a cosmic source/object and ask – What is the spectrum or signature? Does it match that found in the Earth-based laboratory? All our chemical and physical knowledge of the Sun, other planets, comets, other stars etc. has been built up this way. Newton built his grand synthesis that way. As did Galileo and Kepler. Hoyle and Wickramasignhe predicted the match before they secured the astronomical observations (with Chandra’s brother Dayal Wickramasinghe and DA Allen at the ANU in Canberra):
The same match is seen in cometary ejecta tails (Halleys). We cover all this in the review (see Fig 1 and associated text, Hoyle et al 1982, 1984, Wickramsinghe DT and Allen 1986). Again, provide a better explanation that avoids Panspermia, that is , better than that published by Hoyle, Wickramasinghe et al. In 40 years no astronomer or physicist has provided a better explanation, but many astronomers have observed the match. It is an exact match – you cannot get better than that in Science.
You’ve got it all backwards. Cosmic chemistry is not a product of organic life, organic life is a product of cosmic chemistry. It is not a surprise that life uses elements in similar proportion to their representation on our planet and in our universe.
• In my considered opinion the situation now in Science is reminiscent to the problem Galileo had with the Catholic priests of his time – most refused to look through his telescope to observe the moons of Jupiter. It is the reason why we are entering the 2nd Copernican Revolution, as we outline at the end of our paper ( and discussed also by John Schuster in Appendix C).
The fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
• A severe refutation of the present H-W Panspermia theory would be, in our Solar System at least, the following: if the many life forms unequivocally to be found out there (not explained by human space flight contamination) did not share DNA, RNA, protein sequence relationships with extant terrestrial organisms, then that would be a severe blow, but not a complete refutation – but it would be a hole in the side of the ship, that is for sure. The theory would have to be amended to a different theory of multiple life sprouts throughout the Universe (and below) . We have a paper in submission to a peer review journal right now that addresses this very point (Abstract below) :
N. C. Wickramasinghe, Dayal T. Wickramasinghe2 Christopher A. Tout, , John C. Lattanzio and Edward J. Steele(2018) Cosmic Biology in Perspective
A series of astronomical observations obtained over the period 1986 to 2018 supports the idea that life is a cosmic rather than a purely terrestrial or planetary phenomenon. These include (1) the detection of biologically relevant molecules in interstellar clouds and in comets, (2) mid-infrared spectra of inter- stellar grains and the dust from comets, (3) a diverse set of data from comets including the Rosetta mission showing consistency with biology and (4) the frequency of Earth-like or habitable planets in the Galaxy. We argue that the conjunction of all the available data suggests the operation of cometary biology and interstellar panspermia rather than the much weaker hypothesis of comets being only the source of the chemical building blocks of life. We conclude with specific predictions on the properties expected of extra-terrestrial life if it is discovered on Enceladus, Europa or beyond. A radically different biochemistry elsewhere can be considered as a falsification of the theory of interstellar panspermia.
Oh god he just goes on and on, and these people just churn out the crap papers.
But what a twisted rationale! So now they’re arguing that if organisms were found that were not linked to the pattern of common descent of earthly life, if they were found to possess unique, truly alien DNA, that would be a refutation of their claims? You know, this doesn’t work as a test of an alternative hypothesis, because evolutionary theory predicts that all life has a common origin, too. That means their proposed test does not discriminate between the explanations, and is simply lazy science.
• So the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe claims are important to Science – and it has been suppressed and ignored for many years. Since I have great faith that other objective scientists confronted with the same array of data would behave like me and reach the same interpretation, I then tested it as I indicated above. I contacted many colleagues across disciplines around the world to see if they had confronted the data and agreed with the H-W interpretation. As you can see many agree with me – you don’t sign on lightly as a co-author to a peer-review paper in Science, particular in a hot potato area like Panspermia.
But, Ted, publishing garbage like that is what gets you the hot citations in The Sun!
I’m familiar with the evidence; I seem to have read more of it than you have. The array of data says rather plainly to any objective scientist that your interpretation is codswallop.
• But then it became imperative to communicate the H-W data across all disciplines and all fields of Science. Particularly biomedical science, where there has been little of no exposure to the work and findings of Hoyle-Wickramasinghe et al. So as I have explained it was decided to write the paper in plain English style, quite different from normal garden variety science reviews. As I said, our canvas is now the Universe, both Physical and Biological, therefore we had no other choice but to write it this way.
Oh, it is imperative, and your “canvas is now the Universe”. I always thought that the panspermia gang was rather grandiose, with it’s obsession with the Hoyle-Wickramasinghe cult of personality and always the same tiny clique of fanatics circle-jerking away. It’s all amazingly self-referential. You vomit up great clouds of papers, all citing each other, all self-affirming, all building a fantasy archipelago where you are the kings of reason, rather than the clown college of kooks that everyone else sees you as.
But I’ll let you indict yourselves. Your concluding paragraph is a real stunner.
• Finally with the Octopus let me paint a possible scenario for you ( Steele and Wickramasinghe 2018 unpublished scenario) :“About 275 million years ago, a good 250 million years after the Cambrian ( when the supposed precursor of Octopus appeared, the Nautus spp) the Moons of Saturn (Enceladus) and Jupiter (Europa) with their ice covered oceans are teeming with life particularly Cephalopods, Octopus and relatives. A huge comet or meteor impact blasts vast quantities of water bourne material into space which is snap frozen. These cosmic sized (huge) “Space Icebergs” bearing their millions of cryopreserved eggs of many living species (and bacteria and viruses) eventually impact into the oceans of Earth in a relative soft landings, many eggs survive and new living systems, such as Octopus take hold in their new Earthly ocean habitat and flourish in the shallows of the continental shelves (and many other ocean habits as well). This seeding of life leads to rapid adaptive spurts, driven by Lamarckian acquired inheritance mechanisms, and thus an adaptive radiation of new life forms which further evolve on Earth. This story, however farfetched at first reading, fits the available data not just for Octopus, but as Eldridge and Gould have taught us, many other adaptive radiations in the history of life on Earth.”
Wow. A suggestion: good science fiction needs a germ of credible science at its heart. That is a scenario that makes the movie The Core look like a well-researched geology documentary. I think it’s also been done; you might want to watch the movie Sharknado, because it’s about as biologically plausible as your bullshit.
OK, there’s a bit more to his letter — he included a literature cited section to his email. You can ignore it, it’s the same crowd of wankers all over again.
…………… Edward J Steele PhD
ASI, AIMS, ASCIA
CYO Foundation, Piara Waters, 6112
References & Related Reading cited
Gorczynski, R.M., Steele, E.J., 1980. Inheritance of acquired immunologic tolerance to foreign histocompatibility antigens in mice. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 77 , 2871 – 2875.
Gorczynski, R.M.,Steele, E.J., 1981. Simultaneous yet independent inheritance of somatically acquired tolerance to two distinct H-2 antigenic haplotype determinants in mice. Nature 289, 678 – 681. doi: 10.1038/ 289678a0
Hoover, R.B., 2005. Microfossils, biominerals, and chemical biomarkers in meteorites. In Perspectives in Astrobiology Eds Hoover RB, Rozanov AY, Paepe, RR IOS Press Amsterdam, pp 43 – 65.
Hoover, R.B., 2011. Fossils of cyanobacteria in CI1 carbonaceous meteorites: Implications to life on comets, Europa and Enceladus. J. Cosmology 16, 7070 – 7111.
Hoyle, F., et al., 1982. Infrared spectroscopy over the 2.9-3.9mm waveband in biochemistry and astronomy. Astrophys. Space Sci. 83, 405-409.
Hoyle, F., et al., 1984. The spectroscopic identification of interstellar grains. Astrophys. Space Sci. 98, 343e352.
Hoyle, F., Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1978b. Life Cloud. J.M. Dent Ltd, London.
Hoyle, F., Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1979. Diseases from Space. J.M. Dent Ltd, London.
Hoyle, F., Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1981. Evolution from Space. J.M. Dent Ltd, London.
Hoyle, F., Wickramasinghe, C., 1982. Why Neo-Darwinism Does Not Work. University College Cardiff Press. ISBN 0 906449 50 2.
Hoyle, F., Wickramasinghe, N.C., 1985. Living Comets. Univ. College, Cardiff Press, Cardiff.
Lindley, R., 2010. The Soma: How our genes really work and how that changes everything! ISBN1451525648, POD book Amazon.com, CYO Foundation.
Miyake, N., et al. 2010. Identification of micro-biofossils in space dust. J. Cosmology 7, 1743 – 1749
Pflug, H.D., Heinz, B., 1997. Analysis of fossil organic nanostructures: terrestrial and extraterrestrial. SPIE Proceedings on Instruments, Methods, and Missions for the Investigation of Extraterrestrial Microorganisms, 86 (July 11, 1997) , 3111 : doi:10.1117/12.278814
Steele, E.J. Somatic Selection and Adaptive Evolution : On the Inheritance of Acquired Characters. First Edition. Williams-Wallace, Toronto, 1979: Croom-Helm, London, 1980. 2nd Edition. Revised with an author’s Postscript , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981.
Steele, E.J.,2016a. Origin of congenital defects: stable inheritance through the male line via maternal antibodies specific for eye lens antigens inducing autoimmune eye defects in developing rabbits in utero. In Levin M, Adams DS Ahead of the Curve -Hidden breakthroughs in the biosciences Chapter 3. Michael Levin and Dany Spencer Adams IOP Publishing Ltd 2016, Bristol, UK.
Steele, E.J., Gorczynski, R.M., Pollard, J.W. 1984. The somatic selection of acquired characters. In: Evolutionary Theory: Paths into the Future. Ed. J.W. Pollard, John Wiley, London. pp 217-237.
Steele, E.J., Lindley, R.A., Blanden, R.V. 1998. Lamarck’s Signature : How retrogenes are changing Darwin’s natural selection paradigm. Allen & Unwin, Frontiers of Science: Series Editor Paul Davies , Sydney, Australia, 1998.
Steele, E.J., Lloyd, S.S., 2015. Soma-to-germline feedback is implied by the extreme polymorphism at IGHV relative to MHC. BioEssays. 37, 557 – 569.
Wickramasinghe, D.T., Allen, D.A., 1986. Discovery of organic grains in Comet Halley. Nature 323, 44 – 46.
Wickramasinghe, N.C., Steele, E.J., 2016. Dangers of adhering to an obsolete paradigm: Could Zika virus lead to a reversal of human evolution? J. Astrobiol. Outreach. 4:1 http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2332-2519.1000147
Wickramasinghe, N.C., et al., 2017 Sunspot cycle minima and pandemics: The case for vigilance? ? J. Astrobiol. Outreach. 5:2 http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2332-2519.1000159