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'55 Science Paper Retracted to Thwart Creationists 858

Posted by Zonk
from the falling-on-his-sword dept.
i_like_spam writes "The New York Times has up a story about a paper published in 1955 by Homer Jacobson, a chemistry professor at Brooklyn College. The paper, entitled 'Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life', speculated on the chemical qualities of earth in the 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.' Nobody paid much attention to the paper at the time, but today it is winning Dr. Jacobson acclaim that he does not want — from creationists who cite it as proof that life could not have emerged on earth without divine intervention. So after 52 years, he has retracted the paper. 'Dr. Jacobson's retraction is in "the noblest tradition of science," Rosalind Reid, editor of American Scientist, wrote in its November-December issue, which has Dr. Jacobson's letter. His letter shows, Ms. Reid wrote, "the distinction between a scientist who cannot let error stand, no matter the embarrassment of public correction," and people who "cling to dogma."'"
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'55 Science Paper Retracted to Thwart Creationists

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  • by BWJones (18351) * on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:36PM (#21118857) Homepage Journal
    This retraction is to be simultaneously celebrated and mourned. Celebrated in the sense that we have a true scientist who will hold up the scientific process and make every effort to prove himself and the community of scientists wrong in order to make the science stronger. When we have individuals that fail to attempt to prove their work as incorrect, we have to acknowledge that they are being driven by other motives and they are not to be trusted.

    This noble effort is also to be mourned because of the manipulation and steering of science to fill political goals driven by lack of scientific understanding in the wider community.

    • Likely result (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheMeuge (645043) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:39PM (#21118905)
      The creationist zealots will likely take this bit of news, and embrace it as evidence that the scientific community is trying to be deceitful by withdrawing a "clearly correct" paper, for political reasons.

      The amount of confirmation bias that people can exhibit when their passions are challenged is incredible.
      • by vought (160908) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:43PM (#21118973)
        The amount of confirmation bias that people can exhibit when their passions are challenged is incredible.


        I can think of about 25% of the U.S. population who prove your statement incontrovertibly true.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Nimey (114278)
          Funny, I thought Bush had a 30% approval rating.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Itchyeyes (908311)
          I can think of about 100% of the US population who prove his statement incontrovertibly true. Everyone is biased. The difference is between the ones who are aware of their own biases and those who are deluded into thinking that they aren't.
          • by bendodge (998616) <bendodge.bsgprogrammers@com> on Thursday October 25, 2007 @06:09PM (#21120347) Homepage Journal
            Are you sure that isn't just your bias?
          • Re:Likely result (Score:5, Insightful)

            by ultranova (717540) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @06:19PM (#21120467)

            Everyone is biased. The difference is between the ones who are aware of their own biases and those who are deluded into thinking that they aren't.

            Nah. The difference is between the people who are aware of their biases - namely, me and everyone who agrees with me - and people who are sadly deluded and too caught up in the web of deceit or just plain too stupid to realize it or too stubborn to admit it, or who actually purposefully and maliciously lying and/or engaged in a huge conspiracy against the truth for whatever reason.

            If you or the moderators disagree, that's just because your bias of thinking yourself as objective. Let go of your bias and support the objective point of view by modding me up ;).

            The thing is, we humans don't actually perceive reality, we perceive an approximation of it, produced by our senses and mental faculties. It is impossible to know how closely your approximation actually resembles reality as a whole or at any particular point, because you have no way of comparing it to reality proper, because the latter is not perceptible to you. That's why people usually assume that their approximation is a good match and anyone who disagrees is wrong or biased. And this is assuming that a particular perception is actually based on some objective reality, which is not at all certain for things like moral values.

            What this means is that no one is truly aware of their own biases, since that awareness could only be gained by comparing your approximation of reality to reality proper, which is impossible. You, gentle reader, are biased, and not aware of all of your biases, no matter how certain you are of your own objectivity. You can trust me on this, because I clearly am truly objective, being aware of all this :).

      • by east coast (590680) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:44PM (#21118983)
        The amount of confirmation bias that people can exhibit when their passions are challenged is incredible.

        Are you talking about the "humans caused global warming" crowd?
      • Ironic curiosity (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JeanPaulBob (585149) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:56PM (#21119159)

        The creationist zealots will likely take this bit of news, and embrace it as evidence that the scientific community is trying to be deceitful by withdrawing a "clearly correct" paper, for political reasons.

        The amount of confirmation bias that people can exhibit when their passions are challenged is incredible.
        Hmm. Out of curiosity, on what basis are you determining that such a slant would be incorrect? Obviously, you're right that confirmation bias would lead to that slant, but that doesn't say anything about whether it's correct--nor would your own biases to view such a slant as zealotry.

        Where is your own opinion here coming from? Do you have the knowledge & understanding of the facts of the situation to know that such a slant would be wrong? Or does it just fit your own nice package of preconceived notions?
      • Even Einstein cooked his own theories because they did not fit his religious beliefs. After a while he came around and retracted his cooked theories.

        In the 1960s, tectonic plate theory was poo-pooed as being bulshit. The PhDs of the day would ridicule tectonics and instead forwrd their own highly implausable theories. These same learned people later withdrew their claims as anti-tectonic claims became unsustainable..

        Folks, science advances and so does knowledge. Material, particularly that based on opinion

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by MightyMartian (840721)

          Even Einstein cooked his own theories because they did not fit his religious beliefs.


          This ought to be good. What religious beliefs did Einstein have?
          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by drxenos (573895)
            That God didn't play dice with the universe! (Sorry, couldn't help myself.)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        'withdrawing a "clearly correct" paper, for political reasons."

        But isn't that exactly what has happened?

        And, if it isn't "correct", then what else has scientists written that isn't "correct" yet still remains because it DOES support the current dogma (eg Global Warming/Cooling)?

        The point I'm making isn't pro-creationist/anti science or pro-science/anti creationist but rather trying to make the case that conclusions of science can be wrong, and yet still be accepted by scientists, who are blinded by current
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ironwill96 (736883)
      You're right, it should be celebrated and mourned. To me, it is bothersome that the Scientific community would celebrate it as thwarting "those who cling to dogma".

      Dogma implies that people of faith are following something merely because it is pushed by a church and hammered into their skulls, not that people are capable of independent thought and coming to their own conclusions. As a person who does believe in some faith, I seem to be in a small minority (maybe a less vocal group) on Slashdot, but all of
      • by BWJones (18351) * on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:05PM (#21119311) Homepage Journal
        You're right, it should be celebrated and mourned. To me, it is bothersome that the Scientific community would celebrate it as thwarting "those who cling to dogma".

        I am unaware of any scientist who is celebrating this as a thwart to "those who cling to dogma". What we are celebrating is the willingness of a scientist to retract his own work when it failed to be held up to scientific investigation and contained errors. The willingness of the classically trained scientist to search for veracity and be enthusiastic enough to put their work up for criticism by ones colleagues while also be willing to retract work that cannot be held as scientific fact is what is to be celebrated.

      • by Lord Ender (156273) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:11PM (#21119401) Homepage
        Actually, every person who believes in a creation story really is basing this belief solely on dogma. There is absolutely no evidence supporting any of the supernatural claims in any of the genesis myths of any of the worlds' religions. None.

        Scientists believe knowledge comes from evidence and the logical conclusions derivable from that evidence.
        Religious people believe knowledge comes from "faith" (aka "it is written"), which is the polar opposite of evidence.

        The so called "moderate" religious people exist in a state of mind called "cognitive dissonance" whereby all knowledge is derived from evidence and logic EXCEPT knowledge pertaining to topics they have been indoctrinated from birth to accept due to faith. This is your textbook dogma.

        Don't take a textbook definition of dogma and call it anything else. That's really disingenuous of you.
        • by mrpeebles (853978) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @08:40PM (#21122331)
          Only 19th+ century fundamentalists are unimaginative enough to read Genesis as a set of supernatural claims. (Maybe in another thousand years groups will consider Romeo and Juliet a parable warning parents to let their kids date who they want to.) Creationists take the differences between science and religion and push them under the rug; I claim you are caricaturizing them. Science is only retrospectively based on evidence and consensus. Scientific discovery requires as much faith as any religion. And religion does not ignore evidence. The progression from sacrificing first born children at the altar of Baal to secular government and nonviolent resistence has not been a random walk.

          As for cognitive dissonance: I consider myself a "moderately" religious person. I do not blindly believe in Genesis. However, when I see how violence propogates itself through generations in the middle east and elsewhere, I cannot believe that idea of original sin does not resonate with some Truth. Certainly Adam and Eve were not real, but a quantum mechanical wavefunction may not be real either.

          My life is filled with actions and belief not based on evidence or logic though. For example, I could probably fill pages with the strange rituals I use to beg microsoft software products to not crash. No, I think cognitive dissonance is believing that throughout history all human behavior has been dominated by irrational beliefs, except for 21st century atheists.

          Just my 2 cents.
    • by SleptThroughClass (1127287) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:55PM (#21119147) Journal
      The New York Times is wrong again. He did not retract the entire paper. He retracted "two brief passages" [americanscientist.org]. Besides, there is recent evidence that water existed early in the Earth's formation so his assumptions about the Hadean environment might be obsolete.
  • Futile Effort (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn.gmail@com> on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:39PM (#21118899) Journal

    The retraction came about when, on a whim, Dr. Jacobson ran a search for his name on Google. At age 84 and after 20 years of retirement, "I wanted to see, what have I done in all these many years?" he said. "It was vanity. What can I tell you?"
    That's vanity? No, the only thing he's missing is a bottle of Jack Daniels & that's how I spend my Friday nights!

    But in all serious, this is going to be a pretty futile effort. It's greatly appreciated but it's probably going to backfire. This could be spun as 'lawyers' forcing a scientist's views out of sight, a scientist that's just trying to tell the truth. The same lawyers that have orchestrated the dinosaur bones found across the world.

    And the character assassination from the Creationists will most likely consist of 'waffler' and 'flip-flopper', two terms I have no idea why they even exist.

    This is the sign of a man of the highest quality in my eyes. I only wish that everyone--especially the politicians--look to him for guidance in how to 1) take ownership of something when you're wrong and 2) fix it.
  • by User 956 (568564) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:40PM (#21118925) Homepage
    he paper, entitled 'Information, Reproduction and the Origin of Life', speculated on the chemical qualities of earth in the 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 ... creationists cite it as proof that life could not have emerged on earth without divine intervention.

    Wait, so is the earth billions of years old, or 6000 years old, as told in the bible?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by elrous0 (869638) *
      A couple of theologians named Ussher and Lightfoot (not Gordon) ran the numbers between Adam and a known historical event (the Babylonian exile), using all the "This dipshit begat that dipshit" lines and arrived at an approximation of 6000 years (October 23, 4004 B.C. to be exact). A similar timeline had been roughly accepted long before either theologian, but they "locked it down."
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mdielmann (514750)

        A couple of theologians named Ussher and Lightfoot (not Gordon) ran the numbers between Adam and a known historical event (the Babylonian exile), using all the "This dipshit begat that dipshit" lines and arrived at an approximation of 6000 years (October 23, 4004 B.C. to be exact). A similar timeline had been roughly accepted long before either theologian, but they "locked it down."

        If you read Genesis, the first couple of chapters, you come to a surprising conclusion. It talks about God creating light, but not water or dirt. In fact, "It was without form, and void. [bible.com]" The linked passage (linked references, how novel!) mentions the existence of water before light is even created. So it would be more correct to say that earth existed, but was dead? A planet without a star? I don't know, but it doesn't sound like He started from scratch (or pure energy).
        So it's more correct to say t

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Empiric (675968)
      "6000 years" is an interpretation of the years of Adam's descendants. The bible says people pre-existed Adam.

      The only way to make your statement "work" is to stubbornly fail to acknowledge any other possible meaning of "day" (of the "seven") in a highly-allegorical book.

      I held my comment the last 20 times this exact same lame joke was modded +5 Funny, but this time I'll comment.
  • Fantastic! (Score:3, Funny)

    by COMON$ (806135) * on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:44PM (#21118993) Journal
    So now as a creationist all I need to do is take my least favorite scientific postings, twist their words to say what I want them to and viola they get retracted and denounced! Wow, why didn't I think of this before?
    • by whoever57 (658626) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:49PM (#21119057) Journal

      So now as a creationist all I need to do is take my least favorite scientific postings, twist their words to say what I want them to and viola they get retracted and denounced! Wow, why didn't I think of this before?
      What you are missing is that the original author of the paper acknowledged significant errors in it. Also, where did the music ("viola") come from? I didn't see any reference to music in the original story.
  • Why did he do it? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cro Magnon (467622) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:47PM (#21119041) Homepage Journal
    If he discovered clear errors and retracted it for that reason, that's fine, if somewhat tardy.

    If he retracted it just because creationists quoted it, that's an example of the same dogma religious zealots are critisized for.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ambitwistor (1041236)
      He says he no longer believes the arguments in that paper:

      "Things grew worse when he reread his paper, he said, because he discovered errors. [...] Another assertion in the paper, about what would have had to occur simultaneously for living matter to arise, is just plain wrong, he said, adding, "It was a dumb mistake, but nobody ever caught me on it.""
    • by Merk (25521) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:45PM (#21119943) Homepage

      If you RTFA, it says that he was reminded of the paper because the creationists quoted it. Because it was brought to his attention again he re-read it. He discovered it contained embarrassing factual errors, so he retracted it. It's too bad that he only caught the errors after they had been misused, but it's great that he caught the errors eventually and responded appropriately.

  • by arakis (315989) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:48PM (#21119051)
    When will creationists realize that you can't prove divine intervention any more than you can prove flying purple unicorns? Why can't they just stick to a doctrine of faith and belief?
  • by non (130182) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:51PM (#21119091) Homepage Journal
    they don't understand evolution. in fact its a lot like compound interest; start with a little and wait a long time and eventually you'll have something. the following statement, for example, amounts to precisely that in my eyes.

    'one could imagine a few hardy compounds could survive.'

    thats all it takes. and yes, given enough time, they could turn into some sexually-reproductive organism, which, to use my earlier example, would be like getting monthly compounding ;-)

    i frankly see no reason for this retraction. there is no 'ammunition' here in any sense.

  • by Lurker2288 (995635) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @04:55PM (#21119135)
    The really pathetic thing is that, if I read the article correctly, the creationists aren't even interpreting his findings correctly. He basically says that as the earth started to cool, chemical compounds could arise that would remain stable in the environment, and that it would take some source of energy to assemble them into something more complex. In contrast, one creationist web site mentioned by the article describes the paper as meaning that "within a few minutes, all the various parts of the living organism had to make themselves out of sloshing water." Nothing like a little creative misinterpretation to give your dogmatic nonsense the air of scientific legitimacy.
  • in 1998 i made an inflammatory post on slashdot in a discussion thread about the merits or lack thereof of windows 98. people have used that post to claim that i am a troll. i am not a troll, i am in fact a lurker. by retracting that post i am able to assert that

    thank you for your attention
  • by Empiric (675968) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:02PM (#21119259)
    ...he's retracting his paper?

    Is his paper right, or wrong? If he's claiming the first and retracting it, science is harmed, not furthered. If it's wrong, retraction should happen anyway.

    This is really irrational. I understand the motivation to find any position of anyone on the planet that decries "creationism" and post it, but do you really want to overtly demonstrate your complete dependence on it in that way, while committing some really obvious non-sequiturs along the way?
  • by crumley (12964) * on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:10PM (#21119395) Homepage Journal
    The original retraction letter [americanscientist.org] is inspiring. I am glad that Dr. Jacobson set the record straight, even though it would have been easier for him to ignore his earlier mistakes.
  • by oni (41625) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:29PM (#21119705) Homepage
    When the paper was published in 1955, it wasn't controversial, and there weren't creationists around to parade it as proof of their ideas. This whole giant clusterfuck "debate" where so many people make fools of themselves with this ID/creationism idea, is actually fairly new - let me be clear, what I mean is, the fury of the controversy is new. In 1955, a scientist could publish a paper about evolution and then go to church on Sunday. Science and religion weren't seen as either/or propositions as they are today. The generation that advanced science (arguably) more than any other, the generation that gave us computers and space travel, didn't get its panties in a bunch over evolution or religion.

    What seems to have happened is that some creationists decided to make evolution their litmus test. They decided to make it a big controvery. They decided to tell people that "omfg we have to oppose this with every fiber of our being" and I really haven't a clue why they did that (other than being stupid).

    This has happened before. There used to be people who believed in geocentrism for the exact same reason taht people reject evolution - because they just honestly WANT to believe the bible. But here's the deal, even creationist don't believe in geocentrism, yet creationist still believe the bible. So what happened? They just changed their interpretation of it. I can't figure out why they don't just do that again.
    • by edraven (45764) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:51PM (#21120065)
      You may want to study the history of the controversy between creationism and evolution before saying something like "there weren't creationists around" in 1955. When Charles Darwin published "The Origin of Species" in 1859, it was controversial. There was controversy in 1925 when John Scopes went on trial for teaching the principles of evolutionary theory in a public school. He lost, by the way, and the Act under which he was charged was not repealed until 1967.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The generation that advanced science (arguably) more than any other, the generation that gave us computers and space travel, didn't get its panties in a bunch over evolution or religion.

      What seems to have happened is that some creationists decided to make evolution their litmus test. They decided to make it a big controvery. They decided to tell people that "omfg we have to oppose this with every fiber of our being" and I really haven't a clue why they did that (other than being stupid).

      If I understand t

  • Science vs. Faith (Score:4, Insightful)

    by $lingBlade (249591) on Thursday October 25, 2007 @05:49PM (#21120035)
    Hasn't this argument been beaten to death already? Maybe I'm wrong, and yes I'm over simplifying but basically it comes down to this: Science tries to explain *how* things happened, Faith tries to explain *why* things happened. At least in terms of planetary history. Personally, I'm interested in both how and why things happen the way they do. Most times, in my experience, science does a better job at explaining how things are happening and sometimes why they happen. I lost my faith in faith around the time I started asking questions and got back a lot of crappy answers. However, I wouldn't completely rule out the possibility of *some* kind of creative force simply because we may not have the tools to demonstrate or understand it fully.

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