December 9, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Nature Plagiarizes Behe’s Mousetrap

The prevention of genomic instability – and cancer – can be attributed to a “complex mousetrap” mechanism, said Robert M. Brosh, Jr (Laboratory of Molecular Gerontology, NIH) in Nature.1  This not-so-subtle reference to Michael Behe’s irreducibly complex system described in Darwin’s Black Box even has a mousetrap illustration with the following caption:

The BLM protein complex consists of several components, much like a mousetrap.  With all the parts properly assembled, the mousetrap will operate efficiently and catch the mouse.  In this case, a DNA structure called a double Holliday junction is caught in the BLM complex.  Xu et al. and Singh et al. report the discovery of a component of this complex, RMI2, which stabilizes and orchestrates the action of the BLM complex, ensuring resolution of the double Holliday junction, and so promoting chromosomal stability.

Later in the text, he continues the analogy:

As for the significance of RMI2 to the BLM complex, for analogy let’s imagine a mousetrap.  It contains several components, including a spring, a platform, a hammer, a hold-down bar and a catchOmit certain components of the trap, and the device may still operate, albeit less efficiently.  With all of the components in place – including those with primarily structural roles such as the hold-down bar and the platform – the trap is most likely to catch the mouse.  Returning to the BLM complex: through its interaction with RMI1, RMI2 allows the ‘BLM�Topo-3alpha device’ to assume optimal stability and configuration so that it can efficiently catalyse the splitting of the double Holliday junction, and so prevent the escape of deleterious DNA structures that would lead to crossovers (Fig. 1).  RMI2 therefore seems to have an integral structural role in the BLM�Topo-3alpha device by orchestrating its action.

An easily missed reference after the phrase “and a catch” leads to a website by John H. McDonald that appears to refute Behe’s concept of irreducible complexity, showing that a “reducibly complex” mousetrap can still function.  No mention was made of Behe’s counter-refutation on Access Research Network, which graciously ends:

Darwinian scenarios, either for building mousetraps or biochemical systems, are very easy to believe if we aren’t willing or able to scrutinize the smallest details, or to ask for experimental evidence.  They invite us to admire the intelligence of natural selection.  But the intelligence we are admiring is our own.

1.  Robert M. Brosh, Jr., “Molecular biology: The Bloom’s complex mousetrap,” Nature

For Brosh to employ this well-known analogy for his own purposes, without giving credit to Behe, and then to slap Behe’s face with a link to a flawed refutation of Behe’s concept without giving him a chance to respond, is disgustingly irresponsible.  You would think the world’s leading science journal would demand proper citation.  What happened to academic ethics?
    Mousetraps are common, but Behe’s use of a mousetrap as a symbol of an irreducibly complex system in the cell is so well-known throughout the biological community, Brosh cannot argue that each writer has equal access to the common household item for illustrative purposes.  It’s interesting that his link to McDonald’s paper is a non-descriptive URL to the site, with no indication it leads to a refutation of Behe.  Twinge of conscience, perhaps?  The ARN article shows that Behe has the last laugh.  So should you, noting that Brosh did not even attempt to explain how the BLM complex arose by an evolutionary process.

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