Re: Life in the Lab -- Fox and the Nobel Prize
Mon, 3 May 1999 23:34:19 EDT

Look who woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!

In a message dated 5/3/99 5:43:48 PM Mountain Daylight Time, Art Chadwick

> As a scientist who knew Sidney Fox quite well, I think I can say
> without ambiguity that any suggestion that Sidney Fox did anything
> worthy of a Nobel prize is ludicrous, and an offense to the whole
> spirit and meaning of the Nobel Prize.

I think you are letting your personal animosity towards Fox and myself cloud
your reasoning. Obviously, Henry Stanford, president of the University of
Miami (while Fox was there) disagrees with you, as would all the scientists
in the Thermal Protein Study Group at Southern Illinois University in
Carbondale. Did you even bother to look at the website I mentioned, or read
Fox's symposium? Apparently not.

> I have spoken to Fox personally on several occasions WRT
> his views on origins, and he knew well my own views on origins.
> His claim to have created anything like a life form (the best he
> did was to make tiny bubbles of proteinoid material that resembled
> cells as much as soap bubbles do) was laughable....

What's laughable is your description of Fox's protocells, especially in light
of the the symposium given by Fox that I posted. Anyone who read it, who is
not blinded by dogmatic belief, can see that proteinoid microspheres are more
than "tiny bubbles", and resemble cells better than they do soap bubbles. Do
soap bubbles have durable semi-permiable bilayer membranes? Can soap bubbles
reproduce? Can soap bubbles catalyze metabolic reactions? Can soap bubbles
convert light energy into chemical energy? Can soap bubbles generate
electrical fields? Can soap bubbles synthesize polypeptides or
polynucleotides? Can cells do these things? Proteinoid microsphere
protocells can; so which do you think they most closely resemble, cells or
soap bubbles?

Instead of shouting your ignorance from the rooftops, Art, read Fox's
symposium. Go to the website and see the research that people are doing that
proves these protocells are alive.

> ...and must have been considered by him as a tongue-in-cheek
> claim. His colleagues had no respect for his claims, and very
> little for his work.

That wasn't even true then and it is even less true now. Read the scientific
literature, Art; read Fox's symposium, Art; go to the website and see the
evidence for yourself. Stop relying on your own ignorance.

> When I last spoke with him, I challenged him again as to how
> he was going to come up with a bridge from DNA to protein
> without a ribosome. He explained to me that the problem was
> already solved. He told me a French biochemist had discovered
> a bacterium that did not need a ribosome to make proteins. This
> bug, he said, made proteins by directly associating the amino
> acids along the DNA backbone, then synthesizing the peptide
> bonds while they were thus ordered. I asked him why, if this
> was the case, that he was the only one who knew about this
> fabulous discovery.

Are you seriously suggesting that the only true science is that which is the
most popular, or the best well known? As you yourself should know, virtually
every scientific breakthrough started out as a minority concept disregarded
by the majority of researchers in that field. That says nothing about the
truth of the concept itself. Why didn't you ask Fox for a reference so that
you could see for yourself whether the concept was true? Or are you so
dogmatically certain that Fox is "ludicrous" that you don't need to see the

> He gave me a lecture on the philosophy of science, and about
> how ideas that were not popular had a hard time being accepted
> in the scientific community. He stated that the Frenchman had
> been greeted by ridicule from his colleagues. I assured him that
> he needn't give his lecture to me....

Obviously not true, since you missed his point; otherwise you would have
asked to see the evidence so you could make up your own mind.

> ...that I was already well acquainted with the problems scientists
> had accepting or even giving consideration to new ideas.

Then why didn't you give Fox the benefit of the doubt and give the evidence a
fair consideration?

> Needless to say, the Frenchman's idea has still not caught on.

How would you know? Because his work hasn't been written about in the New
York Times, or Newsweek, or Parade? Because it isn't common knowledge? You
won't even read the Frenchman's original paper, or Fox's own research, or the
latest work being done by his colleagues; why should I believe that you know
better than Fox and other biologists what constitutes proper contemporary
abiotic science?

> But this absurdity demonstrates the length we are all
> capable of traveling in propping up an idea that is our own,
> whether it has merit or not.

So instead of investigating the evidence for yourself, you declare it absurd
from the depth of your ignorance, then have the gall to project your own
folly onto Fox? Sounds to me like you are the one traveling to great lengths
to prop up your own flawed opinions.

> Sidney Fox's work is now considered by most origin of life
> advocates I have read to have been a tiny detour down a
> road that led nowhere.

Then you have read only a tiny portion of the available literature, and most
of it was probably at least ten years out of date. What you wrote above
would be news to the dozens of researchers who have done, and still are
doing, protocell research. Even Fox's own critics have within the past
decade started admitting that he was right after all. But then you would
know that if you read the scientific literature on the subject.

> If you know of any publication by Fox or his students that has
> made the claim to have produced a functioning reproducing cell,
> and has substantiated that claim, please give us the reference.

I will when I post my essay; I already have by posting Fox's symposium and
the URL for the Thermal Protein Study Group website. If you go there you
will find two links; one to a list of sixteen references, all but one less
than ten years old, most of them less than five years old, all of which not
only assert that Fox's protocells are "functioning reproducing cells" but
which also "substantiate that claim"; the other to the reference and abstract
listing for a 1994 American Chemical Society conference on the origin of life
and the use of priteinoids as novel industrial materials (so much for "a tiny
detour down a road that led nowhere").

> Posting his obituary does not cut it.

Did I say anywhere in that post that I was offering that obituary as
evidence? No, I was offerring it in reply to Moorad Alexanian's claim that
life had not been synthesized in the lab because no one had been awarded the
Nobel Prize for the accomplishment. Try using the brains God gave a jelly
donut and think -- really think -- for a change, instead of simply knee-jerk

Kevin L. O'Brien