Re: Does science `cover-up'? The case of Walther Loeb (was Why did progress fail?, etc)

From: Stephen E. Jones (
Date: Mon Jan 10 2000 - 17:07:16 EST

  • Next message: Stephen E. Jones: "Re: Hydrothermal vents too hot? (was Why did progress fail?, etc)"


    On Sun, 09 Jan 2000 19:51:07 -0800, Brian D Harper wrote:


    BH>Let me take a slight detour here. One often hears claims about how
    >there is some sort of "cover up" of difficulties with the origin
    >of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the above
    >we have two examples where Stanley Miller performed experiments
    >which could potentially severely undermine the current theories
    >on the origin of life. These two examples are (1) the experiment
    >Steve refers to above and (2) experiments on the slightly reducing/
    >neutral environments which experts now generally agree comprised
    >the Earth's early atmosphere. These second set of experiments I
    >refer to show at least a two order of magnitude decrease in yields
    >as well as a significant decrease in variety of amino acids produced.
    >We often hear these results reported by creationists and might get
    >the idea that they were somehow involved in the work. Actually, they
    >would never even know about it if Miller hadn't published the
    >results. This I believe shows science working the way its supposed
    >to work.

    I agree with Brian that the competing schools do expose difficulties with
    the opposition's theories and creationist's benefit from this.

    But note that *only* materialistic-naturalistic theories are allowed to be
    discussed. So there is a "cover up" of a sort which tries to suppress
    discussion of Intelligent Design or Creationist theories.

    And there is also the issue of Loeb's priority over Miller in chemical
    evolution spark-chambers which Brian and I fell out over several years ago,
    and which I recently re-posted:

    Re: Priority of Walther Loeb on `Miller' Spark Discharge Experiment
    On Thu, 14 Oct 1999 19:02:02 +0800, Stephen E. Jones wrote:

    >I got into trouble with Brian Harper a few years ago by claiming that
    >science's much-vaunted self-correction mechanism might not always work,
    >especially when it was too embarrassing for scientists to admit they had
    >been wrong for a long time on an important matter.
    >The case in point was Walther Loeb, who Yockey had pointed out in the
    >following post, carried out the first Miller-Urey type
    >spark discharge experiment in *1913*, ie. 40 years before Miller-Urey did
    >it in 1953.
    >Miller received a Nobel Prize for his work, but if Loeb did essentially the
    >same experiment 40 years before, and this is now widely known in the
    >origin-of-life field but is still being ignored, then it would tend to support
    >my claim.
    >According to Yockey, Miller was aware of Loeb's but misunderstood it due
    >to a mistranslation of the original German. At the time I wrote to the
    >Reflector: "It is difficult to believe that no German OOL scholar (there are
    >many) had not read Loeb's work and realised that Miller had got it wrong."
    >But I guess that was just possible that *everyone* had overlooked Miller's
    >mistranslation of Loeb's work until Yockey discovered it 43 years later in
    >1996. So my parting words on this thread to Brian in April 1996 were:
    >"But I will not totally rule out the possibility of cover-ups, because there
    >have been cover-ups in science in the past. I do find it hard to believe that a
    >German OOL researcher never noticed Loeb's actual words, but it is
    >possible. However, I will suspend judgement to see if in a reasonable
    >period of time (eg. a year?), Loeb will be given his rightful priority
    >(assuming Yockey is right)."
    >Well I had forgotten this and now it is more than *three* years since
    >Yockey broke the news to the biological community and Brian chastised
    >me for doubting science's self-correcting mechanism. I wonder whether
    >that self-correcting mechanism has worked and Loeb has at last been
    >exalted to his rightful place? Does anyone know what has happened
    >(or is happening) on this?
    >Date: Tue, 20 Feb 1996 21:35:55 -0500
    >To: evolution@Calvin.EDU
    >From: (Brian D. Harper)
    >Subject: Is it soup yet?
    >I found the following post from Hubert Yockey on
    >and thought it might be of interest to the group.
    >If Yockey's analysis is correct, then it seems Loeb has been denied
    >his proper place in history due to a mis-translation of carbon
    >dioxide !
    >I would also be interested in opinions from geologists, geochemists,
    >paleontologists (I'm fishing for the appropriate "expert" category)
    >regarding lack of evidence for the soup in the 3.8 billion year
    >old Isua rocks. I did a little research on this awhile back and
    >found some references where "experts" were expecting to find geological
    >evidence for the soup.
    >Also, the meteorite bombardment seems significant to me. Earlier on,
    >these meteorite impacts were capable of sterilizing the entire planet
    >and even vaporizing the oceans. Their subsidence coincides (on a
    >geological time scale of course) with the first evidence of life.
    >This would indicate that the appearance of life was very rapid and
    >would also indicate that the "soup" (if there was one) should still
    >be around.
    >================ begin post from Yockey; =============
    >Subject: Priority of Walther Loeb on "Miller" Spark Discharge Experiment
    >(Chemical Evolution)
    >From: (HPYockey)
    >Date: 19 Feb 1996
    >Ian Vaithjilingam asked for details on how to do the spark discharge
    >experiments to generate amino acids in a presumed atmosphere of the early
    >Thos who believe in the experiment are barking up the wrong tree.
    >The atmosphere of the early earth was not as Miller supposed. It was
    >neutral not reducing. There never was a primeval soup. See my comment
    >on this in "Information in bits and bytes" BioEssays v17 pp85-88 (1995)
    >I will send reprints if you send me your snail mail address.
    >The Miller-Urey experiment was not even original. The whole thing was
    >done by Walther Loeb in 1913 many years before Miller was born. Loeb's
    >publications make it clear that he was the first man to produce an amino
    >acid in the classic "possible prebiotic reducing (sic) atmosphere" of carbon
    >dioxide, ammonia and water by means of an electrical discharge.
    >The references to Walther Loeb's work are as follows: Ueber das Verhalten
    >des Formamids unter der Wirkung der stillen Entlandung. Ein Beitrag zur
    >Frage der Stickstoff-Assimilation Berichte der deutschen chemischen
    >Gesellschaft volume 46 (1913) pages 684-697
    >In English: The Effect of Silent Discharge on the Reactions of Formamide.
    >A Contribution to the Question of Nitrogen Assimilation published in the
    >Reports of the German Chemical Society (1913).
    >Upon reading Loeb's papers, I found that he knew exactly what he was
    >doing. The first sentence in this paper announced the purpose of the work
    >that led to the formation of glycine in the silent electric discharge: "The
    >question of natural nitrogen fixation is especially interesting in that it
    >presents the source of the first organic nitrogen containing product for the
    >formation of albumin bodies (that is, proteins)." Lob concludes his paper by
    >"There is no doubt that according to previous results the amino acid found
    >here is glycine.
    >Here succeeding for the first time, an amino acid has been produced
    >artificially from the input products of the natural synthesis, which in any
    >case, in the simplest phase, plays a role in the formation of natural protein
    >as the final products of the natural synthesis of carbonic acid [carbon
    >dioxide], ammonia and water without application of other materials, purely
    >through supplying a special energy form that remains in close connection
    >with the radiation."
    >How could Loeb say more clearly that he was working on a "prebiotic"
    >experiment to synthesize "prebiotic elements of protein"?
    >Stanley Miller is usually credited for being the first to find amino acids in a
    >"prebiotic experiment," but as he admitted in his 1955 paper, biochemists,
    >in particular Walther Loeb, had been exploiting the effects of electric
    >discharges in organic compounds, especially the fixation or assimilation of
    >nitrogen and carbon dioxide, long before he was born (ne 1930). Stanley
    >Miller, in his 1955 paper, "Production of some organic compounds under
    >possible primitive Earth conditions". Journal of the American Chemical
    >Society volume 77, pp2351-2361 (1955). cited the 1913 reference in which
    >Lob reported finding glycine in the silent discharge. He mistakenly stated
    >that Loeb used carbon monoxide in his silent electric discharge tube. If that
    >had that been the case it would give the impression that Loeb was not
    >interested in finding "prebiotic compounds" in the electric discharge. Upon
    >actually reading Loeb's papers in German, I found that he plainly had not
    >carried out his experiments in carbon monoxide but rather in damp carbon
    >dioxide and ammonia, the same environment often presumed (mistakenly)
    >by Miller and Urey and many others to have been that of the early Earth.
    >This false impression is due to a mistranslation and that may be why Loeb's
    >priority in this work has been ignored. The German word for carbon
    >monoxide is Kohlenoxyd, the word for carbon dioxide is Kohlensaeure
    >(literally, carbonic acid)-terms that are easy enough to tell apart.
    >As late as 1983 Miller and Schleschinger J. Mol. Evol. v19 pp376-382
    >quote Loeb's 1913 paper as using carbon monoxide not the correct carbon
    >Detailed references can be found to Loeb's work in "The Electrochemistry
    >of gases and other dielectrics by G. Glockler and S. C. Lind John Wiley
    >(New York) 1939.
    >This book mistranslates Kohlensaere as carbon monoxide. Perhaps this is
    >the source of Miller's mistranslation in Miller "Production of some organic
    >compounds under possible primitive Earth conditions". Journal of the
    >American Chemical Society volume 77, pp2351-2361 (1955).
    >Glockler and Lind is a compilation of abstracts of paper on
    >electrochemistry. It has a complete list of Loeb's papers and those of many
    >others on the question of the formation of organic materials under the silent
    >electrical discharge.
    >It is clear that Loeb thought his discovery of the formation, by means of
    >electrical energy, of biologically important substances such as glycine,
    >formic acid, formaldehyde, butyric acid, fatty acids and other compounds
    >was significant: See also Walther Loeb and A. Sato Zur Frage der
    >Elektrokultur I Mitteilung Die Einflussung von Enzymreaction durch die
    >stille Entlandung Biochemische Zeitschrift volume 69 pp1-35 (1915) He
    >and Sato had this to say:(my translation)
    >"On the ground of these relationships and practical knowledge one must
    >conclude further that electrical energy has an important meaning in life
    >reactions, that the knowledge of its role can be furthered only through a
    >long series of special undertakings.
    >The application of silent discharge is especially proper for such
    >undertakings on physical and chemical grounds. On physical grounds, while
    >under avoidance of higher temperature, the electrical energy unites with
    >ultraviolet ray exposure, especially as Warburg has shown previously. On
    >chemical grounds relatively strong chemical effects are experienced
    >And now to come to my own investigations, I wish to mention from the
    >earlier preparation of biologically important processes:
    > 1. The assimilation of carbonic acid (H2CO3) higher than formaldehyde up
    >to glykolaldehyde from damp carbonic acid.
    > 2. The synthesis of fatty acids that are brought up by the assimilation
    >of carbonic acid.
    > 3. The synthesis of glycine from carbonic acid (H2CO3), water and ammonia
    >from the intervening steps of formamids, a reaction that can be the first
    >phase of nitrogen fixation on the way to protein.
    > 4. The hydrolyzing of starch.
    > 5. The deamination of glycine.
    >Walther Loeb, and others in his time, noted that they often found polymers
    >of various kinds in their discharge chambers, just as did Stanley Miller and
    >others many years later. Loeb reported in 1909 that he had frequently
    >smelled the unpleasant and characteristic odor of butyric acid during
    >investigations of the behavior of nitrogen in the presence of simple organic
    >compounds under the influence of the silent discharge. He thought that the
    >connection of the silent discharge reaction might be related to fermentation
    >Walther Loeb died after a brief illness on 3 February 1916, at the age of 44.
    >Miller has never given up the "primeval soup" although the atmosphere of
    >the early earth is now known not to have been reducing.
    >Would there not be geological evidence in rocks of 4 to 3. 8 billion years
    >old, if there had been such a soup? All methods of simulating the formation
    >of amino acids and other 'building blocks' leave a tarry polymeric material
    >as their most abundant product. Carbon that has once composed living
    >matter is slightly enriched in carbon 12. No chemical reaction, heat,
    >pressure or other treatment to which these ancient rocks may have been
    >subjected can change one of these isotopes to another. Thus the carbon
    >isotope ratio is a reliable and indestructible fingerprint to determine
    >whether carbonaceous material, including kerogen, came from living
    >organisms or by inorganic chemistry from a primordial carbon source.
    >Sedimentary rocks at Isua in Greenland have been dated at 3.8 billion years
    >ago, a time near the end of the late heavy bombardment. They do indeed
    >contain kerogen. Schidlowski (Nature 333, pp313-318; 1988) reported that
    >all carbon in these rocks divides distinctly into two groups, one high in
    >carbon 13 and one depleted in carbon 13 with respect to the isotope ratio
    >found in atmospheric carbon dioxide. The kerogen of the very old Isua
    >rocks is depleted in carbon 13. This is just what is expected if the kerogen
    >had been derived from cyanobacteria-like microorganisms capable of
    >photosynthesis of carbon dioxide and nitrogen by means of an enzyme
    >system to form living matter. Schopf Science 260 640-646 (1993), Moore
    >Nature 367 322-323 (1994)
    >According to the standard model of the origin of life, there are two paths
    >the carbon would follow in the primeval soup. The first is toward forming
    >the ancient protobiont, the remains of which would go to kerogen. The
    >second, and the much more abundant amount, is the tarry material
    >generated in all origin of life simulation experiments. No kerogen from the
    >tarry material left over from the generation of the 'building blocks' of life is
    >found. The significance of the very old kerogen in the Isua rocks in
    >Greenland is that there never was a primeval soup and that living matter
    >must have existed abundantly on Earth before 3.8 billion years ago.
    >Lazcano and Miller J. Mol. Evol v39 pp546-554 (1994) admitted that:
    >"Late accretion impacts may have killed off life on our planet as late as 3.8
    >billion years ago." The date of the Isua kerogen (3.8 billion years old)
    >shows that life was swarming at that time. There is simply not enough time
    >between the last sterilizing impact event for the generation of a primeval
    >soup and for the appearance of a proto biont that must have had the
    >enzymes capable of assimilating both carbon dioxide and nitrogen.
    >For further comment and references on the non existence of a primeval
    >soup in the oceans on the early Earth see Chapters 8, 9 and 10 in
    >Information Theory and Molecular Biology, Cambridge University Press
    >(1992); BioEssays v 85-88 (1995) and Journal of Theoretical Biology v176
    >349-355 (1995).
    >Best regards Hubert P. Yockey
    >Einstein: "God does not play craps with the world."
    >Bohr: "Einstein, stop telling God what to do!"
    >The gods actually did cast lots for the world as Homer tells us (Illiad )
    >See comment on page 88 of Information Theory and Molecular Biology
    >Cambridge University Press (1992)
    >============== end of post =============================================

    If Loeb has the rightful priority, why is has this still not been
    admitted publicly, e.g. in SCIENCE or NATURE or in a specialist
    origin of life journal?

    I know Yockey is a scientist and it could be argued (as Chris
    did) that science has uncovered the cover up:

    Re: Priority of Walther Loeb on `Miller' Spark Discharge Experiment
    On Thu, 14 Oct 1999 10:45:55 -0700, Chris Cogan wrote:


    >Whether Loeb is "exalted to his rightful place" is not a scientific issue,
    >but an issue of credit. The fact that Yockey discovered and published the
    >information about the duplication *supports* Brian's claim that science is
    >self-correcting, though only weakly.



    But self-correction does not mean that when one scientist brings up a major
    problem, the rest just ignore it! It is when the *whole* scientific
    community in that discipline publicly admits it was wrong and prominently
    publishes the retraction in its leading journals, that science can claim to be
    *truly* self-correcting.

    When science admits publicly that the granting of Miller a Nobel prize and
    the priority in chemical evolution spark-chamber production of amino acids
    from gases, was wrong, and it has been *known* to be wrong for many years
    (it is hard to believe that Yockey was the first to notice Miller's
    mistranslation of Loeb's German since some of the leading origin of life
    experts are German), then I will be *really* impressed by science's claim to
    be self-correcting!

    I know some scientists will get upset at me, a mere layman, suggesting that
    scientists can be motivated to produce results by questionable methods
    (just like any other human beings). But that is in fact *why* science has
    learned the hard way that double-blind, repeatable experiments are the
    highest form of confirmation.

    It is precisely *because* individual scientists cannot always be trusted not
    to be dishonest (or honestly deluded), when there is at stake fame, fortune
    (or just keeping their job), that science has developed these self-correcting
    mechanisms which are designed to keep scientists *totally* honest. But
    unfortunately today that control is breaking down with complexity of
    science, the pressure to get results, and the growth of popular science
    magazines, and this is in fact being lamented in the scientific journals

    My claim is not that scientists are *worse* than other men. It is that they
    may be *no better* than other men!


    "Neo-Darwinism has failed as an evolutionary theory that can explain the
    origin of species, understood as organisms of distinctive form and
    behaviour. In other words, it is not an adequate theory of evolution. What
    it does provide is a partial theory of adaptation, or microevolution (small-
    scale adaptive changes in organisms)." (Goodwin B., "Neo-Darwinism has
    failed as an evolutionary theory", The Times Higher Education
    Supplement, May 19, 1995).
    Stephen E. Jones | |

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Mon Jan 10 2000 - 17:14:08 EST