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Richard Lenski

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Richard Lenski is a professor of microbial ecology at Michigan State University.[1][2] He holds a B.A. from Oberlin College (but does not disclose his field of study in his biographical sketch), and a doctorate in zoology[3] from the University of North Carolina.[4] When Lenski started graduate school at UNC in 1977, his father, professor Gerhard Lenski, was the Chair of the Division of Social Sciences at the same school. [5]

Richard Lenski is best known for his 20-year old E. coli experiment in which he claims to have captured evolution in progress, saying that bacteria made minor changes in the long-term laboratory study while insisting that it was not due to contamination.

The 2008 paper he co-authored was peer reviewed in 14 days, sparking obvious questions regarding potential problems [6] about the thoroughness of the review. The statistical analysis in Lenski's paper has been criticized for having serious flaws.[7]

When Richard Lenski received a public request for the data underlying for his published claims, he did not provide the actual data even though his study was taxpayer-funded and even though the request was made in part to enable review of the data by students of the requestor.[8]

Undisclosed or obscured data for Lenski's 2008 paper are noted below (pp. 2-3 from paper, superscripts omitted):[9][10]

Undisclosed Data Some Questions about the missing data

Visual inspection

Evolution of Cit Function in Population Ara-3. The LTEE populations are transferred daily into fresh medium, and the turbidity of each is checked visually at that time. ...

Data on these observations?


...the cultures are only slightly turbid when transferred. Occasional contaminants that grow on citrate have been seen over the 20 years of this experiment.

Data? When and how many?


These contaminated cultures reach much higher turbidity owing to the high concentration of citrate in the medium, which allows the contaminants to reach high density. (When contamination occurs, the affected population is restarted from the latest frozen sample.)

Data for when that occurred, and how often?

A Richard Lenski defender says, "If interested in a thorough review, contact the group directly, with a legitimate request for data. Otherwise, the disclaimer is a more than adequate description of the sample handling process."

In fact, two requests were made directly to Lenski for data, without success. His second response was rude and insulting.

The Numbers Please?

After 33,127 generations, one population, designated Ara-3, displayed significantly elevated turbidity that continued to rise for several days (Fig. 1).

Higher resolution data underlying figure not provided despite request.

More missing Numbers

A number...

Data? How many? Statistically significant?

Trust us

of Cit clones were isolated from the population and checked for phenotypic markers characteristic of the ancestral E. coli strain used to start the LTEE: all

Data? How many? Statistically significant?

Missing Characteristics

...were Ara, T5-sensitive, and T6-resistant, as expected (2)

Data about these and other characteristics?

A Richard Lenski defender says, "Interested parties should consult the literature on these topics. It is not within the scope of this paper to address the significance of these markers."

What is missing from disclosure are the data that the markers were actually observed in a reliable and conclusive manner in this study.


DNA sequencing also showed...


A Richard Lenski defender says, "The inclusion of this data would be considerably more extensive than appropriate for the inclusion in this paper."

No one asked for the data to be printed in the paper. What is missing is disclosure of the data on the website, or upon public request.

More missing data

...that Cit clones have the same mutations in the pykF and nadR genes as do clones from earlier generations of the Ara-3 population, ...

Data about these and other characteristics?

A Lenski defender cites to general information unrelated to this study: Available in other publications, pykF [11] and nadR [12].

A Richard Lenski supporter also cites an earlier claim (perhaps also unsupported by public release of the data) by Lenski's group: See also the reference for the sequence identification which Blount et al. list as reference #30 in their paper: Woods, R., D. Schneider, C. L. Winkworth, M. A. Riley, and R. E. Lenski. 2006. Tests of parallel molecular evolution in a long-term experiment with Escherichia coli. PNAS, USA 103:9107-9112.[13].

More missing data

...and each of these mutations distinguishes this population from all the others (30).

Data distinguishing "This population from all the others"?

Fast Tracked

Therefore, the Cit variant arose within the LTEE and is not a contaminant.

The astoundingly short 14-day PEER REVIEW period, measured from the day the paper was sent out for review to the day of formal contribution by Lenski after acceptance, raises questions as to whether there was any meaningful peer review of this at all.

Sample Sizes?

Cit+ cells constituted [about] 0.5% of the population at generation 31,500, then 15% and 19% in the next two samples, but only [about] 1.1% at generation 33,000.

What were the sample sizes and where are the actual data for this sampling?

Lenski's paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a professional society of scientists with a strong bias towards atheism and evolutionism. [14] [15]

Lenski's work has been criticized in the past also. In a paper Lenski published in Nature in May 8, 2003 entitled "The Evolutionary Origin of Complex Features," he described a computer simulation that contained no actual biology. In fact, the discussion section of the paper stated:

"Some readers might suggest that we 'stacked the deck' by studying the evolution of a complex feature that could be built on simpler functions that were also useful. However, that is precisely what evolutionary theory requires ...."

Dr. William Dembski explained, "In other words, the computer programmers built into the simulation what they thought evolution needed to make it work. The validity of this study therefore depends on whether the simulation faithfully models biological reality."[16]

Others have commented on Lenski's work while taking it at face value.[17]

See Also


  1. Richard Lenski Biographical Sketch [1]
  2. Richard Lenski Homepage [2]
  3. Purpose in Evolution symposium Participants [3]
  4. [4]
  6. See Conservapedia talk:Lenski dialog.
  7. See Flaws in Richard Lenski Study.
  8. Conservapedia:Lenski dialog.
  9. For those wishing to review the paper personally it may be found at this link from Lenski's website.
  10. A Lenski defender has asserted that this table format is copyrighted under GFDL, which imposes overly complex rules for reuse.
  11. "IHOP-pykF"
  12. "IHOP-nadR"
  17. Michael Behe wrote, in The Edge of Evolution, "I had argued that the extreme rarity of the development of chloroquine resistance in malaria was likely the result of the need for several mutations to occur before the trait appeared. Even though the evolutionary literature contains discussions of multiple mutations (5), Darwinian reviewers drew back in horror, acted as if I had blasphemed, and argued desperately that a series of single beneficial mutations certainly could do the trick. Now here we have Richard Lenski affirming that the evolution of some pretty simple cellular features likely requires multiple mutations." Behe also said, "If the development of many of the features of the cell required multiple mutations during the course of evolution, then the cell is beyond Darwinian explanation. I show in The Edge of Evolution that it is very reasonable to conclude they did."[5]
  18. See Liberal style point 1

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