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Immunology in the spotlight at the Dover ID Trial
The May issue of Nature Immunology contains a "Commentary" essay on the role that evolutionary immunology played in the now-famous cross-examination of Michael Behe on Day 12 of the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in the fall of 2005. The essay is available at the Nature Immunology website, although a subscription or fee is currently required. The Supplementary Material for the article, a bibliography of the evolutionary immunology publications used during the trial, is available for free in NCSE's online Kitzmiller archive.
The essay is coauthored by Nick Matzke [Link broken], NCSE Public Information Project Director and a key behind-the-scenes player in the Kitzmiller case. NCSE consulted pro bono for the plaintiffs' legal team in Kitzmiller, and Matzke worked almost full-time with the legal team for a year before the trial, advising the lawyers on creationist/intelligent design arguments, the relevant science, and the history of creationism. He then attended all six weeks of the trial, where he continued this work. Matzke worked with Pepper-Hamilton attorney Eric Rothschild during Rothschild's preparation for the cross-examination of Behe, and he assembled the exhibit of articles, books, and book chapters on the evolution of the immune system that was stacked up on Behe's podium during cross. Behe dismissed the stack of literature, despite his previous claims that the scientific literature had "no answers" on the evolutionary origin of the immune system. This episode was cited in many news accounts as a high point during the Behe cross, and it was cited by Judge John Jones III on pages 77-79 of his December 20, 2005 ruling.
Matzke teamed up with two immunologists to write the article: Andrea Bottaro (Department of Medicine, Department of Microbiology and Immunology and the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry) and Matt Inlay (Department of Pathology, Beckman Center, Stanford University). Both are contributors to the Panda's Thumb weblog, and have written detailed critiques of Behe's claims about immunology (Bottaro, Inlay). These critiques served as an inspiration and guide for Matzke during preparation of the immune system section of the Behe cross-examination.
The Nature Immunology commentary reviews the background of the case, the science supporting the transposon model for the evolutionary origin of the adaptive immune system's rearranging antibodies, the problems with Behe's claims about the system, and recounts this dramatic episode of the Behe cross-examination. The article concludes,
During cross-examination by the plaintiffs' lead counsel Eric Rothschild, Behe reiterated his claim about the scientific literature on the evolution of the immune system, testifying that "the scientific literature has no detailed testable answers on how the immune system could have arisen by random mutation and natural selection." Rothschild then presented Behe with a thick file of publications on immune system evolution, dating from 1971 to 2006, plus several books and textbook chapters. Asked for his response, Behe admitted he had not read many of the publications presented (a small fraction of all the literature on evolutionary immunology of the past 35 years), but summarily rejected them as unsatisfactory and dismissed the idea of doing research on the topic as "unfruitful."The online Supplementary Material links to two webpages by Matzke giving more background of the science of evolutionary immunology and its relevance to Behe's claims. See the Annotated Bibliography on the Evolutionary Origin of the Vertebrate Immune System and the Longer, Unannotated Bibliography on the Evolutionary Origin of the Immune System.
Bottaro, Andrea, Inlay, Matt A., and Matzke, Nicholas J. (2006). "Immunology in the spotlight at the Dover 'Intelligent Design' trial." Nature Immunology. 7(5), 433-435. May 2005. (Subscription required: DOI | Journal | Google Scholar | PubMed | Supplementary Material)
Weiss, Mike (2005). "War of ideas fought in a small-town courtroom: Intelligent design theory vs. the science of evolution at center of Pennsylvania trial." San Francisco Chronicle, November 6, 2005. Link
Jeremy Manier (2006). "Unlocking cell secrets bolsters evolutionists." Chicago Tribune, February 13, 2006.
Nichols, Peter (2006). "Intelligent Demise." (Profile of Eric Rothschild in the UPenn Alumni Magazine) The Pennsylvania Gazette, March/April 2006.