James Tour details his reasoning

I think he deserves an apology

(please read this carefully before responding to the OP)

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I read this just tonight. I’ll plan to reply soon. Real world events could interpose.

From my first read, it is a “CYA” whine about those mean old science guys.


Every untested claim needs a counter argument. I am glad he backed off his accusation of dishonesty and apologized to Jack Szostak. I think his voice is very important here.


@jety, what does he deserve an apology for exactly? I give him credit for this:

Joshua said that an apology should be as public as the offense. I do not disagree, but
how can one go back and make an apology that is going to get thousands of YouTube
views since (a) I did not post that video myself and (b) I do not Twitter post so I have no
followers. Hopefully this will suffice since it is now an open posting.

I slow and detailed response is called for here. I would encourage it to be made focusing on the science. Tour was wrong to have made the “liar” accusation. He apologized. Let’s try and tone down the rhetoric on all sides now and see if we can make progress in understanding.


Pff, tour writes in that PDF on his website:

I differ strongly, and I think the synthetic chemist can be the most skeptical because we know what molecules do and do not do in an abiological environment.

This is tantamount to claiming that experiments are unnecessary because Tour can say what the results will be before even doing the experiment.

Why do chemists ever perform experiments? We can just ask James Tour, much cheaper.

He also writes:

This is not to say that Sutherland has not realized the problems associated with this multistep approach to building intermediates. He does discuss it in his 2015 “Common origins…” paper, and more recently in his 2018 paper on “Mimicking the surface and prebiotic chemistry…” DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04147-2 So to address this, he tries to make these compounds in a one-pot (simulating one puddle or steam flow, I suppose) approach.

No, it’s not purported to be a puddle, which Tour would know if he read the actual article he cites, which says:

“Considering a landscape, distinct areas could have been rich in NaCN deposits or CaNCN deposits, based purely on the differences of abundance of Na+ and Ca2+ ions in those regions at the time of evaporation of water before thermal metamorphosis. At a later juncture, after rainfall, streams or rivulets could start to flow, picking up substrates, reagents and catalysts in a sequence determined by the order in which the dry-state repositories were encountered. Photochemistry and dehydration/hydration steps could ensue, and upon confluence of the streams mixing and further reaction could take place. This geochemical situation would offer the type of mechanism required for sequential delivery of reagents to allow constructive and selective synthesis of all the (proto)biomolecules previously reported26. There are numerous variations to this scheme, for example, fluvial activity could bring the reagents from different areas to merge in a pool. The pool could undergo drying and rehydration and occasionally, in heavy rain, overflow, mixing the contents with other pools. Although all the required chemical steps had been demonstrated by us in the laboratory, some were still sceptical that the prebiotic relevance of the scheme was not warranted as “the network cannot yet function in one pot without external interference”36. Notwithstanding the fact that the scheme is not meant to function in one pot, we wondered how we could best simulate the fluvial locale we envisaged without a hands-on approach. Below, we describe an uninterrupted synthesis of 2-aminooxazole from prebiotically plausible starting materials in an attempt to validate the plausibility of our geochemical scenario and the permissible prebiotic chemistry associated with that scenario. We found that bisulfite is an excellent all-round player, providing reducing power for the reduction of nitriles to aldehydes and the capacity to protect and concentrate the aldehydes, and therefore prebiotic amino acid and ribonucleotide precursors, yet, vitally, does not interfere with their syntheses.”

Notice reference 26, where Sutherland and colleagues first describe this geological scenario, not meant to be just one “puddle”. Therein we find this figure:

Chemistry in a post meteoritic impact scenario

A series of post impact environmental events are shown along with chemistry (boxed) proposed to occur as a consequence of those events.

a . Dissolution of atmospherically produced hydrogen cyanide results in conversion of vivianite – the anoxic corrosion product of the meteoritic inclusion schreibersite – into mixed ferrocyanide salts and phosphate salts, counter cations being provided through neutralisation and ion-exchange reactions with bedrock and other meteoritic oxides and salts.

b . Partial evaporation results in the deposition of the least soluble salts over a wide area, further evaporation deposits the most soluble salts in smaller, lower lying areas.

c . After complete evaporation, impact or geothermal heating results in thermal metamorphosis of the evaporite layer, and generation of feedstock precursor salts.

d . Upper. Rainfall on higher ground leads to rivulets or streams that flow downhill sequentially leaching feedstocks from the thermally metamorphosed evaporite layer. Solar irradiation drives photoredox chemistry in the streams. Lower. Convergent synthesis can result when streams with different reaction histories merge, as illustrated here for the potential synthesis of arabinose aminooxazoline 5 at the confluence of two streams that contained glycolaldehyde 1 , and leached different feedstocks before merging.

As anyone who isn’t blind or cognitively challenged can see, this isn’t supposed to be a “puddle” with everything taking place simultaneously in one pot. That looks like the sort of environment one would actually expect to have existed sometime around the late heavy bombardment.


I read it. Looks like Tour is just repeating his “notpology” and whining about the same things / making the same mistakes he did in the video. He’s complaining because the simplified drawings of sugars don’t show hydrogen atoms and he’s complaining / making the same mistake assuming the Szostak article was a offered as a peer-reviewed detailed solution to OOL instead of a high-level overview of a leading hypothesis.

Don’t expect West or the DI to do anything except keep pushing the dishonest misrepresentations of the actual scientific work while doing none of their own. It’s a virtual certainty they won’t take down the LIAR! video.


Let’s take this as an opportunity for peer review.
I think the biggest thing that was left out of the graph is that the precursors turn into the final product via a ten-step process, not a one-step process or via a few simple steps. to remedy this it would’ve been enough to change it from

A+B —> C


A+B —>…—>C

or something to that effect.

It is common to leave out steps like this.


I’ve got nothing then. The main complaints were
a. technical details left out that made identification of both the precursors and the final product ambiguous.
b. the fact that there are simply too many steps involved inbetween the precursors and the final product each with its own set of stringent requirements for removing byproducts, changes in the reaction environment, etc. I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t know how to represent that…

…leaving out the researcher from the picture. Yeah. It’s not like they were literally creating a scale model of the purported crater drain environment with lakes and rivers and everything. I would actually respect an attempt like that. Each step involved lots of test tubes and suppliers of pure precursors, and nothing more.

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In terms of the visual language involved, how do you represent the difference between an experiment in vitro vs. in vivo. I mean, in both cases you have to draw the molecules obviously. Different background maybe? Just spitballing here.

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The John West screed was based on a long post by Tour. These people cannot stop lying.

If you fall in a hole- stop digging.

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Are you kidding me? Tour just apologized for accusing someone he disagreed with of lying. Are you setting yourself up for a letter of apology to John West?

Unless there is another Canadian psychiatrist who also contacted him, he misrepresents my position. I said nothing about the synthesis of nucleotides.

If anything, this letter leaves Tour with even more things to apologize for. Or not-pologize, as seems to be his wont.


The article is perfectly fine as it was written. No reasonable person would have difficulty understanding it. Tour is just trying to raise false issues to throw some red meat to his audience.

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That is also lame. He could simply ask the Discovery Institute to take it down. It’s his speech, how could they refuse? And even if they do, at least he tried.

What am I missing here?

I will also note the irony of his faux-innocent posture here, as contrasted with his accusation against yours truly that I control a vast conspiracy with the ability to deploy videos at will to destroy his career.

Just when I thought my opinion of him could not get any lower.

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I too had wondered about this. Am I missing something? (I certainly want to be fair to Dr. Tour. I’ve not carefully researched every aspect of this entire matter, so if readers think that I’m overlooking something, I’m happy to have my thinking corrected.)

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I think it’s a judgement call. Taking it down, they could be accused of a cover up, and it would prevent people from seeing for themselves what happened. It is not like keeping up is flattering to Tour or damages Szostack. Quite the opposite.

The video accusing Szostak of lying has over 75,000 views and is still up with no disclaimer. How many people do you think have read Tour’s “notpology”? Maybe a few hundred tops?

The decent thing to do would be remove the video or at a minimum add a disclaimer, but the DI isnot known for ever doing the decent thing.


Note that the DI has also blocked comments from virtually all pro-science viewers pointing out Tour’s unprofessional accusations of lying.They aren’t interested in truth or fairness, just continuing their anti-science propaganda.