This is a brilliant move by Rice University chemist James Tour. In a video that’s out now, he has issued a public challenge to ten top origin-of-life (OOL) researchers, by name. The deal is, if any of them can answer just one of five questions, relevant to solving the mystery of the origin of life, Professor Tour promises to shut up about the OOL and take down all his public material on the subject — all the YouTube videos, everything. He’s given them 60 days to do it and named three judges, from among the ten, to adjudicate whether the challenge has been met. Watch:
In other words, Dr. Tour will not be judging. The researchers themselves will. If they fail, by their own lights, then Tour reserves the right to maintain as he’s done that the we are “utterly clueless” about how life arose from non-life through unguided, material processes. No more letting random YouTubers like “Professor Dave” Farina carry the burden. If the OOL field isn’t the “scam” that Tour has said it is, definitely one of those ten will step forward in the next couple of months to answer one of Tour’s questions, just one, and that will be the end of James Tour as a public personality on a controversial, indeed ultimate question.
The researchers are Steve Benner, Jack Szostak, Clemens Richert, Lee Cronin, Bruce Lipshutz, John Sutherland, Nicholas Hud, Ramanarayanan Krishnamurthy, Neal Devaraj, and Matthew Powner. The appointed judges are Dr. Benner, Dr. Szostak, and Dr. Richert. What a fantastic idea! I can’t wait to find out what happens in the next 60 days. I suppose someone could try to explain why the challenge is unfair or not relevant to the field. That would be very difficult to do once you hear the questions. I suppose the group could ignore the challenge and carry on as if Tour, a peer of theirs in the science world, had not said anything. But that, too, would be extremely revealing.
Of the ten, Lee Cronin at least is quite active on Twitter or X. I’m going to tweet this to him right now. You should too!