Monday, January 7, 2008

Jonathan Wells and the Wedge Strategy

At the end of the Washington Monument rally in September, 1976, I was admitted to the second entering class at Unification Theological Seminary. During the next two years, I took a long prayer walk every morning. I asked God what He wanted me to do with my life, and the answer came not only through my prayers, but also through Father’s many alks to us, and through my studies. Father encouraged us to set our sights high and accomplish great things

He also spoke out against the evils in the world; among them, he frequently criticized Darwin’s theory that living things originated without God’s purposeful, creative activity. My studies included modern theologians who took Darwinism for granted and thus saw no room for God’s involvement in nature or history; in the process, they reinterpreted the fall, the incarnation, and even God as products of human imagination

Father’s [Reverend Moon of Unification church], my studies, and my prayers convinced me that I should devote my life to destroying Darwinism, just as many of my fellow Unificationists had already devoted their lives to destroying Marxism. When father chose me (along with about a dozen other seminary graduates) to enter a PhD program in 1978, I welcomed the opportunity to prepare myself for battle. ---Jonathan Wells

The above words, from Jonathan Wells’ piece titled "Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second PhD" (also covered in Dawkins article in Brockman 2006 p. 92-3, and Shermer 2006 p.109-111 and Humes 2007 p. 165) show an inherent bias in Wells’ work. Wells, a member of the Unification Church, is apparently attempting (like many at the Discovery Institute) to destroy Darwinism as a result of his chosen worldview. While most of the Discovery Institute is only trying to change the definition of science, Wells appears to be attacking Darwinian evolution as a result of a mission given by his religious leader, ie he seems to be on a mission from God, at least in his mind. While a religious background is no reason to question a scientist’s work, it is when the scientific work done by the individual is only being done in an attempt to push a religious goal that the individual’s research should be called into question, if it is indeed flawed. We will consider Wells’ research in this blog.

Before addressing the scientific validity of Wells’ claims (I do a relatively quick explanation of Icons of Evolution in an attempt to keep this blog of a bearable length for the reader, and also due to the fact that this book has been rebutted by many authors already), it is worth noting that he is yet another key member of the Discovery Institute. Therefore, one would expect the validity of his claims to be telling with regards to the nature of Discovery Institute’s scientific claims as a whole. Let’s compare the above passage to the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Document:

The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western Civilization was built. Its influence can be detected in most, if not all, of the West’s greatest achievements, including representative democracy, human rights, free enterprise, and progrerss in the arts and sciences.

Yet a little over a century ago, this cardinal idea came under wholesale attack by intellectuals drawing on the discoveries of modern science. Debunking the traditional conceptions of both God and man, thinkers such as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud portrayed humans not as moral and spiritual beings, but as animals or machines who inhabited a universe ruled by purely impersonal forces and whose behavior and very thoughts were dictated by the unbending forces of biology, chemistry, and environment. This materialistic conception of reality eventually infected every area of our culture, from politics and economics to literature and art…

Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture [now named the Center for Science and Culture] seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics, and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature. (taken from the Discovery Institute’s press release "The "Wedge Document": "So What?"")

[another Wedge Document quote, same source]:

The social consequences of materialism have been devastating. As symptoms, those consequences are certainly worth treating. However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That cource is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy.

As shown by the above quotes, Jonathan Wells’ personal religious convictions and goals fit in perfectly with the Discovery Institute’s plan to undermine scientific materialism, ie. the clause in the definition of science requiring testability of ideas and essentially removing appeals to the supernatural from the realm of science. Many leaders of the Intelligent Design movement are in favor of changing the definition of science to include the supernatural, and this pattern will be illustrated throughout the course of this blog. Now that Wells’ religious convictions and goals have been shown to line up with Discovery Institute’s Wedge strategy, we can critically consider some of Wells’ writings.

Wells’ book Icons of Evolution, Science or Myth?: Why Much of What we Teach About Evolution is Wrong, published in 2000, attempts to undermine the scientific validity of evolutionary theory by attacking ten pieces of evidence for evolution that Wells claims have been debunked, and as a result, somehow undermine the validity of Darwinian evolution.
Wells’ first "Icon" is the Miller-Urey experiment. Wells here explains that there are flaws in the Miler-Urey experiment. While some of the questions he raises may be valid, there are some points worth noting in the defense of evolutionary theory. First, Wells is attacking abiogenesis (the origin of life) rather than Darwinian evolution (the diversification of life) here. Even if the Miller-Urey experiment is eventually proven to be completely worthless to science, its falsification would not in any way serve to falsify Darwinian evolution. Natural selection works only after life has originated; it cannot function until that point because by nature natural selection requires life to be in existence to operate.

Secondly, if all else fails, the Miller-Urey experiment did serve to produce amino acids. Amino acids are some of the major building blocks of life, and the creation of these acids is fundamental to scientifically explaining the origin of life. The next question that one could raise in reference to this experiment is the question of replication. How could the acids replicate? Robert Hazen raises a possibility in his article titled "Life’s Rocky Start" (2001). Perhaps the amino acids utilized mineral facies present upon formation in order to replicate. This would not only provide a framework for the creation of complex protein strings, but would also serve to explain the presence of a large bias in handedness in amino acids.

Wells’ next "Icon" is the Darwinian "tree" of life. Wells attacks this point by using the Cambrian explosion; since diversification apparently occurred rapidly at the Cambrian explosion, it serves to nullify the commonly-held interpretation of evolution, namely, that evolution leads to gradual increases in diversity through nature. Stephen Jay Gould does an outstanding job at explaining the trend Wells is using as evidence "against" evolution in his book Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (Gould 1989 p. 23-52), and I recommend reading this piece to anyone questioning the validity of the fossil record. Also worth noting in reference to the fossil record and the Cambrian explosion is the fact that there are known predecessors to the Burgess organisms in earlier sediments. While these organisms may not be closely related to the Burgess animals (there is a Chinese assemblage from the early Cambrian that preserves some Burgess-type organisms, such as simple chordates. However, the Ediacaran fauna, for example, are not known to be closely related to the Burgess fauna. What is important to note, however, is the extreme bias against soft-body preservation in the fossil record, and thus, how rare early soft-bodied organism fossils are), there are fossils present that show transitional phases leading up to the Burgess organisms in at least a few cases.

Wells’ third "Icon" is homology. However, the tetrapod body form, and derivations of the tetrapod limb, are so obvious to those with a background in the subject that is tough to misunderstand the implications of homology. While convergent evolution can produce similar features, in some cases, extremely similar features, good phylogenic data derived from a combination of features serves to nullify any confusion caused by apparent similarities caused by convergent evolution.

Wells’ next "Icon" is Haekel’s embryo drawings. Wells claims that Haeckel’s embryo drawings are used to indoctrinate biology students into an acceptance of evolution (Haeckel’s embryo drawings are known to be embellished in order to better illustrate the evolutionary evidences shown, and thus show bad scientific research practices which undermine Haeckel’s credibility in this case). However, that assumption is false. See Randy Olson’s recent film Flock of Dodos: the Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus for a short, crisp, yet nice destruction of this claim. While Haeckel’s embryo drawings have been proven to be scientifically inaccurate, the general trend in embryology does show the evidence that Haeckel embellished his embryo drawings with in an attempt to illustrate.

Next, we see Archaeopteryx. Wells essentially claims that Archaeopteryx is not evidence of evolution because Archaeopteryx lived before more-dinosaur-like relatives of Archaeopteryx. See my blog on the fossil record for a discussion of Archaeopteryx as a valid transitional fossil.
Wells next attacks the validity of experiments done on peppered moths that appeared to show that changes in moth color occur in response to pollution levels. Wells claims that photographs in textbooks are staged in order to make them appear viable, and that this disproves the research. The key point is that, while the photographs themselves were staged, they were used to illustrate actual experimental data dealing with the evolution of the moths (Humes 2007 p. 171).
While Humes’ statement (see source) initially appears to be a last-ditch effort to defend evolution, when his entire book is read, it becomes apparent that it is not. See the following statement:

Adaptation of peppered moths has been proved to occur across multiple generations, regardless of the staged illustrations (Humes 2007 p. 174)

Most modern scientists would agree with Humes here. In fact, the website of the National Center for Science Education has an entire page dedicated to rebutting Wells’ work in Icons. For the discussion of peppered moths, see The site rebuts Wells’ other claims within the book as well.

Wells’ next "Icon" is the experimentation done on fruit flies. The important concepts to take out of the fruit fly research deal with genetics. The key point behind these experiments is the fact that they show that certain genetic changes can produce new features (ie extra wings) in organisms. This fact is not questioned by the scientific community because it is scientifically proven; the experiments have been done.

Yet another Wells "Icon" is that of Darwin’s finches. However, these are evidences of microevolution, as conceded by many Design theorists. Design theorists, and even some Young Earth Creationists, do not attempt to refute microevolution as a rule, so this example is not as strong as Wells would expect it to be. The same is true with regards to the moth experiments listed above.

Next, Jonathan Wells discusses evolution in fossil horses. Wells’ major argument against the validity of these fossil horses is the fact that they show evidence as branching as opposed to linear evolution. The initial interpretation of these fossils was that they did show evidences of linear evolution, while that is false. This is perhaps a relict of the way Victorians approached evolutionary theory, in an attempt to find "direction" in evolutionary patterns. Gould again hits home on this "Icon" in Gould 1989. I strongly suggest reading that book to anyone with an interest in evolutionary theory.

Wells’ final "Icon" is that of human evolution. Consult my fossil record blog for a few links on this subject. Talk.Origins also has good sources on both human evolution and evolution as a whole. The evidence in favor of human evolution is so strong that I currently employ only a few references on the subject, allowing those with a background in anthropology to cover that area while I cover the fossil record as a whole and other subjects I am more familiar with. However, consider that one of the most damning evidences against Wells’ research here goes right back to the Wedge Strategy:

Governing Goals:
To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies
To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.
(Discovery Institute, "The "Wedge Strategy": "So What?"")

This strategy was developed before Wells published his book; the Wedge Document was leaked to the public in 1999, Icons of Evolution was published in 2000. Coincidence?

As shown by the short discussion of Icons of Evolution, Wells here has created a straw-man version of evolutionary theory, a theory in crisis, a theory not supported by the evidence. Later in the book, Wells suggests putting warning stickers on textbooks, and even provides some for readers to cut out themselves and paste in. What Wells does not note is the fact that these warning labels fit perfectly with the Discovery Institute Wedge strategy. By attacking evolutionary theory at the grassroots level, in our nation’s schools/with our nation’s young ones, they will have much greater success in their attempt to undermine scientific materialism, just as the Wedge strategy requires. However, the warning label path has been blocked by courts time and time again. I believe that the lack of compelling evidence as to why evolutionary theory should be challenged in Icons of Evolution betrays the true purpose of the book. If the purpose of the book were to scientifically undermine evolution, it fails miserably because it does not attack the most important evidences in favor of evolutionary theory; rather, it attacks "problems" that are not seen as problematic by any mainstream evolutionary theorist. This betrays the fact that the book was written to push a political/religious motive, not to improve science. Consider the Wedge Document goals already quoted here as well as the next one in reference to classroom policies:

[from the Wedge Document’s 5 Year Goals] To see major new debates in education, life issues, legal and personal responsibility pushed to the front of the national agenda. (Discovery Institute, "The "Wedge Document": "So What?"")

This appears to line up quite nicely with Wells’ textbook stickers and attacks on the teaching of evolutionary theory as presented in Icons of Evolution.

Next, we’ll consider Wells’ The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Let’s start off with another statement dealing with the Wedge Strategy’s educational goals.

The Discovery Institute defends the right of teachers to discuss ID if they choose to do so, but it opposes requiring ID until it becomes better established in the scientific community (Wells 2006 p. 155).

Apparently we must wait until the Wedge Strategy succeeds in changing the definition of science to include appeals to the supernatural, a situation that will never happen if the scientific community as a whole holds its ground. Currently, the Discovery Institute pushes a "Teach the Controversy" agenda rather than explicitly mentioning ID. Wells, its seems, agrees with this plan:

As Congress was debating the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Republican senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania proposed a "Sense of the Senate" amendment that subsequently became part of the joint House-Senate Conference Report accompanying the final bill. "The conferees recognize," stated the report, "that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society"

…Many Darwinists refuse to acknowledge that there are "differing scientific views" on biological evolution…(Here Wells goes on to discuss Eugenie Scott’s statement against anti-evolution arguments, and Stephen Meyer [of Discovery Institute fame] responding to these arguments)...As we have seen in the previous chapters, Darwinism has serious problems with the evidence, and some highly qualified scientists are skeptical of its exaggerated claims. Shouldn’t science students be permitted to learn about them? (Wells 2006 p.145-7)

As shown here, Wells is all in favor of teaching "alternates" to evolution, as well as problems with the theory. This would allow the Wedge Strategy to begin to gain a foothold in the American education system. Also, Wells’ arguments in the "previous chapters" mentioned in the above quote are not nearly as compelling as one would expect to be made by an individual attempting to undermine Darwinism. We will examine some of these arguments in this blog, but first, in accordance with the Wedge Document’s claims in reference to the cultural evils of Darwinian evolution and scientific materialism as a whole, here is a quote pitting Darwin against religion:

Many Darwinists are virulently anti-Christian. Richard Dawkins once said religion "is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to the smallpox virus but harder to eradicate," and Daniel C. Dennett thinks Christianity should be "preserved in cultural zoos". A common sight in American college towns is cars displaying Darwin fish---deliberate mockeries of the traditional symbol of Christianity, with feet underneath and "Darwin" inside. One variant has a Darwin fish raping a Christian fish.

Anti-Christian zealots are often in the forefront of attacks on intelligent design. In 2005, the chairman of the University of Kansas Religious Studies Department, atheist Paul Mirecki, proposed to teach a course titled "Intelligent Design Creationism and Other Mythologies." Mirecki boasted on a web site that "fundies" would see the course as a "slap in their big fat face." He also endorsed a description of Pope John Paul II as "a corpse in a funny hat wearing a dress."

Even disregarding such excesses, it is clear that there is a fundamental conflict here. It is not between religion and science, or even between Christianity and evolution, but between traditional Christianity and Darwinism. Although the latter may allow for the existence of a deity, it is not the God of traditional Christianity, who created human beings in His image. The contradiction couldn’t be sharper, and most attempts to blunt it end up by abandoning traditional Christianity.
(Wells 2006 p. 173).

This passage is inherently dishonest. Wells uses the most militantly anti-religious atheist proponents of Darwinian evolution and attempts to paint all proponents in such a light. Even if this is not the intent, Wells only highlights the most militant evolutionary theorists. Dawkins misuses evolutionary theory in an attempt to push an atheistic agenda. Dennett also feels that evolution supports atheism. While they are both extremely intelligent individuals, they are misguided in their attempt to use evolution to push a religious agenda. The moderate proponents of evolution represent what many of us think. There is no inherent conflict between science and religion because they occupy two separate realms; science tells us physically how we exist, and religion deals with the spiritual realm. Science is testable, concrete. Religion is spiritual and mystical. Science must be proven. Religion is based on faith. Evolutionary theorists such as Stephen Jay Gould and Kenneth Miller are perhaps the most well-known advocates of this mindset. Darwinian evolution need not be anti-religion, and it inherently isn’t.

What is also telling about this passage is that Wells fails to mention any of the extreme radicals on the anti-Darwin side. Wells himself has admitted to devoting his life to "destroying Darwinism", so naturally he only picks the most radical evolutionary theorists in attempt to portray evolutionary biology in a bad light. Wells makes the major mistake of claiming that Darwinian evolution is inherently anti-Christianity, when, in reality, it isn’t. The Roman Catholic Church sees no problem with evolutionary theory, although the Church would tend to disagree with such loose cannons as Richard Dawkins and Paul Mirecki (after all, Pope John Paul II does deserve much more respect than to be called "a corpse in a funny hat wearing a dress". I’m not sure if this claim is valid, but it would not surprise me given the nature of some attacks by atheists on religion. These atheists make the same mistake Design theorists do, namely, attempting to include religious implications in a scientific theory. Again, religion is inherently outside the realm of science due to the definition of science. Science cannot prove or disprove the presence of a deity. This is where faith must be applied. ). See for example the following quote, and also Gould 1997:

Religious faith is not the problem here, and I do not wish to state otherwise. What Is problematic is when religion is removed from its proper role. Science and religion are not mutually exclusive (Truth cannot contradict Truth), as they deal with two wholly different realms: religion dealing with how to live our lives in a moral sense, and how to interact with other people to a certain extent; and science dealing with how to live in and interact with a constantly changing world. Religion is a powerful force that can bring out the best in people when exercised in its proper element, and science can be a dangerous tool when taken out of context. The mirror statements also apply, such that religion is also dangerous when taken out of context, and science is a powerful positive force when applied in its proper element. When religious doctrines are forced into a science classroom, no good can come of it. Let us keep religion in the realm of religion, and leave the science classrooms to what they are meant for, the teaching of science. (Bertasso 2006)

Perhaps Wells feels that one must choose between religion and "Darwinism" because he feels a religious calling to destroy Darwinism. However, many in the scientific community would agree with the statement above.

Next, we will compare Wells’ writings with the ID textbook supplement Of Pandas and People. In The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design, Wells states that:

Intelligent design is compatible with some aspects of Darwinian evolution. ID does not deny the reality of variation and natural selection. It just denies that those phenomena can accomplish all that Darwinists claim they can accomplish. ID does not maintain that all species were created in their present form: Indeed, some ID advocates have no quarrel with the idea that all living things are descended from a common ancestor (Wells 2006 p.8-9)

This explains the viewpoint of ID theorist Michael Behe. Behe accepts macroevolution, but argues against evolution creating the complex building blocks of life. It appears that his criticisms of Darwinian natural selection are misguided, however. Behe appears to be questioning abiogenesis rather than evolution itself (a distinction present in many of these blogs). Natural selection, by nature, cannot apply to abiogenesis; abiogenesis deals with the origin of life while natural selection deals with the subsequent diversification of forms after life has originated.

On to the question as to whether Pandas agrees with the work of Wells. Consider the following quote:

Evolutionists object to the view of intelligent design because it does not give a natural cause explanation of how the various forms of life started in the first place. Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact---fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc. "(Davis and Kenyon 1989, p.99-100)

Apparently either the ID textbook supplement or Jonathan Wells is mistaken here. While some may claim that the ID movement does not attest to the validity of Pandas, it is worth noting that Stephen C. Meyer approves the book, indeed he even wrote a note to teachers in the 1993 edition. The Discovery Institute appears, overall, to accept the validity of the textbook, as evidenced by the May 1st 1993 "A Note to Teachers" article on the Discovery Institute’s website. Somewhere here, things do not add up. Which publication is correct?

In conjunction with the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy, Wells devotes a section of his Politically Incorrect Guide to railing against the evils of methodological naturalism in the scientific community. This term coincides with the definition of "scientific materialism". This book is apparently one of the Discovery Institute’s attempts to undermine scientific materialism. It certainly lives up to the goals set out by the Wedge Document.

Wells also argues against evidences for microevolution in his book, such as bacterial resistance to antibiotics. This shows a pattern common in Wells’ works. Point out evidences of microevolution in action, point out that they are "only microevolution", and then claim that they serve to not show any evidence for "macroevolution", which is essentially the same as microevolution, except on a larger scale. See for example my ceratopsian evolution discussion present on this webpage (fossil record blog).

Wells also claims that DNA shows evidence of "Design". By nature, this needn’t be taken as an argument against natural selection. Wells seems to have a problem with the origin of DNA, not necessarily mutations that occur after DNA has originated. Again, while natural selection may have some impact on the formation of DNA, the origin of DNA is again going back to the science of abiogenesis, and not evolution. Natural selection essentially fails to operate until we have competition, which occurs long after the first DNA strand was formed. Therefore, natural selection has nothing to do with the initial formation of DNA, only subsequent variation of DNA, which Darwinian natural selection has been shown to be able to explain. Wells also attacks evolutionary theory, using for example the bacterial flagellum, which has already shown to have been able to evolve.

What does Jonathan Wells believe about the fossil record? Let’s see it in his own words:
It turns out that the problem with fossils is not that transitional forms are missing, but that fossil evidence in principle cannot provide evidence for descent with modification (Wells 2006 p. 20).

This statement is so patently false that it requires a blog to answer in full. See my fossil record blog for an explanation as to why this is false. This statement by Wells showcases a massive misunderstanding of the fossil record, and calls into question his credibility to be discussing the subject.

As shown in this blog, Wells’ work has been shown to drastically misinterpret the data in favor of evolutionary theory in an attempt to falsify evolution as a science. This work comes hand-in-hand with an intriguing similarity to Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy. While Wells’ claims have across the board been shown to be either wrong or irrelevant, he still continues to be billed as one of the leaders of the Discovery Institute’s attack on Darwinian evolution. Is the best that the Discovery Institute can do with $5 million a year? Objections to Darwinian theory that have been repeatedly shown to be false do not constitute a strong objection to Darwinian evolution. With nearly all arguments made by Design theorists, the mainstream scientific community has been able to prove the Design theorists false. This leads one to ask the question "Is Intelligent Design science?" The answer is no. It is nothing more and nothing less than attempt to undermine the definition of science and return America to a Christian, theistic worldview. But don’t take my word for it…read the Wedge Document and compare it to the work of some Design theorists such as Wells!

Works Cited:
Behe, MJ. Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. Free Press NY, 2006. 10th Anniversary Edition
Bertasso, M. "Evolutionary Theory in an Insecure World". First published November 2006. accessed 1/3/08
Brockman, J. Intelligent Thought: Science Versus the Intelligent Design Movement. Vintage Books. NY 2006
Davis, P., and Kenyon, DH. Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins. Haughton Publishing Company, Dallas, 1989.
Discovery Institute. "The "Wedge Document": "So What?"". Available on Discovery Institute’s website Just search for "Wedge Document" and it will come up.
Gould, SJ. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. WW Norton& Company NY. 1989
Gould, SJ. "Nonoverlapping Magisteria". Natural History 106, p.16-22. printed March 1997. Also available at
Hartwig, M., and Meyer, SC. "A Note to Teachers". accessed 1/2/08, published 5/1/1993
Hazen, R. "Life’s Rocky Start". Scientific American. Vol. 284 # 14. p. 76-84. Printed April 2001.
Humes, E. Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul. HarperCollins NY, 2007. First Edition
National Center for Science Education "Icons of Evolution? Why Much of What Jonathan Wells Writes About Evolution is Wrong."
Also cited Accessed 1/3/08
Olson, R. Flock of Dodos: the Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus. Docuramafilms, 2006. video/DVD
Shermer, M. Why Darwin Matters: the Case Against Intelligent Design. Times Books, NY. 2006
Wells, J. "Darwinism: Why I Went for a Second Ph.D.". Accessed 1/2/08
Wells, J. Icons of Evolution, Science or Myth?: Why Much of What we Teach About Evolution is Wrong. Regnery Publishing, Inc, Washington DC, 2000
Wells, J. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Regnery Publishing, Inc, Washington DC, 2006

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