Edgy Deepak Chopra makes a fool of himself, again


Oh, joy. Deepak Chopra is mad about being called an evolution denialist, and to disprove the accusation, he fires back with a whole long letter full of misconceptions about evolution. As usual, he relies on painting himself as the brave pioneer at the very edge of science, with a hooting mob of regressive scientific dogmatists haranguing him.

…in a recent blog, Valerie Strauss goes beyond catcalls, accusing me of being an evolution denier, which is absolutely false. I work and write with high-level scientists, including physicists, geneticists, and others who believe, as I do, that mainstream science, like mainstream medicine, has a lot to gain from keeping the flow of ideas moving.

As far as evolution is concerned, there’s a cadre of strict Darwinists who will push back against any encroachment into their field, but neo-Darwinism, which tries to address glaring gaps in Darwin’s original theory (after all, he knew nothing of DNA, genes, and the chemical basis of mutations) is a respected field, too. I often think that my interest in genetics, which has led to a book being published this fall, arouses vehement objections because scientists want to protect their turf, and seeing an interested amateur write about troubling issues they haven’t resolved causes them to cry, “How dare he?”

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How to use genomic information for evil


The combination of access to genetic data and computer programming must be an irresistible temptation to racists. Someone tried to distribute a code fragment that would allow a program to look up gene data on 23andMe and use it to limit who would be allowed to use the program.

Dubbed Genetic Access Control, the program—which was posted to GitHub on Monday—would act as a login for sites and scan the genetic information of 23andMe users who make their data available, much like how websites currently request access to your Facebook profile prior to entry. The coder in question cited a few “possible uses” for Genetic Access Control, ranging from “Groups defined by ethnic background, e.g. Black Panthers or NAACP members,” to “Safer online dating sites that only partner people with a low likelihood of offspring with two recessive genes for congenital diseases.”

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This 1925 Bugatti Brescia was found in a state of profound neglect in a garage, and was auctioned off for almost a million dollars. It’s a beautiful work of art. It doesn’t run, but still…that would be a fine vehicle for a Sunday drive, once it’s restored.


But it’s the wrong model! Way, way back in high school, I was really into technical drafting, and I ran across this one legendary Bugatti, and I made it the subject of my class project: drawing scale 3-views, engine diagrams, isometric projections, all that kind of stuff, for a portfolio which, sadly, I no longer have. It’s been a while.

But for a while there, I was in nerd love with the Bugatti Model 100.

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Does sex sell beer?


I don’t watch much broadcast TV, but when I do, I pay a distracting amount of attention to the ads (which is the main reason I don’t watch it much). I think advertisers are extremely good at grabbing your attention quickly, and they’ve really mastered an effective visual language. But what is it good at, beyond compelling the eye to follow it? I confess, if a beer commercial features bikini-clad women bouncing on the screen, my eye is irresistibly drawn to it, and it takes some focus to tear away.

But I don’t think I buy beer based on the attire of their bikini models. Most often, I don’t even know what brand of beer they’re trying to sell with that beach scene, so it would be hard for it to influence me in a specific direction. So here’s a paper that asks about the actual effectiveness of those ads.

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This is the most boring video ever

It’s an accurately rendered flight through space at the speed of light. You start out at the surface of the sun, and then hurtle out at 300 million meters per second. It takes 3 minutes to reach Mercury. It takes 45 minutes to reach Jupiter. This is basically a video of empty space centered on a very slowly shrinking bright star, with an occasional rocky ball whipping by.

Man, lightspeed is slow, and space is awfully empty.

I did not make it to the end of the video.

How an embryo is like a meatball sub

I’ve only just noticed that I have a fondness for food metaphors when talking about development — gastrulation is a peculiar way to make a jelly sandwich, neurulation is like rolling up a burrito, and somite formation is a meatball sub. They sort of illustrate the arrangement of the tissues involved, but of course they all have shortcomings…but then explaining how the metaphor doesn’t work can be just as informative as the metaphor itself.

For instance, early in its development, the vertebrate embryo consists of two epithelial sheets, the epiblast and hypoblast, pressed against each other like two slices of bread. That’s easy to visualize. It also allows me to explain the core idea of an epithelium — a layer of cells tightly linked to one another to form a continuous more or less two dimensional sheet. A lot of animal development is about epithelia folding and contacting other layers. But another important concept is that some cells are not in sheets — they’ve dissociated and are moving in a loose mass surrounded by an extracellular matrix. This is called mesenchyme. Mesenchyme would be the gooey jelly between the two sheet-like bread slices.

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Bad science books still get published


Wasn’t it enough that I read Nessa Carey’s terrible Junk DNA book? It scarred me, it did. But there’s another one out, John Parrington’s The Deeper Genome: Why there is more to the human genome than meets the eye, and no, I REFUSE TO READ IT. I have been reading Larry Moran’s multi-part evisceration of Parrington, though. It’s spectacularly gory. There are bits of Oxford lecturer in pharmacology spattered all over the place.

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