Hi there everyone!

MAJeff here, and I’ll be one of your guestbloggers for the next several days. I’d first like to thank PZ for asking me to do this. I was more than a little surprised to get an email the other day inviting me, and I hope I can keep up the quality people have come to expect from the place.

I’m not sure of everything I’ll be posting about yet. But, I’ll probably be doing some of what I do when I teach, and that is asking questions. Y’all are a chatty bunch, so I probably won’t need to do much asking. Sometimes, though, I just like to get to know folks better, to move beyond argument and talk. As a sociologist, I study people. I don’t always understand them, but I do find them fascinating. Opportunities to get to know what drives folks are never to be turned down.

So, here goes: What is it about science that so enthuses all of you?

My brief answer–it’s not Boobies; not that there’s anything wrong with that, w00t–is below the fold….


This is a picture taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It’s a photograph of the Phoenix Mars Lander, with parachute deployed, descending onto the surface of the planet. The first time I saw this image I burst into tears. Yeah, I cried over these mere dots of white on a rippling black field. It was so overwhelming just imagining that we were taking a picture of our own work from another planet, and sending those images back to ourselves.

We’re an incredible species. We’re also amazingly insignificant. Indeed, some of the things that make us so incredible are what allow us to realize how insignificant we are. I love the fact that we have figured out how life developed on this speck, and that we’ve figured out I’m my cat’s cousin–about 85 million years or so removed. I love that we were able to send men to the moon, and bring them back alive. I love that many people I care about are able to live longer, healthier lives than they would have a mere decade-and-a-half ago. I love the thrill of discovery.

So, for me, the answer is partially emotional. For all of the talk of rationality here, we are emotional beings. I, for one, revel in that. Science locates me in the world, and in the universe that contains this world and it allows me to understand that location. Scientific knowledge allows us to see how–as Eddie Izzard would say, in “the original meaning of the word”–awesome existence, and the spaces in which it takes place, really is, and I love experiencing the sense of awe.


  1. Steve LaBonne says

    Aren’t you supposed to keep a low profile until Obama wins the election? [ducks]

    For me with my training as a biologist it’s the astounding diversity of life, its ability to adapt to every possible niche, and the fascination of the intricate molecular mechanisms that make it work.

    Nothing irks me more than idiotic claims that science “takes the mystery out of life”. The reality of the universe is infinitely stranger and more awe-inspiring than any of the puny stories that people have made up.

  2. DMH says

    A certain Prof. Dawkins put it very nicely, and I agree:

    “Science is the poetry of reality”

  3. jorge666 says

    Welcome to the hot seat. PZ will be a hard act to follow, but I know you will give it your all….

  4. Qwerty says

    “I love experiencing the sense of awe.”

    You could say that science is aweful in the old sense of this word which means full of awe for something. Now, youngsters may say is awesome.

    I am not a scientist but I appreciate the understanding of how the world and the universe it inhabits works that is informed by science and scientists. At least the part of it that I can understand.

  5. Karen says

    Well, I’d have to ponder a bit to respond appropriately – my love of science is also partially emotional, and it’d take some real thought to attempt to improve upon your and PZ’s takes. (The first time I read PZ’s post, “Proper Reverence…” at http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/01/the_proper_reverence_due_those.php ) I finally understood the feeling people must get when reading their religious works. It felt like someone had artfully crafted my inner thoughts into something tangible and awesome.

    Inappropriately, I am thrilled to see you hosting Pharyngula for a bit. You should know that when I picture you, I picture Capt. Jack Harkness. I don’t know if you’re a Who/Torchwood fan, but I assure you it’s a compliment.

  6. MAJeff, OM says

    Aren’t you supposed to keep a low profile until Obama wins the election?

    Nah Gah Happen.

    Nothing irks me more than idiotic claims that science “takes the mystery out of life”. The reality of the universe is infinitely stranger and more awe-inspiring than any of the puny stories that people have made up.



    I’m just happy that the “schedule” function worked for the post. I haven’t dealt with MT in a few years, and never used that function before. For someone who used to be a mid-early adopter, I’m a bit freaked at how I’ve fallen out of that over the past couple years. These little successes make me so happy.

  7. inkadu says

    I like everything about science that MA Jeff and Carl Sagan like about science.

    But science is a great way to stay humble from a different point than standing on the last three seconds of the cosmic calendar. Science reminds us how easy it is to be wrong, and how hard it is to be right. In fact, there’s is no “right,” there’s just successive approximations towards the truth.

    I also like the way a scientific mindset tends to bleach moralistic thinking out. You might think things are “wrong” but acknowledge that results are more important than being right. Take abstinence only education as contrapositive example…

    Also, MA Jeff, will you be performing any acts of desecration during your tenure?

  8. says

    Nicely put. That about sums it up for me too. Except…

    The coolness of the MRO photo (and that coolness is coolest of the cool) is more a matter of engineering than science. If you ask me.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I still recall reading an article in Scientific American long long ago about the Voyager missions, and all the things that went wrong with them (loss of primary radio receiver, loss of all but 100 Hz of bandwidth of secondary receiver, eventual gumming up of the camera platform, reduction in signal strength due to billions of miles of intervening space, yadda yadda), and the things they did to get around it.

    Interestingly, it wasn’t until after I started working at a certain well-known space agency that I remembered being inspired by that article. But inspired I was. How cool is it to send robots to the far reaches of the solar system and have them actually work? Wicked pissa, as they say up north.

    So yeah, science good (boobies too!), but engineering good too! Really, the convergence of both is best. Aw hell, I’m a fan of all three.

  9. Kahootz says

    In response to your question, I’m always fascinated by how complex tiny things can be. I could look at those black & white images of a spider’s feet and fangs and eyes that have been enlarged x500 all day long.

  10. says

    Oh kick all kinds of ass. Woot! Nice Jeff.

    So, for me, the answer is partially emotional. For all of the talk of rationality here, we are emotional beings. I, for one, revel in that. Science locates me in the world, and in the universe that contains this world and it allows me to understand that location. Scientific knowledge allows us to see how–as Eddie Izzard would say, in “the original meaning of the word”–awesome existence, and the spaces in which it takes place, really is, and I love experiencing the sense of awe.

    I totally agree. I don’t get the awe of god feeling when I see a fantastic waterfall or when I was hanging from a portaledge in Zion national park watching a meteor shower, but that doesn’t mean i don’t sit there dumbstuck at nature’s beauty. As a photographer that focuses on nature I try and capture that same feeling I get when I see something amazing in nature. I don’t always get it right but it sure is fun chasing that feeling.

  11. MAJeff, OM says

    Also, MA Jeff, will you be performing any acts of desecration during your tenure?

    I doubt “desecration” will enter into the equation.

    First, to do so is to buy into the religious “framing” of reality (I’m a sociologist who works in public discourse and for whom “framing” is a central concept. Working on narrative in my dissertation.)

    I do have an idea or two for other “offenses” though :-)

  12. MikeM says

    While I’d love to give you a fascinating answer with deep philosophical undertones and subtle nuances, I just can’t.

    I’m driven by rational thought, and I’m curious about how stuff (whether it’s a car, a watch, a bicycle, a computer or science in general) works.

    I’m just a curious guy. Not much to it.

  13. craig says

    I dunno why I love science. I have loved it since I was a toddler hunting for fossils at the creek near my home, and as a teenager poring over Voyager photos.

    All science is is exploring our world, our universe, and learning about it. How can it NOT be exciting? It’s all there is!

  14. Wowbagger says

    You’re not planning to post anything anything, er, inflammatory while you’re in PZ’s seat are you, Jeff? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind…

  15. Nick Gotts says

    Hi Jeff,
    Good question, here’s my attempt at an answer:

    The way it simultaneously reveals ever-broader and deeper connections between what have appeared to be unrelated or even incompatible theories; and fascinating and astonishing particular facts. I find the same combination in mathematics and history. Also, the way it works as an institutional system, making it possible for us as a species to understand far more than any one of us can.

  16. spurge says

    The first thing that comes into my head is that science is just so fucking cool.

    I don’t think there is any branch of science that does not interest me.

    Looking up at the stars and thinking about how vast the universe is gives me a thrill that is hard to describe. Seeing the beautiful pictures of the universe that Hubble takes and then getting to find out what they are and how they formed is wonderful.

    I am also happy that I work in bio-tech so that I can do a little science too.

  17. inkadu says

    Now we just need a post on engineering a breed of space-faring triple-breasted squid and we will have the trifecta.

  18. andyo says

    I remember Phil Plait also said something similar about that picture, if I recall correctly. For me, it’s still Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, with its accompanying text:

    […] From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest.

    But for us, it’s different. Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader”, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

    The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

    Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

    The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

    It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

    The Earth is where we make our stand. I loved that.

  19. craig says

    Just another thought on the “science is all there is” idea…

    That’s the sad thing about religion. It’s as if during your only chance ever to watch the main feature, you’ve decided to close your eyes and pretend you’re watching a different movie.

  20. MAJeff, OM says

    You’re not planning to post anything anything, er, inflammatory while you’re in PZ’s seat are you, Jeff?


    I’m too mild-mannered and non-confrontational to ever consider such a thing.

    Actually, it’s kind of funny. Everyone talks about how calm and mild PZ is. Get to know me in persona and I’m annoyingly Minnesotan–I’m nice.

  21. CGM3 says

    “Life is not only stranger than we imagine; it is stranger than we CAN imagine.”

    I ran across that quote years ago, and it still holds true. Just wish I could remember who said it.

  22. Nick Gotts says

    J.B.S. Haldane – but it was actually:

    “Now my own suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.”

  23. MAJeff, OM says

    Inappropriately, I am thrilled to see you hosting Pharyngula for a bit. You should know that when I picture you, I picture Capt. Jack Harkness. I don’t know if you’re a Who/Torchwood fan, but I assure you it’s a compliment.


    just wait….*evil grin*

  24. John C. Randolph says

    I think that Feynman said it very well in the title of his book, the pleasure of finding things out. There’s a lot going on in this world and this universe, and the feeling of “Oh, that’s why that happens” is a lot of fun.


  25. Glidwrith says

    I can’t say I can write deathless prose or even doggerel, but for me, the beauty and complexity to be found inside a cell is enough to make you weep; to look at the human body in all its intricacy….how often have you watched a running horse…..and the challenge to unravel billions of years of change, to deduce a piece of that puzzle within your lifetime……..

  26. Bride of Shrek OM says

    As a child I could spend hours poring over my Dad’s old copies of National Geographic in his surgery and I’d also lie on the floor in our study for hours flicking through encyclopaedias randomnly reading and learning.My very favourite thing however was to “read” atlases. You know just stare for hours at the various maps and wonder what those countries were like, whether they had mountains or rivers. What was the climate like, did it have glaciers or lakes. I loved learning terms like ox-bow lake or moraine and what they were. I guess I was just fascinated about the world and how it all came together rather than the people in it as such. I desperately wanted to be a physical geographer and not only did that but went on to specialise in climatology. I’m in another profession now but I still love my sciency stuff.

    Anyhow, fantastic to see you guest blogging MAJeff- a fine choice if I might say so, I always love reding your posts. I could also say that whilst the cat’s away the mice will play but I figure there’s very little our particular cat hasn’t already done himself so I doubt there’s not much us mice could do that would shock him.

  27. says

    MC MAJeff in da house, a-scritchin and a-scratchin, a-hippin and a-hoppin yo!

    … umm, sorry. I’ll try not to let that happen again.

    Anyway, as to your question: leaving aside the vast practical benefits science has brought us, the Scientific Method has produced explanations of life, the universe and everything that are mindstaggeringly, gobsmackingly weirder and wilder and make-your-head-explode-with-sheer-wonder than the explanations we produced through the Making Stuff Up Method. Nature is exciting and intricate and beautiful, and science can make sense of it.

    There’s also the trivial matter that the explanations provided through science, unlike those provided through myth-making, are fairly often true.

  28. Wowbagger says

    Science is great because it gives us insight into – in the words of Douglas Adams – life, the universe and everything. Where would we be without it?

  29. says

    Science is what can give us “magic”. Whereas magic gives us nothing.

    Of course as science it isn’t considered to be magic. But there’s nothing hard and fast that can tell us that the world wide web is not magic (it’s a matter of interpretation).

    But then we’re consumers of information, and science has most of the best (new, interesting) information. That’s probably the better reason science is wonderful.

    Glen D

  30. Nick Gotts says

    On looking up Haldane in Wikipedia, I find that there’s a quote which is closer to yours:

    “Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine” – Arthur Stanley Eddington.

    I don’t know whether Haldane or Eddington was first.

  31. Max Fagin says

    It’s simple for me. I like science because, well . . . IT WORKS.

    I find it satisfying when I can say something about the world, AND FIND OUT THAT I’M RIGHT. What more reason do you need :)

  32. Alex says

    It’s fascinating. It also distances me from the Teen Christian Movement, which I find hilarious.

  33. Gregory Kusnick says

    Nothing irks me more than idiotic claims that science “takes the mystery out of life”.

    Actually, science puts the mystery into life. There is no such thing as final knowledge or ultimate answers (string theory notwithstanding). The universe of potential knowledge is, in Dyson’s phrase, infinite in all directions. The more we know, the more unanswered questions we have about what lies beyond the frontier of knowledge.

  34. Nick Gotts says

    Glen Davidson@31,

    “Science is magic that works.” – Papa Monzano in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle.

  35. Hap says

    jcr’s comment is the closest to what I feel. I like to put things together (well, nonphysical things, which is why my wife fixes things at home) in my head, and figure out how things work. I don’t think I have so much of the unfettered curiosity or logic of thought that other people have for science, though – chemistry has a mixture of theory and practical experience that fits me. I like looking at chemical plants and seeing how they do things and how they work, and I like chemical structures.

  36. MAJeff, OM says

    MC MAJeff in da house, a-scritchin and a-scratchin, a-hippin and a-hoppin yo!

    Well, maybe a little House or Disco, if not Hip-Hop.

  37. Stark says

    Well, for the raw power of course… the power to rule the world…. mwahahahaha!!!

    Oh. No wait, that’s not it at all…

    I love science because of what it inspires in humanity. The seeking of knowledge just for it’s own sake and the public sharing of that knowledge to any who are willing to learn…. it’s the most amazing conept mankind has ever discovered. I suspect it may be the best concept we ever will come up with. Science has no agenda. It is such an amazingly simple concept – observe, theorize, test, repeat – and yet it has produced such amazingly complex understandings of the universe and all in it. It’s beauty at it’s simplest form – without science it is impossible to appreciate the the rest of our universe for the amazing and stunningly beautiful place it is.

    BTW – the picture you have above – it has been my desktop since it was released and I’ve printed and framed a copy of it in my study as a landmark in human history. I too shed a tear when I saw it the first time – and I’m not ashamed to say so. I’ve also had to explain what it is it to at least 50 coworkers… and enjoyed doing so every time I did. A few even understood the significance of it and left my desk with that sense of awe that only science can create.

  38. LisaJ says

    Great post Jeff, and some very inspiring words!

    Why do I love Science? Well, it’s just beyond fascinating. Science has the power to reveal anything you want to know about our world and who we are, and better yet it can reveal things that you never even imagined. Science is everything that’s real in this world, and discovering new truths about this magnificent world, whether it be through work I’ve done in the lab or just leisurely reading, makes me very happy. It’s just beautiful stuff!

  39. Lindsay Waterman says

    I feel the same way – a big part of the value out get out of science isn’t so much in the facts themselves but in how those facts relate to humanity as a whole. Science puts human life in context. I find the experience of being put in my place is often emotional.

  40. Crudely Wrott, Dayton, Ohio says

    Science provides links. Science is also intensely human both on a personal level and on a broader societal level.

    When I was little and first learning science the attraction was that is was “neat.” Surprising and illuminating insights were at hand doing simple chemistry, looking through a telescope, collecting and comparing leaves and bugs and stuff. The main hook was the novelty of things unseen, unexpected. For me this was a most pleasant sensation.

    Time passed and I began to notice how disciplines in science overlap; there is seldom a sharp demarcation between, say, physics and chemistry. Or chemistry and biology. Or physics and meteorology and biology. Or the one event that sets the stage for the next event. Things are linked on all levels. OK, processes and phenomena are dependent upon extant conditions which are dependent upon previous processes and phenomena and et cetera.

    These days I use and view science not only as a window into the workings of the world, but also as an example of the best of human endeavor. The ability of curiosity and memory and stubbornness to build a useful model of the universe is more impressive to me that our ability to build detailed and convincing fantasy. Building tools with purpose and learning to wield them amazes me, even while I find new uses for old tools. I work with my hands, carry a tool box and am welcomed in many places because I can fix old things and build new things. I solve problems and riddles on a daily basis by practicing science. I observe, I cogitate, I think of what I have on hand and what I don’t and then I decide on a course of action. This approach works remarkably well which is why people call me back to their homes and businesses repeatedly.

    Not only can I make a living by doing this sort of “mixed science” (I use knowledge from many disciplines and trades), but I make people happy. And I get a satisfying kick out of it, too.

    Great stuff, science. It challenges and informs me daily.

  41. says

    Heh. I was hoping you’d be one of the guest bloggers, and only partly because we’ve got to keep up the Minnesotan side.

    Aside from science being a neverending set of nested puzzles and a great thing to have at your back in an argument, I think it’s just the coolest thing to wonder about something and then be able to go find out. There are so many places I can’t actually go–all those stars, inside an atom, inside someone else’s experience–but science can take me there anyway.

  42. says

    One of many things I love about science is that it is the most useful tool ever invented. It tells us how the world works. It allows us to build all sorts of things, all of which have come from asking a few simple questions, and discovering that the answers are not simple, and the world is all the more interesting because of this.

    I have never forgotten the feeling I get from discovering something. Asking a question, and reading a book that told me, yes, someone else wondered that too, and went out and found the answer.

    I want to work in museums, and while I doubt I’ll ever do much original research, by preserving collections and making them accessible to the public and professionals, I’m helping people to questions no-one has tried asking yet, and passing on the answers that we do have.

  43. iDN says

    You’re essentially asking what I love about science..
    Hmmm, without considering the stunning simplicity with which it explains our world and our role in it, I like the fact that it’s based on correct logic and the correct process of thought. For me, the latter is the most attractive.

  44. ElfPirateMonarch says

    What is it about science that enthuses me, hmm that is a tough one. I think to answer that requires an understanding of my own progression through discovery. I started off with dinosaurs (like a lot of kids) and when I was shown all these drawings and cartoons etc my question was “How do we know that?” The fact that unlike so many other paradigms *cough*religion*cough* science tries to find answers. After that it was watching the supreme beauty of a shark in the ocean. There is something majestic about a predator that is as close to evolutionary perfection as the shark. Seeing the majestic beauty and complexity of life, I can only stand and wonder how.

  45. Malcolm says

    When I was a kid, I wondered why some leaves turned red in autumn. Now I know. That’s why I love science; it provides a way to find answers.

  46. says

    I, too, share the wonder of discovery. But for me science has a very personal importance. Without it, I would have died of an asthma attack before I was three years old. Many of us would not be here if it weren’t for vaccinations, sanitation, and other things that were developed because people endeavored to learn how nature works and how we can interact with it.

    Go science.

  47. says

    Science is a toybox for grown-ups. A big, expensive, vast, limitless, wonderful toybox. And let’s admit it: we all love play and creativity. :-)

  48. says

    Science is a toybox for grown-ups. A big, expensive, vast, limitless, wonderful toybox. And let’s admit it: we all love play and creativity. :-)

  49. MAJeff, OM says

    And let’s admit it: we all love play and creativity. :-)

    yup….at least I do.

  50. nobody says

    Perfect. The Mad Professor, Little Paul, gives the reins over to the Lead Inmate, Igor. This should be interesting.

  51. firemancarl says

    IMO, it’s prolly one of the best pics NASA has ever released. How cool is it that those things lined up at the right time. Is this the first ever picture we have of a lander descending onto another planet? Wowza!

  52. BMcP says

    I was going to say it was the Boobies, but you took that from me. :D

    I suppose it is because it is the best method to use to answer all those wonderful questions I have about the universe, the Earth, life, and so forth. Without science, I doubt any of the real questions could be adequately answered.

  53. Jeremy says

    There’s nothing like the thrill of discovery.

    I’ve always been fascinated with science, ever since I started watching “Wild Kingdom” and “Nova” on PBS starting around age 7. I’ve always been excited to learn new things.

    Now I’m an undergrad in geology and biology, and the fascination continues unabated. Everything from exploring and understanding geologic formations up close to seeing life through a microscope and studying how it works is really exciting to me.

  54. Dagor says

    Well, I am the son of a biologist/psychologist and a surgeon. So i grew up with science and i was always fascinated by it. As a Teenager i mainly wondered why people do what they do. I read a lot about philosophy and sociology but in the end i came to the conclusion that you have to start with the basics so i became fascinated with neurobiology. My main interests still are biology and medicine although i did not become a neurobiologist.
    Science has always been what provided me with the explanations i needed and its beauty always touched me more than anything a philosopher could write (Ernst Bloch excluded).

  55. mk says

    I have only a high school education. A high school that frankly wasn’t so swift academically. As a result, neither am I. Everything I know about science (relatively speaking that’s very little!) I learned on my own. Sagan, Gould, Dawkins…later (lately?) PZ, Sean, Jason et al. I can still remember elementary school days and I guess a few high school days in science classes… just being absolutley awed, thrilled, amazed, genuinely excited about these cool things that we explored in these classes. I never got over the rush it gave me. I wanted more! The more I learned the more I wanted to learn.

    Ultimately, I guess that’s it. The rush. I’m addicted to science!

  56. Pierce R. Butler says

    … for whom “framing” is a central concept.

    Uh-oh. Did whazzisname know that you indulge in that particular perversion too when he handed over the chariot reins?

    What is it about science that so enthuses all of you?

    The Greek root for “enthuse” breaks down to “in-theos”, meaning (I think) that a person in that condition had a bit of the spirit of one or more gods within. Since so many of their deities were condensed expressions of one emotion or another, that’s not so serious an infection as catching a case of Yahweh, but it’s still an alarming development in a veritable den of atheists.

    Even if the Professor doesn’t get stuck for an indefinite interlude on some uncharted Pacific island with a set of slapstick zanies (a known occupational hazard in his current approximate area), he may not even recognize his multiply-transmogrified blog upon his foretold return.

  57. craig says

    Science is like “Lost,” in that the more you learn, the more you find there is to learn. It’s never over, there’s always a new twist. Or a zillion new twists.
    The difference is that the story science tells makes MORE sense as you go along rather than less… the more you learn the LESS confusing it is.

  58. says

    Hats off to MAJeff, OM!

    It’s always fun to read your observations, sir, so you are clearly one of the better people to herd this bunch of domestic felines along.

    Alas, I can add nothing to the erudite reasons to enjoy and embrace science listed above, except perhaps with a rambling anecdote about how when I was but a wee Cub frolicking in the bamboo thickets of South Idaho, I liked to break stuff to figure out how it worked…

    The MadPanda, FCD

  59. Barklikeadog says

    I developed my sense of awe by watching the first moon landing live. Dates me somewhat, no? It was an incredible thing to watch & I get choked up just remembering it.

    I took to biology when confronted with the majesty of Africa. I’ve never felt so at home than I did there. I got to see it when it was still pristine and set me on the course of understanding the life I encountered. Besides I got to see boobies for the first time as a young lad of 13. Needless to say I’ve been fascinated with those ever since too.

  60. Ali says

    “What is it about science that so enthuses all of you?”

    That no matter how crazy my imagination runs amok, science will kick my imagination’s butt hehe.

  61. Trixie says

    I love the unanswered questions of science and am always so fascinated that I never seem to get bored. I actually tell people that I “get to play in the lab all day” when they ask me what my job is.

    On a different note here is a recent article that is really peaking my interest at the moment!! Anyone out there familiar with the idea of contagious cancers?? This is something totally new to me.


  62. Mike Mahovic says

    Why do I love science?
    I have to say, a certain very recent commercial sums it all up very nicely. ;)

  63. David D.G. says

    My sense of it is similar to yours, MAJeff, and to that of Carl Sagan in the sense that I have always experienced what Sagan called “the romance of science”; it was only when he expressed the phrase that I knew that to be what it was.

    I am awed by natural sciences most of all (as opposed to the breathtaking accomplishments such as have been done with applied sciences in space exploration, medicine, and so on — even as cool and wondrous as those, too, are, and even though they often make it possible to experience these natural wonders). Some of this is because of their implications; sometimes, though, it’s as much because of inimitable aesthetics.

    I marvel at the planets, soaking up the sight of weather patterns on Jupiter and trying to make sense of them. I get goosebumps in a powerful electrical storm — watching the lightning flash, hearing and feeling the sound waves of the thunder, smelling the rain and ozone in the atmosphere. In a cave, looking at the delicate “soda straw” stalactites and more massive flowstone formations, all of which take centuries to form bit by bit, eventually forming chambers that can look and feel like cathedral sanctuaries, I often feel the sort of reverence for nature that I’m sure compares with the sort of ecstasy that overcomes many religious people in an artfully built church.

    I also just love learning how the universe works — how the continents once fit together and have drifted apart (as seemed obvious to me by 5th grade from looking at a world globe, just as the theory of continental drift was being introduced and disputed in geology conventions!); how the various forces of selection and other factors shaped, and continue to shape, the development of life forms, many of them in stupendously fascinating ways; how gravity can cause gas and dust to become stars and planets and moons, can turn some of those moons to dust again, force atoms to fuse and turn stars from hydrogen into helium, then later oxygen, then carbon, and eventually into iron, and then explode those elements back out into the cosmos to be regathered again — into us.

    As far as I’m concerned, experiences and knowledge like these blow the mind way better than any drug ever could!

    ~David D.G.

  64. says

    “What is it about science that so enthuses all of you?”

    Humm. I guess I didn’t really respond to the question exactly.

    Science enthuses me in the wonder of what is still to be discovered. Yes we know some about our surroundings. But there in so much more out there. While I laid in that ledge in Zion NP there are plenty of explanations for what I was witnessing but we’ve only touched on what is out there.

  65. charfles says

    The first time I saw this image I burst into tears. Yeah, I cried over these mere dots of white on a rippling black field. It was so overwhelming just imagining that we were taking a picture of our own work from another planet, and sending those images back to ourselves.

    I couldn’t agree more. When I first saw it and read the caption I cracked a huge smile. Definitely ranks up there with earthrise and pale blue dot.

  66. John Phillips, FCD says

    I was born and encouraged by my parents to be insanely curious about life, the universe and everything, which has only grown worse with age :) and science is the only method I have found that can, however fleetingly, assuage that curiosity.

    But best of all, science is FUN.

  67. negentropyeater says

    I have always been interested in science for a simple reason : it’s the only method I know of to get closer to the truth about reality. I on’t know any other. Other disciplines such as the humanities, philosophy, history, are complementary, they help to format what science discovers and also help to develop new evidences and different ways to look at things. But fundamentally we need science, because it is the only method to clearly eliminate hypothesis and false evidences.

    I received a solid general scientific education in a french “grande ecole”, with the basics in Physical sciences, chemistry, and of course the fundamental tool of science, mathematics. Not enough in biology for my liking, I miss it, I now realise how much I miss it, I’m 44 years old, I stopped my scientific career when I was 28, because I made the choice to go into business, also because quite simply science doesn’t help you very much to make money. Two years ago I sold my business, quite succesfully, and now I am making a break where I am trying to reeducate myself in the areas am most missing, and where I am most interested.

    I am an agnostic. I have always been an agnostic. So one of the things I am particularly interested is the following :
    being an agnostic (I have always been an agnostic) I believe that we haven’t found any positive evidence for God’s existence, religion has always been incapable of doing so and building a realistic hypothesis for what is God. They have always refused to do so, they “hide” behind the term god and have never spent time to try at least to come up with a deatiled descripton of what a god would be, how he would have come into existence, and what kind of evidence we should look for and test through the scientific method, which as I said early, the only way I know to do it.
    Also, religions always assume a priori, that there is a God(s), but that basically eliminates it as a valid method to ascertain the truth. You should assume that it doesn’t exist, but keep the possibility open.

    So the question for me is, is there a valid hypothesis, a valid description for what God is, and can we still find evidence ? I don’t believe any body has done so for now. That’s what I am trying to keep busy with.
    I thnk I have found a plausible hypothesis, I am still developing it.
    I know that many here have already abandoned the idea that any hypothesis could be plausible, and that there are absolutely no evidences that could support such a hypothesis. That’s what I would like to know, is it the truth ? Is atheism really the truth ? I am not certain about it.
    I could spend more time tryng to explain what I believe might be directions of study. What are the right questions ?
    I’ll do that in a next posting, and think Pharyngula is
    a valid test.
    If I can found nobody interested, then it should mean that there is something wrong with this “hypothesis for God”.

  68. E.V. says

    I love the thrill of discovery.

    Passion. The difference between a job and a vocation. Success is being able to rediscover passion over and over again. Without it – Shakespeare said it best: O, that way madness lies.
    Good job MA Jeff! Woohooo!

  69. Carlie says

    I made a big “squee” sound when I saw MAJeff, guestblogger. Yea we get to read MAJeff!

    I love that science is getting your hands dirty, figuring out how things work and what they do and just learning. It’s a limitless font of finding out new things, which excites me to no end. As for particulars, I was honestly stunned when I started really looking at things through microscopes and realized just how beautiful they were. (Take that, all you religious “atheists don’t appreciate the world” people!) I can actually point to a specific moment when it was confirmed to me that yes, I was on the right career path, and yes, I wanted to do science my entire life: Undergrad plant biology class, dissecting petunia flowers under the scope. I got the anther open, and found purple pollen. Purple. Pollen. I never knew pollen could be colored anything besides yellow. I just stared at it, having an epiphany. If I had never learned that, what else hadn’t they told me???? What other amazing things are there in nature that I haven’t learned yet? I MUST KNOW. And ye gods, plant anatomy is just about the most gorgeous thing on this planet. Love it.

  70. BobC says

    What is it about science that so enthuses all of you?

    One nice thing about knowing next to nothing about science is everything I learn about it here and elsewhere is brand new to me.

    I’ve been an atheist for four decades, after recovering from the usual childhood religious brainwashing most Americans are abused with. What’s neat about science is everything I learn proves to me I was right to throw out the god disease I used to have. It’s really amazing to me that this beautiful planet I live on, and every species living here, developed from natural processes. Even more amazing is my species has figured out so much about these natural processes.

    The first time I read about how biologists found ERVs, and other things, in identical locations in the chimp and human genomes, I thought “holy cow, wow, biologists can actually see the history of life with their own eyes.” I thought there wouldn’t be any creationists left after they hear about this undeniable evidence for the idea we share an ancestor with chimps. I forgot how willfully ignorant they are. It’s too bad for them. They have no idea what they’re missing. What a horrible waste of a life. The creationists will die never knowing what they are.

  71. Carlie says

    Um, limitless fount. Although a limitless font would still
    not be able to do justice to all of the wonders of science.
    (Decent enough save?)

  72. says

    Comment about presentation: Could you please just post the entire thing at once and avoid the annoying “Read the rest of this post…” on the main page and rss feed? PZ rarely does that, and I like him more than other bloggers for that! Okay, for the desecrating stuff too; But I’m not asking that from you. :-)

  73. Pat McComb says

    I had a fascination with astronomy from a very early age. In high school, this grew into an intense curiosity about relativity and then quantum physics (to the extent I could grasp it).

    At the same time, I also became quite an advocate for the existence of God. In college I had many arguments with atheist friends. As a philosophy major, I looked very hard at my arguments and they started falling away. My last best argument was the design argument. Despite my love of astronomy and physics, I still did not believe evolution happened.

    Armed with my design argument I enrolled for a course called Evolution and Behavior. As far as I know it was the only intro-level college course which discusses sociobiology, ethology, kin selection, etc. “The Selfish Gene” was one of the course texts. This was a very popular course at Henry Ford Community College. And “The Selfish Gene” was one of the most talked-about books on campus. If my design argument could hold its own against evolution, my belief in God would be rock solid.

    Evolution and Behavior was an outstanding course. The ideas were exhilarating. I had dismissed evolution under the faulty “theory of randomness” argument. I hadn’t understood natural selection (grade school barely touched evolution). When I did learn what natural selection means, it was revelatory.

    However, it did pretty well dust my last best argument for God. I finally had to give up on the God belief. This stung initially because I found the afterlife idea very appealing.

    The real surprise came with the realization that my being alive in the first place is an incredible piece of luck and much more valuable for its brevity. Life becomes more precious when the supernatural auditors are eliminated. (Many believers have a tough time believing this.)

    I think science ranks with writing and math as one of the most powerful conceptual tools our species has made.

    At a basic level, the scientific method is a growing repertoire of tricks to avoid self-deception. This set of tricks has revealed a world that is truly amazing.

    Richard Feynman’s says, in “The Value of Science”:

    It is true that few unscientific people have this particular type of religious experience. Our poets do not write about it; our artists do not try to portray this remarkable thing. I don’t know why. Is no one inspired by our present picture of the universe? This value of science remains unsung by singers: you are reduced to hearing not a song or poem, but an evening lecture about it. This is not yet a scientific age.

    Perhaps one of the reasons for this silence is that you have to know how to read the music. For instance, the scientific article may say, “The radioactive phosphorus content of the cerebrum of the rat decreases to one-half in a period of two weeks.” Now what does that mean?

    It means that phosphorus that is in the brain of a rat — and also in mine, and yours — is not the same phosphorus as it was two weeks ago. It means the atoms that are in the brain are being replaced: the ones that were there before have gone away.

    So what is this mind of ours: what are these atoms with consciousness? Last week’s potatoes! They now can remember what was going on in my mind a year ago — a mind which has long ago been replaced.

    To note that the thing I call my individuality is only a pattern or dance, that is what it means when one discovers how long it takes for the atoms of the brain to be replaced by other atoms. The atoms come into my brain, dance a dance, and then go out — there are always new atoms, but always doing the same dance, remembering what the dance was yesterday.


  74. Sondra says

    I love science because of stuff like this; it’s awesome and if you go to the site there are very cool pictures.

    Sputnik Challenges Our Current Definition of Life

    Topic Categories: Microbiology • Molecular Biology • Virology • Wow!
    Posted on: August 6, 2008 7:55 PM, by “GrrlScientist”

    tags: virology, mimivirus, sputnik, virophage, microbiology, molecular biology

    Now here’s an astonishing discovery that’s hot off the presses: a virus that infects other viruses! This amazing finding is being published tomorrow in the top-tier peer-reviewed journal, Nature.

    I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, I was taught that viruses could only infect other living cells, and further, I was taught that viruses are not living cells. So, logically, one could conclude that viruses cannot infect other viruses. But a new discovery by a group of scientists in France reveals otherwise.

    The story began in 2003, when Didier Raoult and his colleagues at the Universitee de la Mediterranee in Marseilles, France, discovered Mimivirus in a water cooling tower in Bradford, UK. That virus is so huge — its linear chromosome is so large that it has the capacity to encode more genes than many bacteria and archaea species, for example — that it challenges the accepted definition of what is a virus. Mimivirus primarily infects the amoeba, Acanthamoeba polyphaga, although antibodies to this virus have been detected in some humans recovering from pneumonia, suggesting that it might have infected humans as well. Mimivirus is known as Acanthamoeba polyphaga mimivirus, or just APVM.

    Recently, Raoult and his colleagues were visiting another water cooling tower, this one in Paris, when they found a new strain of mimivirus there. To their surprise, while examining their new find with electron microscopy, it was even larger than the original mimivirus, so they christened it mamavirus. But their surprises did not stop there because they also saw a lot of tiny icosahedral viral particles, a mere 50nm in size, attached to the giant mamavirus (figure 1);

    Figure 1 | Different morphological aspects of mamavirus and Sputnik.
    a-e, Observations by transmission electron microscopy; f, observation by negative staining electron microscopy. a, Mamavirus virus factory (MVF) with mamavirus particles at different stages of maturation. Clumps of Sputnik particles (arrows) are observed within MVF. b, In some cases, Sputnik is observed within mamavirus capsids. c, Defective particles are produced. d-f, Co-infection with mamavirus and Sputnik results in abnormal morphology of mamavirus particles, such as membrane accumulation at one side (d), membrane accumulation around the particles (e), or open particles (f). Scale bars, 200 nm [larger view].

    Thinking this was another virus that infects amoeba, the researchers injected the tiny virions into amoeba. But the tiny virus did not multiply. But amazingly, this virus, which the researchers had named “Sputnik” due to its shape, did multiply when injected amoeba along with either mimivirus or mamavirus (figure 2);

    Figure 2 | Sputnik propagation in mamavirus-infected amoebae.
    A. castellanii cells were infected with a mixture of mamavirus and Sputnik. Indirect immunofluorescence labelling was performed with rabbit antimimivirus serum (red) and mouse anti-Sputnik serum (green), and nucleic acids were stained with 4,6-diamidino-2-phenylindole (DAPI; blue). a, Numerous Sputnik virions entered the cytoplasm at 30 min after infection. b, At 4 h after infection, the first viral factories were seen as distinct, strongly stained patches. No viral particles could be seen in these cells, indicating an eclipse phase. c, At 6 h after infection, the viral factories expanded and were homogenously and strongly stained with DAPI. Sputnik production was detected at one side of the viral factory, but no mamavirus virions. d-f, At 8 h after infection (d), mamavirus production was observed; this increased extensively at 12 h (e) and 16 h (f) after infection [larger view].

    They found that Sputnik co-infection resulted in the production of damaged the mamavirus virions so they were not infective, and also dramatically reduced the probability that infected amoebas would burst open — unlike the normal progression for a mamivirus infection. Thus, it was concluded that Sputnik actually infects mimivirus or mamavirus. Because Sputnik’s behavior is so similar to the effects of bacterial viruses, or bacteriophage, upon bacteria, the researchers refer to this new type of virus as a “virophage”, and suspect it may represent a new virus family.

    “Sputnik reproduction seems to impair the production of normal APMV virions significantly, indicating that it is a genuine parasite,” write the scientists. “We have therefore termed this virus a virophage by analogy with bacteriophages; should other similar agents be discovered in the future, virophage could be used as a generic name to denote them.”

    Sequence analysis reveals that Sputnik’s circular double-stranded DNA genome consists of only 18,343-base-pair (bp) with 21 predicted protein-coding genes that range in size from 88 to 779 amino-acid residues (figure 3). Compare that to its probable host, APVM (mimivirus), which has more than 900 protein-coding genes.

    Figure 3 | The Sputnik chromosome.
    The predicted protein coding sequences are indicated on the two DNA strands (first, outer, circle) and coloured according to their corresponding homologues. ORFs with homologues to mamavirus/mimivirus are indicated in blue, ORFs with homologues to other NCLDVs and bacteriophages are shown in green, and the ORF homologous to an archaeal virus gene is shown in red. The virion protein coding sequences are shown in purple and ORFans are shown in grey. Phylogenetic trees are displayed for the predicted protein coding sequences with homologues in nr and/or the GOS data sets along with the 2D-gel identifying the capsid protein. GC skew and G+C content are indicated in the second and third circles, respectively. IPG, immobile pH-gradient buffer [larger view].

    Sputnik is also interesting because 13 of its 21 encoded proteins are “ORFans.” ORFs are “Open Reading Frames” meaning that those regions of the genome probably encode a gene product of some sort, so ORFans are genes that have no detectable homologues in the current sequence databases, meaning that we cannot even guess their function based on their similarity to other genes that we’ve already identified and studied.

    However, phylogenetic analyses of the remaining eight genes indicate that they have viral/plasmid, bacterial or eukaryotic homologues, or homologues from the environmental Global Ocean Survey (GOS) data. GOS sequence data were retrieved from the world’s oceans by Craig Venter in 2004 and are thought to be comprised mainly of microbial DNA sequences. Thus, the Sputnik genome contains eight genes that are evolutionarily related to at least three distinct sources: a proposed novel family of viruses; either archaeal viruses or plasmids; and third, either mimivirus or mamavirus.

    Could Sputnik infect humans, or alternatively, might scientists discover similar virophages that we could use as therapeutics because they infect those viruses that infect humans? The researchers speculate that size plays a role in whether a virus can be infected by a smaller virus such as Sputnik. Unfortunatly, medium-sized viruses such as HIV and avian influenza are too small to be infected, while the extremely large mimivirus and mamavirus can be. It makes me wonder if the extinct large virus, smallpox, might have had its own virophage(s)?


    Bernard La Scola, Christelle Desnues, Isabelle Pagnier, Catherine Robert, Lina Barrassi, Ghislain Fournous, Michele Merchat, Marie Suzan-Monti, Patrick Forterre, Eugene Koonin & Didier Raoult. The virophage as a unique parasite of the giant mimivirus Nature DOI:10.1038/nature07218. .

  75. says

    What is it about science that enthuses me?

    Well… Hmmm… Honestly, I’ve never pondered that question before. Give me a sec…

    I guess I just find the scientific explanations for things to be far more fascinating than the ones made up by goat herders in previous millenia.

  76. Logicel says

    Science allows me to get to know my great love, nature, intimately. The relationship I have with nature is a profoundly emotional one–I remember when a mere tot seeing a velvety deep purple pansy with an yellow face, and promptly falling in love with it Then my next love was a lilac bush whose fragrance enticed me to fall into it. Only to wildly fall in love with a rich sky-blue morning glory, one blossom, alone in a shady, rubbish-strewn narrow corridor behind a garage, reaching upwards to the sun.

    Sitting on the floor as a small child, I would gasp at the wonder of a door swinging gently in the breeze. I wanted to know the interactions between objects and their environment. I wanted to know the whole picture. And that is what science gives me–the widest possible picture of our reality.

  77. says

    Congratulations, MAJeff! And nice question. Yes, I’m also amazed and awed at the space program – it was the first thing to catch my attention, when I was 6 and wanted to be an astronaut. And then a couple of years later I watched the moon landing on TV, and I still think that is the most wonderful human achievement ever.

    I may be weird, but I had some of those emotional experiences over physics. I remember the day in high school when I learned that radio waves and light and nuclear radiation (gamma) and Xrays are all the same thing, and I was stunned and awed. And then add E=mc^2 and it turns out that EVERYTHING is the same thing. Wow. The universe really is an amazing interconnection of everything, at a much deeper level than the woo types ever imagine. And Joni Mitchell is totally right that we are stardust – all except the very lightest atoms in our bodies were made in a star, by nuclear fusion. Amazing.

    PS to Aaron: EWW! What an unpleasant shock. Woot posts much nicer boobies. You bastard.

  78. Nerd of Redhead says

    When I was growing up, the space race was in its infancy. I watched a dot of light in the night sky that was an artificial satellite, and decide I wanted to be a part of that enterprise. Reading a few science for the layman books by Isaac Asimov made me great impact on me. Not only could I understand the concepts, but I also saw the constant questioning and change in the knowledge of science. I compared it to the static knowledge that was religion and started weaning myself from those myths. While I didn’t end up getting my degrees in space science, I still have a deep appreciation for the space program, especially the robotic probes. (Great photo MAJeff, my jaw dropped when I first saw it a few weeks ago.) I subscribe to a couple of general science journals to keep an eye on other fields. I’ve seen bits and pieces of what PZ ties together in very clear prose. I still get up every day and want to get busy learning something new. It is always great when you can earn your money doing something you enjoy doing.

  79. says

    Cool shit. I like discovering and learning new things. Even more, learning more about things we thought we knew. As we learn more about how our reality is put together, we become better able to learn more about how our reality is put together.

    Science is really not about knowing the world, science is about learning about the world. Science gives us reliable tools for learning, and for learning where we are wrong. That is a gift no other Way of Knowing™ can match. It means that science will never end, not as a way of learning. For as our knowledge expands and our ability to learn improves we will learn just how much we don’t know, and come to understand more fully the basic fact that we can never know everything, so long as we remain inhabitants of this reality.

    There’s also the stuff that gets posted on science blogs. That’s neat too. :)

  80. DLC says

    What enthuses me about science ?
    to steal from Carl Sagan — “Science delivers the goods.”
    But, what, exactly are “the goods” in this case?
    To me, it means new discoveries to read about, study, be amazed by and even argue over. Then there’s the actual work.
    Granted, conducting similar tests over and over again hoping to spot a small but vitally important change can be boring, but always in the back of your mind is : “It could happen on my watch. ” How many backyard astronomers carry on their observations night after night, patiently watching a patch of sky, telling themselves : “this could be the night I spot a new comet.” Probably all of them. It’s a good feeling, knowing that you may be contributing something to the storehouse of knowledge.
    congrats to MA Jeff for a good post.

  81. Dee says

    I’m not sure I have the words to explain what enthuses me about science, why I feel the way I do about it, but what the hell. I’ve been in love with the sciences and the natural world for as long as I can remember. I love to learn; I love the thrill of comprehension, or maybe it’s just the clicking noise the pieces make when they all fall into place, the picture comes into focus, and my mind yells eureka! There isn’t much that can compete – what I feel for my kids is about the only thing stronger.

    In my tweens, I wanted to be a part of my church (LDS, in my case), I wanted to belong, and I went after it the same way I ran after science. I wanted to understand and comprehend, I wanted to know the deeper principles, but there aren’t any. When you drill down into the depths, ultimately the only thing religion can offer is faith. And all that means is an obligation to believe some other person’s opinion about the world, right or wrong. In spite of the plethora of opinions to chose from, there’s not really much to understand (if you know what I mean, faith doesn’t require understanding, just acceptance, and I’ve never been very good at that), unless you want to spend your time trying to understand why belonging to a church seems to require cutting out vital portions of who you are (at least that’s how it seemed to me, but that might have had more to do with my gender – female).

    It didn’t take too long for me to get bored with church. I don’t get much out of arguing pointlessly over how many angels dance on the head of a pin. I want an objective and independent standard to measure myself against. I want a ‘truth’ to work towards that is real – like the real world. I’m not interested in working towards an ultimate truth that is essentially some other guy’s opinion.

    I remember the first time I heard about plate tectonics, in the mid-70s, as a high school student at a science weekend hosted by the U of U. The poor graduate student who was stuck with us started talking about earthquakes, and I got really interested, and the next thing I knew, he was telling me all about S waves and P waves, and plate tectonics, and I was hanging on every word because it just made so much sense and it was so damn cool. Even almost 35 years later, I still remember the pleasure, almost euphoria, I felt when the pieces fell together and made sense.

    And I have had the very great pleasure of spending my professional life doing science, and I spend a significant part of the rest of my life reading/talking/looking at the sciences. When I’m playing in the canyons of the Colorado Plateau, or looking at the full moon up in the Zion high country, I feel amazed at the beauty, and a kind of power from understanding the processes that formed the country, and gratitude for the people who figured those processes out.

    Really what I mean to say is that I like science because I’m a black and white kind of personality with an overdeveloped pattern recognition sense.

  82. says

    Religion often induces these same emotions, but the difference is that science is based on reality. Because of this, reality is not there to please us (unlike religion), and so does not always go the way we want it to. This is why it makes the success of science that much sweeter, though much more rare.

    Religion can fluff up any ol’ spiritual feeling for just about anything (it is, after all, just made up). Science is bound by the rules, and so it’s much harder to find satisfaction in it. As is often the case, people choose the easier path, and cling to the “easier, quicker” side. (Which makes me wonder why everyone isn’t a Dark Jedi in the Star Wars universe…)

    That said, when you see that picture of the lander on Mars and you know the work and circumstances it took to make that really happen, it is significantly more satisfying!

  83. Andrew JS says

    @ Bride of Shrek OM
    [blockquote]My very favourite thing however was to “read” atlases. You know just stare for hours at the various maps and wonder what those countries were like, whether they had mountains or rivers. What was the climate like, did it have glaciers or lakes.[/blockquote]

    I thought I was the only person who did that! I seriously loved world geography as a child, and I still do. But now as an undergraduate studying psychology I have to say that everything about it is just amazing. And of course, evolutionary biology is my minor which really doesn’t need any further explanation.

  84. Helioprogenus says

    Welcome to the furnace that’s sure to those who follow in PZ’s footsteps, even temporarily. The insanity perpetuating, nit-picking, troll ignoring, migraine inducing, chaos that is Pharyngula can be a lot of things, and fun and exciting is definitely one of those. In any case, welcome to the helm captain MAJeff.

    I’m sure I’m not the first to mention this, considering all the responses below, and I’m not going to attempt reading all of them either, but the intrinsic investigative nature of science is what initially made me gravitate towards it. The fact that you can apply yourself and solve mysteries that otherwise would remain unsolved. It’s a bit like playing detective, but extending that to all facets of the universe. The nature of reality, and the tools that we use to uncover those processes are just mind blowing. We as a species have achieved a feat that allows us to reason, test, and actually move beyond the small world that is our personal experiences, to the maximum depths of the universe. Some of us choose to dive deep into reality, while others, sadly a majority, choose to dwell in imaginary realms of supernatural forces. Still, that is ultimately the nature of the human condition, and there will always be at least a few people who are drawn to the mysteries that only science can truly help explain. I guess in short, I was drawn to science for its demystification properties.

  85. BobC says

    We’re an incredible species. We’re also amazingly insignificant.

    One of the most interesting things I ever read was an article about the unimaginable vastness of the universe. The writer said the disappearance of our solar system would be equivalent to one grain of sand disappearing from the Sahara Desert. I tried explaining this story to some Christians. I was trying to get them to realize how insignificant our planet is. I tried to explain it’s crazy to think a god would single out earth for special treatment. Of course they didn’t get it. They still thought the universe was magically created for them.

  86. gdlchmst says

    I love science for all the common reasons. But, the one thing that always struck me as astounding is the reductive nature of the universe. The complex behaviors of humans, the functions of our organs, and even the motions of celestial bodies can be traced to the interactions of individual, but otherwise identical, atoms. And these atoms can be broken up into even simpler particles. Essentially, the grand and complex universe as we know is nothing more than a waltz of particles and/or energy. And this makes the universe even more majestic. The thought that we know all this through human application of science sends chills of excitement down my spine every time.

  87. says

    What I like about science is its potential transformative power. Science and technology have changed our world, given us longer lives, cell phones, computers, movies, radio, television, jet travel, cheap books and so much more. We aren’t the same people our ancestors were, in some ways we’ve transcended what was once the human condition.

  88. shonny says

    Science to me is the endless string of ‘Yes, – but why?’s.
    Which is why theistic religions soon seem so shallow.

  89. says

    My husband is a HS science teacher (biology) and he said to tell you that my boobies are his inspiration. :-)

    Probably anyone’s boobies really – but I’ll just pretend that mine are his only inspiration.

    YOU ASKED!!! ;-)

  90. JoJo says

    I still recall reading an article in Scientific American long long ago about the Voyager missions, and all the things that went wrong with them (loss of primary radio receiver, loss of all but 100 Hz of bandwidth of secondary receiver, eventual gumming up of the camera platform, reduction in signal strength due to billions of miles of intervening space, yadda yadda), and the things they did to get around it.

    I remember that article. The last time I thought of it was when I watched the movie Apollo XIII. It was during the scene where the engineer explains to his crew “We’ve got to find a way to make this fit into the hole for this using nothing but that.” As an engineer, that is (to use the TV Trope) a crowning moment of awesome.

  91. says

    Bob MacDonald, who is not a famous scientist but the host of CBC Radio’s Saturday program, Quirks and Quarks*, gave me one of those zen moments when he remarked that there was a big difference between looking up at the stars thinking they were little dots in a bowl over the earth and looking up at the stars knowing that you’re on the surface of a planet hurtling through space.

    *There’s a podcast

  92. says

    @ Benjamin Franklin – I’m not THAT old!! But Aphrodite WAS my great, great, great, great, etc… grand mother I’m told!

  93. BaldApe says

    jcr said:

    I think that Feynman said it very well in the title of his book, the pleasure of finding things out. There’s a lot going on in this world and this universe, and the feeling of “Oh, that’s why that happens” is a lot of fun.


    That’s just the beginning. You see something, and say “Hey, I wonder what’s going on here. You check it out, and if you’re good, you discover something.

    But you don’t get to just sit there and pontificate about your discovery, ’cause you might be wrong, so you test it, and other people test it. If you and they confirm what you discovered, you can use what you discovered as reliable information to discover other things, to find other things to wonder about.

    The fun just never ends. What could be cooler?!

    (BTW, way off topic, somebody mentioned Greasemonkey and a script that would put a “kill” button on blog posts in Firefox. Can anybody remember what the script was called?)

  94. ThirtyFiveUp says

    Posted by: Barklikeadog | August 7, 2008 8:16 PM
    “I developed my sense of awe by watching the first moon landing live. Dates me somewhat, no? It was an incredible thing to watch & I get choked up just remembering it.”

    Oh what a young thing you are. I saw Sputnik. My father got the schedule of it’s orbit from somewhere and woke me up to go outside to see it. It looked a little like a meteor, except horizontal.

    Many amazing things happened because the USA was so deeply embarrassed. The Hubble telescope alone is worth all the blood, sweat and tears of the space agency.

    It does not seem as though we will ever be able to leave the Solar System, unless one of those clever SF tricks can really be true. But, to travel to Titan would suffice for me. Who wants to along?

  95. Ted says

    I grew up watching Bill Nye on PBS on saturday mornings. I never really got into cartoons, but I would happily roll VHS tape on every one of his broadcasts and then watch them over and over again throughout the week. And since then I’ve always loved science. Even though I’m not a scientist (I’m a web developer and video editor working in politics) I am a huge geek, and following science is just exciting to me. Can’t really explain it any other way. There’s so much cool shit happening around us I don’t understand people who *aren’t* interested in science in some way or another. And I’m a flaming atheist, so it’s great seeing those two realms merge here.

  96. says

    What draws me to science is twofold – one is field work. I love it. It’s fantastic, amazing, fun, and breaths life into a weary soul. The otherthing that makes my job fantastic is that thirty seconds after when you run a test and discover something new, and you’re possibly the only person in the whole world who knows this tiny little bit about how the universe is. And then you go out and shout it from the mountain, and hope a journal accepts it. :p

  97. steve says

    It’s so damn righteous. Science has more honesty, integrity, diligence, logic, spirituality, and wisdom than any other institution ever. Nothing brings out good in people like the genuine love of truth.

  98. Keanus says

    I’m with MikeM and John Phillips. I’m curious about just about everything. I went to college and majored in physics, but realized by the time I graduated that I wasn’t cut out to push cutting edge research in particle physics and the nature of matter. So I ventured off into commerce and became an editor and publisher of science and math textbooks, you know the kind of things with which most posters here have a love/hate relationship. All were texts for K-12, not college level, so I had the pleasure of fencing in writing and at public hearings with creationists and other dimwits for forty years. It was interesting.

    Oh, I’ve also been a nonbeliever since my teen years. Goddidit just never offered any prospect of satisfying my curiosity. And in my years as a text editor and publisher, I had to meticulously keep my religious views to myself. Admitting to being an atheist could have gotten me attacked at public hearings or worse, fired. And I never fancied working at McDonald’s or running one of their franchises.

  99. MAJeff, OM says

    The otherthing that makes my job fantastic is that thirty seconds after when you run a test and discover something new, and you’re possibly the only person in the whole world who knows this tiny little bit about how the universe is.

    Yup. I remember sitting in my MA defense thinking, “I know more about this shit than my advisors!” Pretty damn cool. Even now, writing the diss and getting email responses from the committee saying, “I’m learning while I read your work” is so amazing.

  100. Michael Heath says

    Science is a model of the optimal approach to providing humankind with our best understanding of reality.

    Science provides hope for a better future as long as we support political freedom, which is being seriously eroded by social conservatives in this country. Science and its resulting benefits provide clear evidence on why individual rights are so neccessary.

    Science provides news that is mostly uplifting, balancing out all the bad news we get on other matters going on in the world.

    Science provides perspective that’s usually uncluttered from ulterior motives that aren’t concerned with truth but instead with power, money, or defense of dogma and ideology.

  101. Jeremy says

    @Bride of Shrek and Andrew JS:

    “My very favourite thing however was to “read” atlases.”

    That was one of my favorite pastimes when I was younger as well. On a geology field trip to Arizona a few months back, we were talking about what got us interested in geology. I mentioned how I used to love examining maps, and the prof said she did the same thing. Mapping, cross-sections, etc. in geology all play into that.

    Biostratigraphy played a role in getting me a lot more interested in evolutionary history, and it influenced me (along with reading Dawkins, Carroll, Prothero, Myers, etc.) in adding biology as a second major.

    Now I’m just trying to decide between paleontology and evolutionary biology for grad school. Both are fascinating, and it’s really hard to narrow my interests down. Although I also love chemistry, physics, and math, I’ve thankfully been able to push them aside and at least narrow it down a little.

  102. Frank Lovell says

    “…So, here goes: What is it about science that so enthuses all of you?”

    For me, it’s the boobies.

    That confessed, I reckon I should add that I also find physical organic chemistry (in particular), geology, zoology, astronomy and cosmology, epistemology and the philosophy of science (all in general) to be very cool and almost as fascinating.

  103. says

    Wherefore science? I can’t do better than Carl Sagan’s gloss, which goes something like this:

    We don’t live in a completely chaotic universe, where regularities aren’t observed. Neither do we live in a universe where the outcomes are completely uniform. Either condition would render science impossible, since you need a presumption of lawfulness to replicate observations, but you need to be able to affect the outcomes in order to speculate about causation, and build models to account for phenomena. And so, says Sagan, we live in an ‘in-between universe’, where there is great joy in discovering what we can given our limitations. ‘We can do science,’ Sagan says in Cosmos, ‘and we can improve our lives.’

    That simple, even humble statement may seem innocuous, but for me it is a seed of great potency and inspiration.

    Or, as Sagan says with far more poetry in ‘Broca’s Brain’:

    For myself, I like a universe that includes much that is unknown and, at the same time, much that is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull, as boring as the heaven of some weak-minded theologians. A universe that is unknowable is no fit place for a thinking being. The ideal universe for us is one very much like the universe we inhabit. And I would guess that this is not really much of a coincidence.

  104. miko says

    Some time in my twenties, I had the Information moment (and yes, it comes at night)… it wasn’t just that I knew I would die someday and that I would cease to exist–I had intellectually known that most of my life. Somehow I could suddenly really grasp it, feel it, and it was terrifying. This was the first time I understood why people might turn to religion.

    We’re here for like a millisecond… I want to understand where I came from and what life is and what it is to be a conscious being. I know the answers might not be as comforting as eternal afterlife, but I can’t be happy with delusions. Anyway, that’s why I’m a biologist and a neuroscientist.

  105. BobC says

    Keanus #109:

    Admitting to being an atheist could have gotten me attacked at public hearings or worse, fired.

    There’s no difference between Idiot America and Iran.

  106. LisaJ says

    Oh yes, and one of the main things I love about Science is that in it I have found a career that I am passionate about (as E.V. touched on above) and not just a job that I go to because I have to in order to pay the bills. I feel so lucky that I’ve found this path. It’s the coolest ‘job’ ever.

  107. vorwof says

    Science gives me a greater sense of awe and wonder (even “mere dots of white on a rippling black field”) than anything I experienced in my religious upbringing. There is no more unsatisfactory and useless answer than “goddidit”.

  108. Sphere Coupler says

    The statement that {Ignorance is Bliss}is totally Ignorant.

    To know things that possibly no one else on the planet knows and then to help your fellow human realize and to relive that beautiful moment of realization all over again.(vicariously)

    The wonderment of logical deduction.

    To understand 2+2=4
    To understand (why) lightning strikes, not just how.
    To understand processes like where did Earth get its water.

    When you realize these things and millions more just like them, the moment of epiphany or eureka cannot be expressed it must be felt.

    Some wonders can be taught and when it clicks it is a great moment but other wonders probably should be left to be discovered because it is the greatest moment.It is the Journey that counts.

    PS I have a soft spot for sub-atomic particle nuclear physics…oh and any thing between the suns core and earths core…and…ok…yeah…the rest of the UNIVERSE.

  109. Dahan says

    The whole aspect of discovery is what excites me. Take for example, when we found out that the universe’s expansion is actually accelerating, as opposed to what we believed. I got chills when read that the first time! I’m constantly astounded by how much we know and how little we know. I read through the science stories and blogs every day thinking “I wonder if there’s gonna be a bombshell today?” and it”s amazing how often there is. I’m not a scientist, but I sure do appreciate the work all of you do.

  110. says

    Stark (#39) said: “BTW – the picture you have above – it has been my desktop since it was released…”

    My desktop background is a sunspot picture taken by the Swedish Solar Telescope in the Canary Islands –

    I love explaining what it is to folks who ask. It leads into astronomy and magnetohydrodynamics and other topics.

  111. echidna says

    It’s so damn righteous. Science has more honesty, integrity, diligence, logic, spirituality, and wisdom than any other institution ever. Nothing brings out good in people like the genuine love of truth.

    You’ve just expressed how I feel, except that I hadn’t even put it into words for myself yet.

  112. Sphere Coupler says

    I would like to kindly disagree with you Dahon post 122.
    Science is the quest for knowledge and if you quest as it sounds like you do, then by these terms my good man (person) you to ARE a Scientist.

  113. phat says

    You know, it’s funny. I always find the sheer feeling of learning something that is confirmed by evidence really exciting. I especially love it when “conventional wisdom” is shown to be wrong.

    But there’s another thing that I like about science and that is it helps me do my job better. I’m not a scientist. I work in politics. Now granted, political science gets discounted by many people as not really science, but if I have a better grasp of what people are actually doing (not necessarily thinking or believing) then I can do my job better. I have evidence to show that my understanding is accurate and I make decisions based on this evidence. I have evidence to show that my decisions were good decisions.

    This may seem mundane, but for me the numbers are revelatory and helpful. I especially like that people do the hard work that I can’t do to inform my decisions.

    Maybe that’s not “science” per se, maybe it’s more akin to engineering, but it’s informed by the “scientific method”, as they say.

  114. Timothy Wood says

    Yeah. Sociology. You biology people should be more welcoming. You know… there are other fields. We need attention too. *cries*

  115. aleph1=c says

    @Bride of Shrek, Andrew JS, and Jeremy:

    Yeah, me too. I remember having a map of the world on my wall. I think I was 8 or 9. I studied the whole thing and made lists of everything on it, separated by category. In college there was a geography contest every year, which I always won. I took cartography, geological mapping, and a whole bunch of other related classes just because they were so cool! I read atlases for fun. In fact, I’m just now reading an Atlas of World History.

    I love the idea of someone putting spatial or physical information on a diagram and another person being able to interpret it. That’s my kind of science.

  116. Alan Leipzig says

    My earliest scientific interest was dinosaurs. Two of my earliest books were relatively weighty (for a 5 year old) books titled “Dinosaurs” and “Extinct Animals.” I think. I remember the covers were pictures of lots of toys.

    My earliest emotion memory was crying like a baby after reading extinct animals, because the picture of Stellar’s Sea Cow, combined with the fact it went extinct so quickly due to us.

    I learned the two principles that made me a middle school science teacher.

    1) This world is amazing.

    2) It only stays that was if you protect it.

    My favorite Dr. Seuss book was the Lorax, by the way.

  117. phat says


    Geospatial information is damned interesting and it’s just now being understood, in a deep way, in areas outside of the “physical” sciences.

    Putting some piece of information on a map is almost always revealing, assuming the map is well drawn.

  118. Kseniya says

    Science takes the mystery out of life? Well, yeah, in a sense: Science illuminates the realities inside, or behind, all those mysteries that people used to revel in. The mysteries of viral and bacterial infections, the mysteries of mental illness, the mysteries of unpredictable severe weather, the… well, I’m too tired to think of anything else. Suffice it to say that people living back in, oh, say, back in 870 CE, had plenty of mystery in their lives.

    What attracts me to science? Nothing that hasn’t been stated here already, I don’t think. I like to know how stuff works. Science is the candle in the darkness, it’s the engine driving up the overall quality of life worldwide, it’s our defense against ignorance and tyranny, our path to the future, it’s a staple in the intellectual diet of humanity.

  119. azqaz says

    Well, I just snipped myself. I read MAJeffs post, pondered his question, and wrote about 2 pages of text. I doubt that would be the answer anyone wants to read through though.

    Here is the best I can boil my answer down to. I love science, I revere science, because it answerers my questions. Even if that answer is “Wow, we have NO idea.” Science admits when it doesn’t know. It admits when it was wrong. It tells you up front that “This is the best we have been able to do so far.” Science doesn’t treat me like an idiot. Science doesn’t treat me like a child, even when I was one.

    Another thing I like about science, even when I’m on the receiving end of it, is that science doesn’t give a shit. The scientific method doesn’t pat me on the ass and tell me that it will all be good, just because.

  120. says

    I’ve always had a major interest in space travel (even if I’ve resigned myself to only having a chance to inter-system travel in my lifetime). But more then that. While I was brought up in a very fundamentalist home where questioning authority was disapproved of, I always wanted to know what was true more then what I wanted to hear. That kind of mindset doesn’t easily lend itself to staying a believer like my parents. Another reason I find science enthralling is that I always lived the idea of discovering places humans hadn’t laid eyes on before (On a related tangent the picture that brought tears to my eyes were images like this There is a horizon there that no human eye has seen beyond, or human foot trod past.

    It’s for that reason of “Going where no man has gone before” that I’m studying chemistry. I want to teach it and pass on the love of science in general and the love for truth that I have to others. Someone already quoted Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” but I tear up when I hear/read it. The other thing that science has produced that brings a tear to my eye, is the launching of any rocket into space. To me it represents humankind’s faltering baby-steps to venture beyond our cradle and begin to walk upright amongst the stars.

  121. Grendels Dad says

    What I sit about science that attracts me?

    For me, there are two memories that have always stood out as events that shaped the way I view life, the universe and every thing.

    The first was the Apollo landings in 1969. I was only five at the time so this memory comes with a touch of fading sepia tones. I remember my dad helping me assemble a small cardboard cut-out model of the lunar lander. The old – fold along dashed line A and insert tab B into slot C, kind of thing. And the televised footage of the landing was awe inspiring.

    My dad said something at the time that I knew sounded important, but I didn’t quite get for some time. To paraphrase, he talked about the moon being a metaphor for thousands of years, but now it was a place too. Of course it still has power as an evocative metaphor. I don’t think we rob the poet to see the world as it is. But we do add to our understanding of it by taking the time, and doing the work to study the world. And that day, after countless people had sat around looking up and waxing eloquently for thousands of years it was actually a place. A destination. Somewhere as real as the vacation hotel room we watched the landing from.

    That was a powerful thing, to transform the way we see our world and our place in it.

    This message was reinforced in eighth grade Introductory Physical Science class by the “Sludge Test”. After spending a semester learning about various chemical and physical tests (distillation, filtering, paper chromatography, etc.) we were each given a beaker of “sludge”. The test was to spend the next four days figuring out what was in the beaker.

    Even though I would have, reflexively, described myself as a Methodist at the time, I knew that my most ardent and sincere prayers were not going to get me any closer to a list of ingredients. But if you want to know what’s in a beaker, the first place to look might be the beaker.

    Look at the world. Ask questions, and then try to find the answers. See if those answers fit with what you see in the world. This was epistemology I could understand. The only “Authority” that was called for was the authority of reality. The answers aren’t necessarily to be found in any book, but they could be counted on to reveal themselves in the very things that generated the questions in the first place.

    Oh, I got an A on the Sludge Test by the way. So I guess, for me, it’s a combination of the power and the consistency of the results. Science actually works. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and I likes me some tasty science pudding.

  122. Bart says

    What I love about science? It’s just so damn neat!! Except organic chemistry. That one sucks. Never bloody works…

  123. John C. Randolph says

    For me, it’s the boobies.

    Huh.. I never had a particular interest in seabirds, myself. I’ve tossed fritos and bits of hot dog rolls to seagulls from hotel balconies, but that’s about it.


  124. bad Jim says

    Pelicans are totally cool. Watching them suddenly drop into the ocean to snare a fish does something to me. It’s less than the joy of a new idea, but better than a sneeze.

    Seagulls are all about Doritos, though.

  125. says

    Okay, I have a small reason and a big reason.

    First: I have glasses. If it weren’t for the pieces of optics and biology some praiseworthy ones puzzled out, I would be writing this with my face an inch from the screen. And if it wasn’t for general healthcare, I wouldn’t be writing anything because I would be stone cold dead.

    I’m pretty certain that if the unbreakably intertwined progress of science and technology had stopped in, say, the too-much-adored bucolic days of shepherds and such, then with a very great probability I wouldn’t be alive. (And if I were — well, the words nasty, brutish and short spring to mind.) And I certainly wouldn’t be telling this to you half the world away.

    Second: It’s all so beautiful. And it’s even prettier because it’s (the best approximation we yet have of) true. I get all choked up when I think about stellar evolution. (Does this happen to you too? Or am I, uh, weird?)

    I guess some people read great novels (not me; I’m allergic to “literary fiction”) and thus come to understand how people work. Since I’m not very interested in people (I’m a Finn, remember?), I much rather read science, the best description of how everything works: why things are how they are. That way a rainbow means more to me that it would because of some old fairy-tale.

  126. bastion says

    I like surprises. I like thinking. What I love about science is the unexpectedness that makes me think new thoughts.

    Science is interesting when previous work or theories are confirmed, but when you come across results or info that doesn’t fit expectations, and you go “hmmm, that’s…odd,” that’s what I find exciting.

  127. Samantha Vimes says

    Oh, it’s nice to have one of the guests be someone I know from around the blogs.

    Me, I’m interested in science really mostly because I like learning new things. Knowledge is more valuable emotional to me than money, although unfortunately I can’t pay the rent with it. So for that reason, I like science for much the same reason as I like history, literature, understanding human interactions, etc, with one difference: science tends to study the things that are objective, whereas humanities are largely subjective.

  128. wrpd says

    Wow! John Barrowman is exactly how I pictured MAJeff.

    I am grateful that I had a mother who, rather than giving me answers, she would tell me to “Look it up.” That inspired me to go deeper than I ever would if she had given me a direct answer.

    My father was a medic during WWII. He took part in the Battle of the Bulge, but he never talked about it until a few years before he died. What he did do was to steal (it seemed to me)enough medicine, medical equipment, and medical books to equip Patton’s army for ten years. I read all of the medical books and I was able to cure myself of jock itch I got from a sexual encounter when I was 13. He also had stacks of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines that I read from cover to cover several times.

    Nature, history, and science was always interesting to me. I went to Washington, DC, when I was 19. The best thing about the trip was walking over a hill at some battlefield and seeing the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.

    A few years ago I went to Europe for the first time. I went as a caregiver for a 400lb man in a wheelchair. He wanted to go to places just to say he was there. It was just nasty. The greatest memory I had was when I was in the British Museum. He was rushing me through the museum and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something that looked familiar. It was the Rosetta Stone. I left him and then spent about a half hour just looking at the stone.

    I hope if PZ is stranded on a desert isle, he knows enough to shoot Gilligan the first day.

  129. Noam Zur says

    It’s twofold for me – for one thing I have always refused to let go of my childish and childlike curiosity and inquisitiveness and continue to do. As Science (generic) is pretty much the business of asking questions and exploring and celebrating that which we don’t know I feel drawn to it.
    Secondly – I’m a musician by profession. Worse than that, I am a conductor, so my job basically relies on telling people what to do because I tell them to. This doesn’t square too well with a skeptic mindset, of course, so I use my scientific interests as a sort of intellectual haven and refuge, as well as recharging my batteries, so to speak, after draining rehearsals and performances.

  130. clinteas says

    This is way cool,the tentacled overlord flies off to Galapagos,and leaves his blog in the hands of his readers,mind you,not some backwater blag,but kinda,THE scienceblog.Leaves it with us,gets cool guys like MAJeff to guestblog,how cool is this !!

    Im a doctor,and to learn about how things work in the body biochemically and physiologically,was just a fascinating experience,and the same goes for the other sciences I have delved into over the years.
    I just love to learn about how something works,how elegant nature has “created” the things around us,and how advances in science,which by the way are coming thick and fast and progress logarithmically,have made us land on the Moon and send probes to Mars.And isnt this pic of the lander a superb example of those scientific advances !

  131. says


    I thought Blog hates fags.

    I didn’t have time to read the new tastefully decorated Pharyngula tonight as I was doing some radio, which you might enjoy.

    You should enjoy it since I’ve been stealing yall’s jokes

    New Atheists for Dummies Pt 7

    Intelligent design kook, Roy Comfort deconstructed: Otis Maclay, Larry Krizan and scooter.
    Former iconoclast, Christopher Hitchens on Religion.


    or download from:

  132. ChemBob says

    I’ve been a scientist as far back as I can remember. Perhaps I was born a scientist, if such is possible. My earliest memories are of trying to figure out what everything around me might mean while my favorite record, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which my mother got with her Grolier Encyclopedia purchase, played in the background. We were poor, but she evidently did everything she could to make me learn and think about things. Slightly older (it was the 50s) I remember setting up hay infusions and looking for microorganisms under my microscope, growing brine shrimp to observe their development; I remember stinking up the entire house with the experiments of my chemistry set, and I remember my erector set components scattered across my bedroom floor as I screwed together some odd structure. Sigh.

  133. says

    I don’t suppose I could carry the label “scientist” just yet. “Science enthusiast?” Perhaps. “Scientist-in-training?” Verbose, but true.

    Every technology we have within our grasp exists only as the result of science. To quote Cid from Final Fantasy VII, “Science is the power of man.”

    Religious people are quick to say, “Science doesn’t have all the answers.” This is true, but science has all the answers that we currently have, and science also has all the right questions.

  134. John B. says

    From the time I was first aware of it I’ve had a love of the natural world and everything in it and science is an honest and direct inquiry into its ways and mysteries. Surfaces and forms fascinate me as a natural history artist, but science goes below the beautiful forms and allows some insight into how they actually work. It connects us in the most basic ways to that world and shows us to be products of the same processes that made a tree or a bird or a flower. I can’t think of any human discovery or insight more important than that.

  135. rjb says

    I was brought to a love of science from my love of the outdoors. Ever since I was a little kid, my favorite thing to do was to be outside, tromping through the woods, playing in the snow, sleeping under the stars. Perhaps I would have become a religious type if the bible said things like “blessed are the crayfish, who skitter into their burrows after thou flippest over stones in the creekbed.” Or, “And God said, let there be Mitochondria, and let them couple ion transport to entery storage for the use of cells in all the beings of my creation.” These were the things I found fascinating. The bible and religion offered no insight into these questions, so I turned to science.

    I am an atheist who never started in an antagonistic stance with religion. I just realized that religion didn’t have squat to say about the really neat stuff in the universe.

  136. Genuinely Doug says

    Glen Davidson wrote:

    Science is what can give us “magic”. Whereas magic gives us nothing.

    So true! Can you imagine watching the “magic” of Michael Faraday during one of his science demonstrations? Or participate in one of Ben Franklin’s electric fire parties? Or seeing Heinrich Hertz cause a spark to appear across the room. Now that’s magic.

  137. says

    I blame my parents for my interest in science…My dad is a retired chemistry professor, who met my mom at college while she was studying chemistry as well. Mom worked in hospital labs for quite a while when my sister and I were growing up – sis is a research chemist now.

    I love science because I’m curious, and the possibilities for discovery are limitless. Even in archaeology, which I love.

    Religion is okay for people who want it, I suppose, but the standard religious answers for how things work (like “God did it” and “there are some things we weren’t meant to know”) aren’t quite as satisfying as the scientific approach (“Why is this that way? Don’t know – let’s find out”).

  138. tony says

    I’m enthused because Science lets me I see and understand the connectivity in everything

    I remember watching the original moon landing (in B&W on TV – my dad let me stay up!). I remember watching the Faraday Christmas lectures on BBC and just thinking ‘Wow!’ throughout. I remember making nylon in a chemistry class experiment and having a huge grin plastered on my face.

    My favorite quote: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic

    and Science is how we get there.

  139. Rick Schauer says

    What I appreciate about science is that it gives you two feet to stand on; meaning that with science I don’t live in a half-life with crazy superstitions that are unfounded and contradictory to natural observations.

    Science, “cuts-to-the-chase” of life and supports rational thought through accurate and replicable events we can all share in a transparent manner. Science is simply a breath of fresh-air in a world polluted by ignorance!

  140. xebecs says

    Nothing irks me more than idiotic claims that science “takes the mystery out of life”. The reality of the universe is infinitely stranger and more awe-inspiring than any of the puny stories that people have made up.

    Along the same lines, nothing perplexes me more than the people who look up at the vastness of the night sky and say that it all makes them feel insignificant. I look up, and I think “Wow, what an amazing universe — and I’m part of it!”

  141. Matt Penfold says

    I think the wonder of science was made clear to me on the day I stood in the middle of Cambridge and realised that within a mile or so of where I stood Newton had done much of his work on optics and gravity, Rutherford had split the atom, Thompson had discovered the electron, Bell had discovered pulsars, and Crick and Watson had discovered the structure of DNA.

  142. says

    Hmmm. I don’t know exactly why I love science, but I know that I love it because of the response it elicits from me. I get freakin’ giddy. I say “that’s so cool” over and over and over. I smile so hard that my face hurts and sometimes I get a little choked up.

    Nothing else makes me feel that way… For sure, science does not strip the wonder out of the world. It enhances it.

  143. says

    I’d hardly know where to begin.

    Deep time, I guess, is one big thing though. I was mostly raised on the Canadian shield, and just the thought that there were rocks in my back yard you could touch (lots of them, around there) that were a billion years old was awe-inspiring. Go a little further north and west, and you could touch ones older still, pushing back to three billion and change. It was almost otherworldly, thinking that. That when the cold stuff at the tips of my fingers formed, nothing lived outside the oceans. The continents would have been barren, all rock and hard edges, except where erosional forces prevailed. No vegetation to break the line of sight or the fall of the rain, no trees to whisper in the wind. And that we now knew something of this, could probe into this time, in our various ways, sequence maps and fossils.

    And then there was the interratedness of all living things. The rRNA map was food for thought. Ripples in that stream of inheritance mapping out the distance in time between big complicated metazoans like me and the blue-greens living in the lichens that probably first colonized the land. There was something dazzling about the sweep of that. To dream in science is to dream big. And again, we’re looking over these immense gulfs of time–billions of years–numbers we can only express with numbers; intuition fails at these distances. From there, you get to thinking of abiogenesis, how it all began, what that might have looked like. Russell’s notions of life in early black smokers, chemolithoautotrophs as the seat of it all, and again, it’s incredible to imagine: did it start there? Are we descended from something that lived in perpetual blackness and scalding heat? And where else might the same thing be happening, right now, across the immeasurable distances between stars? How similiar, how different might those systems be? It’s an incredible spur to the imagination.

    Sagan’s line on star stuff, that, too, was incredible to contemplate. That the heavier elements of which we are made could only have come from fusion reactions in enormous stars. It’s hardly what I’d call belittling; it’s an honour. It took a supernova to make us. Who could ask for a more dramatic beginning?

    All of that, and more. And the best part is: it just keeps coming. In tens of thousands of journal articles annually, so many you can’t possibly keep up to it all, every answer suggests the next question, and someone else goes looking for those answers, and it all streams into the libraries, day by day, month by month. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and an endless source of beauty and wonder.

  144. says

    “I never had a particular interest in seabirds, myself. I’ve tossed fritos and bits of hot dog rolls to seagulls from hotel balconies…” – John C. Randolph (#140)

    After tossing a few Tater Tots or french fries to establish the feeding frenzy, toss an Alka Seltzer tablet… Ever see a seagull detonate?

  145. Arthur says

    Sociologist, huh?

    The comments above are fairly representative of my views on science, but I have a question for you. Would you care to comment on the tendency within the social sciences and liberal arts to embrace postmodern and poststructuralist ways of thinking (or not thinking) about the world?

  146. DaveD says

    I just started reading this blog, so what better time time to introduce myself?
    I love science because I could keep asking questions. How? Why? The answers were always more astonishing than I could have guessed and always led to more questions. I guess I am just a curious person by nature, and I have to thank my parents for encouraging me. I took apart a VCR when I was young (when VCR’s were worth something) and instead of getting angry, my parents gave me “The Way Things Work” by David Macaulay. Probably the best gift I ever got. My interest in the history of life was sparked when my best friend and I would find shell fossils in his back yard… in Kansas. That led to some questions. I haven’t looked back since.

  147. says

    “Would you care to comment on the tendency within the social sciences and liberal arts to embrace postmodern and poststructuralist ways of thinking (or not thinking) about the world?” – Arthur (#165)

    To which definition(s) of postmodernism might you be referring to? The term dates back to the 1870s. Similarly, poststructuralism dates back to the post-World War II era. For those of us not familiar with the terminology, could you define the terms a bit?

    And while you’re enlightening us, could you go on to the next step and discuss how postmodernism and poststructuralism relate to creationism and particularly the rise of intelligent design creationism? Thanks.

  148. mess says

    I usually don’t post to this blog but this question was interesting.

    What enthuses me is “I don’t know”. The fact that “I don’t know” is still an acceptable answer for some questions. I like that we don’t know everything and are still trying to figure it all out.

    It is cool that there are still mysteries left to be solved and that science is trying to solve them.

  149. Sili says


    Yes, that pretty much sums it up.

    I wish I had a better understanding of it, but all I know is that since I finally learnt to read in Year 3, I’ve spurned the Humanities for Science. Or well, Maths back then, since there wasn’t Physics and Chemistry till year 7. And I wasn’t good and finding the stuff, myself. Hence my great jealousy when I see people talking about how much they taught themselves at a young age.

  150. ThirtyFiveUp says

    #147 Noam Zur

    Very glad to meet you. Opera is my expensive occasional addiction. Pharyngula is my cheap daily fix.

    Folks, be sure to Google him. Impressive guy.

  151. MAJeff, OM says

    Opera is my expensive occasional addiction.

    classically trained singer here–BA in music.

    One of the cool things about my degree was studying the acoustics of sound alongside the ways that our throats, sinuses, nasal passages, mouths, etc. can all be used to make such amazing sounds. (I’m not saying my voice is amazing, but it’s cool to understand how some very tiny people can be heard over an orchestra.)

  152. Whateverman says

    It’s such a simple question, and yet I don’t think I’ve ever really considered it until now. I apologize for the novella that follows (which is as much self-revelation as anything else):

    I can remember as a little kid visiting my Gramper and Grammer, where my parents would sit around the table with them and discuss adult stuff. Gramper had emmigrated from Germany at the age of 13 (with no parents), and had managed to find work and become a competent carpenter. He was very serious and rarely emotional – and *loved* to debate. Perceiving this when young, I’d see him take one side of an issue, and then flip flop to argue it from the other. It was a game, and it was all about the skillful use of logic.

    I can remember my Mother not faring so well in these debates, because she’d try to feel her way through the discussion.

    To make a long story short, at a young age I came to value logic and reason. It was easy to see a person making illogical jumps from one point to another – and doing so with lots of energy, all without actually adressing the question he/she was asked.

    As I got older, I found comfort in the ability of logic to help me discover things about myself, and about the other people around me. It was an effective tool. Emotion? Not so much…

    In the 5th grade, I managed to be in a (small town) school with a self-accelerated math curriculum – I ate it up. Once the regular teacher-led class was done, we were allowed to do work in Course Books, and could procede as fast or as slow as we wanted. I remember doing 10th grade geometry at the age of 11, and loving every minute of it.

    At this point, I had thought Math was my calling. I skipped 8th grade and jumped into a real instructor-led accelerated course, and was proud/scared/excited about it all.

    That’s when (sadly) I met the worst teacher of my entire scholastic experience. he killed al enthusiasm I had for the subject by forcing us to adhere to some weird notion that how we kept our notebooks was an indication of how smart we were; if your notebook wasn’t ordered and neat and footnoted in the proper ways, your math was no good.

    Lots of kids had problems with this guy; my Mom and I talk about it to this day. He apparently had some serious personal problems, and it led him to being extremely rigid.

    Anyway, it *did* kill my enthusiasm for Math, and I continue to mourn that. However, I still valued logic, and found other subjects that did the same: chemistry, astonomy, etc.

    Finally, I went to college, and ended up settling into a career in Food Science (combination of engineering, cooking and microbiology). That degree led me to a number of science-related jobs; I currently work as a software engineer (mostly self taught) for a large contract research services corporation. We help pharmaceutical companies get their drugs & devices to the market (ie. through FDA regs and organizing the clinical research involved).

    Yeah. I like science because it de-emphasizes emotion, and instead values logic and reason. The vast majority of humanity’s problems would be lessened if we did the same.

  153. Arthur Nielsen says

    Answer to Paul Burnett (#167):

    I am using “postmodern” to mean “any of various styles, concepts, or points of view involving a conscious departure from modernism, esp. when characterized by a rejection of ideology and theory in favour of a plurality of values and techniques” (OED, “postmodernism”). And I am using “poststructuralist” to mean “an extension and critique of structuralism, esp. as used in critical textual analysis, which rejects structuralist claims to objectivity and comprehensiveness, typically emphasizing instead the instability and plurality of meaning, and freq. using the techniques of deconstruction to reveal unquestioned assumptions and inconsistencies in literary and philosophical discourse.” (OED, “poststructuralism”)

    I am not an expert on either of these subjects, and so I thought that our sociologist blogger might have encountered these ideas in his work and might be willing to comment.

    My problem with both postmodernism and poststructuralism is the rejection of ideology and the idea that any claim to objective knowledge is founded on unspoken and possibly invalid assumptions about the world. I don’t see how someone could adopt these positions and still believe that it is possible to achieve objective knowledge through skeptical and scientific inquiry. In my view, ideology is universal, and it is as impossible to not have an ideology as it is to not have an accent (yes, standard English is an accent). So, since we can’t get rid of ideology, the best we can do is to learn as much as we can and try to adopt the most helpful and well-thought out ideology we can.

    I don’t know how it might relate to creationism, but as far as I can tell, that is not the only purpose of this blog. I am pretty sure, however, that creationists would be as opposed to postmodern thought as I am, since they also claim to have an objective source of knowledge. I think that anyone who is interested in science and reads this blog, but who studies or works in the liberal arts or social sciences, where these ideas are widespread, would appreciate a discussion of this sort.

  154. Qwerty says

    I love watching the forensic science used on shows like PBS.s Secrets of the Dead or CBS’s 48 Hours. Even the occational science bits on America’s Test Kitchen are fun to watch.

    As a gay man, I cannot understand fundies. Especially the fact that they can believe in an eternal afterlife, but can only believe that the earth is 6,000 years ago. To use a word I’ve seen on many a post here: They are Wackaloons!

  155. Arthur Nielsen says

    “the bogus construct ‘intelligent design creationism’ is nothing more than postmodern creationism” – Paul Burnett, #175

    Interesting. In my post #173 I was talking about old-fashioned creationism, based on a literal interpretation of whichever Bible verses the creationists want the Bible to say, but I guess a case could be made that some of the intelligent design advocates are just postmodern creationists.

    Here is part of the Philip Johnson quote from the Panda’s thumb article you cited: “What is presented as objective knowledge is frequently an ideology that serves the interests of some powerful group. The curious thing is that the sociology-of-knowledge approach has not yet been applied to Darwinism.”

    You don’t get much more postmodern than that.


  156. Arnosium Upinarum says

    Great post, MAJeff!

    The emotion of awe is what gets to me too. Peak moments, wherever they pop up – in the sciences, in the arts, even on occasion just hangin’ around being alive – get me every time.

    If I burst out with a “wow” before realizing it, whatever it is that discharged me when encountering it is a special and memorable milestone.

    There’s an old “wow” even in the first realization that wonderment is all-inclusive: the most negatively ghastly fits right in the same department with the most positively sublime. I remember with equal fidelity where I was and what I was doing the moment humans first landed on the moon and when the guy who suggested it would be an awesome thing to do was assassinated…and I was only a kid.