Won for All

Last night, I had to read this book RPM mentioned. It’s not very long—about 100 pages, counting a preface, an epilogue, and an afterward, and it has lots of pictures—but be warned: it’s very inside baseball.

The book is Won for All: How the Drosophila Genome Was Sequenced(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Michael Ashburner, and its subject is the rush to sequence the Drosophila genome in 1998-1999. It’s a rather strange twist on what I expected, though. While the subtitle says “How the Drosophila Genome Was Sequenced,” there is almost no science at all in the body of the book; instead, it’s all about the people and the politics, with Ashburner flitting about from place to place, yelling at people and eating sushi. It’s phenomenally entertaining.

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Seminal influences

Zeno mentions a children’s book series that had some impact on him: Danny Dunn! Oh, man, I remember reading through every Danny Dunn book my library had when I was in first and second grade—but the excerpt Zeno includes tells me I shouldn’t try revisiting them, ever, lest my disappointment in their quality become even greater.

Other books I remember well from those kiddie days were the reference books of Herbert S. Zim (which also inspire unfortunate memories now), and of course, the usual suspects: Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Come to think of it, last time I looked at those author’s work I wasn’t much impressed, either.

Bones, Rocks and Stars

How do we know how old things are? That’s a straightforward and very scientific question, and exactly the kind of thing students ought to ask; it’s also the kind of question that has been muddled up by lots of bad information (blame the creationists), and can be difficult for a teacher to answer. There are a great many dating methods, and you may need to be a specialist to understand many of them…and heck, I’m a biologist, not a geologist or physicist. I’ve sort of vaguely understood the principles of measuring isotope ratios, but try to pin me down on all the details and I’d have to scurry off and dig through a pile of books.

I understand it better now, though. I’ve been reading Bones, Rocks and Stars : The Science of When Things Happened(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll) by Chris Turney.

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Uninvention

Our Seed Overlords have asked a question (our answering is entirely voluntary, if you were wondering, and we’re only answering because it is an interesting question): “if you could cause one invention from the last hundred years never to have been made at all, which would it be, and why?

Several of my colleagues here have coughed up answers—Adventures in Ethics and Science (with a particularly appropriate entry),

Afarensis,

Evolgen,

Living the Scientific Life, and

Stranger Fruit—but I’m going to be a little bit contrary and question the question.

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My kind of guy

I’m going to have to get this book, Sex, Drugs, and DNA (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll)
just on the basis of a few excerpts…

Unfortunately, the US is a nation of very stupid people. So I
have stripped out the jargon and tried to deal with science
and health issues as though I was haranguing you at a party.

…and…

The strange thing about talking to non-scientists about science is that you quickly notice that some of the smartest,
most thoughtful and intellectually curious people have a terrible understanding of it. Most students leave high school
poorly equipped to manipulate even the most basic concepts. Nonetheless, I remain hopeful that we can increase
science literacy and intelligent discourse in the US. What can
I say? I’m an optimist.

…and a nice cartoon…

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Evo-Devo in NYR Books!

This really is an excellent review of three books in the field of evo-devo

From DNA to Diversity: Molecular Genetics and the Evolution of Animal Design (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll),

Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll), and

The Plausibility of Life:Resolving Darwin’s Dilemma (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll)—all highly recommended by me and the NY Times. The nice thing about this review, too, is that it gives a short summary of the field and its growing importance.

Summer reading

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Who would have thought these words would ever be typed by me? I’m looking forward to Ann Coulter’s new book.

It’s called Godless(amzn/b&n/abe/pwll). Apparently, Ann Coulter has written a book about me, although I suspect that she’ll instead be pretending that people like me are representative of the Democratic Party as a whole. I wish.

I’m sure it will be insightful, nuanced, and meticulously researched. Maybe Al Franken and I should get together in a summer book club to discuss it.

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Ann Coulter

P.S. Please don’t buy it. I’m not planning to, myself (although if the publisher wants to send me a review copy, I’ll gleefully read it and review it), but I just know my local library will be getting it.

P.P.S. I’m also amused at the image of Ann Coulter as an icon of Christian thought.

gen•e•sis

Some fields of science are so wide open, such virgin swamps of unexplored territory, that it takes some radically divergent approaches to make any headway. There will always be opinionated, strong-minded investigators who charge in deeply and narrowly, committed to their pet theories, and there will also be others who consolidate information and try to synthesize the variety of approaches taken. There are dead ends and areas of solid progress, and there is much flailing about until the promising leads are discovered.

Origins of life research is such an unsettled frontier. I wouldn’t want to work there, but the uncertainty and the confusion and the various small victories and the romance of the work do make for a very good story. And now you can read that story in Robert Hazen’s Gen•e•sis: The Scientific Quest for Life’s Origins (amzn/b&n/abe/pwll).

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