Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My very first ever blog!


Scientists love jargon. Mostly, it's necessary- describing our complex world requires a high degree of precision. But the communications shouldn't be so exclusively complex: much of the research focused on things like climate change, cancer, agriculture, space, etc. is being paid for by people (you) who can't really understand the results. The issue of science funding is beyond the scope of the first blog post, but my take-away message is that if you're going to be paying for the research (which you do- government funds account for approximately 25-30% of research money in most developed countries1), you should be equipped to understand the information you're paying for and use it to make real, intelligent decisions in your every day life. I started this blog because my 'science' career has given me a unique outlook on my entire life, not just my consumption habits or who I vote for. I want to be a part of the movement that reduces the opacity of jargon-riddled education, and I believe success will come in the form of much-enriched lives and clear, objective thinking.

    The vast infinity of surfaces and properties and forces that ARE the fabric of the world simply exist, around you, stand-alone from the scaffolding of your thoughts or perception. Or Joe Rogan is right, and our consciousness comprises reality. Until we figure it out, let's learn about science, guys! It's a lot of fun. I REALLY want to eliminate the hazy, blank stare that so many people fall to when I say things like "I was reading this article about the role of male bravado in the social structure of banana slugs and GUESS WHAT" (they're slugs and they don't do things like that" is what I would follow with but I never get that far because most people quickly remember all the cats they have to go feed).

And dogs! So here's the first post:

Ugly Dogs

Despite weird cultural interpretations of mutations (Ninja Turtles, X-Men), most mutations result in either horrible, deleterious (BAD) effects, or no perceptible change at all. Since the moment that little 'egg-you' first divided and conquered Mom's womb, your DNA has been under constant attack from chemical mutagens, radiation and sloppy assembly-line work. The vast majority of this damage is repaired- your little cellular helpers stitch up 10 billion mistakes for every one that gets through (UV exposure, cancer-causing chemicals etc. all increase instances of DNA damage). Of the 100-200 that don't get repaired and accumulate during your life time, the majority will a) never affect you, and b) not affect your children/grandchildren etc etc.

HOWEVER: some mutations result in weird and cool traits. A spontaneous change in the FOX13 gene in dogs results in patchy baldness, awkward teeth development and a 1st place win at the ugliest dog in the world contest. 'Mutation' just means a change in the DNA- a red molecule where a blue one should be, or a note played where a pause was written in. Any serious molecular mix-ups beyond this hasten the arrival a group of large, angry molecules with leather jackets and pool cues (think Road House). It's a very tightly controlled operation, but some small errors get through.. And this is what the 'small errors' can look like:


This is actually pretty horrible. Evolutionarily speaking, Sam would have a hell of a time finding a girl dog to love him in the wild, and catching food would be pretty tough. Instead, because of our tremendous, powerful, advanced, intelligent society, he's basking in attention from weird 'ugly-dog-aficionados' and pounding back ugly-dog-treats. There really is no take-home message here, I'm afraid- your genetic information is determined long before your birth and there's naught to be done about it.

On a final note, concerning the methodology of my blog: using fantastic examples in arguing a point is dangerous and generally a scientifically-scummy thing to do. The true answer to any question is determined by looking at the entire scope of data available. Most of mutations aren't cool or weird or notable. However, I'm working my way through how I want to approach this cultural problem of science ignorance and I DO know that throwing numbers and statistics at my 4 readers isn't going to make progress. I hope that visually stunning content and out-of-the-ordinary topics can garner me some interest, and I'll try to back it up as thoroughly as possible with the correct etiquette of objectivity.

Thanks for reading, friends :)

1Bodenheimer, T. 2000. Uneasy alliance: Clinical investigators and the pharmaceutical industry. New England Journal of Medicine 342:1539-1544.


  1. Hi, I read it!

    Quite funny that you've made it your blog-life's work to explain the complicated things you know in layperson terms, whereas over here Devon and I are preparing to start filming a series of videos that consist of him trying to explain basic science questions without the slightest idea what he's talking about.

    Keep it up!


  2. YAY!! cannot wait for next posts, pretty excited