Monday, February 27, 2012

You (and your children) are what you do:

The Soft Influence of Lamarck
Increasing evidence suggests that your environment and behavior in life may affect the lives of your children and even your grandchildren.  The meme that suggests that all genetic information is passed through genes may be wrong, or at least incomplete.  But even when heredity was first being described there were at least two schools of thought on the issue.  The first school is the one in which we all know and love; Darwinian evolution, in which information is passed from one generation to the next via some genetic material, which it turns out was DNA.  The other less well examined idea of heritable evolution was proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a French biologist, who suggested that traits were passed from one generation to the next, not by packets at the genetic level, but through use or disuse; a term often called soft inheritance.  I.e. giraffes have long necks because their predecessors stretched their necks more to reach leaves on tall branches.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Training for our Future

The education system, by its very nature, is rooted in the past.  But when it comes to advanced educational degrees particularly in the sciences, where the typical entering graduate student may not be in the real job market for another decade, a curriculum that is focused on the future may be more advantageous.  In the last few decades we have seen an explosion in technological advancement, which the futurist; Ray Kurzweil, calls the singularity.  This singularity is characterized by an exponential curve in the rate of technological advancement that will eventually get to a point where we as humans will no longer be capable of predicting the future.  It also suggests that in past generations, predicting the future was not the necessity that it may be today, due to the slow rate of change.  Therefore, an education system did not have to direct much effort toward explaining to students about the rapid changes that would take place in years to come.  For example, farming practices may have changed gradually over time, but the mainstay of a farmer’s education could be focused on learning the tricks and techniques of their fathers.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Working Hard Isn’t Enough:

Hard work is necessary in life and in many employment sectors in order to stay afloat.  The scientific red queen hypothesis in which ecosystems keep each component in check via an evolutionary arms race is a case in point. This idea, stolen from Lewis Carroll’s fantastic satire Through the Looking Glass, in which Alice must run as fast as she can just to stay in one place, is the classic illustration of hard work not paying off.  Indeed, when someone posted a picture of women in Africa carrying bundles with the caption that quoted George Monbiot which said, “If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire,” my first cynical thought was, Of course not, you need to work smart not just hard.  (see Women andGirls Lead, a non-profit who promotes networking and education for women).  Given that the adage ‘Work smart not hard’ is one I follow, I thought I would delineate how this adage really works by discussing three principles that allow for working smart.  The principles I will discuss are novel discovery, bolus energy expenditure, and specialization. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Transductionist

Transduction, if one simply looks it up on Wikipedia, is most simply a transfer from one source to another.  Specifically, it can be used; as it is in my line of work as a molecular biologist, to describe the transfer of a molecular signal from one source, say outside a cell, to another source, say the inside of the cell.  In physics it is the transfer of a donor electron to a recipient and in psychology it is used to describe extrapolation from a single case into the general case.  This blog will be an attempt at transduction.  I will attempt to ‘transduce’ the information that I find in the scientific and popular media into my own set of prose on specific topics regarding science, science policy, and scientific theory.   Furthermore, I wish to herein coin the term ‘Transductionist,’ to describe an individual that believes that they; like all living things, are the culmination of experience and the source of its passage.