The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature
Media Roundup

Short Reads

Carl Zimmer takes a fascinating stroll through the history of blood typing ‘“Renaissance doctors mused about what would happen if they put blood into the veins of their patients. Some thought that it could be a treatment for all manner of ailments, even insanity. Finally, in the 1600s, a few doctors tested out the idea, with disastrous results. A French doctor injected calf’s blood into a madman, who promptly started to sweat and vomit and produce urine the colour of chimney soot. After another transfusion the man died.”’

“The current academic publication system does patients an enormous disservice.” Seth Mnookin asks “What do you do if your child has a condition new to science?” in the New Yorker (the article is no longer behind a paywall).

The Gallery of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology in Paris is OT’s favorite museum. A place where you can not only learn, but time-travel. A few years ago when we borrowed some samples from the Paris natural history collection, a curator mentioned plans of “modernization”. I immediately had nightmares of Kensington-style dinosaur animatronics. Justin Smith in the New York Times lets me know I’m not alone. “Why do I keep coming back to this bone menagerie? What pull do the skeletons have that the artworks lack? How do they call out when the living beasts across the garden, in spite of their barks and howls, remain silent to me? I return at every opportunity. I offer to give out-of-town visitors a private guided tour, which, after dozens of iterations, is now taking on the quality of a bravura performance.”

With issue like embryonic stem cells and genome modification, Biology is now at the forefront of moral and ethical debates in science. During the atomic age, center stage was occupied by Physics. Gregg Herken in American Scientist examines “The Moral Landscape of Bomb Physics”. “Those who compare the making of the atomic bomb to a Faustian bargain, physicist I. I. Rabi used to say, have never read Faust.”

Jason Goldman in Nautilus with a new look at how dogs may have evolved from wolves, departing from the familiar hunter’s helper model: “Anybody who’s ever been around wolves will tell you that trying to share food with a wolf is a recipe for disaster”.

Carlo Rovelli in the New Republic on reliability versus certainty in science, and  how the “gotcha” syndrome is antithetical to the scientific method: ‘Every physicist today is immediately ready to say, “OK, all of our past knowledge about the world is wrong. Let’s randomly pick some new idea.”‘ Rovelli is a physicist- try to spot the bits that would most rankle a biologist.

Finally, and a bit more technical, a video of a proud father presenting his baby: Gene Myers on how the BLAST algorithm was conceived.

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