The Opposing Thumb

An opinionated digit leafs through the biological literature

On Being the Right Size

Warning: will splash on impact (Image: Madalena Parreira). In his classic 1926 essay On Being the Right Size, J.B.S. Haldane remarked that zoologists rarely pay attention to one of the most salient differences between animals, their size.  In his words, “(…) higher animals are not larger than the lower because they are more complicated. They […]

Smallpox: Extinction or Containment?

On October 12th, 1977, Ali Maow Malin, a hospital cook and vaccination field worker in Somalia, drove two children with smallpox symptoms to a clinic. One of them, a girl named Habiba Nur Ali succumbed to the illness. Habiba was six years old and she was the last human being to die of naturally acquired […]

Unexamined Experiments

The original know-nothing (image: Wiki Commons). Richard Feynman allegedly said, in a much cited but surprisingly difficult to source aphorism (the closest Opposing T came to a reference was an attribution to a BBC Horizon episode), that the “philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds”. Overtly philosophical questions […]

Reductio ad absurdum

“By then I had entered graduate school [in molecular biology at Harvard], but I’m a purist, and I started working my way back through the sciences. I took physical chemistry first, then mathematical physics, and then straight math, which I found most compelling of all. I ended up taking the entire math sequence—linear algebra, algebra, […]

Ransoming Your Liver

James Surowiecki gives us a short & sweet look at unbridled market logic applied to drug prices: “Sovaldi can cure ninety per cent of (Hepatitis C) patients in three to six months, with only minor side effects. There’s just one catch: a single dose of the drug costs a thousand dollars, which means that a […]

A Brief History of the Mind

Neurologist  Oliver Sacks & humble earthworm, by Madalena Parreira. Oliver Sacks runs through the natural history of mental life, from illuminated worms to electric carnivorous plants. Along the way, we encounter the young Father of the Neuron, who abandons it for other pursuits, probably contributing to this cell’s notorious behavioral issues: ‘Freud was able to […]

Cretaceous Cooperation Continues

The Cretaceous, 145 to 66 million years ago, marks the definitive end of what used to be called the Age of Reptiles. Asteroid, superflu, volcanoes (super or just lots of regular)- something bad happened, and an estimated 75% of all living species disappeared. Martin Kaltenpoth and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology […]