From commentary

BOILING LOBSTERS AND OTHER THINGS PEOPLE DO

Is it OK to boil a lobster? Short answer: Yes, of course it is. Long answer: Let’s consider the life, or rather the death, of a lobster. In nature lobsters begin very small and die a million horrible deaths in a million horrible ways. As they get older the death rate drops. We have ample evidence that lobsters do not go gentle into that good night, dying peacefully in their sleep at a ripe old age. Instead, once mature, a lobster that doesn’t go into the pot might face off with cod, flounder, an eel or two, or one of…

SEXTING: THE “PERFECT STORM” OF EVOLUTION, CULTURE, AND TECHNOLOGY (SOME THOUGHTS)

The “modern” human is the product of evolution, a natural process that operates on scales ranging from millions, to hundreds-of-thousands, to tens-of-thousands of years. The average individual of today is little changed from the average individual 30,000 years ago. We are literally prehistoric when we are born. Culture, our ability to pass information, artifacts, and other non-genetic material from one generation to the next, operates on much smaller time scales: millennia, centuries, even decades. The larger cultural landscape consists of religion, language, governments, laws, etc. and many of these change so quickly that they have only been in their present…

THE TIME TO SPEAK UP IS NOW

On Sunday, August 2nd 2008, in Santa Cruz, California, a firebombing destroyed David Feldheim’s car. The smoke from the fire filled the first floor of his house, so he and his wife, along with their 6-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, had to drop a ladder from the window of a second floor room to escape. Dr. Feldheim has no criminal record. He isn’t affiliated with organized crime, or even a member of some contentious political organization. Instead, the attack on he and his family was instigated because Dr. Feldheim uses mice in his research on how the brain develops. Animal…

WHAT IS THE POINT OF SCIENCE EDUCATION?

Recently I have found myself in the unintentional, and unenviable, position of final stumbling block to a young lad’s high school graduation. It seems he’s been managing to meet all the minimal requirements for a high school diploma, save one: a grade 10 general science credit. After three years and as many attempts, he is no closer to receiving a passing grade, and convocation is just a few months away. He is not a scholar. His transcript is a string of numbers ranging only from the low- to mid-50s. In education it is generally understood that a student with a…

EVOLUTION AND THE INDIVIDUAL TALENT

“Hiccups, hernias and hemorrhoids are all caused by an imperfect transfer of anatomical technology from our fish ancestors.”–biology professor Marlene Zuk in The New York Times (1/20/09) Don’t let’s go there. We all have our instinctual phobias and obsessions, a fear of sharp-beaked shadows, or a scarcely controllable urge to upgrade that in-home lap pool, again. Maybe I should have paid more attention before clicking “accept,” but I can never remember whether to stream downloads sequentially or fluvially. No excuses, but I was a botany major. And anyway, anatomical transfer was not part of the core curriculum at my school.…

TERRY TALKS VIDEO: MIKE GRETES – MAKING MEDICINES FOR PEOPLE, NOT FOR PROFIT

(From Terry talks, November 22, 2008) . All lives, no matter where they are lived, have equal value. Yet access to life-saving drugs is most often limited to those who can pay for them. Also, treatments for many tropical diseases are either unavailable or are increasingly ineffective, with toxic side effects to boot. Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (ubc-uaem.org) is a student organization dedicated to fixing this broken system. We work by changing how universities set their technology licensing priorities and their research agendas. At UBC, we’ve persuaded administration to publicly adopt a set of Global Access Principles (www.uilo.ubc.ca/global.asp) that…

OF EVOLUTION AND THE BIBLE

In the Beginning… Many people believe that there is a conflict between science and religion when it comes to the question of how life began on Earth. While only a minority of people situate themselves squarely on one side of this debate, the topic tends to draw the attention of everyone. This is because the answer to the question of where we came from serves as the jumping off point for defining our morality and our purpose here on Earth. Quite simply, once we know what brought us into being, we know where to ask for instructions. Consequently, any explanation…

IN WHICH OUR PROTAGONIST LEARNS THE IMPORTANCE OF THE BASE CASE

I was three years old. By this point in my life, the residents of Sesame Street had educated me about as well as any community of puppets could reasonably be expected to educate any small child. Family legend has my father holding me, age fifteen months, as he selected an ice cream treat from the Dickie Dee vendor outside our Virginia home. I don’t know if I recognized the varieties of snacks, but apparently I could make some sense of their names. “I,” I enunciated, pointing. “C. E. C…” Incredulous, my father informed my mother, “She knows letters.” Since neither…