The Art of Science: Drink in the Science

photo (3)The Finch & Pea has, from its inception, been a labor of love by Mike and myself. The labor of that love has been spread to several other individuals over the past few years.

In some ways, Mike & I are very good bosses. We don’t yell. We don’t ask for reports to be filed. We understand that life is more important than deadlines. We are also pretty crappy bosses, in the sense that no one makes any money directly and there are no benefits. We don’t claim to provide “exposure”. We claim to offer fun and creative freedom. We also offer really nice beer glasses*.

Earlier this year, I teamed up with Matthew Cummings, the glass artist behind The Pretentious Beer Glass Company, to create a custom The Finch & Pea beer glass for the staff. Together with his colleague Lisa Wulf they came up with this beautiful (but amateurishly photographed, by me) imperial glass. Continue reading

Putting his money where his mouth is on gender equality in science

Doing it right. UC Davis microbiome researcher Jonathon Eisen not only turned down an endowed lectureship because the series was too male dominated, but also engaged the lecture series leadership and suggested replacements (hat tip to Evelyn Padilla).

For a more journalistic account, check out Elizabeth Case (hat tip to Jonathon Eisen).

Portland’s scientific light rail station

ArmsOne reason for my recent absence was a work trip to Portland, Oregon. While I was there, I suddenly found myself in the most science-inspired light rail station I’ve ever seen.

Washington Park station serves a few attractions: the zoo, the Rose Garden, the Japanese Garden,  the World Forestry Center, and other locations. It’s the deepest subway station in North America, and one of the deepest in the world overall. But even cooler: The entire station is inspired by science – mainly geology.

Full platform

Along both platforms (in each direction) is a platform-length core sample, taken during construction, and above and below it are little science tidbits or illustrations. Continue reading

One of world’s best ideas: the distinction between genotype and phenotype

One of the most important ideas ever is the distinction between genotype and phenotype – between our genes and the traits they influence. It seems obvious to us now, but scarcely more than 100 years ago it wasn’t, which led to a lot of confusion.

The scientist who really clarified the distinction between genotype and phenotype (and who, along with the word gene, coined these terms), was Wilhlem Johannsen. I recently wrote about Johannsen for Pacific Standard, in the context of the recent discovery of the molecular basis of a European blond allele. Here I want to show why Johannsen’s key insight dispelled so much confusion.

Johannsen summed up his views in a 1911 paper, “The Genotype Conception of Heredity.” He starts out by saying that scientists have been confused because they are thinking about apparent heredity, or the “transmission-conception” of heredity. This transmission conception, which had been around since Hippocrates and Aristotle, was that “the personal qualities of any individual organism are the true heritable elements of traits!” Continue reading

Last Man Science Fiction, 1805: The Bible as Gothic Futuristic Romance

Jean-Baptiste François Xavier Cousin de Grainville’s The Last Man (1805)

martinLastManLong-time readers know I’m a fan of post-apocalyptic science fiction, because it reveals so much about our feelings toward science and its place in civilization. Science mediates between us and nature; in modern civilization, we rarely encounter the raw power of nature without science’s buffering effects.

But are we like the sorcerer’s apprentice, putting the world at risk by playing with powers that are out of our league? Have we used science to truly transcend nature’s casual brutality, or are we just kidding ourselves? How much does our own human nature depend on the scientific underpinnings of civilization, and what happens when science’s support is yanked away — will it be Mad Max-style battling warlords, or pastoral communities in tune with nature’s rhythms, as in Earth Abides?

In End of the World fiction, the answers to these questions are all over the map, and that’s why this genre is so awesome.

I’ve already covered post-apocalyptic SF from the 40’s and 50’s, but it’s time to go back to the beginning of the genre, with the very first book that you could call a Dying Earth science fiction novel: The Last Man, by the French priest Jean-Baptiste François Xavier Cousin de Grainville. Published in 1805, it’s a bizarre rewrite of the Book of Revelations as futuristic Gothic novel, filled with temples, spirits, visions, and trans-Atlantic airships. Continue reading

Science Caturday: Intro to General Relativity

Ohai. Professor Kitteh here to explain the topic of general relativity, in particular the concept of space-time curvature.

space-time

 

Wow, that is a remarkably succinct explanation. Thanks, Prof. Kitteh! We’ll ace that physics test now.

 

Battle for the Net

According to this scorecard, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has not picked a team in the Net Neutrality fight. This form letter* seems like an attempt to appear like Tom Wheeler is leaning toward the side of goodness and light:

Thank you very much for contacting us about the ongoing Open Internet proceeding. We’re hoping to hear from as many people as possible about this critical issue, and so I’m very glad that we can include your thoughts and opinions.

I’m a strong supporter of the Open Internet, and I will fight to keep the internet open. Thanks again for sharing your views with me.

Tom Wheeler
Chairman
Federal Communications Commission

While it is reassuring to have independent confirmation that my comment was registered with the FCC, I did notice the use of “Open Internet”, not “Net Neutrality”. Call me cynical, but I’m slightly concerned that Chairman Wheeler’s definition of an “Open Internet” is not the same as our definition of “Net Neutrality”.

*I have a [bad] habit of publishing any correspondence I receive, particularly of the form variety, from government officials that do not pertain to my tax liability.