Please don’t blindly follow PopSci’s lead and get rid of comment spaces

Originally posted by Marie-Claire on her home blog, Boundary Vision. Reposted here with permission, because EXACTLY.

A tiny explosion happened in the online science communication world yesterday. Popular Science.com announced that they will be closing off opportunities to post comments on their news stories: no more public comment spaces. Why? They argue that uncivil commenters have an overly negative effect on readers, so negative that it isn’t worth maintaining the comment spaces. They make some scary claims too about a small number of negative commenters poisoning the way readers perceive the stories and about a war waged on expertise. They use an New York Times Op-Ed written by Dominique Brossard and Dietram A. Scheufele to back up those claims.

I must, however, respectfully disagree. Continue reading “Please don’t blindly follow PopSci’s lead and get rid of comment spaces”

We still don’t know why children resemble their parents

AmericanGothicBack in May, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch held a mother-daughter look alike contest. In their write-up of the results, they turned to a geneticist, Barak Cohen, for some expert commentary on why daughters look like their mothers:

We asked Dr. Barak Cohen, professor of genetics at Washington University Medical School, to explain this phenomenon.

“They are just the ones, who in a sense of the word, won the genetic lottery,” he said. In these cases, most of the mother’s genes are dominant.

(Barak tells me this quote was the outcome of a 30 minute conversation.)

The real truth is, we still don’t understand why children look like their parents, or rather, we don’t understand how DNA builds complex traits. Over at Pacific Standard this week, I discuss the case of the missing heritability and recent evidence that genetic variants with small effects might be a big deal. Go check it out. (And please don’t come back and talk to me about epigenetics.)*

A few more (largely personal) thoughts on genetic variation below the fold: Continue reading “We still don’t know why children resemble their parents”

…but my business cards are “cool”

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One Version of My Business Cards (Art by Jill Powell; Used With Permission)

It’s true. They are. They are those trendy small ones. They have a QR code. And, most importantly, they have original, The Finch & Pea inspired artwork by Jill Powell. At the 2013 Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop, I gave one of those cards to Karen McLeod of COMPASS. That lead to a thoroughly enjoyable conversation with COMPASS’s MBA intern, Ben Hamm.

Ben has been investigating how COMPASS might help improve interactions between the business and scientific communities. I, apparently, was one of 40+ “thinkers” he talked to about this topic. Fortunately, the other 39+ thinkers were able to make up for my ramblings. Ben summarized some of what he learned from these interviews in a very thoughtful blog post “Looking Beyond the Business Card”:

But over the course of more than 40 interviews with thinkers in nonprofits, government, journalism, and the private sector, I discovered a cultural divide among scientists themselves – between academics and their counterparts in industry. . .While there’s plenty of cross-pollination between university and commercial scientists on topics like chemistry, geology, and medicine, it seems that communication grows thinner in more interdisciplinary and holistic fields like ecology and climate. If this is true, it points to many missed opportunities for both groups to learn from one another.

Since when is cancer not caused by mutation?

I feel a major rant about epigenetics coming on… must hold it back until a more convenient time. But I can’t refrain from commenting on just how wrong this is:

“We used to think that cancer was caused mainly by mutations of genes, but we now believe that epigenetic aberrations are responsible for more than half of cancer cases,” says Trygve Tollefsbol, who is a senior scientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“That’s an important change because genetic mutations are very difficult, if not impossible, to correct, while epigenetic marks are potentially reversible,” he explains.

– Nutrition Action HealthLetter, July/Aug 2013, p. 10

I’ve heard a lot of BS claims made in the name of epigenetics, but this one takes the cake. Can anyone point me to an instance of any cancer that does not involve mutations? And where is the evidence that “more than half of cancer cases” are not caused by mutations? Anyone?

(And if you haven’t read this, you should: Mark Ptashne, “Epigenetics: core misconcept” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Apr 30;110(18):7101-3.)

NOTE: The article is not online yet, but comes from a big story on epigenetics in the July/Aug issue of the Nutrition Action Health Letter.

Evolution and Gene Regulation in Chicago

Happening at the U of Chicago today is the ASBMB meeting “Evolution and Core Processes in Gene Regulation”. The attendees here are an eclectic mix of evolutionary geneticists, systems biologists, developmental biologists, and hard core biochemists. So far the result has been fascinating, as Ian Dworkin over at Genes Gone Wild tells us.

Follow the meeting over at #genereg, where Ian has done a great job summarizing the talks in real time.

I’ll try to chime in occasionally during today’s talks (@genologos) and put up some more in depth thoughts on my favorite bits here.