Sunday, January 28, 2007

Boring Science Documentaries

Yeah, my blog's been kinda quiet lately. I keep thinking, "Oh, I should blog about that!" Then I get distracted and forget what I wanted to blog about, which is pretty much the story of my life.

In any case, one thing I did want to blog about was my molecular biology class. I'm a little annoyed by the professor's stated method of teaching (Reading out loud in class? What are we, in grade school?), but this post more relates to something else. One day, in lieu of lecturing, he showed us a video (Ugh. An equally bad teaching faux pas.). It was a PBS documentary about the discovery of the DNA helical structure. It wasn't so much about the science as it was about the drama and politics of the discovery. If you know anything about that, you know how much can be said on the subject.

Still, the documentary wasn't all that bad. There were some interesting quotes which came from the video which I thought I'd write about. Some are profound, and some . . . aren't.

Near the beginning of the film, the narrator was describing Watson and Crick as graduate students. They weren't very ambitious, apparently. As they were described, they tended to "not get bogged down in experiments . . . they were free to dwell on the big ideas." Which is exactly how I want to do my graduate career. I can just imagine the conversation with my advisor.
Advisor: So, what kind of research would you like to do with me?

Me: Well, I'm not so much of a research guy as I am a "big idea" guy.

Advisor: So, you're saying you want me to pay you to daydream and slack off?

Me: Hey, Watson and Crick did it, and they're science legends now.

Advisor: Get out of my office.
Something like that.

At one point, the narrator was discussing letters between Rosalind Franklin and her father. Her father was religious, and she was, well, not. Go figure, eh? Anyhow, they quoted one of her letters, saying, "Faith in this world is perfectly capable without faith in another." Her point was that you don't need the spiritual to trust and to explore the natural.

Of course, I would disagree with her, but I do find it an interesting quote all the same. I like it when scientists actually talk about such matters. Well, sometimes. I don't think scientists consider the philosophy of what they do often enough, nor its ramifications, but for some people the philosophy is summed up as, "Science explains everything! If you're not an atheist, you're an unenlightened neanderthal a few unwarranted genes away from pooping while you walk!" I've little patience for those folk.

Finally, I just wanted to share a quote I found hilarious, for reasons that are only vaguely clear to me. The third man to win a Nobel prize for the DNA structure was Maurice Wilkins. Of course, he's ancient by now, but he still has quite a bit of spirit in him. Anyhow, the interviewer asked him if he thought he "let the cat out of the bag" on the truth of the DNA structure (he let slip some crucial details to the wily Watson and Crick). His response just cracks me up:
"Well, I don't think science is meant to be kept in bags. Just like cats."
I giggle everytime I read it.

1 comment:

Jen said...

Hee hee...cats in bags....