When will we learn?

Of all places, I found an article on reddit about a girl born with eight limbs on the outskirts of Bangalore.

Lakshmi is one of those conjoined twins where one twin did not develop completely. What makes her case especially interesting (medically) is that the two bodies are fused in a mirror image at her pelvis. Soon, she will be operated upon in an attempt to remove the extra limbs and re-align her internal organs.

But what really shocked me in that article were the fact that the girl is 2 years old and has been repeatedly refused treatment at the government hospital near her village as well as at Delhi when her parents painfully scraped up the money to take her there! What’s worse is that people have been lining up for her blessings assuming she is the reincarnation of her namesake, a goddess of wealth! Sigh.


Science can be sexy!

Being a wonk (as Brits would say) or a nerd/geek is usually a bad thing. If you’re too interested in science or (god forbid) you choose that as your profession, you can forget about ever being called hot or sexy. You’re more likely to be that boring person in stuffy clothes and glasses that stands in a corner at party and bore people to death whenever you open your mouth to talk.

Well guess what? That stereotype is going out the window! Not only do some women find geeks hot (yay!) but even a magazine like People rated a scientist (a geologist, yawn!) as one of the sexiest men alive in 2005! Dr. Michael Manga who is at the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley rubs shoulders with Matt Damon, Johnny Depp, Viggo Mortenson and Matthew McConaughey among others in the latest issue of People.

While idly browsing the net for any other articles on Dr. Manga, I also came across inkycircus, life in the nerd girl world, a blog by three women science journalists which categorises their blog-post about Dr. Manga under “men whose babies we want to bear!”


Design Rocks!

Two friends go trekking in the mountains. Much of the area they were tramping through had not really been explored well before and they were quite excited about being pioneers.

After an hour or so of rigorous trekking they came across a rock formation that had a very strong resemblance to a human face. The first of the friends (let’s call him E) marvelled at how random natural processes had sculpted such a likeness.

The second friend (D, I guess?) rubbished that view and said that such a good likeness had to be the work of a master sculptor.

E examined the rock closely, and since he was something of an amateur geologist pronounced that it bore patterns of erosion that were characteristic of the rock being worn away by water and wind and not by a sculptor’s chisel. Besides which, he said, if you looked at the rock from a different view point, it didn’t look much like a face anymore, unless it was a deformed one!

Well then, said D, that’s precisely how brilliant the sculptor was! He had fooled E into thinking the amazing sculpture was just a natural formation. And as far as the viewpoint was considered, well, that was just a bit of avant garde he assumed, although he didn’t go in for all this modern art gimmickry.

What nonsense, said E, you’re just making this stuff up. Why do you have such trouble believing that this is a natural formation?

Right back at ya, said D, why do you have trouble believing this is sculpted? Could anything random have produced something with such order in its lines? I just can’t believe that!


Let there be light?

The August 30th, Edition of the Hindustan Times, Mumbai had a column titled “Higher Knowledge, Clearer Concepts” by Asish Arora. This was one of their regular columns called Inner Voice which I assume has to do with some airy, “spiritual” topics and so I happily skip over it everyday.

For some reason I did read it that day and was confronted with this opening passage:

When we were in the junior classes, we were taught that light travels in a straight line. In the higher classes, we learnt that a beam of light can disburse in seven rays. After that we learnt that there are two more rays besides the seven which are invisible. Later, we learnt that light does not travel straight, it is a wave. Again we learnt that it is not even a wave, it is a particle.

The column goes on to talk about how one progresses similarly in “devotional life” (whatever that is.)

I wanted to laugh at first. I don’t care what Mr. Arora opines on “devotional life” or spirituality and “paths to self-realisation.” They’re all pretty much a load of crock to me anyway, but his idea of light is wrong in so many ways! But I suddenly realised how this was not funny at all. If an analogy is all he wants to draw, there are plenty of them available, but making things up out of ignorance or malice is a no-no.

His blathering ideas on the nature of light annoy me more because if any of his readers are not aware of the reality, they would tend to assume that Mr. Arora being so well-versed in “self-realisation” knows what he’s talking about and so end up believing his account of light too!

All of this from a newspaper whose advertising tagline is “Let There Be Light!”




I finished reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything a few days ago. I’d actually put it down for a few days while I read through some other books. (In point of fact, one other book.)

I started this post thinking that A Short History was the first book I’ve actually finished in a while and then realised how stupid I was being, since I have actually finished the other book too! And that one was The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. Looks like I’m beginning to slip into my role as “absent-minded professor.” It won’t be long before I start living in a crumpled labcoat, grow frazzled grey hair and wear thick nerd glasses. *grin*

Well anyway, A Short History is a brilliantly written travelogue of science. A journey through our existing body of knowledge and how we came about it. Bill Bryson captures the essence of science with fairly succint and readable explanations with short (though not always) excursions into the lives of the scientists and thinkers behind it. The book is divided into sections that lead almost seamlessly into one another and are also ordered in a way that seems to make innate sense. I was quite happy to see that the largest number of chapters were devoted to life! My bias as a biologist! hehe. Read this book!

I’d write about the Science of Discworld too, but it’s similar to A Short History the difference being in writing styles (of course) and the interspersed chapters of a Discworld story. Essentially, the wizards of Unseen University split the thaum, this generates so much magical energy that it must go somewhere. So HEX, their computer (Anthill Inside) suggests starting the “Roundworld” project. And just like that a universe pops into existence on the Discworld. (If you haven’t guessed, it’s a universe much like ours.) The wizards proceed to watch this universe, and being wizards, interfere with it too. (Like smashing comets into planets and trying to make pocket-sized suns like the ones in their universe.) See? I knew you wouldn’t be interested!

Both good books and both good expositions of science and our present understanding of the universe. A Short History has a broader canvas and talks about a lot of other things too, but I think The Science of Discworld has two sequels too. (Now to get my hands on those!)


I have the best friends

I came home this evening from work and found a box from! A big surprise, of course! I quickly opened it to find “The Beak of the Finch” by Jonathan Weiner, sent to me as a gift from Rebecca!

This book (already added to my list on the right) is a book I’ve been wanting to read for years. I first came across a copy in a bookstore back when I was still an undergrad student. The price was beyond what I could afford then but I made up my mind that I had to read the book. I never did find it again (in a library or elsewhere) and so I was always recommending the book to friends without ever having read it myself! And now finally I can and goddamn! I’ve been right to recommend this book! 😀

Oh, I didn’t really say what the book was about, did I? Well, on the Galapagos islands, where Darwin collected many specimens on his voyage on the Beagle, are found 13 species of finches (also known as Darwin’s finches as he was the first person to collect the specimens.) Now due to the weirdness (even to a biologist) of island biogeography, populations of animals and plants on islands like this evolve at a fairly quick rate. Therefore a detailed, systematic study of any such population should give you all the real data to show evolution on the march! And that is what “The Beak of the Finch” documents along with a very well written exposition on Darwin’s theory with all the requisite history to fill in the spaces.

Read this book!


The Panda’s Thumb

I decided to skim through the blogs of my GNE contacts today and was reading Outis‘ blog and came across this post.

The post speaks of The Panda’s Thumb, a community blog “dedicated to explaining the theory of evolution, critiquing the claims of the anti-evolution movement, and defending the integrity of science and science education in America and around the world.”

Great reading, go visit there NOW!!

Doing my bit (as usual, ;-)) I have duly added in a badge into my navbar on the right.