One of the nice things about reading older scientists’ blogs and Twitter feeds is that you get reminded of things you should know and have your own views corrected from their years of experience. One of the things that I’ve seen Larry Moran, professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, write about repeatedly is the Central Dogma of Molecular Biology.
The Central Dogma is a concept that was described by Francis Crick, one of the two scientists who described the structure of DNA, and can be summarised by saying that sequence information can be transferred between nucleic acids or from nucleic acids to protein but never from protein to either protein or to nucleic acid. Or, in graphical form with arrows showing transfer of sequence information:
This one’s a little different from the others as it is a collection of short stories. I guess in that way it’s similar to Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which was also a short story in a collection but in that case I only read the eponymous story. Another difference is that this one is not quite as mainstream and is instead published by FurPlanet, one of several furry publishing houses.
All the stories revolve around sex in one or another fashion although the role it plays varies from pure erotica to merely being mentioned in the context of a fur needing her ex’s sperm because her current partner is incompatible for producing children. That is due to the furry nature of the stories which includes anthropomorphic characters of a variety of species, all of which are given individual traits.
With sex as a central facet of life and one with many personal and societal implications it is used here to provide the drama that the characters need to react to. And their reactions are always interesting and unique. The strongest part of the stories is the excellent characterisation of all the participants even in a very short space of time and even for minor characters. While my own interest in each story did vary, in all of them I found the characters to be well formed and I was always eager to see what would happen next.
It links back to an article on Inside Higher Ed by Lynn Talton about better structure in one’s work life. Specifically it brought up three main topics that shouldn’t be neglected; “Getting Involved in Something Outside Your Research,” “Exploring Research Beyond Your Specialty” and “Prioritizing and Planning Your Development as a Professional.” These are all things that I agree are really good to do but which I don’t think are given the attention they deserve.Continue reading →
I finished The 120 Days of Sodom and Daring Do and the Eternal Flower and can now give short reviews here and add them to the list of books I’ve read in 2017.
The 120 Days of Sodom (1785 (first published 1904), this edition + translation 2016) by The Marquis de Sade
A highly-controversial book which has been banned at various times – it’s still, I hear, illegal to display Sade’s works in shop windows in France. Even if the name of the book isn’t familiar, the name of the author should be. The Marquis de Sade is the man from whose name we get the term “sadism.” He was a French Nobleman and a libertine who followed his passions without concern for others. This led him through a number of scandals over his sexual behaviour and eventually saw him imprisoned.
While in prison, he wrote The 120 Days of Sodom, whose manuscript was only re-discovered and published decades later. The story details four libertines who, with a cast of boys, girls, young men and old ladies, seclude themselves in a Swiss castle to indulge in their most base urges. In the narration it is described as “the most impure tale ever written.” It certainly lives up to that name and there would be very few people not shocked by some of the content which includes paedophilia, bestiality, scat, watersports, rape, torture and snuff. I think one of the footnotes by the translators gives a taste of what it is like in the later chapters. Continue reading →
On Thursday and Friday I was lucky enough to attend the Interscience symposium held at the University of Vienna and hosted by the Vienna Doctoral Schools. The idea was partly to show off the new doctoral schools that were supposed to join students together and partly to encourage interdisciplinary communication. There were four invited speakers with the rest being PhD students from the fields of maths, physics, biology and psychology.
Overall, it was a great experience and I got to see things that I ordinarily would not. I can’t say I followed everything (especially the maths) but many of the speakers were nice and clear and I got a better understanding of many different topics. I probably should’ve taken notes during the talks but I do remember two things that came up which I do want to mention.
First, one of the speakers was giving an idea of the sense of scale of various objects and mentioned the size of a “virus cell.” Viruses are not/do not have cells. They exist as viral particles or virions which are small protein structures that surround their genetic material. Those particles can then infect host cells which the virus uses to reproduce. As I recall, it was a physicist that made that mistake so it’s easily forgivable.
The next problem was slightly less forgivable as the speaker was an assistant professor although it is also so widespread a mistake that many accept the error as not being an error. The problem was that she displayed this as the symbol for medicine.
That symbol is called the Caduceus and, despite what you may think, it is not the symbol for medicine. It is the staff of the messenger god Hermes and represents thieves, merchants and messengers. The correct symbol for medicine is the Rod of Asclepius; a plain staff with just a single snake curled around it.
Most professional medical associations do use the correct symbol with the incorrect one seeming to have originated due to a mistake made by the US army in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, UCT”s Faculty of Health Sciences used the incorrect symbol on their centenary tie (which I have) and that’s just a little sad. You can read about the two symbols in more detail in this article in the Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences or this blog post by Dr Keith Blayney.
There is a large and important debate in the scientific community at the moment which concerns access to research publications. Currently, a large amount of research is only available if a researcher or institution is willing to pay, often exorbitant fees, to access it. The debate has focussed on many issues, such as whether it is right for publishers to profit off research that is funded by the public when the researchers receive nothing or how a combination of high costs and funding limitations further the research gap between developed and developing countries.