Thursday, January 28, 2010

Scientific Journalism

I have been meaning to write this for a long time.

Figure: Upper graph represents the growth of the slime mold and the bottom graph represents the actual Tokyo railway. See how strong the resemblance stands, particularly of the nodes.
Reference - Tero et. al., "Rules for Biologically Inspired Adaptive Network Design", Science, 2010.

Figure: This is THE snail's shell. Check out the layered exterior that was meant to break upon predator's assault, and fleshier interior to absorb the shock.
Reference: Yao et. al., "Protection mechanisms of the iron-plated armor of a deep sea hyfrothermal vent gastropod", PNAS, 2010

I have been caught up in a series of science blogs, especially after my publication being reported by some blogs. That led me to a whole new world of scientific news beyond my scope of research: I saw how slime molds grow akin to the transport system in Tokyo, from Ed Yong's, and also an entry about natural armor donned by a snail deep in the sea near volcanic ashes. These rekindled my fascination with nature's way of generating wonders that man, a weak anomaly of nature, is only starting to fathom. Although nature takes probably millions of years to perfect those, which Man takes only a span of centuries to accomplish, the notion that our inventions (that we are so proud of) are still within the cosmic design (rather than something extraordinary) is a rather ambivalent mix of feelings of superiority and inferiority.

While many superb science blogs brought us amazing news in layman, there are certainly some others who try to deride such news, or twist (knowingly or unknowingly) the ideas behind discoveries in order to fuel their own arguments and prejudice. Most of the time the works of scientists' implications are rather benign and only contribute to turn the gears of science research itself, except instances when one shouts "I have found the cure of cancer", until then, these papers are not meant to stoke any bias.

There was one I read, about J's publication in Nature, her publication was on unraveling important functions of a plant protein that could possibly boost crops yield, spawned responses that tell scientists to stop plant genetic engineering because it will destroy the environment (HUH!?!). It makes people wonder at how lacking in understanding the general public is on certain issues.

No doubt, science is a double-edged sword. Agree that there will be repercussions if wielded wrongly. But if we stop it altogether, we can all might as well move back to the caves and start scratching the walls with charcoal marks. I have trouble believing we can actually stop science from moving forward, hence tools such as scientific journalism are out to educate the public and increase awareness of science in a truthful yet layman manner. So that people move forward as a whole, with science. So that while we use Science to our advantage, we also understand the collateral damage and/or lessons that it can give. While there are also good AND bad journalism, we should simply enjoy a good read or take extreme arguments with a pinch of salt.

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