11 January 2008

Weekly Sampler 1

I've explained before that I'm busy as an experimental scientist (on sabbatical) who does marriage and parenting as well, so I just can't get to all the blog posts I want to write. (Not to mention the ones I want to read.) And some tidbits and links wouldn't warrant an opus in any case. So, I'm starting a new feature, the Weekly Sampler, in which I'll imitate the "Links and Notes" posts at Siris (for example). Presenting the first Quintessence of Dust Weekly Sampler.

1. God in the brain makes the New England Journal of Medicine. Sol Snyder briefly reviews a book by neurologist Michael Trimble, The Soul in the Brain. The review isn't much, but it's interesting to see ID themes and Francis Collins cropping up in this context. The book sounds interesting...I think I should design a January term course on the subject so I can read it.

2. David Quammen's The Song of the Dodo is required reading for those who seek to get college credit for reading this blog. One of the many assets of the book is its detailed discussions of the work of Alfred Russel Wallace. Tuesday was his birthday, and 2008 marks is the 150th anniversary of his communication with Charles Darwin, a letter in which he described a theory of natural selection. (Quammen suspects Darwin of an ethical lapse in his handling of Wallace's letter.) A few people have blogged about Wallace; my favorite post is Wallace Should Hang by Olivia Judson, on her cool blog at the New York Times, The Wild Side. Her blog is very well written and extensively referenced. Highly recommended!

3. Christopher Heard has some worthy thoughts on "theistic evolution" and Genesis in a post at Higgaion discussing a theological article on the subject.

4. In discussions of Jonathan Wells' lame article on centrioles that is trumpeted as a tour de force of ID science, many of us have pointed out that the journal in which that paper appeared (Rivista di Biologia) is a joke. One way to demonstrate this is to refer to the so-called "Impact Factor" of the journal, which is a measure of how often the journal's articles are cited elsewhere. There are many complaints about this influential scoring system, among them its proprietary nature and occasional capriciousness. Plus, it costs money. Well, now there's a free alternative, and it looks like it might be superior in several ways to the current state of the art. The new metric is called the SCImago Journal Rank indicator, or SJR indicator, and it's based on more data than is the Impact Factor ranking. Just for fun, I looked up some journals of interest, and their 2006 SJRs.

Journal of Neurobiology (where I published my dissertation research): 1.056
Developmental Neuroscience (where I published my most recent paper): 0.616
Nature Cell Biology (where my most prominent first-author paper was published): 7.367
Experimental Cell Research (where I'm thinking of sending my next manuscript): 1.204
Rivista di Biologia (favored journal of ID "researchers"): 0.052
Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (another outlet for reporting of ID "research"): 0.050

Wow. If nothing else, those ID guys make little scientists like me look like demigods, at least till someone does the Steve Matheson – Joe Thornton comparison...

5. This is an old tidbit from Siris, amplifying a point made by John Farrell regarding the habit of certain commentators to hold forth on the veracity of scientific explanations about which the commentators evidently know nothing at all. In this corner, Thomas Aquinas. In this corner...does it really matter?

6. I wonder if anyone can guess why I think this article in the current issue of Nature Genetics (or any of dozens like it) represents a very interesting opportunity for ID theorists and other creationists to prove themselves.

7. And finally, check out Edge, where the Annual QuestionTM is "What have you changed your mind about?" I think that's a great question, and I would love to know how my favorite people would answer. The Edge cohort is (by design) hardly representative of H. sapiens, but there are some very interesting entries. A few personal favorites, chosen for varying reasons: Scott Atran, Steven Pinker, Robert Sapolsky, Michael Shermer, Marc Hauser, Brian Eno, David Sloan Wilson, and Craig Venter. My top pick: Richard Dawkins, saying something I've thought about a lot lately:

When a politician changes his mind, he is a 'flip-flopper.' Politicians will do almost anything to disown the virtue — as some of us might see it — of flexibility. Margaret Thatcher said, "The lady is not for turning." Tony Blair said, "I don't have a reverse gear." Leading Democratic Presidential candidates, whose original decision to vote in favour of invading Iraq had been based on information believed in good faith but now known to be false, still stand by their earlier error for fear of the dread accusation: 'flip-flopper'. How very different is the world of science. Scientists actually gain kudos through changing their minds. If a scientist cannot come up with an example where he has changed his mind during his career, he is hidebound, rigid, inflexible, dogmatic! It is not really all that paradoxical, when you think about it further, that prestige in politics and science should push in opposite directions.
Can I hear an "amen"?

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