Thursday, November 23, 2006

90% or 99.9% - The gene quandary

I was in two minds about whether to post this item here or in my Leave Good Enough Alone blog! But it is a pretty basic question, so here goes ...

Are we gullible or are we gullible? I was watching a TV science show special a week or so ago, and it made the oft-repeated statement that our human genes are almost identical, one person to another. And our genetic structure is remarkably similar to that of monkeys, and earthworms, and amoebae, and ... Or is it?

We watch ultra-modern analytic equipment doing its stuff, see gene structures flash across the screen, and listen to various genetics "experts" make their pronouncements. (And, if they're wearing white lab coats that makes them all the more believable!)

But, as of now in late 2006, how much do we really know about genetics and molecular biology and how much do we still have to discover?

These musings bubbled out of my unconscious today when I came across the Reuters article: New human gene map shows unexpected differences which starts off:
One person's DNA code can be as much as 10 percent different from another's, researchers said on Wednesday in a finding that questions the idea that everyone on Earth is 99.9 percent identical genetically.

Certainly intriguing, isn't it. I wonder where it eventually will all lead to.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

About Asking the Right Questions

Here in Australia we have a national referendum every now and again, for such things as whether or not Australia should change from the monarchic model to the republican model.

Invariably -- as you'd expect from politicians -- the party in power in the federal government carefully crafts each referendum question in such a way that their preferred option is most likely to succeed: if you will, a variation upon the saying that "The devil is in the details".

Similarly so with many a scientific debate over the decades and centuries.

Australia is in the vice-like grip of a great drought, perhaps the worst for some centuries, and there's intense dicsussion of global warming and climate change. Are the "right questions" being asked about all this?

Upon this theme, at RealClimate there's an interesting recent post: Attribution of 20th Century climate change to CO2 (with lots of comments, too) ...

In public discussions there is often an emphasis on seemingly simple questions (e.g. the percentage of the current greenhouse effect associated with water vapour) that, at first sight, appear to have profound importance to the question of human effects on climate change. In the scientific community however, discussions about these 'simple' questions are often not, and have subtleties that rarely get publicly addressed.

One such question is the percentage of 20th Century warming that can be attributed to CO2 increases. This appears straightforward, but it might be rather surprising to readers that this has neither an obvious definition, nor a precise answer. I will therefore try to explain why.
For a range of findings, opinions and views see also:

Thursday, October 19, 2006

D'où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous?

I just came across again some references to Paul Gaugin's 1897-1898 work "D'ou venons nous? Que sommes nous? D'ou allons nous?" (Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?) which is held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

I haven't made many posts to this particular blog, but that doesn't mean I haven't been musing about Basic Questions. It's just that I've been busy with my other blogs, web site, software development, and so on.

I'm about half way through Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything and that's certainly got my grey matter working! I suppose that you could call it a superlatiave travel guide to the universe. Very nice work, Bill: most enlightening, in your usual fashion, and quite scary in places.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Size of Our World

Only the occasional entry in this blog (one of several hosted here at Oh well, with apparently arounf 100,000 new blogs per day maybe nobody noticed my severe case of bloggus infreqentius.

This topic -- Basic Questions -- is pretty well covered by others, but I just came across the following and couldn't resist adding a new post here of a set of simple images that quite effectively get their message across:

The following video gives an entirely different perspective on it all, though: