Friday, February 26, 2010

Article: Can A Biologist Fix A Radio?

J. & T.,

You might enjoy this short article by a microbiologist on the difficulties involved in making scientific progress in understanding complex phenomena like apoptosis--or a radio. It's quite readable, takes maybe ten minutes to finish.

Can A Biologist Fix A Radio?

[snip] How would we begin? First, we would secure funds to obtain a large supply of identical functioning radios in order to dissect and compare them to the one that is broken. We would eventually find how to open the radios and will find objects of various shape, color, and size (Fig. 2, see color insert). We would describe and classify them into families according to their appearance. We would describe a family of square metal objects, a family of round brightly colored objects with two legs, round-shaped objects with three legs and so on. Because the objects would vary in color, we will investigate whether changing the colors affects the radio's performance. Although changing the colors would have only attenuating effects (the music is still playing but a trained ear of some people can discern some distortion), this approach will produce many publications and result in a lively debate.

A more successful approach will be to remove components one at a time or to use a variation of the method, in which a radio is shot at a close range with metal particles. In the latter case, radios that malfunction (have a "phenotype") are selected to identify the component whose damage causes the phenotype. Although removing some components will have only an attenuating effect, a lucky postdoc will accidentally find a wire whose deficiency will stop the music completely. The jubilant fellow will name the wire Serendipitously Recovered Component (SRC) and then find that SRC is required because it is the only link between a long extendable object and the rest of the radio. The object will be appropriately named the Most Important Component (MIC) of the radio. A series of studies will definitively establish that MIC should be made of metal and the longer the object is the better, which would provide an evolutionary explanation for the finding that the object is extendable. [snip]


"When people are married, instead of trying to get rid of each other, reflect that you have made your choice, and strive to honour and keep it." --Brigham Young

If you're so evil, eat this kitten!

No comments: