Evolutionary geneticist Jack Scanlan doesn’t want creationism in the classroom
What don’t you enjoy about science?
Real science, good science, proper science, tends to take a long time. I suppose I wish I could push a button and instantly have all the data I’m looking for and not have to go through near-endless cycles of putting small volumes of colourless liquid into small plastic tubes (which is what my field – molecular genetics – tends to devolve into sometimes).
The waiting is hard, the patience is hard. When you’re truly passionate about a question about the natural world, it eats away at you – and every moment you don’t have the answer can be a painful one.
What scientists (historical or current) don’t you look up to?
As a scientific skeptic, it always annoys me when a Nobel Prize-winning scientist goes off the rails near the tail-end of their career and starts to espouse crazy ideas. Linus Pauling is a classic example – he won the 1954 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, but a decade later was telling everyone that ultra-high doses of Vitamin C have remarkable medical benefits. (They don’t – they just make your urine more expensive.)
Also, James Watson, the co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, is not a very nice person, apparently. But don’t tell him I said that.
You have a particular interest in evolutionary genetics. What isn’t determined by one’s genes?
A great many things aren’t strictly determined by your genes – at best a large subset of your traits are strongly influenced by them. The environment in which you grew up (and I mean that in both a science-y/biological way and a social/psychological way) also influenced how you developed as a person, just as the environment you are currently in influences what you are doing and how you are feeling.
Just look at identical twins – they share (roughly – there are always mutations) the same genetic background. The differences and similarities between identical twins should give us a pretty good idea about how our genes impact who we are.
Your blog Homologous Legs has been quoted in the Guardian and was a finalist in the 2010 National Science Week Big Blog Theory competition. It started out as an anti-creationism blog but now also encompasses areas as diverse as biology, philosophy, religion and music. Are there any topics that don’t interest you?
Politics doesn’t interest me, even though I am constantly forced to think about it, being an adult in a democratic country and all. Somewhat paradoxically, human biology just has no place in my heart either. Humans are, biologically speaking, very boring compared with the social lives of insects, the biochemical wonders of bacteria, the unfathomable complexity of single-celled protists… I could go on. Homo sapiens’s only redeeming feature is our giant brain, but neurology… What can I say? I fall asleep when I think about it.
Oh, and knitting. I’m not a fan of knitting.
The main focus of your blog is the intelligent design/evolution debate. Why shouldn’t intelligent design be taught in schools side-by-side with the theory of evolution?
Shorter answer: intelligent design isn’t scientific enough to be taught in science classes.