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Evolutionary geneticist Jack Scanlan doesn’t want creationism in the classroom

I’m not one to underthink a problem.
I’m not confident enough in my own beliefs to ever stop questioning them on some level. But I’m not cynical, and I’m probably not as socially dysfunctional as I tend to think I am.

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.

Longer answer: intelligent design hasn’t yet been formulated in a way that is rigorous enough to allow it to be scientifically testable, let alone scientifically useful. Once that happens (if it ever does), it will still need to demonstrate itself to be a serious intellectual competitor to mainstream evolutionary biology – and you don’t teach students about the fringe theories at the edges of physics and chemistry alongside the well-accepted theories like quantum mechanics and acid/base theory. Why should the rules be broken for biology?

You are also the Head Editor of the soon-to-be-relaunching Young Australian Skeptics blog. Is there any area of your life you don’t apply a skeptical mindset to?

There’s no part of my life that is devoid of skeptical thought, but some are more heavily analysed than others. My own actions often incite less personal scrutiny than the actions of others. I’m not skeptical enough of what I eat. And I could probably be more critical of my own skeptical colleagues.
Okay, maybe I lied. I refuse to think about why I like Doctor Who – because I’m afraid it will crumble away under the harsh light of reason. The TARDIS has no room for my skepticism (even though it’s bigger on the inside).
To keep up with what Jack’s up to, take a look at the Homologous Legs blog

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What Others Are Saying

  1. Pingback: To find out what I’m not, check out my Antiview interview

  2. cuhome August 19, 2012 at 2:53 am

    Great answer re: intelligent-design.

  3. Christopher Farley August 24, 2012 at 5:07 am

    Hi Max,

    The opportunity to nominate your blog for an award was too good to pass up. I comment rarely, but read as much as possible. I love your site.

    Take care mate.
    Chris

    http://talkingtosh.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/one-lovely-blog-award/

  4. Thomas Cotterill September 2, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Interesting post, Max. I agree with Jack Scanlan’s position on intelligent design and I’m glad to see him arguing against its questionable assumptions. I have bookmarked his site.

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