Dodgy dogma and biology

Dogma is a funny word to appear so prominently in a science like biology. Any picture, any model, any theory currently in vogue is resting on the shifting sands of biological weirdness. I love, for instance, the fact that the Nobel Prize in medicine this year was awarded for major form of genetic regulation that nobody knew existed eight years ago.

A few weeks ago after I posted a link to some lovely molecular biology animations, my good friend Mike Onken made a comment that contained an oblique but cutting reference to the so-called Central Dogma of molecular biology. Since Mike is a certified Level 50 Molecular Biology Warlock at Washington University in St. Louis, I knew there was a good story behind that remark. I hounded him until he gave it up. “Everybody loves the Central Dogma,” I intoned. “It’s so dogmatic, and quasi-religious certainty is very sexy these days. What have you got against it?”

I got the response I was looking for, which I happily share below. Please allow me to present the words of Mike Onken:
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Voyaging through baby names

Have you seen the Baby Name Wizard’s NameVoyager yet? It’s the product of the prolific and masterful Martin Wattenberg and his wife and baby name consultant Laura Wattenberg (she maintains an entertaining baby name blog). Martin is a scientist/artist at IBM Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We were actually lucky enough to have him give a guest lecture at our company about, among other things, the NameVoyager. One of the things he mentioned in his talk was that this work, more than any of the official research he was doing, resonated with people throughout the company, including the folks in the executive suite. This collaborative work between him and his wife helped IBM VPs understand more than anything else before it the value of effective data visualization.

The NameVoyager perfectly encapsulates that golden rule of entertainment: if you want to fascinate your audience, put them in the show. Show me me, and you’ve got me by the eyeballs. Naturally the first thing anyone does with the NameVoyager is try their own name. And then it’s off to the races: spouse name, sibling names, and parent names in short order. Then you start to notice the cultural trends. My favorites are names you might imagine on a woman’s bowling shirt. Betty. Carol. Barbara. Joan. They were all teenagers together in the mid-century, and then they faded from view.

My friend and amateur genealogist Jay Czarnecki recently sent me some of his own observations on the NameVoyager. Here’s what he has to say.

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Rike Orion – Adventures in ESL

Just because you can do something, does that mean you can teach it? Ever had a professor who you knew was brilliant, but was nevertheless feebly inarticulate when it came to helping you understand why the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality was so freaking important?

Doing is one skill, and teaching is another, and the intersection of the two is disappointingly rare.

Happily, my friend Alan Kennedy, who has written here before about his adventures in the music industry, is talented at both doing and explaining. He’s here this week to talk about his fascinating new window on the world. He generally steers clear of the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality, but you just might learn something useful about Jennifer Aniston.

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St. Frank’s Infirmary: the blog

I have known St. Frank since my days in California, many years ago. He has been a steady friend of the Star Chamber throughout its tenure, and has contributed many pieces to this site, of which the most graphically disturbing is surely The Naked Felix. The proprietors of this site cannot in good conscience recommend you read this piece unless you are helmeted and buckled in to a secure reading chair.

At any rate, St. Frank has started his own blog which I recommend without reservation. He’s a funny guy. St. Frank’s Infirmary.

What’s in a name?

Are you ordinary or odd? And how does that make you feel? My friend Jay Czarnecki (you remember Rambles regular Jay by now) has an unusual name. At least in this country he has an unusual name. But this spring, for his 40th birthday, he decided to go to a place where his name is not at all unusual. It’s easy to see how edifying this can be, this swimming upstream, salmon-like, to see where our names spawned. I know a woman whose last name is Myslik, and she described how wonderful it was to visit Prague and flip through the phonebook. “Look!” she recalled saying, “Pages and pages of people like me!” Her name, at that moment, gave her the peculiar pleasure of being ordinary. As for Jay, his last name goes beyond ordinary; it is heroic. But I’ll let him tell the story.

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The music industry: a view from the inside

A very good friend of mine from college, Alan Kennedy, worked until recently in the music industry. It’s very common these days to read uninformed bloggy prognostications about the music business by people like me who have no real direct experience with it. I’m extremely happy, therefore, to report that Alan has volunteered to go on the record with his opinions about the industry he loves and worked in for many years, thereby giving this website that most remarkable of gifts, original commentary by someone who knows what the hell he’s talking about.

I’ll let him take over from here, but it is interesting to observe that, of his list of the three most important things that are poisoning the music industry right now, stealing music ranks last. What are one and two? Here’s Alan with the rest of the story…

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