March 5, 2009

On the Evolution of Science, by Means of Artificial Selection

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“Let us learn to dream, gentlemen, and then we may perhaps find the truth.” Remember that quote? No? Well, at a time when scientists had lost all hope of solving the chemical structure of atoms, let alone compounds, Friedrich Kekule proved there was a way out. Not by hard work (although he did put in the effort) but by sheer serendipity — a DREAM, literally a daydream. Kekule had just taken a nap, and while napping, he saw a bunch of beads — six to be specific, stringed together — juxtaposed unto a snake figure. The snake wiggled and curled itself, and before you know it, the snake was biting its tail. And there it was waiting to be discovered—the structure of one of the most famous organic compound. It was to be known as the benzene ring.
That was 1890, 10 years after The Cornell Daily Sun was founded. Was this reported in The Sun? I doubt it was; more doubting is if those good ole boys and gals on the 7th Editorial Board knew who Kekule was. Maybe they did. But 120 years later, we need not doubt whether science news is reported in The Sun: a Science section was born just last semester, and today join me in welcoming our newest addition, the one and only science blog of The Sun, SunLab. Henceforth, no t only would you be able to get your weekly dose of Science in print (and of course,, you can also comment on stories, discuss things that you love (and hate) about the section, tell us tidbits about what you dread and share your own version of the Kekule’s dream (if mine seemed made up).
On the evolution of Science by means of artificial selection, it’s obvious that our section is in its Cambrian stage. And just what is a “Cambrian,” “Camera,” “Cameroon”…? The answer to that question depends on who you ask. To an evolutionary biologist, Cambrian explosion (another word for baby boomer) marked the first time that animals popped out from nowhere to colonize Mother Earth. Reason: there weren’t enough green pasture on Earth to welcome the lazy organisms that couldn’t cook their own food.
And just how much distance has Science covered? From a one-man dream to an 18-member team, the Science section has evolved, in just one semester, to become one of the most sought-out sections in The Sun (really?).
Today, Science boasts of covering some of the coolest things on campus and off-campus. Whether it’s telling you that corn biofuel is a hoax or that your global warming data is skewed (or not) or that the world is coming to an end by 2012 (or not), we’ve covered the length and breadth of popular science without compromising the four commandments of journalism: thou shall present three sides of the coin; thou shall be respectful to ‘off the record-ers;’ thou shall not sound editorial; thou shall present the 5W’s (and H, except when describing Governor Spitzer’s scandal [Thanks Munier]).
If you couldn’t get a copy of the paper at Trillium while I was there yesterday, I strongly recommend you check out the stem cell story online. You’ll find out why young and hip Cornell researchers are been lured into stem cell research, only few weeks after a new president has been elected. Or grab yourself a pack of popcorn and entertain the Girl Scout in you with Erin Szulman’s Science in Action story. For the critical voice in you, ask yourself why scientists are hesitant of getting involved in politics? Are they shy or are they just bad at explaining why it’s necessary to study the fruit fly the way it’s done today? Danielle might have the answer for you, based on her interviews with this year’s AAAS conference panelists in Chicago.