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Links With Your Coffee - Thursday

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THE feast is coming to an end for biofuel producers. Their supposedly clean, green fuel has been gobbling up some of the choicest food crops, including corn, rape and soya, leading to controversy and protests around the world.

You wrote a book called Evolution for Everyone. Why is it important to you that the public understand evolution?

Because it is useful. The way most people understand evolution, it is not consequential, and so they don't need to believe it. The 50% figure — how many people in the US don't accept evolution — doesn't impress me. Close to 100% of people don't connect it to matters of consequence in their own lives.



Re: All Evolution, All The Time

At virtually every college and university, if you are not a biology major, you are not going to hear about evolution.

That's a bit of a stretch. I'm a physically-oriented inorganic chemist, but I still took a year of biochemistry, a class in anthropology, and another class in genetics - and that was in the mid-1970s.

Most scientists tend to have at least some interests in other sciences. I might add that in any decent chemistry department, there are several biological chemists and visiting biological chemists giving seminars throughout the year. Proteomics and bioinformatics are big in chemistry, physics and math. Cross-disciplinary research areas are the most active areas in many of the "non-biological" sciences - and much more funding flows from NIH than from NSF. In short, it isn't really possible to be involved in any biologically-oriented research in other fields and not see references to evolution since, as any educated scientist is well aware, biology doesn't make sense without evolution.

tim, i've discussed this issue of specialization with you before. if you were in college in the mid 70's well it's only gotten worse since then. as far as your last point, biology doesnt make sense even WITH evolution. that's why, i presume, you're a chemist. :)

...if you were in college in the mid 70's well it's only gotten worse since then...

As far as as undergraduate degrees are concerned, that's probably correct. But few people who are practicing scientists have only an undergraduate degree. The increasingly interdisciplinary nature of research has probably increased the biological knowledge of the average chemist, for example.

ok, good point. i mean, maybe. i mean, i never went farther than the undergrad degree so what do i know? i do happen to know some phatter degree types, including my dad who i think would still disagree with you on this. there's no question specialization has it's advantages for the corporate/western/assembly line types, but real science? actually wrestling with the truth, as it were? this seems to be becoming a thing of the past.

biology was alive and thriving long before darwin, you may remember. and darwin was very thankful for this. "the shoulders of giants", etc.

Topics like evolution can be avoided in college if you have the right major. Since I tested out of my math and science requirements, the closest I came to a science class was the health class required for education degrees. I don't remember discussing evolution in any history class - world or US - and not in my world musics and religions class for my DMA.

I do know at my school they discuss evolution in the biology classes, but the students in Alive either copiously avoid the classes that discuss evolution or they get the information for the test and then they continue to say it's BS.

Yeah - I know. The statement I responded to came right after his interviewer prompted him with "And that includes scientists?" With respect to other scientists, I think he's wrong - jb's doubts notwithstanding. It isn't about scientists being pure of heart and doing science only for the quest for knowledge for its own sake either. It's about where the both the action and the money are. If you in the physical sciences, the biggest pots of money are in nanoscience or biologically-related science (and there is a lot of overlap there too - lots of people are trying to use nanoparticles in medical applications - including chemists).

I want be tactful regarding departments of education in universities. Let me say this ... uh, never mind.

Re: Biofuels

Fermentation produces carbon dioxide, and so reduces the amount of carbon available to be converted to ethanol. The acetogenic bacteria directly convert all of the carbon in sugar into acetic acid, which is then combined with hydrogen to produce ethanol without the carbon losses, the firm claims.

Acetic acid is only oxidation step away from CO₂, and while it is true that reduction of acetic acid with hydrogen prevent carbon loss from the acetic acid, hydrogen itself has to come from somewhere - all too often from a process involving "carbon loss", like steam reforming of methane or from coal via the water-gas shift reaction.

They should stick to emphasizing the important thing about using methods that can start with cellulosic carbohydrates (grasses and wood): we can't digest stuff with glucose units joined via β-glycoside linkages - biofuels made from cellulosic carbohydrates will never compete with human food consumption (unless its for land to grow it).

Gosh, I wonder if there's another way ;)

(unless its for land to grow it).

And there you have it.

The use of corn for making biofuels is fine - just not the part you eat!

As for nanofoods, i suspect that for most us, our bodies will adapt over a period of time, and then people will be adding more of the salty salt to their food, and consuming as much fat as ever.

Oh - to have the quick fix to overeating! Cause moderation and exercise are hard.


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