Archive for the ‘Quote’ Category

The quote this week:

Just as the alchemist yearned for a formula that would turn lead into gold, so the modern biologist longs for a conceptual framework that will make any data set coruscate with revelations. The framework described here falls considerably short of such expectations, but then, modern chemistry has not fulfilled the alchemists’ most ardent dreams.
S. J. Arnold (1983, p. 357).

From the following paper:

J. G. Kingsolver and R. B. Huey (2003). Introduction: The Evolution of Morphology, Performance, and Fitness. Integr. Comp. Biol. 43 (3): 361-366. doi: 10.1093/icb/43.3.361

is also the introduction from a special issue covering many interesting aspects of measuring natural selection. Seems like it is mostly open access, so I can link for you to go & pick on these various examples.

Then we can discuss the relevance of introducing path analyses to the study of natural selection in the wild: was it gold? I’d tend to think it was.

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This is going to be the quote this week (found in the opening of an issue devoted to plant tropisms, liked it):

Even though plant movement has fascinated school children, been the subject of books for the general public, and featured whimsically in TV commercials (Windex), the mechanisms that control plant movements have yet to be fully resolved.*

Basically, a very broad scale truth that become stuck in strike (plants move!), but yep, there’s still so much to understand about the ways moving is gone through in plants… Fascinating. Even more fascinating, because movement is a key operational concept to decide when something is alive, and we learn to assign plants as living things much later than animals. I guess it’s even more fascinating granted that plants do not have these striking power machines we call muscles, but have rather rigid walls around the cells instead. Moving is just a chemical process though. What we need to work out in details are more of the pathways to chemistry leading to a change in the first place… And we probably know more about outstanding ways for plants to move.

* Wyatt S. E., Kiss J. Z. (2013). Plant tropisms: From Darwin to the International Space Station. American Journal of Botany doi: 10.3732/ajb.1200591

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Academia once more this week, thanks to Information Culture (where you can find more of course!).

…not only is the form of the scientific paper highly ritualized and artificial, but so is published ‘criticism’, for if criticism were aired in the journals as it actually occurs in the lab, its frequency and nature, and hence that of negational citations, would be quite different from what ultimately appears in print.

And that’s true that there often is less drama when things are put down with a pen keyboard, and published. But then, even at symposia and likes people do not speak out too loud without softening bitterness with a lot of diplomacy. Often bad theories are simply ignored, or, say, laughed under the coat. Probably because among peers, collateral damage of unpleasant speak may include bad reviews. It’s a terrifying perspective sometimes. (An example from a different situation:) I remember a really bad manuscript I decided to reject, just to have mine rejected without substantific argument, just for the sake of having rejected a bad paper (I was unfortunately easily spotted as the reviewer, given too few people in that research area, and French writing is unmistakeable). This happens when one looses sight about peer review, that there’s nothing personal actually, just bad work that requires improvement.

Amazingly, or not so much depending on your perspective, the only really negative remarks I’ve noted so far are more along the lines of bashing students. That, I find easy, especially when it’s done by famous scientists. What’s the risk? Almost none. You’d better not be too sensitive as a science student. But say…

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Bioquote otw #3

This week’s quote is not from a paper or a book, but directly from a blog post. You can find the whole text there, it is discussing the future of a recent ecological journal, Ecosphere, and it is an interesting take on a specific review process that may enroot in Academic publishing soon, “Cascade Reviews“.

Here’s the quote:

Perhaps your review process experience is always smooth sailing, but many of us are spending a lot of time revising and resubmitting papers that are technically sound but that reviewers dislike because they don’t like the topic or are uncomfortable with the take home message, or (my favorite) this isn’t the paper that they would have written themselves.

Hum, Academia. I think the quote is self explanatory. Sometimes your studies are approaching that almost* final stage, being published. But it does take many steps, the review process is not the easiest one. There are sometimes reasons for the review to derail, most of the time it has to do with uncareful reviewers, especially when they thought they could handle the review but eventually lacked time for proper appreciation of the work and ended up reading too fast or uncautiously or relied on really prime feelings about it.


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Bioquote otw #2

This is a second shoot at quotes. Not a misquote (though it may happen someday), more of a mycoquote (it’s all about funguys!).

Plant pathologists are regularly confronted with having to choose a name for their pathogen of interest and mycologists often need to decide when to recognize a new species or apply an existing name.*


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I’ll not only try to revive a weekly tradition of good words, but go fishing quotes, biological quotes, from wherever, whatever. This is the first shoot (however).

Natural selection will tend to render the organisation of each being more specialised and perfect, and in this sense higher. Darwin, 1859

I like this one. Context certainly matters, and this tells us a lot about history. Higher and Lesser organisms and features are concepts that were heavily in use in biology, until disgrace but still occasionally revived though in much less vaporised heat. Indeed, there’s this idea that one can judge between basic features and more elaborate ones. For a long time, natural scientists were enclined to think organisms could fit on a scale with lower and higher at both ends. Darwin and his work probably shifted the scale where it did not merely expressed a rank in creation anymore but a direction in evolution. Probably that’s where scientists started using the earlier scale within the new framework, higher and lesser reflecting primitive and evolved features (historian of sciences would confirm this, I’m not a specialist in science history). Quite interesting here is that Darwin is issuing a way of understanding that long lived notion of a scale between organisms: natural selection can result into such a ladder. Whatever he thought about the ladder worldview that was generally accepted at this time is not expressed here, all he was doing is pointing to evolution by natural selection resulting into differences from less fit to fitter.

Of course, there are two things that are today known as misconceptions: first, natural selection doesn’t necessarily work toward increased specialisation (it could also undo things way out whenever undoing is going to be fitter solutions to specific life issues –as long as things may be “undone” but this is another debate). Second, natural selection (adaptive evolution) cannot produce perfection, merely things that are better, among the available alternatives. Which translates most of the time as improved characteristics, but almost never as perfect ones. Save for the spandrel debates…

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