Open Thread, 5/31/2015

51eKPU7v6WL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_Recently a prominent public intellectual emailed me and asked for an introductory genetics text. Not necessarily focused on population genetics (in which case, John Gillespie’s Population Genetics would do). I suggested An Introduction to Genetic Analysis, mostly because it seems pretty comprehensive, and, runs the gamut from classical genetic analysis to 21st century genomics. Yet I have to admit that I did not take an introductory genetics class as an undergraduate. My degrees are in biochemistry, and biology. But, I added the second major later, and basically bluffed my way into taking upper division genetics courses only.* An Introduction to Genetic Analysis is what I studied for my qualifying exam, so I’m familiar with it. But does anyone have other suggestions? E.g., has anyone tried out From Genes to Genomes?

41rxx-UtsWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In other genetics-related news, I’m going to be involved in a workshop on genetically modified organisms for the next few days. Though I don’t talk about it much, I’m a big proponent of GMO. If you want a perspective that will perhaps alter your preconceptions, Pam Ronald’s Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food is a good introduction. Basically, my position is that the anti-GMO position is large part a luxury consumption good. In a world of horizontal gene transfer (our own human genomes seem to be about ~5% virus) GMO is not ipso facto concerning. Rather, what many people worry about really has nothing fundamentally to do with GMO, but with excessive centralization and corporate food production monoculture. But the key to recall here is that there is nothing fundamental in the connection between GMO and corporate agriculture. The corporatization of “organic” illustrates this. This segment of food production has higher profit margins, and so naturally corporations have become big proponents of it. Finally, some of you may have read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms). One thing I will say is that obviously I don’t buy the thesis in this case, but listening to him being interviewed by Russ Roberts, it is also pretty obvious he’s not a biological scientist because he makes some obvious factual errors in characterizing the scientific consensus. This doesn’t invalidate his position obviously, but it gets a little tiresome throughout the podcast when he argues that biologists themselves are not in a position to do appropriate risk assessment in relation to GMO (this is a defensible position in my opinion, insofar as it takes a diversified skill set which many biologists and non-biologists do not have).

OrientalismSo I’m reading Edward Said’s Orientalism. Mostly it’s so I can better mimic and mock the sort of postcolonial and critical race theory bot that you see on the interwebs. I think I do a pretty good job as it is, but perhaps I’ll try and pull an Alan Sokal at some point in the future, though this time going on about how genetics is fundamentally a tool of white racial oppression or something like that. Unfortunately this sort of “discourse” is actually very common in universities, and is starting to seep through into non-humanities degree programs through general education requirements. Because it’s a fad it will probably pass, but for a few years we’ll hear a lot about how things are “problematic” and “privileged.” Speaking of Orientalism, one of my major issues with Said’s work is that it was so loosely connected to facts, and also had obvious historical errors. But this is not a major issue for most purveyors of postcolonial theory, who basically seem to believe that excessive adherence to “fact” is a tool of oppression (implicitly, if not explicitly, as you can’t let facts get in the way of a good Theory).

I’ll end by pointing out a comment thread below which is what I’d like to see more of. It’s between Troy and Tobus for the most part (Ray also gets involved). I’m actually not very interested in what they’re discussing, but the individuals are engaging at a high, and civil, level. It strikes me as a genuinely edifying discussion which will show up in search engine hits for years to come. Bravo! (the thread begins with fits and starts here)

* Yes, I did take a very introductory genetics module as a biology major, but it lasted all of four weeks.

Posted in Uncategorized

Comments are closed.