Archive for the ‘history of science’ Category

The thing that ties each of the following links together is a discussion of the need to incorporate equity, affirmation, and continued learning into social, scientific, and political spheres.  And to recognize that the lines between these spaces is a social construct.

This article offers an explanation of how sexism affects both the oppressed and the oppressor.  While they use a binary gender system in their drawings (male vs. female), it  is easy to understand how this could be applied to people in any gender system:

This article describes the work of Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi who were recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on expanding women’s and children’s rights in Pakistan and India, respectively.  Their stories highlight how personal identities are political and politics is personal:

This article goes in depth about African American and AfroCarribean identities in the U.S. as part of a larger history of colonization and slavery – how has this history impacted black Americans now and how is this oppression and the struggle for mutual humanization ongoing:

This article highlights some of the queer and trans* people of color working on gender, race, and sexuality equity in the U.S.  This is especially important given that the U.S. media (news, movies, t.v., radio, etc) predominately rewards and publicizes white, domestic, heterosexual, and cisgender people:

Lastly, this article shows some really interesting research being done about children’s responsiveness and understanding of human emotions and interactions.  It has incredible implications for understanding the impacts of trauma, domestic violence, and healthy or unhealthy relationships on children as young as 15 months old!




In the last decade or so, autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) have been in the forefront of the news and research.  Originally, the people thought autism was a psychological disorder and that it was similar to schitzophrenia.  There was a complete lack of understanding about what autism was, how it affected those with it, and how people who were not autistic could relate to people with autism.  People assumed the behaviors of autistic children or adults were just “bad behaviors” that needed to be corrected, often through electroshock therapies, LSD, and other harmful (pain-based) “treatments”.  All of this was administered under the philosphy that “normal” = healthy.

In the 80′s, the genetic and biological basis of behavior started to become a focus in research and health practitioner skills, propelled in part by discoveries about the genetic basis of circadian rhythms.  Behavioral therapy began and the new focus for autistic children was to help the mask the biological basis of their behaviors and confirm to “normal” social behavior so that they could have “normal” lives.  At some point, researchers and parents began to realize that a lot of autistic behaviors were a response to stimulation – over and under stimulation – and research began focusing on the neurobiology and neurogenetics of autism.

The idea that difference is “abnormal” and that “abnormal” = unhealthy is the basis of a LOT of oppression, violence, and harm caused and maintained in communities and cultures across the world at every time in history.  White colonists believed black, brown, yellow, and red people were lesser than and qualified this with “science”, suggesting that white was normal and non-white was abnormal (and of course this thinking continues to dictate structures and communities in colonized spaces today).  This raises larger questions: Who gets to determine what is normal or healthy?  When does normal = healthy?  How does society use standards of “normal” to force marginalized communities out of power?

In 2005 an organization named Autism Speaks was formed (but non-autistic people) to support research that would find a “cure” for autism spectrum disorders.  The organizations viewpoint then and now is that autism is a devastating health crisis that causes children to be lesser than and results in a poor quality of life.  As an autistic person, I find this not only offensive, but hugely damaging (in too many ways to describe here) to parents with autistic children, to autistic children and adults, and to prospective support systems that could be formed for autistic people.  ”Curing” autism is similar to the argument about “curing” queerness.  Should we “fix” queer people so that they are all straight and cisgender, or should we support and embrace diverse experiences and lives for what they bring to the table?

As the recognition of autism and the number of autistic children has grown and continues to grow drastically, it is very important to address these questions.  One of the more visible effects of most autism spectrum disabilities is stimming, a word that is short for “self stimulation”.  Researchers now understand the the neurological systems of autistic people are different than those of most “neurotypical” people, making autistic individuals extra sensitive to some sensation and under-sensitive to others (as defined by neurotypical standards).  For example, many autistic people find that repetitive movements are calming (perhaps movement sensory input channels are chronically under-stimulated), so they may stim by tapping fingers or feet, flapping their hands, rocking, or doing something similar.  There is a big divide currently in the world of working with autistic children – should adults teach children to repress their stims or should they be accepted as supportive of childhood development?

I recently found a wonderfully written article on this topic and it refers to Thinking Fast and Slow.  I need to read this book soon (and maybe post on it later), but in the mean time, enjoy this article!  What are your thoughts on this or the other articles at the end of this one?


I just come across with this article in Slate Magazine “The Mouse Trap – The dangers of using one lab animal to study every disease.” that talks in great details about the limitation of using animal model to look for new drugs to treat human diseases.  For example, the control healthy mouse can actually be metabolically abnormal because of the way we keep and grow them. A recent paper published in the PNAS has unveiled some of these issues.

Martin B, Ji S, Maudsley S, Mattson MP. “Control” laboratory rodents are metabolically morbid: why it matters. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 6;107(14):6127-33. Epub 2010 Mar 1. PubMed PMID: 20194732; PubMed Central PMCID:  PMC2852022.

And I just notice that this slate article belongs to a series of article, including one that talks about my favorite – naked mole rats.

The Mouse Trap – The Trouble With Black-6A tiny alcoholic takes over the lab.

The Mouse Trap – The Anti-Mouse – Could a hairless African rodent be our secret weapon in the war on cancer?

Douglas Prasher by Miller Mobley

The other day I shared the story of Douglas Prasher‘s with the medical students in my class.  Dr. Prasher’s contribution to the study of Green Fluorescent Protein had ultimately led to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008; however he was not one of the laureates because of life circumstances. During my preparation, I read some of the stories again and came across this recent article “How Bad Luck & Bad Networking Cost Douglas Prasher a Nobel Prize” published in the Discover Magazine. The article provides an in-depth coverage of the struggles that Dr. Prasher has  gone through over the years. I have been deeply impressed with his determination and noble attitudes over the years despite the difficult situations. I also really like the amazing portraits that Miller Mobley took for this article in the Discover Magazine.  The lighting and composition of his work is outstanding that each picture is like an intense and charming moment that is frozen in time, including the ones for Dr. Prasher.

The other day we talked about the historical moment when Matt Meselson and Frank Stahl elucidated the semi-conservative mechanism of DNA replication.

We briefly discussed the challenges that they faced at that time as a graduate student and a postdoc, which I think would give us insights to face our own challenges. I am still reading the longer book about the history behind this experiment. I think it is a very entertaining read but it is also very thick. A shorter historical account published in the PNAS would be easier for many of us to get an overall impression of the story.


Hanawalt PC. Density matters: the semiconservative replication of DNA. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2004 Dec 28;101(52):17889-94. [PubMed][pdf]
Holmes FL. Meselson, Stahl, and the Replication of DNA: A History of ‘The Most Beautiful Experiment in Biology’ [Amazon]