philosophy of science

We Might Be the Comeback Kids of the Universe: Chris Mason on His Plan for the Next 500 Years

Chris Mason is back on the program for our end-of-year special. He’s Professor of Genomics, Physiology, and Biophysics at Weill Cornell School of Medicine and the author of such an outstanding book that we had to have him on the program a second time this year. Called The Next 500 Years: Engineering Life to Reach New Worlds, the book delivers on its title.

Chris was deeply influenced by a book of Isaac Asimov he received at the age of 15 from his parents, writing that this book “never left his head.” Join us as he shares the haunting idea he received from Asimov, his ethical and philosophical positions, as well as the outline of his plan for the next 500 years—and a lot of other scientific tidbits. Any takers for chloroskin? The book serves as a summary of Chris’s years in the field of genomics—a basic biology textbook—as well as a passionate plea to take our common future—what for some of us seems a very distant future but for Chris can seem to be moments away—more seriously.

Happy Winter Solstice, fellow Earthlings!

September 2020 Review with Nathan and Laura: Vaccine Choice, Dwarfism, Research Volunteerism

We take a deep dive into a core genomics question that is somewhat philosophical today: “what is a disease, or disability?” This month we heard about a new experimental drug for dwarfism called vosoritide that raised questions for parents of dwarfism. If the drug could make their children taller, would they give it to them? Laura asks “can we put forth a medication for a condition saying those who take it are better off getting rid of it and not be saying those who are not getting it are unacceptable to have these different lives?"

We also talk vaccines. Forget the anti-vaxxers. For those of us who plan on taking the vaccines, the question emerging seems to be, “which one?” There are so many manufacturers--and regulatory agencies. There will many be options. Will the early options be the best choice, or the later products? How has politics affected the results? Nathan wonders if there might be an app to help us choose.

There’s a lightning round at the end, and . . . at the outset, Nathan and Laura refuse to let a few comments of the president fall by the wayside.  They want their scientific rebuttal on record.

Catch all that here now in our September Genomics Review with Nathan Pearson of Root and Laura Hercher, Host of the Beagle Has Landed Podcast.

Note: Link to Cara Reedy's piece My Life as a Little Person

Was That Anti-Scientism Article in Nature Just a Fancy Rant or Some Real Breakthrough Stuff?

I’m afraid it was a missed opportunity.

Let's applaud the Johns Hopkins science historian, Nathaniel Comfort, for testing out the tires--and carburetor--of his new tenureship and publishing a piece on scientism.  And in one of science’s top journals at that.   Obviously Comfort touched a nerve, generating a wave of reaction on Twitter, including a rebuke from the top celebrity Enlightenment fundamentalist evangelist, Steven Pinker. 

All Sport Is Unfair, According to Geneticist. Is That True?

Yesterday a court ruled that the South African running sensation Caster Semenya must take medication to lower her level of testosterone to compete in certain women only running events such as the 400 and 800 meters.

Some are calling the ruling discrimination against a certain athlete or against transgener or intersex athletes.  Some say the ruling is necessary to keep the sport fair.  It’s a worthy debate.  

What I find particularly useful about the debate is what it tells us about how our colleagues in the science community are thinking.

It’s a Gold Rush in Single Cell Genomics, Says Joachim Schultze, U of Bonn

The title says it all here. Herr Professor Schultze directs a major facility that he calls a single cell genomics platform. They have most of the single cell technologies available and partner with labs from all over the world on research.

Advances in single cell technologies are changing basic research and also delivering results for translational work in everything from immunology to obesity.

“Biology will never be the same again,” says Joachim.

Dr. Schultze is also heavily involved in epigenomics. He says that despite the ups and downs in this field, it still holds some exciting promise.

Talking to a leading genomicist in Germany, we ask for an outsider's view on our American approach to genomics.

Who Do You Want to Hear From During the Holidays?

It's a tradition at Mendelspod to bring you unique shows that go off the beaten track at the end of each year. In the past, we've brought you interviews with a science historian, a science comedian, sci-fi writers, and futurists.

We're just planning our lineup for holiday season 2014, and we want your suggestions. On the list so far are a philosopher, a popular sci-fi writer, and the former Deputy Director of the NCI.

Make your suggestions here.

Thank you, Theral & Ayanna

What a Physicist Can Tell Us about Cancer


Paul Davies, Principal Investigator, Center for the Convergence of Physical Science and Cancer Biology, ASU Bio and Contact Info

Listen (4:05) The phone call

Listen (3:39) Too focused on a cure

Listen (8:21) What is your theory about cancer?

Listen (4:55) Evolutionary roots of cancer can suggest new therapies

Listen (3:31) Is your message taking root?

Listen (5:21) We must have new ideas

Paul Davies has had a full career as a theoretical physicist. He’s the author of some popular books, most notably, God and the New Physics. In 2007 Paul received a call from someone he’d never heard of before, Anna Barker, then the Deputy Director of the NCI. She wanted to recruit him to the War on Cancer.

“Anna said that she felt that physicists had been very successful in their own sphere. They figured out how the atom works and how the universe works. What about figuring out how cancer works. My reply was that I didn’t know anything about cancer. And she said, 'that’s fine.’”

In today’s interview Paul explains the theory he has developed by following cancer back to its evolutionary roots.

“Cancer is a reversion, or throwback, or rewinding of the evolutionary clock at high speed,” he says.

And therefore, looking at the conditions of life and of the earth at the time cancer developed, Paul argues, can offer new ways of developing treatment. Paul says that we’ve been too focused on “the C word” or a cure. He thinks that rather, we should look at ways to be able to delay cancer.

Is his message taking root? Join us as we probe an entire new way of looking at cancer.

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

The Story of Aubrey de Grey and How the Study of Aging Became Mainstream

Guest: Aubrey de Grey, CoFounder, CSO, SENS Research Foundation

Bio and Contact Info

Chapters: (Advance the marker)

0:35 First Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference

4:50 Shackled by “short-termism”

6:00 Aging was not a topic for biologists

11:32 A serious nuisance

17:13 Smoking out the opposition

22:05 Is the body really a machine?

24:52 The community takes a longer view

30:15 What is your challenge today?

Gerontology, or the study of aging, was a “backwater” science when Aubrey de Grey began his career. Today there are well financed companies with the word "longevity" in the name (i.e., Craig Venter’s latest project).

Today we bring you the story of Aubrey de Grey—scientist, author, provocateur--and how he became one of the world’s leading gerontologists. Currently CSO of the SENS Research Foundation, Aubrey tells how he went from working in artificial intelligence to the leader of a new movement in biology. Thrilled that the research community has “come to him,” Aubrey finishes the interview by explaining some of the challenges he faces today.

Podcast brought to you by: Chempetitive Group - "We love science. We love marketing. We love the idea of combining the two to make great things happen for your marketing communications."

Why Internet Traffic Directors Should Sit Down with Biologists: George Poste Talks Complex Systems


George Poste, Chief Scientist, Complex Adaptive Systems; Regents’ Professor and Del E. Webb Chair in Health Innovation, ASU
Bio and Contact Info

Listen (5:51) A paradigm shift to systems thinking

Listen (4:28) Note to those setting curriculums

Listen (4:37) How do we bring the clinical and research worlds closer together?

Listen (8:53) Simulating complex adaptive systems

Listen (2:46) Science only one of the challenges

Listen (5:13) Why the disparity in reimbursement rates for Rx and Dx?

Listen (7:51) Something special happening at ASU

If you’ve ever heard a talk by today’s guest, George Poste, you’ve no doubt come away scratching your head, overwhelmed by the complexity of human biology. As if the science challenges don’t give one enough of a headache, George continues his carpet bombing approach with all that is wrong with our healthcare ecosystem as well.

Back in the '90s at SmithKline Beecham, George realized that the field was way overly reductionist and that we must do more to look at human biology as a system. He made his way to ASU where he then launched the Complex Adaptive Systems Initiative to bring together biologists, engineers, data scientists, and others.

What is a complex adaptive system and how can simulating it help us decipher human biology?

"A complex adaptive system,” George answers, “is one in which the collective behavior of the component parts cannot be predicted by an analysis of one or more of the these component parts.”

Whether you’re looking at global climate or intracellular wiring, George says it’s all about information transfer in a "network architecture."

The architecture of George’s way of speaking is also complex. With frequent use of the “dash”, George mimics in his own sentence structure the systems he’s describing. His syntax tends to bloom like a natural organism.

An example:

“The question now, then, is how can--by understanding the molecular pathways and coupling of those pathways—because we all tend to think in linear terms (you see the diagrams of a molecular pathway tend to be a series of straight arrows, but in fact what it is is a series of pathways that are interlinked)—because the one other feature of complex adaptive systems is that they have enormous redundancy built into them, so that if one bit goes down --you know it’s the classical model of the internet—if you take out a series of nodes, there are whole ways of distributing traffic around that . . . if you extrapolate that to cancer therapy, yes, you may knock out a particular node with your targeted therapy, but what you need to know now is what are the most likely network couplings of that particular pathway for the compensatory redundancy pathways which will kick in that will confer resistance on a cancer cell.”

Did you get all that? The internet is an interesting comparison. So if we bring together some of those engineers who work on routing internet traffic with some biologists they should be able to have a good time, right?

"Absolutely," George says.

As we conclude the interview, he acknowledges that there is something special going on at ASU, a new paradigm and openness to inter-disciplinary work that is unique. How is it fostered and funded? And what can we expect from this approach?

Fasten your seat belts and hold on for the ride. Suspend your need for short, easy sentences, and rewards await. Presenting systems thinker, George Poste.

Podcast brought to you by: National Biomarker Development Alliance - Collaboratively creating standards for end-to-end systems-based biomarker development—to advance precision medicine