Tag Archives: Science

Ask Dr. Babooner

We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I’m an ordinary non-scientific American who doesn’t quite agree with what the brainiacs in lab coats have to say about science-y things evolution, climate change and Frankenfoods.

The harder they argue that their research contradicts what I feel is true, the less likely I am to accept it.

The media talking heads think this disconnect provides clear evidence that I’m a great big dummy, but actually I’m a normal sized person. And I’m just like a lot of other very normal people in one key area – I get stubborn and resentful when another person tells me they know what’s going on and I don’t.

I find it exasperating that scientists, who seem to be so intelligent in other areas, don’t get this basic human truth – nobody likes a smarty pants. And here’s the tricky part – I actually respect science and I want to believe what they’re saying, but I feel like they won’t let me because of the way they deliver information.

So I’m sure you’re wondering why somebody as defensive as me would ask you for advice. The fact is, I’m only doing it because you’re an animal, Dr. Babooner.

A lot of people like me feel more comfortable talking to hairy beasts than we do to other humans. For instance I’ve noticed that the only authority figure in a lab coat who doesn’t make me instantly angry is Mr. Peabody, and he’s a dog.

So, given that they desperately need better PR, why do scientists insist on issuing their learned proclamations from ivory towers rather than explaining important issues like global warming and GMO’s in a more palatable way. Like maybe through the lips of cartoon animals?

John Q. Public

Dear Mr. Public,

I’m flattered that you think I’m somehow more approachable than a scientist because I am hairy. But I have to point out that the only reason my hair looks the way it does – is science. A wild baboon would never have the time or the chemicals to make it do this.

Scientists issuing their major reports through the lips of cartoon animals might indeed make the information more palatable for resentful Americans like yourself, but you’re forgetting that intelligent people do like to receive credit for their knowledge, even if they are, technically, a “smarty pants.”

Maybe your uninformed stubbornness would be easier to take if you denounced careful scientific research through the furry lips of a very cute big-eyed kitten.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Science Fare

Today’s post comes from Dr. Larry Kyle, founder and produce manager at Genway, the supermarket for genetically engineered foods.


Vindication is mine!

Anyone who knows my work at Genway understands that I have been a misunderstood and lonely pioneer. Scientifically I have blazed unthinkable pathways in the genetic manipulation of plants and animals. And ethically I have set a new standard for non-regulated, devil-may-care experimentation. Have I done things that were questionable? Yes. Ill advised? Of course!

There was a time when people called me mad. MAD, I say! And THEY said it too! They said LOTS of things.

Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah!

When I developed fresh-as-life toast that lived in a terrarium they said I should be investigated.
When I invented the Genway Screaming Halloween Pumpkin, they said I should be prosecuted.
When I used terrier DNA to create barking tulips, they said I should be stopped!

But they couldn’t lay a hand on me because I had no University affiliation and took no money from the government. I financed my work with proceeds from product sales at Genway, and through urgent contributions from neighbors and acquaintances who wanted only one thing from me – that I stay far away from their homes and their families.

Yes, some other researchers called it “vanity science”, and even extortion. But I knew if I waited long enough the rest of the scientific community would eventually come around. And now they have, because I see there is a major article in the New York Times that claims Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science!

“For better or worse,” said Steven A. Edwards, a policy analyst at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “the practice of science in the 21st century is becoming shaped less by national priorities or by peer-review groups and more by the particular preferences of individuals with huge amounts of money.”

Yes! Now the most groundbreaking science will be done by those who are best at separating rich people from their fortunes! Whim based research will shape a tomorrow that you won’t recognize and no one can predict. How quickly the Brave New World I dreamt of has become a reality!

The Extra Long Cobra Banana - Delicious Hot or Coiled
The Extra Long Cobra Banana – Delicious Hot or Coiled

Why let government chart a course when the future really belongs to guys who have the twisted curiosity to wonder what might happen if you combined a banana with a King Cobra, and the fat bankroll to find out?

Hah hah hah hah hah hah hah!

And in case you didn’t read it with the right amount of spirit, yes – that’s a maniacal laugh!

Yours in Unsupervised Experimentation,
Dr. Kyle

What sort of research would YOU pay for?

I’ve Just Seen A Face

There’s a fresh kerfuffle over an imagined proposal to use Neanderthal DNA to produce a clone of our prehistoric cousins.

The professor who supposedly made the suggestion claims his comments were poorly translated and misunderstood. Ethicists say it’s a bad idea in any case.

No one is enthusiastic about the concept of bringing back to life some distant relatives who might have been boyfriend/girlfriend material for early humans in the unregulated, romantic days of yore.

Far flung, anything-goes Yore.

Yes, everybody’s against cloning the Neanderthals, though I’m guessing the songwriters would see some intriguing possibilities in the adventurous sexual dynamic that could develop. Imagine, if human / neanderthal dating had been a possibility when The Beatles wrote this:

It might have come out more like this:

I’ve just seen a face,
that was extinct. With hairy grace
I think she winked. She’s a Neanderthal
but I don’t think my folks will care at all.
Na na na na na na

Had I loved some missing link
I might have worried what they’d think
Neanderthals are just like us
Except they’re stronger and they never cuss
Na na na na na na

Cloning. Let’s do some cloning.
Start Twilight Zoning them back again.

I love every ridge
of her thick skull. Her name is Midge.
She’s never dull. A prehistoric Miss
My human heart, each time we kiss, is full.
Na na na na na na.


Yes I’d like a chance
To take a fossil to the dance
It’s not impossible to clone a date
No love affair has come as late as this.
Na na na na na na.

Who was your least (or most) compatible date?

Share and Share Alike

After meeting the changeable tattletale/conspirator Thorin yesterday, it seems appropriate to consider more about animals and sharing today.

We care about fairness. Sometimes.
Chimpanzees do too. Perhaps.

Playing something called “The Ultimatum Game,” chimpanzees demonstrated a sense of fair play on about the same level as a group of 2 to 7 year olds, according to a paper published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Although there is some disagreement among researchers. The authors of an earlier study where chimps played “The Ultimatum Game” concluded the opposite – that our primate relatives really do not care about fairness at all.

And so there is a back-and-forth. Authors of the latest study defend their work.
Critics cast doubt.

I’m sure it’s all in the interests of gaining a greater understanding of our world, but when will the poop flinging start? That’s what I want to see. Don’t I get a reward too?

Here’s another primate experiment where Capuchin Monkeys demonstrated a visceral reaction to unequal distribution of the goods, seen on a bi-weekly basis among humans when women and men receive their paychecks for doing the same work.

The Capuchin in the video is doing something the chimps in the more recent study did not do – rejecting a reward because it is inadequate compared to what the other monkey is getting. Is that so very different from feeling bitter about the quality of someone else’s car, house, lawn or life?

I would like to see a study where Chimpanzees are given the chance to buy wedding dresses and flat screen televisions along with the mechanism to flaunt these purchases in front of the other chimps, who would, of course, fling poop. I’m guessing my study would have absolutely no scientific value, but the videos would have wonderful ratings.

How keen is your sense of fairness?

Shake Your Tail Feathers

Today’s guest post comes from Wally, proprietor of Wally’s Intimida – home of the Sherpa Sport Utility Vehicle.

Today is a great day to buy a new Sherpa – the largest, most impressive vehicle on the road today! Great big cars are STILL hot, in spite of what some gloomy fun-killers say about the gas guzzler being an automotive dinosaur.

Because dinosaurs are still hot too!

Recent research shows that Oviraptors, a flightless, two-legged variety of dinosaur, had all the right equipment on board to flaunt a set of spectacular tail feathers solely for the purpose of attracting a mate. Scientists lament that the fossil record doesn’t do a good job of preserving these feathers, so we will probably never know exactly what kind of sinuous tail-shaking took place on the prehistoric dance floor.

But isn’t it encouraging to know that dinosaurs weren’t all about snarling and stomping and biting the heads off of smaller animals?


In tribute, Intimida introduces the Sherpa Oviraptor edition, a mammoth SUV with a set of mechanical tail feathers that can do the very same thing the dinosaurs did – put on a flashy display to draw attention to the fact that YOU are driving a car that is absolutely ASTOUNDING!

Today’s automobiles have lost the feeling of excitement that made car owners of the 50’s and 60’s hunger for bigger and more elaborate tail fins. The Sherpa Oviraptor edition brings us back to those days of provocative, sensual display.

And a special bonus – from behind the wheel of your Sherpa, you can also deploy your feathers like a drag chute to help slow you down on a steep incline or if you simply forget that you’re expected to stop at the red lights like everybody else – as Sherpa owners are wont to do.

Come on down to Wally’s today! I’m ready and waiting to get you into a Sherpa Oviraptor with a drop-dead display that matches your eyes.

It’s a mighty big, mighty beautiful car!

What’s the most showy car you’ve ever owned? Or driven?

Idea People

Today’s post, for the second day in a row, comes from Dealmaker and Promoter Spin Williams, who is constantly in residence at The Meeting That Never Ends.


What a fine group of Idea Generators you are!

I saw lots of promising notions in response to my post about Wright Brothers Day yesterday, but two stood out because they are both complimentary AND mutually exclusive, which is NOT an easy thing to do!

First, Jim of Clark’s Grove came along with this:

Screen shot 2012-12-17 at 7.08.58 PM

And a little while later, Anna followed with this:

Screen shot 2012-12-17 at 7.08.40 PM

In these two inspired comments, you see the future writ out so we can know it in advance. Because I believe that science will develop an amazingly adept lie detector. Why? It must! The world demands it!

In fact, a recent study by the Government Office Of Falsehoods, Balderdash And Lying (G.O.O.F.B.A.L.) found that untruths are so pervasive and influential in our public and private lives, fully 68.2% of everything anyone hears in the course of a normal lifetime is entirely made up. A person who could reliably identify these fibs would literally hold the key to our shared destiny!

And yes, I totally made up that agency and the statistic. You could tell, I’m sure. But not all falsehoods are so easy to spot!

Jim’s idea – creating an infallible “Lie-dentifyer” would be a boon to all the world! And it would spark a frenzy of research and development aimed at creating Anna’s idea – an equally infallible Story Generator.

Finally, we would have a completely fib-based economy. That’s bound to be an improvement. True, we’d have no clearer fix on the truth, but all our wars would be words-only!

I can’t wait!

Your far-sighted pal,

I’m not sure we don’t already have the fib-based economy Spin talks about.

But let’s assume that down in your basement workshop you found a way to develop the can’t-miss lie detector Jim suggested, or the totally believable story generator Anna envisioned. Would you keep it to yourself for personal use only, or share it with the world? And why?

Wright Brothers Day

Today is Wright Brothers Day, observing the achievement of Orville and Wilbur Wright in launching the first heaver-than-air powered flight on this date in 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Accordingly, today’s post comes from Idea Generator Spin Williams.


Hi Inventors!

Yes, you! You may not think of yourselves this way, but you’re inventors, or you could be, if you decided to give it as much time and attention as The Wright Brothers! We were talking about them at The Meeting That Never Ends, and everybody had a lot to say even though nobody at the table knew very much at all about Orville and Wilbur. After all, we’re always in a meeting – we don’t have much time to learn things. But we’re pretty sure that people are right when they say the brothers invented the airplane, and we’re full of admiration for anybody who gets first place in anything.

But why even talk about the Wright Brothers?

One thing we’re always looking for at T.M.T.N.E. is to get in on the ground floor with the next big invention that will re-shape our world, change lives and make us immortal. If it hadn’t already been invented, the airplane is exactly the kind of idea we’d like to be involved with. The brothers could have used our potent blend of venture capital and marketing advice, but when they were working at their bike shop in Ohio and at Kitty Hawk, the science of marketing hadn’t been invented yet and none of us were alive.

Timing is important!

That’s why we’re turning to you – the people we don’t know and can’t see. One thing that makes you better than the Wright Brothers (in our eyes) is that you’re alive! That’s a great advantage you have over very smart dead people when it comes to thinking up ideas and making money off them!

What hasn’t been created yet that you would like to invent? Is it something that can be done with bicycle parts, paper and spruce? The Wright Brothers had their success because they understood the importance of control – something you learn after you’ve fallen off a bicycle a few times. While others were strapping bigger engines onto flimsy airframes, the bicycle guys were focusing their efforts on Not Crashing. That was a case of specialized knowledge (the importance of balance and control), applied to a common problem (defeating gravity). Is there an area where you have specialized knowledge that the “experts” addressing a Big Problem may not have?

And when I say “Big Problem”, I mean something like the annoying fact that Teleportation is impossible.

Wouldn’t you like to change that? So would we! Share your specialized knowledge and its application to a Big Problem, and we’re on our way to liftoff! We’ll encourage you and back you, and everyone will succeed. Years later, we might accuse each other of fraud and wind up in court, but that’s no reason not to enjoy some great years right now in an exciting and productive partnership! The troubles will be nothing more than a footnote, and we’ll all get credit for thinking up something big!

Your future financier/friend/foe,
Spin Williams.

What invention have you thought about that would put you alongside the Wright Brothers?

Immortality or Bust!

News goes in cycles and the nature of the stuff that interests us ebbs and flows, but immortality is always a hot topic especially when it’s presented as something that is almost within reach.

Drat the luck if people figure out how to live forever the day after I fall off a ladder while hanging Christmas lights!

Three years ago, inventor Ray Kurzweil said immortality was 20 years away. That’s a humbling number for anyone over or around 60. Kurzweil is taking no chances with his own bid to live forever. This 2008 article in Wired described his elaborate regimen of clinic visits and supplements intended to bolster his health until “the singularity” arrives, when intelligent machines take over and provide a vital assist to keep their biological buddies (us), perpetually present.

Best of luck, Mr. K.

If you can’t wait for your chance to become a citizen cyborg, there’s always the tantalizing hope offered by an enzyme discovered in an Australian pond by molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn. Not only did she get to share a Nobel Prize for her work, she got a nifty 45 minute program on the Smithsonian channel.

But if Blackburn’s enzyme doesn’t spark your dreams of endless longevity, how about jellyfish? This past Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran an extremely long article that’s getting lots of interest right now, about a creature called Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as the Immortal Jellyfish.

I confess I haven’t read any of Kurzweil’s books, watched the complete Smithsonian program, or done more than skim through the Times article. Anyone who wants to stay up to date on all the different ways we might become immortal will need to have a lot of extra free time to take it all in.

But my favorite thing about the jellyfish story (when it’s too old to live, Turritopsis dohrnii “ages backwards”, returning to it’s polyp stage so it can start over again) is the character who turns out to be one of the world’s leading experts on the creature.

Dr. Shin Kubota of Japan is living this life like he gets only one shot at it. He’s not merely a scientist, he’s a karaoke enthusiast (two hours each day!) and a songwriter. This isn’t a sideline – the music is part of his fascination with immortality. Here’s a quote from the Times article:

“We must love plants — without plants we cannot live. We must love bacteria — without decomposition our bodies can’t go back to the earth. If everyone learns to love living organisms, there will be no crime. No murder. No suicide. Spiritual change is needed. And the most simple way to achieve this is through song.”

Here’s how you know he’s not your typical scientist. He goes on TV, wearing a jellyfish hat, to sing songs he has written about Turritopsis dohrnii.

This is called “Scarlet Medusa Chorus”.

The Times didn’t provide a translation, but Sarah Laskow posted some of the words in Grist.

My name is Scarlet Medusa,
A teeny tiny jellyfish
But I have a special secret
that no others may possess
I can — yes, I can! — rejuvenate

Not the greatest lyrics, but if Kubota’s research pans out, he’ll have forever to do the revisions.

Would you want to live forever?

John Barleycorn Must DNA

Barley made the news yesterday, in part thanks to a Minnesota scientist. Professor Gary Muehlbauer of the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics at the University of Minnesota and a cadre of international researchers managed to sequence the genome for barley, said to be “one of the world’s most important and genetically complex cereal crops“. Results were published in the journal Nature. Apparently this work could lead to higher barley yields, better resistance to pests, and enhanced nutritional value. It may also help barley adapt to the stresses of climate change.

You know what that means – we can trash the environment and still have beer!

Congratulations to the researchers. A round for all my genome sequencing friends! It made me think of this old song about barley and its role in the beer and whiskey making process. Sung here by Martin Carthy.

The scientists have done their best
employing all their means
They found out, using every test,
John Barleycorn has genes!

They chopped him up so very small
and put him on display.
Tore him apart to see it all
and mapped his DNA.

If you were him by now you’d know
the sum of all your parts.
What makes you wilt. What helps you grow.
The compounds in your farts.

The sequence tells us who he is,
of what he is composed.
His elements, his spark, his fizz.
John Barleycorn, exposed.

Would you want to have a map of your DNA?

Fall Guy

Sometime soon, possibly today, Felix Baumgartner will put on a space suit, climb into a capsule tethered to a high altitude balloon, ride to the edge of space and then jump out, falling 23 miles back to Earth.

He’ll cover almost the same distance as yesterday’s participants in the Twin Cities Marathon, but in just a few minutes rather than 3 hours, powered by gravity. But it’s not just a whimsical daredevil stunt – the project is intended to gather useful data to make high altitude bailouts possible for pilots and even astronauts.

If successful, Baumgartner will break the record for plummeting, now held by Joe Kittenger, who dropped from 19 miles up when he was in the Navy, almost exceeding the speed of sound in the process.

Baumgartner plans to go the rest of the way to Mach 1, and has been planning the attempt and training for years.

Lots of things can go wrong at high altitude and excessive speeds, especially when a human body is traveling faster than any body has before, outside the confines of a machine. One group of experts suppose that Baumgartner might not notice when he breaks the speed of sound. Others have worried that one part of his space suit could hit Mach 1 while other sections are going slower, setting up potentially destructive vibrations.

Apparently the only way to find out what happens is for Felix Baumgartner to leap out of his capsule and let gravity do its thing.

When have you taken a memorable fall?