Five science “luminaries” are seemingly put in a petri dish by astrophysicist, Mario Livio. Published in May 2013, in Brilliant Blunders “colossal” errors by the greatest scientists of all times are exposed by the operator of Hubble Space Telescope, as allegedly, they all “. . .could have potentially jeopardize our understanding of life, earth, and the universe; and, they could have potentially hold back the progress of science.” (Livio 2013) Indeed, science is such a complicated subject that even gigantic figures are vulnerable to mistakes. Hence, it is important to understand its meaning, methods, mechanisms, and to set a unifying thread; to establish limitations in order to understand how the natural and/or physical phenomena work.
On a personal note, being a non-science major student, reviewing this book is so challenging for me. In fact, I have to read two books to come up with this review. In addition, I have to go back to the very beginning of our class, in January of spring 2014 and read ten chapters of our Biology textbook, Campbell Essential Biology with Physiology (Custom Edition), to establish my unequivocal stand on the underlying issues of Livio’s arguments. In addition, I also read two versions (both digital and print) of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, published in November 24, 1859. (Livio 2013) For it is my utmost priority, to come up with a fair and fact-based evaluation. However, because I know I cannot delve deeply about everything in that book, this review is only covering what I learned from this semester, of spring 2014, and in my biology class, evolution and inheritance.
Nevertheless, Brilliant Blunders is composed of eleven main chapters, and five additional all others (e.g. Preface, Coda, and etcetera), written in three-hundred and forty-one pages.
In the first chapter, Mistakes and Blunders, Livio talks about the five “protagonists,” “luminaries” as he addressed them, but all with the anti-hero characters—caused by their apparent “colossal” mistakes or blunders in the very profound world of science. The scientists are as follow:
1. Charles Darwin
2. Lord Kelvin
3. Linus Pauling
4. Fred Hoyle, and
5. Albert Einstein
In this take-off chapter, Livio also informs his readers that the world evolution is the “unifying thread” that connects all chapters. Each “luminary” is assigned two chapters. Every beginning chapter (for any luminary), he talks in a positive note by citing their contributions to science, and how they affect the world and the universe as a whole. In the succeeding chapter he sights the blunders of the “luminaries” and the repercussions, or possible repercussions of their apparent “errors” in their respective fields of science, along with the possible causes of either psychological or neuroscientific factors surrounding their “brilliant blunders.”
In regards to the Origin of Species however, there are fourteen chapters, five-hundred-and two pages, and a single figure of a tree, which looks like a simple phylogeny tree, personally drawn by Darwin. According to Livio, that Darwin’s book “. . . changes our understanding of life on earth.” It talks about four pillars of biology, namely:
3. Descent with Modification
Furthermore, Livio acknowledges that natural selection is correct. Moreover, natural selection is the mechanism behind those four mentioned processes. Livio specifically stresses that he is not taking it against Darwin, that the latter does not know about genetics, nor what the acceptable theories of inheritance in the nineteenth-century (or Darwin’s day).
In science though, it was a given fact—one that was well-embraced that Darwin was once a mediocre student. Although science was in his genes (from his grandfather, to his father, and his siblings most of them went to medical school), he did not have the instant intelligence for science. What was worse, he struggled with it; and, he did not have a stomach for it (witnessing surgeries without the anesthesia, of course, it was such gruesome sight). He even dropped pursuing science, and switched to theology instead, just to earn his undergraduate degree. All facts were in most books, articles, videos, and other academic resources, and in all mediums (or forms) about Darwin (and just as how we covered all these in class as well).
I first learned about him in my anthropology class, Emerging Humanity (or Anthropology 151). Wherein, at the beginning of this semester, my classmates and I watched a NOVA PBS documentary, What Darwin Never Knew. In that film, amid knowing the “blunder” of Darwin (as Livio castigated) that indeed posed challenge to natural selection–which was DNA (Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid)–from the biologists, to paleontologists, anthropologists, and paleoanthropologists, they all spoke highly, and with so much regards and enthusiasm about Darwin. To the point, the film seemed like a celebration of his life, when they could have featured the man behind our understanding of inheritance, Gregor Mendel (the Augustinian monk from Czech Republic, who studied rigorously about genetics, and almost the same time as Darwin published his book in 1859). (Simon Et Al, Pg. 146)
Livio knows that the concept of inheritance in the nineteenth-century or in Darwin’s day, is ultimately wrong. Since he knows this fact, why is he talking about something that “Darwin never knew?” Why is his arguments against Darwin is based on the latter’s concept of inheritance?
Please allow me to reiterate, I am not a science-major student. From arts, I switch to business. Although science is not my field, I really appreciate Darwin for his courage in writing and publishing the Origin of Species. Because most people at that time only believed in our biblical creation. Moreover, I admire him for spending nearly all his life, trying to grasp how the natural world works. Therefore, it’s not fair (for anyone) to question his contributions to science, and to this world. For in reality, the science communities know
so well that Darwin’s natural selection has been the golden gate to our understanding of how evolution works.
In our Biology 101 class, we learn science is “Any method of learning about the natural world that follows a scientific method” (Simon Et al 2013). Moreover, our biology professor, Wendy Kuntz, Ph.D., even stresses that science is a “discipline . . . limited to the study of the Physical Universe.” Likewise our textbook defines natural selection as the “. . . process in which organisms with certain inherited characteristics more likely to survive and reproduce than are organisms with other characteristics; unequal reproductive success” (Simon Et Al). Most importantly, our textbook is clear in differentiating hypothesis (is an idea) from theory (a set of ideas). (Simon Et al 2013) Moreover, on inheritance, we learn how to use Reginald Punnett’s Punnett Square that helps us predict the possibilities of transferring inheritable diseases. However, there is nowhere in our book that states for a hypothesis to be accepted as a theory, theorist like Darwin must use a mathematical expression to prove his arguments.
Because what is clear to me, after completely reading his book, Livio demands math especially from Darwin. Livio look at those five great scientists and their apparent brilliant blunders in the mathematician’s eyes—as he is really more of a math expert than a scientist. In fact, most of Livio’s previously published works feature more of math than science. Moreover, if science highlights his study, there is always a strong and convincing math computation, or expression behind. No doubt, he’s a math genius. But are we talking of math? Or science? Maybe, we can say, kudos to him then! But let this be a challenge to him though: He should make an invention of his own. He should make his due contribution to science, and prove his intelligence. Rather, than talking about others’ mistakes, he should prove the world that he can make viable contribution than can make our lives better, or at least something than can improve science. Rather than intriguing predecessors, who are way farther than six feet down under. For those great scientists have already given their fair share to the evolution of knowledge, and of science. They deserve respect; they deserve to rest in peace.
Honestly, two months ago, in my last evaluation essay on the first three chapters of this book, I supported Livio. Admittedly, I was one great critic too. I agreed with him that those “luminaries” should have exercise diligence, patience, and perseverance in proving their hypotheses, more so in publishing their works. However, after thorough reading and synthesizing what we learned from class, and have realized the remarkable contributions of Darwin to biology (and the rest of natural science), sad to say, I could not agree with Livio anymore. Even though, he did not say anything wrong about science, and how it worked, or at least not about biology and evolution, nor about inheritance. However, he missed one writing and researching essential, and that was to synthesize. It’s a basic concept of gathering ideas to come up with a non-bias unequivocal stand. A very basic concept that is greatly taught in higher education in United States of America, in Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, or in most English native speaking country, learning how to synthesize may not be available in Israel, where Livio earned both his graduate and undergraduate studies. So maybe it’s fair not to judge Livio on this blunder, just as Darwin is deprived of how genetics works in the nineteenth-century.
Sadly, Livio miss to synthesize the works of these great scientists in a greater and broader concept. He picks their weakest links, and labels his harsh critiques as blunders. He further says that the common denominator for all the chapters of his book is the word of evolution: “evolution of life on earth, evolution of earth itself, and evolution of the universe.” (Livio 2013) He even emphasizes “. . . blunders of evolution, and evolution of blunders.” But what about knowledge? Did he even realize that knowledge is very much evolving too?
Indeed, knowledge or its nature is very much evolving–and therefore, Livio should have considered. Because science indeed, is about knowledge. It’s about exploring, gaining, and/or advancing knowledge in its most profound and verifiable form. In fact, one definition of science (that we learn in class) is its Latin meaning “to know.” (Simon Et al 2013)
Another blunder of Livio, is the dragging use of the word “luminaries.” If he is a scientist, and that he respect his profession, he should have just address them as scientists. Because I am sure, they would rather hear that they are recognized in their chosen fields. Moreover, luminary means popularity; the effect in using such term is the malicious use of the user in seemingly riding on the established popularity of those great scientists.
Finally, “what if Darwin knew” about genetics? What if he knew how to use Punnett Square? What if the title of his book was the Genetic Origin of Species? What if he merged his works with Mendel? What if Darwin had the tools and technology that Livio have these days? Can you imagine?
Regardless, I believe that there is righteousness in committing errors. And that is the wisdom we gain after we accepted we err. In science, the way the field accepts mistakes, is inherent to science itself. For studies in all branches of science are continuously ongoing and evolving. Everything is subject to advancement. Moreover, the way experts in this field synthesize their works, is they use the past as a foundation to establish modern definitions and to incorporate recent theories and discoveries. Most importantly, it is the “job” of the scientists of today, to improve the works of Darwin, Kelvin, Pauling, Hoyle, and Einstein. The scientists of today need not to point fingers who did wrong nor who did best. They should just get to work and embrace the challenge. Livio should have known better; he should have written better. I guess, there goes another brilliant blunder. But is Livio a luminary? Is he a scientist or a mathematician? I let his books speak for him.
Livio, Mario. “Brilliant Blunders, From Darwin to Einstein – Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe.” Simonandschuster. 14 May 2013. Print.
Simon, Eric J., Jean L. Dickey and Jane B. Reece. Campbell, Essential Biology with Physiology, Custom Edition. 2013. Print
Darwin, Charles Robert. The Origin of Species. Vol. XI. The Harvard Classics. New
York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14; Bartleby.com, 2001. Web. 30 Apr 2014
The author does not own copyright of the image above, nor of the video below; usage of both is non-commercial.
A Film Review
Genetics is a very young branch of science. Its wonders range from biology and evolution, forensics, cultural and anthropological advances. Scientists these days are now even eager to use it in medicine for pharmaceutical development and cure. It is admirable to hear scientists are eager to use genetics to relieve people of current terminal diseases such as cancer. However, it is very horrifying to hear that genetics is now being used, or misused by scientists paid by big corporations, agribusinesses like the infamous Monsanto, to generate mass production of foods we buy from fast-food chains, and even the ones we buy from the supermarkets and serve to our families.
In the 2010 documentary film, Food Inc., horrors of genetically engineered foods supplied to McDonalds and supermarkets around the nation are exposed. Products like corn used in the production of not just in wide array of foods, but in many commodities including medicines, are no longer going through the natural processes of agriculture and farming. That harvesting is happening all-year-round, as agribusinesses are able to find ways through GMO, or through the use and misuse of genetics, to boost productions leading to lucrative profits.
Personally, as a mother of three, I think the most horrifying part of this film, is to learn that a two-year old boy died from an ecoli in a genetically modified made hamburger patties. His mother and grandmother even nearly beg to a Republican senator from the mainland (U.S.) in search for justice. And yet just the recall of those hamburger patties alone seemed next thing to impossible. Neither did they hear an apology from responsible parties.
Furthermore, it is frustrating to learn, that Monsanto even has the nerve to patent GMO made soya beans. First of all, I am totally not in favor of using GMO on foods at all. As a writer, just in the usage of words alone: “Foods engineered?” It doesn’t sound right to me. And to use GMO in agriculture, it means just one thing: GREED. Second, no one should own or patent something that nature owns. Anyone can claim ownership of a land (if one owns the land). But to limit the farming of any crops (just like that soya bean Monsanto just got patent for) simply, because nature owns their creation. And if those agribusinesses concern, is their evil formulation of genes and chemicals (for the heck of earning profits), then by all means: remove those evils out of the products they are providing us, consumers. We don’t need them! And they should spare the animals of some respect as well.
Nonetheless, another horrifying fact of GMO, is how they (the irresponsible scientists, chemists, and agribusinesses) come with their evil innovations and ideas of using it on crops: They use GMO first on rodents, and then among pigs (to make them heavier and for fast breeding), beefs (to make them more meaty), chickens (to make the breast bigger, for that is the most in demand part ), and fishes (larger). And though they see massive growth, but there are also physical deformities among their “guinea pigs” that are too obvious to ignore. And yet they disregard and continue using GMO in agriculture and aquaculture, and animal raising. So, now it’s everywhere, and in almost every food product we buy from the supermarkets and fast food chains.
On a more personal note, seeing this film though, makes me proud and relieved that I am in Hawaii. For in here, in our state, our kama’ainas (Hawaii locals) are strongly fighting head-on with Monsanto. In our state, as far as I know, Monsanto could not operate their kind of farming here (or at least not, the way Monsanto want it)
Monsanto to me, and the likes of it, are evils with horns and tails, holding their pitchforks; dragging us to the hell of health destruction–beware!
Finally, Food Inc. is not just a review of diabolic processes that Monsanto and all other irresponsible big agribusinesses are doing behind our backs. Because this film is educating us, by telling us, consumers: Sustainable farming is not far-fetch. Therefore, we should not settle to alternatives that are not even tested. Sustainable farming is indeed very doable, but only to those who are willing to comply with the law and be ethical in doing business. That sustainable farming is truly doable, but only to those who are willing to do the hard works and be satisfied with just enough money, or at least not to earn money at the expense of people who are patronizing them.
Moreover, I do know (and understand) business is business. In fact, I am a business major student. But shouldn’t business come with responsibilities as well? For as consumers, we are very much entitled to fair and equitable business. And that every time we buy something, let us keep in mind that what comes with the money we are paying producers like Monsanto (and from the manufacturers as well); what comes with our trust, is their responsibility to ensure whatever they are trading to us is not harmful to us in any ways.
For the horrors of genetically engineered foods are as follow:
1. They are chemically produced.
2. Chemicals and improvised genes are never tested in humans.
3. The guinea pigs (poor animals mentioned above) use for testing exhibit severe deformities internally and externally.They deserve dignity too.
4. GMO foods heighten obesity rates.
5. Small farmers are losing their rights to farm crops belonging to nature.
6. Mass production leads to mishandling of foods.
7.Mass production and agriculture contribute 51% to our growing predicament on climate change.
In an article, written by Nicolas Gryson, DNA (which is of course, the main ingredient of any GMO made foods) handling should be as follows:
Important food-processing conditions, for example temperature and pH, may lead to degradation of the DNA, rendering PCR analysis impossible or GMO quantification unreliable. . . Food processes involving mechanical stress, high temperature, pH variations, enzymatic activities, and fermentation affect the primary structure of DNA and cause, for example, hydrolysis, oxidation, and deamination of the DNA.
What this study means, careful and thorough evaluations are must prior to even contemplating use of GMO (which obviously Monsanto and the rest never get into).
To conclude, this is one of the best documentary films I ever watch in my life. This does not incriminate agribusinesses like Monsanto in a blunt and careless manner, rather this unravels the truth that we, food consumers are entitled to know. Moreover, this film covers processes, and interviews witnesses (both farmers and consumers, and experts) from different parts of the world, to bring awareness and encourage sustainability. Likewise, the film aims to introduce us to healthy lifestyles that our bodies and Mother Earth are long seeking from us. Let us be responsible to ourselves, and to our families. Let us be critical of the foods we eat by reading labels and nutritional facts at all times; likewise, by considering the health ramifications of nutritional and economic choices we make. And if we have a place in our homes to plant organic foods, please, let us do so–for that’s even better. Because organic farming is one the best long-range solution (and not to mention, it’s very healthy too).
Lastly, we should really appreciate this film. Because this documentary encourages awareness on how foods are being handled these days. We have the rights to be educated consumers after all. Let us keep in mind: WE EAT TO NOURISH OUR BODIES. However, with the plague of genetically modified and engineered foods, we can no longer confidently say such foods are nutritious still. Health is wealth. We should never bargain for less!!!
This version of YouTube is not complete:
The film is available via NetFlix.
For Dish subscribers, it’s available OnDemand for free.
Or you may check FoodInc.com
(Copyrights of the image above belongs to NOVA PBS)
Unearthing Our Journey to Humanity: Becoming Human, Second of a Three-Part Series, a Film Review
If the Part I of Nova PBS documentary film, Becoming Human had caused us the daunting reality of our ape origin, the Birth of Humanity was an inspiring one. For in this second part of the film, the journey of our ancestors to humanity was featured in such a meaningful way. As nearly one-and-a-half-million years ago, a very intelligent species called Homo erectus evolved, lived and left the “great rift valleys of Africa,” and begun colonizing different parts of the world.
In 1984, a fossil discovered by well-known African anthropologists Richard and Meave Leakey, Turkana Boy—was found to have a bigger brain, bigger jaws, and very much taller compared to any Homo habilis or Lucy and Selam (Australopithecus afarensis) who highlighted the Part I.
Named after the Lake Turkana of Kenya, the species of Turkana Boy—Homo erectus was branded as the pioneer in so many human traits and behaviors; and, was also tagged as the “fire tamer,” tool maker, innovator, the great “originator of human society,” fierce-hunter, and one of the most successful species in the Homo genus.
What was truly remarkable in Part II, was the chain of compelling stories told by scientists about human evolution that existed roughly 1,300,000 years ago by merely fossil discoveries alone. And it was through Turkana Boy and the completeness of his skeleton, that scientists learned thoroughly about the physique, height, and face structure of Homo erectus. In addition, his age and even the medical condition he suffered were likewise traced through the genetic dating process called molecular clock.
But one big difference of Turkana Boy to Lucy and Selam was his ability to run persistently. Although the latter have pioneered bipedalism (walking upright on two feet), they weren’t capable of long distance running at all. This was because, through the nearly hairless bodies (having the ability to sweat and diffuse heat) of Homo erectus, that they became so agile and adept to persistent hunting.
On a lighter note, scientists believed Homo erectus can cook too. And though primitive, that cooking led to the transformation and development of their physical features. It made them sociable as well.
Experts likewise attributed their success, to their apparent exodus to Africa. Labeled as great travelers and colonizers, they started building the human societies in Indonesia and China.
To end, the Part Two of Becoming Human was indeed very inspiring. For through fossil discoveries, and the painstaking works of scientists, and amid earth’s primitive age—it was clear, that our ancestors evolved and survived the wilds, and found their road to humanity by exhibiting the simplest, yet greatest and most humane behaviors. For it is during the Prehistoric time of Homo erectus, our ancestors started caring for one another. It was then, that they started to think analytically and creatively. As they made enhanced tools out of stones, to outwit animals, and to feed themselves and take care of one another. Therefore, it wasn’t just about physical differences that truly set distinctions between earlier species and Homo erectus. Rather, it was during the Prehistoric existence of the latter, that our ancestors earned the universal legacy of exhibiting emotional, analytical, and social characteristics. For those humane behaviors have ultimately led Homo erectus to the path of humanity–and this is something we should always keep in mind. For those traits, even on these very modern days, should be inherent to all of us. For those traits set us apart and above everyone and everything in the animal kingdom–we should really be mindful of them all the time.
What’s in the News:
Spring Semester 2015 is up, and so am I. Because, finally I’m completely moving to the bigger campus of the University of Hawaii West Oahu. And what this means to me, is that I am getting close to my humble dream of becoming a Certified Public Accountant and tax attorney–and in lieu of a lifetime devotion–to be more of service to my less-privileged clients at Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.
However, as I was struggling yesterday with the $4.00 tote bag that weighed more thand 20 lbs of $1,000+ worth of hard bound textbooks, I couldn’t help but cry for the prices I had to pay in achieving my dream: First, being away from my children. Second, possibly being away from you too, my WordPress friends (for inevitably losing this liberty to write and blog as much as I love to).
It was a quick sentimental moment that led me to a poem quite inspired by William Shakespeare’s All the World’s a Stage. Regardless, thank you everyone for the support and friendship–a million thanks to you all! I hope you cherish your crafts (just as you cherish your blogs and your followers too. Have a good weekend, and be happy!
Lights, Camera, Action!
Lights are up,
and the kick-off
of a playwright
we call life
has just begun.
As the cam
focuses to you
for the multi-colored stage
Time to give your best,
and to execute excellence
with no remorse!
you give yourself
to your passion,
from this world.
And those hard-earned claps
will go on
even when the lights turn soft,
for as long as
you have given
Thank you for your continued support!
Sabiniana B. Baliba
29 January 2014
Becoming Human, First of a Three-Part Series, a Film Review
Nineteen experts, and a vast of information on Prehistoric human evolution, Becoming Human—a NOVA PBS documentary film, that aimed to share monumental discoveries and breakthroughs (research) on fossils relating to our origin—was first aired by the Public Broadcasting Station, on November 3, 2009. A revelation we should not miss, the film was about our “harsh” beginning, and how our ancestors survived the wilderness–aka survival of the fittest– as they evolved many million years ago (mya).
One of the strength of this film, was that experts from prestigious colleges and universities from different countries contributed and have zealously searched for evidences, and collaborated their discoveries for our better understanding on how man (with the scientific name of Homo sapiens) had evolved and survived the prehistoric times.
Equally important to fossil discoveries, is climate change—as it isn’t just happening in these modern days, but it’s a part of our evolution way back from the prehistoric days.
Supported by physical evidences gathered at Afar, Ethiopia, and Africa, the presence of diatoms are evident to lakes (and some others) that appeared and disappeared many times, and over-and-over-and-over again during the time of our ancestors.
In addition, the film presented in-depth explanation on how our “greatest grandparents” behaved so wildly (as they ganged on ferocious animals to exhaustion for meat and skin) out of their instinct to adapt and survive the wilds. Moreover, such wild behaviors made our “ancestors” responsible for the extinction of other animals.
Also, how primates developed bipedalism (defined by Encarta as the practice of walking upright on two feet, as opposed to moving on all four limbs) over the course of time, not just to survive and hunt for food, but at the same time save energy. Paleontologists then used found fossils of two skulls of primates from different eras–Lucy (a fossil of 6,000,000-year-old) and Selam (fossilized bones of a child from 3.5 mya) to determine, when and which among the primates are responsible for the development of bipedalism.
In regards to the film’s weaknesses, though the results of their stringent studies are indeed astounding, but since none of them are showing exact dates of their discoveries, the credibility of the data presented, and the hypotheses (that could have been very enlightening) are then compromised. For although the film may seem to be very interesting and so upbeat, but with its strength merely based on cinematography, and that dates of fossil discoveries are missing, it’ll of course cause doubts to our minds.
Finally, Becoming Human indeed, is a film we shouldn’t miss—for it involves our roots based from science; for it explains how ill human behaviors is so innate to us, most especially, if we are caught in situations that invoke flight-and-fight response, we’ll behave just as how other animals behave in the wilds. However, filmmakers should have been meticulous to details, because the film is primarily intended for academics. Therefore it should have been subject to standards as imposed by academia and linguistic communities such as MLA (Modern Language Association) or APA (American Psychological Association). Though the film indeed is educational and very entertaining. It’s just that I wish, it’s the other way around. For what could have made more sense to me: Becoming Human should have been very educational and entertaining, instead of the other way around. For it involves our origin, and it involves all of us. Most importantly, they are linking us to ancestry of apes: chimpz, gorilla, bonobos–such a daunting reality; such a very harsh fact, they should have been more keen (as scientists should be) and careful.
Videos to watch:
Becoming Human, Part 1
Becoming Human, Part 2
Becoming Human, Part 3
What Darwin Never Knew?