Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A bad case of dumbed-down science

We were recently discussing the perils of analogies in science. This is an extreme example, where the work involves from what I can infer, a reshuffling and/or substitution of protein domains to make new peptide antibiotics. "You have a string of letters and that string of letters reminds you immediately of a sentence, a kind of incomprehensible sentence, and you wonder in that sentence, 'Is that meaning hidden?'" asked Stephanopoulos. He used the example of a sentence: "Dave asks a question." What Stephanopoulos did was the equivalent of substitute different names for Dave and found that the peptide often still beat the bacteria.

Harvard evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser said that using grammar rules to decode genetics and medicine is growing more popular. But he said he worries that too many people are calling grammar what is really just simple code, not nearly as complicated as human language. Berwick said the bacteria-fighting grammar rules are equivalent to the extremely basic spelling rule, "i before e except after c." The grammar rules Stephanopoulos developed are about what 2-year-olds learn on their own by listening to adults speak, he said." WHATTTTT?