Does science explain everything?
Adam Bly is the founder and editor-in-chief of Seed Magazine and the Chairman/CEO of Seed Media Group. Seed is a bi-monthly science magazine based out of New York and is distributed internationally. The magazine looks at issues located at the intersection of science and society. In 2007, Seed was nominated for two National Magazine Awards.
At 16, Bly was the youngest researcher at the National Research Council of Cancer, where he spent three years studying cell adhesion and cancer. Bly has received many international prizes, including being selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2007, and has also received the Jubilee Medal. Bly lives in New York City.
Question: Does science explain everything?
Adam Bly: Does it? No. Should it? No. Do I want it to? No. No. I do think that there is a place for . . . Again I think it’s also about viewing . . . Again it comes back to that fundamental of, “What is science?” I think that science does have surpassing powers in terms of its utility as a lens. It does cure things, you know? It does have actual great functional value. I’m not sure we could deal with the catastrophic impacts of climate change simply through the arts. I don’t mean that flippantly. I mean there is great value actually to the arts now in making people emotionally invested and even better citizens when it comes to these issues. But you know fundamentally you do need a scientific lens to actually deal with these issues. And so do I think it has surpassing value? Yes. Do I think that it . . . it can be a complete, full worldview? For some yes. For some no. For society at large, I don’t know what that means. There is no such thing as one global lens. So I think it’s a lot more nuanced than that. I do think that there are greater many . . . There are many more forces acting against science than there are forces acting against some of those other lenses. I do think that science is a more certainly progressive . . . It almost seems a copout to say “better”, but better lens than religion at a high level through which to view the world and its problems. Because I think that we as a planet, as a population are better when we know things, when we question things, and we’re capable of understanding the foundations for decisions. And I think that that’s generally true. I would struggle with how to incorporate that into the challenges that a country like China faces today in achieving political reform. Because on one hand those are somewhat democratic ideals that I’ve associated with science. And I think that science and democracy do go very nicely hand-in-hand. And I think if you’re sort of pro-science, you’re pro-democracy. If you’re pro-democracy, you’re pro-science. Or you kind of should be fundamentally, which is why it’s non-partisan. But as you look at, you know, emerging economies and you look most importantly at China right now and its profound place in the world; and on, you know, the next, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of our lives, on one hand I still believe in the power of science; but the way we view democracy . . . the way we view all those kind of institutions I kind of laid out as being analogous with science, somehow all of this needs to be rethought in the context of . . . in the context of China, which is what I was saying earlier about kind of rethinking science in the context of both the eastern and western perspectives. Because some of those same ideas may not hold true for what is ultimately in the best interest of China going forward. So I . . . That would be an interesting, you know . . . That’s something I don’t know yet. I’m not sure how that all mashes up with the rise of science in China.
Recorded on: 10/17/07
It doesn't explain everything, but it's a pretty good start, Bly says.
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- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
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- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
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Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
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