Field of Science

Two talks

The first talk I'm preparing has the title 'What I learned from #arseniclife: communication and quality control in science'.  My current plan is to spend 10-15 minutes going over the Wolfe-Simon debacle, from NASA's first press release to the present state of affairs (paper still not published). 

Then I'll do a semi-historical walk-through of all the ways science is communicated (to scientists and to the public) and the ways quality is maintained.  I'll organize it historically, but I think every method can be illustrated with a present-day example, because although we post electronic critiques we still have print-only journals (though I'll probably have to ask a librarian for examples of these).  As I go through these I'll illustrate as many as I can from the #arseniclife story.  This should be given about 20 minutes. 

Then I'll talk about how the new options have good and bad effects on the advance of scientific knowledge, and how optimizing these is limited by human nature.  And maybe end with some ideas of how we, as individual scientists, can make the most of these.

The second talk has my usual provocative title 'Do bacteria have sex?'  In the past this talk has been mainly about the regulation of competence, but now I want to extend it to include our newer work on recombination tracts and on uptake specificity.  So I'm going to shorten the introduction a bit, about why whether bacteria have sex is important and why natural competence is the only parasexual process needing investigation.  And I'll shorten the regulation section too.  Then I'll talk about how we still need to understand the recombinational consequences of parasexual processes, because these are very significant for bacterial populations and evolution, and show our new recombination-tract data. 

Then I'll bring up the uptake-specificity issue (maybe I'll foreshadow this earlier), as the one remaining problem with the evidence that bacteria take up DNA as food.  I'll emphasize that it only applies to two small groups of bacteria, but is still considered by many as a compelling reason to assume that all bacteria take up DNA for recombination.  Maybe I'll go back to the candyland movie of the uptake mechanism (make a short version, with just the uptake step).  I'll propose the model that uptake specificity is a mechanistic solution to a physical problem, and then describe the new analysis.

As described above, this has the potential to be much too long.  But I should aim for 45 minutes, to give lots of time for questions.

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