Were you even paying attention??

A former colleague sent me this article:


How would I characterize the relationship I have with this former colleague…?  (legitimately thinking)  She and I have a bit of an ongoing feud, only “feud” isn’t quite the apt word.  She often sends me articles that she knows will pique me, or incite angst, and I most certainly pay it back to her in full, plus dividends.  It’s lighthearted and in good fun, so you shouldn’t think we hate each other.  To protect her identity, let’s just call her K.

Within a few weeks of meeting each other, K and I realized that we were as close to polar opposites as two people could be.  When it came to matters of politics, government, spirituality, even diet, I could make safe bets that whatever my stance was, K would take the opposing podium to tell me why I was wrong.  At first, we didn’t get along; but after having dozens of discussions about all manner of topics (and realizing that we were both inextricably entrenched in our respective worldviews), we began to appreciate the diversity of thought between us.  We can still get into it, but for the most part, our conversations are amicable, even if we are speaking from opposite ends of any spectrum.

At any rate, I wanted to write about the article, and why I get frustrated when reading things like it (which may be the reason K sent it to me in the first place).  First, let me establish that I enjoy reading scientific articles and books.  I enjoy attending scientific lectures, or watching scientific TV shows and documentaries.  Science is how we learn about the world and advance as a people.  With that, however, there are two things that frequently happen in the scientific genre that make me roll my eyes: (1) dimwittedness, and (2) the long, long, long jump to conclusions.  Dimwittedness occurs when a question is thoroughly answered by the results of a scientific experiment, but people are inexcusably lost; this isn’t to be confused with simple confusion or a need for clarification, which can easily be forgiven.  The long, long, long jump to conclusions occurs when someone makes a long, long, long jump to a conclusion that is absurdly beyond the scope of the experiment.

Let’s look at an example of dimwittedness, shall we?  In the article above, the scientific data that was discussed was actually fascinating.  The populations of beetles that had the luxury of a large selection of sexual partners in previous generations weren’t showing signs of genetic deterioration, even after 20 generations of abject incest – brothers gettin’ it on with sisters.  On the other hand, the populations of beetles that had very limited selections of sexual partners before being plunged into incestuous environments quickly died off because of increasingly prominent genetic defects.  That’s interesting.  The part that vexed me is the dialogue that followed these results.

“So… like… uhhhh… why do males even like, exist?  I mean… it’s like things would be like, chill if there were like, only females.  So… males should be like, useless, and therefore there shouldn’t, like, be any.”  WHAT!?  First of all, that is so blatantly sexist.  Secondly, I fail to see, after reading the details of the experiment and the results, how one would be confused about this!  You’re either a cretin or you were busy playing Candy Crush on your phone while the intelligent people were talking.

Scientists have known for a long time why sexual reproduction exists – what its purpose is.  In short, there is nothing better than sex to maintain strong genetic diversity.  The more diverse the assortment of genes, the more likely bad/recessive/defective genes will be replaced or phased out because there are simply more options to fill that hole.  When gene pools start to shrink, the number of good genes to replace the bad ones dwindles until defective genes begin to proliferate; as soon as that happens, the population begins to die, either from physiological dysfunction, or because embryonic development fails.  Asexual reproduction is quick and easy, but as soon as an organism gets a defective gene, ALL of its offspring necessarily get the same defect.  Sexual reproduction within a population containing numerous potential partners makes for a large, diverse assortment of genes, thus forming a robust population.  Demonstrating this is nothing new, regardless of what the article eludes to.  However, one integral part of science is to reproduce the results of other experiments, so I’m not holding this confirmation of established knowledge against the author.

It’s the article’s headline.  Imagine giving a short lesson to someone about how important oxygen is to our biological systems.  Our muscles require oxygen to function.  Our red blood cells ferry oxygen to all our tissues because our cells metabolize oxygen in a number of critical processes.  In order to live, our bodies need to be able to use the oxygen in the air, and that’s why we have lungs.  Our lungs are organs that enable us to soak up oxygen when we breathe, and thus, we don’t die.  Satisfied with how eloquently, yet simply, you delivered this bit of wisdom to the mind of your listener, you smile softly.  Suddenly, your student blurts out a loud, saliva-laden question, “So then, why do we have lungs?”  (long, exasperated sigh…)  This is exactly what happened in the article: someone asked a question about the advantages sexual reproduction gives to a population of organisms, and this question was answered extremely well with an experiment involving tribolium flour beetles.  When the scientists delivering this lesson finished, they smiled softly, satisfied with the way it addressed every point of the question.  Suddenly, a particularly dim person in the audience sprayed spit all over the back of someone’s head as she blurted, “So then, why do males exist?”

To be fair (but still dim), one could have asked, “Why do females exist?” with the same conviction; there’s absolutely no reason to pick on males in this situation.  It isn’t complicated.  Males exist because sex does; in other words, both the male and female genders are direct consequences of sexual reproduction.  It isn’t sex unless a male and a female are involved.  Pay attention next time.

That brings us to the absurdly long jump.  At the following URL, you’ll see something that absolutely demonstrates this:

Click to access S0603.pdf

Note the title of the project: “The Abiotic Synthesis of Silicon Based-Life” or “How we made silicon-based life artificially”.  Their experiment is essentially a direct copy of the Miller-Urey experiment, only their chemicals were silicon-based, not carbon-based.  What were their results?  It says right there: some of the molecules got longer.  So, they started with molecules of a certain length, and at the end, they had molecules that were longer.  THEREFORE THEY TOTALLY JUST CREATED SILICON-BASED LIFE!  (long, exasperated sigh)

A number of years ago, I read an article with this headline: “Scientists create silicon-based life in a lab experiment”.  (I have tried several Google searches, but cannot find this article, so it may have been taken down, but I swear to you that this is true.)  Well, with a title like that, how could I NOT click?  I was already going into it with a heavy load of skepticism because I knew that if someone truly did create life in a laboratory (the chemical base of which is irrelevant), it would be the greatest scientific achievement in human history so far, and it would be on every radio station, TV station, webpage, and newspaper all around the globe.  Whatevs, I clicked anyway.  The article explained that a scientist was successfully able to create a ball of silicon atoms inside another, larger ball of silicon atoms… … … … …  THEREFORE HE TOTALLY JUST CREATED SILICON-BASED LIFE!  (long, exasperated sigh)  Life is more complicated than a molecule becoming longer, or a double-balloon of atoms.  It’s more complicated than just a chemical reaction inside of a double-balloon of atoms.  To go into depth of just how complicated a single, actual, living cell is would fill volumes of textbooks.  In fact, pick up a Cell Physiology textbook if you want to learn more.  It’s absolutely fascinating to the greatest degree imaginable.

Don’t get me wrong, both of these experiments are cool, but they are so far from creating actual life that to suggest such is tantamount to perjury.  Imagine someone standing on the shore of a calm lake.  He picks up a smooth stone and skips it across the glassy surface of the cold water.  With the stone’s final plop into the frigid water, droplets cascade down, creating dozens of small ripples, and this person becomes absolutely convinced that he flew to Jupiter, right at that moment.  Uhh, you’re kinda missing some letters between A and Z, champ.  Where is your spacecraft, or the materials for a spacecraft?  What was your trajectory?  How did you account for planetary motion and gravity, solar gravity, and solar wind?  What did you use for fuel to generate thrust to get off the ground?  How much food and water did you take for your trip?  You get the idea.

I know that sensationalist headlines are old news, especially in today’s world where companies pay for clicks, but it gets trite quickly.  For example, a reporter teases about a story detailing a monumental discovery that is helping people improve their lives and live longer – full story at 11.  Several hours later, the sun has set long ago, and you’re fighting sleep to learn what this massively important discovery is.  “Sleeping more means you’re less tired during the day.”  What a waste of trucking time!  You deprived yourself of sleep in order to learn that sleep is good for you?  Yes, it’s ironic, but it’s also maddening.

Frustration aside, learning something new should never be a waste of time, but sensationalist headlines have that effect.  If people get jaded toward the prospect of learning something new, it won’t be long before I start blogging about the lack of scientific advancement.  That is why it should stop.  For the good of humanity, it needs to stop.

What’s in a name anyway?

The name of my site is unusual, I know.  The two superfluous Ss ensure you can’t say the name of my site without people thinking either (1) you have a lisp, whether forced or uncontrollable, or (2) you’re much too big a Harry Potter fan because you’re actually using Parseltongue in public.  The shame…

Why suffix a perfectly good site name with two Ss?  Well, it wasn’t my choice.  The short answer is that the site name I truly wanted was taken.  The slightly-longer-than-that answer is that there are people in this world who devote themselves to occupying URL real estate in the hope that someone with money will come along and say, “My good sir, I see you are faithfully reserving a website name that is simply perfect for the wares or ideas that I am eager to post to the internet, as they will surely generate ample income with which I shall pad my already gleaming estate.  I am prepared to offer you a fine sum of money to relinquish the rights of said website to me.  There’s a good lad!”  These digital squatters do nothing with the URL except sit on it – making it warm, moist, and almost certainly leaving behind a subtle, but unpleasant odor.

See for yourself:

  • heknows.wordpress.com
  • heknowss.wordpress.com

Are you getting of whiff of that smell?  Gross, right?  However, one can often find treasure among trinkets that someone else left behind.  The two Ss, as it turns out, are not extraneous; they’re integral.  Just what, exactly, does “he” know?  His knowledge spans many fields, and touches both the ethereal and heavily mundane, the expansive and restrictive, spiritual and physical.  He knows the Simple and the Sophisticated.  Dang, that’s good.

Who’s he?

I’m Boom Snap.  And I know.

“What the heck kinda name is ‘Boom Snap’?  Did your mom not like you?”

Oh, I’m glad you asked such a hurtful question!  ‘Boom Snap’ is a handle, an alias, a pen-name, a pseudonym.  It’s a fictitious moniker I coined for myself to protect my true identity.  Why you ask?

“Uh, I didn’t actually ask ab-”

For the same reason Bruce Wayne didn’t fight crime with a gigantic “BW” emblazoned across his chest.  You can’t sue someone for damages without knowing who it is!  For my own safety, and the safety of my friends and family members, I’ll be changing names.