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Bloggingheads
05-10-2008, 09:30 AM

ohcomeon
05-10-2008, 10:42 AM
Hi George,

I hope you are reading this because I wanted to tell you how charming I thought you were on the Colbert Report. My significant other, who is a master electrician, was watching with me and blurted out, "I want that book." I laughed and told him I have already read some of your books and knew all about you from my addiction to Bloggingheads. Suddenly he thinks my obsessions are a little less strange. Good job and I am certain you sold many books.

AemJeff
05-10-2008, 11:32 AM
It should have been obvious, even from my relatively uninformed view of biology; but, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea of a virus stored like a file in the genome of a bacterium. Talk about convergence! Biology seems increasingly to resemble an application of information science. Wait'll we get to where we were, analogously,in the fifties and sixties, vis compsci. I can imagine Cellular Assembly Language, with a standard library of basic metabolic functions and RNA based I/O.

It's a little scary when you consider where this could lead. But it's pretty exhilarating, too.

David Thomson
05-10-2008, 03:19 PM
The odds are virtually certain that eventually your body will endure irreversible damage. A car accident at 100 miles per hour is merely one example. It may take 50 to 200 years---or even more. Nonetheless, the odds are against you. Thus, immortality is an impossibility.

Tao Jones
05-10-2008, 03:49 PM
Lots of recent blogging heads have been on Colbert lately, Richard Florida, Robert Reich, and now Mr. Johnson. That was a great interview, btw. Congrats. And now I have to add Zimmer's book to my to-read list.

bjkeefe
05-10-2008, 04:04 PM
AemJeff:

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the idea of a virus stored like a file in the genome of a bacterium.

Me, too.

There's another piece, too: Think about the invasion of one body by another. This initially seems hostile or at least self-centered, but it can lead to something that's mutually beneficial for both bodies' offspring.

Not for the first time, I am moved to think that symbiosis is one of the most beautiful words in our language.

bjkeefe
05-10-2008, 04:11 PM
Absolutely fascinating diavlog. As George pointed out, who would thought that talking about E. coli for an hour could be so mesmerizing?

It was great to hear Carl getting a chance to be the interviewee. It was also nice to hear about BH.tv people meeting up in meat space -- all part of the global media juggernaut!

The discussion concerning E. coli being carried into space by us, and even transported to other planets, was something I would have liked to hear more about. Suppose we transported some E. coli to Mars on the first landing craft, and somehow or another, just enough of them managed to survive and reproduce. I wonder how long it would take them to mutate into a form different enough that we'd have a chance of being fooled into thinking that we had discovered life that had originated on Mars.

ChrisC
05-10-2008, 04:40 PM
Of course the solution is to get Colbert on bloggingheads. Jon Stewart whilst they're at it as well.

piscivorous
05-10-2008, 04:46 PM
Couldn't live without it. It is speculated, by some, that the mitochondria (pl) along with the numerous other organelles in every one of our cells were at one time bacterium or similar individual life form have been usurped and integrated into our cellular structure. Of course this may have changed in the years since I studied it but from the diavlog I gathered that the thinking has matured and the details are much better understood but the basic underlying principles haven't really changed.

bjkeefe
05-10-2008, 05:02 PM
Couldn't live without it. It is speculated, by some, that the mitochondria (pl) along with the numerous other organelles in every one of our cells were at one time bacterium or similar individual life form have been usurped and integrated into our cellular structure. Of course this may have changed in the years since I studied it but from the diavlog I gathered that the thinking has matured and the details are much better understood but the basic underlying principles haven't really changed.

That sure seems correct, Pisc, from my understanding, anyway. There are so many subsystems in our bodies that seem so interdependent, and there is also a sense that some of these subsystems seem almost completely separate in a lot of their functioning from the rest of the body. Think about the digestive processes for example -- there is an entire ecosystem for whom our intestines are whole universe.

ChrisC
05-10-2008, 05:09 PM
Mwuhahaha ye of little faith.
It's always strange how people assume ageing can be stopped but then manipulating the body and health science seems to go static. Ageing is actually a rather hard problem compared to surviving a crash at 100mph (although it's really the acceleration/deceleration which is the problem), since it's not exactly clear what is going on. There might be a thousand small problems that lead on to ageing.
It's actually quite interesting what happens when the body dies from trauma. For example (iirc) most cells are alive hours after the heart stops. Brain cells die off quite quickly, but that's often due to a cascade of cell apoptosis, rather than directly due to lack of oxygen. Pigs have been deprived of oxygen for hours (after having their blood replaced with a cooled cocktail of saline and a few other 'preservative's') and then they are woken up, with little side effects. It could revolutionise trauma surgery, but since it requires 'killing' the un-consenting accident victim, getting trials done is rather hard.
Anyway it's quite possible that by the time we have immortality it will take quite a lot to kill people, if medical attention is on the scene quickly. It might even be possible to alter the body so you don't need medical help to walk/crawl/drag yourself away from the scene with your one remaining finger!

On an interesting note there is an immortal stem cell line from a woman, that is now regularly used. I think that woman holds the record for the oldest person despite 'dying' decades and decades ago. Can't recall the precise details though.

ChrisC
05-10-2008, 05:30 PM
Yes that is still the prevailing view. Helped by the fact that there are something like 56 genes in the mitochondria. I think chloroplasts similarly have genes. I wonder what the deal is with Iron-sulphur and other chemotrophes.
Also there are plenty of examples of single cells being parasites within other cells. The malaria plasmodium hides within red blood cells for example.
When everything was relatively 'simple' a few billion years ago, the incorporation of one organism into another is rather simple. Now you have immune systems and endless varieties of surface proteins that helps organisms keep out invaders.

themightypuck
05-10-2008, 06:09 PM
Good stuff. I like Zimmer more and more. Hell, I might even buy his book before it goes softcover and I hate hardcover books.

bjkeefe
05-10-2008, 06:31 PM
t.m.p.:

I highly recommend another of Carl's books: Parasite Rex. That's available in softcover, and by now, probably easy to find used.

Carl -- if you're reading this, please disregard the second sentence above.

piscivorous
05-10-2008, 08:59 PM
That sure seems correct, Pisc, from my understanding, anyway. There are so many subsystems in our bodies that seem so interdependent, and there is also a sense that some of these subsystems seem almost completely separate in a lot of their functioning from the rest of the body. Think about the digestive processes for example -- there is an entire ecosystem for whom our intestines are whole universe.I try to build up this wonder of harmony and interaction within our very selves hoping beyond hope it would lead to cooperation and cognation between the riffs that divide us. Instead you have to bring up the most vile, disgusting and destructive processes of our biology. Alas there is no hope of reaching, the utopia of wonderments, when the right talks harmony and understanding and the left talks rendering and destruction.

bjkeefe
05-10-2008, 09:05 PM
I try to build up this wonder of harmony and interaction within our very selves hoping beyond hope it would lead to cooperation and cognation between the riffs that divide us. Instead you have to bring up the most vile, disgusting and destructive processes of our biology. Alas there is no hope of reaching, the utopia of wonderments, when the right talks harmony and understanding and the left talks rendering and destruction.

Heh. Funny, I think of the digestive process in any way but disgusting. I think of it as making use of raw materials, acquiring energy for larger purposes, and filtering out poisons and waste products.

Epicurus
05-11-2008, 12:51 AM
They don't actually pump DNA through the pilus into the next microbe. The pilus pulls the cells together and disassembles and the microbes form a mating pore through which the one way DNA transfer (conjugation) occurs.

themightypuck
05-11-2008, 06:01 AM
Thanks for the heads up.

uncle ebeneezer
05-11-2008, 09:24 PM
TMP, check out "Evolution" and "Soul Made Flesh: The discovery of the brain and how it changed the world", as well. Carl is one of those guys who I can't really decide which book is my favorite because they are all so good and different.

patomaru
05-12-2008, 10:05 AM
Even ignoring the content of yet another great Science Saturday, it was worth watching just to find out that George was on the Colbert Report. I don't think I have laughed so hard in a while.

Other than that great job to both of you. I always love listening. Can't wait for next Saturday.

themightypuck
05-12-2008, 08:22 PM
I'm always happy to find a new source of entertainment. My GP and me used to trade cool book ideas: he hooked me up with The Third Chimpanzee and I reciprocated with Why We Get Sick. These days I find biology so much more interesting than my youthful love of physics and yet I know so little. I figure Zimmer will make a couple bucks off me in the near future.

uncle ebeneezer
05-12-2008, 08:52 PM
Has anyone else noticed that probably the most consistent place to see high quality authors on tv is on the Colbert Show? He's had several Blogginghead guests on science and policy books. Kinda crazy that one of the few shows that I can think of that regularly features authors of books that I want to read, is a satirical comedy. I hope Bob goes on when his next book comes out. I think Bob would be great with Colbert, especially since he's used to sparring with a conservative (Mickey.)

Wonderment
05-12-2008, 09:01 PM
I really find it distasteful when intellectuals of George's stature go on Colbert. I understand the economics of a Colbert plug, but subjecting oneself to the Colbert shtick is beneath a serious writer's dignity.

Don't get me wrong, I think Colbert is hilarious, but obtaining cheap laughs from serious books somehow rubs me the wrong way. Colbert is not Bill Moyers of Charlie Rose.

(To George's credit, he did talk about his own reservations about going on the show).

graz
05-12-2008, 09:17 PM
I really find it distasteful when intellectuals of George's stature go on Colbert. I understand the economics of a Colbert plug, but subjecting oneself to the Colbert shtick is beneath a serious writer's dignity.

Don't get me wrong, I think Colbert is hilarious, but obtaining cheap laughs from serious books somehow rubs me the wrong way. Colbert is not Bill Moyers of Charlie Rose.

(To George's credit, he did talk about his own reservations about going on the show).

Dignity indeed. When a publisher says jump, you say? How high.
Every author interviewed, that I remember, from the Brian Lamb Booknotes series, commented on this scourge of promotion as a necessary evil. As you noted, the point of the exercise is to sell books, after all.
What hasn't been answered, and Brendan questioned this as well in the Life, Universe thread is: Was George a willing dupe in the "hand-jive" experiment?

bjkeefe
05-13-2008, 01:10 AM
Wonderment:

I really find it distasteful when intellectuals of George's stature go on Colbert. I understand the economics of a Colbert plug, but subjecting oneself to the Colbert shtick is beneath a serious writer's dignity.

I take your point, but I think it's not all downside for someone like George to go on The Colbert Report. What he's gaining there is a chance to expose a bunch of people to his book and himself who might not otherwise be exposed. I'm not saying this should be the only sort of venue for George. I'm saying that it's just part of the overall promotional effort. It's kind of like the obligatory visits to diners in New Hampshire that politicians have to do. The intersection of the set of people who watch The Report with the set of people who watch Charlie Rose or BookTV or listen to Fresh Air is not the same as the union of these sets. Considered from an economic point of view, then, one could say that any publicity is good publicity. Considered from a pedagogic point of view, one could say that if you want the cattle to eat, you have to put the fodder where they can reach it.

Besides, if you get the conceit of Colbert's character on that show (which I'm sure you, specifically, do), there is an implied strong blessing on the worthiness of the book/author -- the more Colbert goes O'Reilly on him or her, the more the audience takes away the message: but seriously, this is someone you should pay attention to. The people who get a lot of their news from Colbert and Jon Stewart get this, and there's a good chance that George picked up some new fans, just by appearing. That he got Colbert to zap himself was made him all that much more memorable.

When I said earlier that it was not a good forum for George (in the thread graz refers to), I realize now that I was thinking about it in fan-of-BH.tv terms. From George's point of view, though, I can see the benefit to his appearing there, and I think the benefits weren't solely monetary. I suspect a lot of stereotypical fans of that show think of science as something stuffy or too abstract or otherwise not to their taste, and George probably planted a few seeds to the contrary.

Plus, it seemed like George had fun doing it. That makes it worthwhile, all by itself.

Wonderment
05-13-2008, 01:34 AM
I understand the marketing strategy: there's no business like show business.

And I understand that somebody like George, with his wry and self-deprecating sense of humor, might have fun on Colbert, especially since he actually got to communicate the spirit of the book -- that science can be fun and beautiful.

But I've seen several intellectuals, scientists and scholars subjected to the quick-quip, belly laugh, in-your-face soundbite Colbert routine, and it can be embarrassing to watch.

I'd like to think there's some limit on what authors are expected to do in order to pimp their books.

I wonder if anyone has ever said no to Colbert.

Do you think Martin Luther King would have done Colbert? Franz Kafka? Darwin?

graz
05-13-2008, 02:41 AM
A link on dignity:
http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html?id=d8731cf4-e87b-4d88-b7e7-f5059cd0bfbd

Wonderment
05-13-2008, 02:49 AM
Needless to say: Dr. Pinker (http://www.comedycentral.com/videos/index.jhtml?videoId=81914)

bjkeefe
05-13-2008, 03:09 AM
Wonderment:

I take all your points, and yes, I've seen some cringe-inducing moments on The Colbert Report and The Daily Show where the guests clearly didn't know how to deal. Generally, though, when I've heard people talk about their experience as guests on these shows, they're happy about it.

I suspect that some people have said "no" to appearances on TCR or TDS. I suspect a few others wish they had. For the small set who didn't want to do the show, were made to by their publishers pushing them to pimp their books, and had their fears confirmed ... well, I feel mildly bad for them, I suppose. But I don't think it's a big problem for any of them in the long run, and I suspect the worst that happened was a small deflation of self-importance, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I can't think of anyone who was hurt, long-term, by being made the laughingstock for five minutes on one of these shows.

I would guess that MLK would have been delighted to go on one of these shows, and would have rocked. Kafka -- I have no sense of his personality. Darwin, I would guess, would decline. From reading some of his written work, he seems like the kind of guy who would recognize that it takes him a while to express a thought.

bjkeefe
05-13-2008, 03:54 AM
A link on dignity:
http://www.tnr.com/story_print.html?id=d8731cf4-e87b-4d88-b7e7-f5059cd0bfbd

An outstanding essay, graz. Thanks for the link.

uncle ebeneezer
05-13-2008, 11:14 AM
Great points Brendan. I intended to make many of them, but as usual you beat me to the punch.

They say that any publicity is good publicity. I might feel a little differently if George (or whoever) went on somewhere like FOXNews that actively pursues agendas that are often anti-science when that science says something that doesn't mesh with their political leanings. But then again, scientists and science journalists should probably take the fight to those guys when they have the opportunity and try and change the minds of some of the Fox viewers. Either way, Colbert is known to be highly intellectual, and his audience is a good match of potential readers that would probably read George's book once they became aware of it. I for one, wouldn't have read half the books I read in the past few years if it weren't for Sci-Sat and FreeWill. So it seems to me that just making people aware of what's out there is the real goal, regardless of the venue. I think it's also good sometimes for scientists and policy wonks to "lighten up" a little bit in order to dispell the ivory-tower myths that people like O'Reilly love to spread about anyone engaged in research outside of a GOP think tank. Scientists often seem like different species, but when you see them laugh it up with someone like Colbert it reminds you that they are not that different from you or me.

Also, when you look at the list of authors that Colbert has on, George puts himself in pretty good company.

bjkeefe
05-13-2008, 11:29 AM
uncle eb:

So it seems to me that just making people aware of what's out there is the real goal, regardless of the venue. I think it's also good sometimes for scientists and policy wonks to "lighten up" a little bit in order to dispell the ivory-tower myths ...

Both good points.

graz
05-13-2008, 11:32 AM
[QUOTE=uncle ebeneezer;. Scientists often seem like different species, but when you see them laugh it up with someone like Colbert it reminds you that they are not that different from you or me.

Also, when you look at the list of authors that Colbert has on, George puts himself in pretty good company.[/QUOTE]

Agreed. In George's case it seemed that he may have disarmed Stephen when he disclosed that he was a journalism major and not a scientist.

uncle ebeneezer
05-13-2008, 02:01 PM
Not to mention, as a Colbert fan, the authors/scientists etc. are usually some of the funniest guests. George was great. Although he kept looking up and away alot (not at the camera or the host) as if there was a tennis match going on in the rafters.

Still, I think it's great that when I tell friends to check out the new book by George Johnson, I now can point them to the Colbert link (or perhaps they've already seen it.) I have tried to point several intellectual friends to BHTV but so far nobody has joined me in my enthusiasm for this particular venue for getting my geek on.

Wonderment
05-13-2008, 02:54 PM
I will now hypocritically plug tonight's segment of "Better Know a Lobbyist," which will feature a lobby I make a monthly donation to. Tune in to find out which one. (No, it's not the Weather Underground)