Monthly Archives: May 2015

INTRODUCTION TO ART AND SCIENCE

 

Electron micrograph of one mitochondrion within a mouse liver cell (hepatocyte).  The cytoplasm surrounding this organelle contains free polyribosomes, cisternae of rough endoplasmic reticulum, glycogen granules, and vesicles.  May 20, 2015 © Dr.M   (http://.dr-monsrs.net)
Electron micrograph of one mitochondrion within a mouse liver cell (hepatocyte). The cytoplasm surrounding this organelle contains free polyribosomes, cisternae of rough endoplasmic reticulum, glycogen granules, and vesicles.      May 20, 2015 © Dr.M   (http://.dr-monsrs.net)

 

As a scientist, I believe that I also am an artist!  My science is my art, and my art is my science!  I am not referring only to esthetic beauty of the output from scientific research, but also to the mental beauty found in numbers and equations, spectroscopic curves, theoretical concepts, and crystallography.  Science certainly is distinctive, but also has many similarities to art.

Similarities and differences between science and art. 

The standard opinion is that science and art are nearly opposite endeavors.  My own view is that  science and art often are interchangeable!  Art frequently is a representation of something real or imagined, and so is analogous to a model or hypothesis in science.  Art can be quite stylized (e.g., portaits), and so can the output of science (e.g., histograms of measurements).  Both art and science are produced by an individual or a small group of people, and usually reflect some of their special skills and personal characteristics.  A sculpture by a modern Italian artist differs in style from a sculpture produced by an Inuit artist even if they use the same stone and depict the same subject; such differences can be described with language and words for art, or with numbers and measurements in science.  Sculpted figures clearly are three-dimensional representations, and so are the detailed structural models for a virus.

Most artists like to produce something that is new, personal, and striking.  Scientists can have exactly this same goal for their research work!  Creativity has the same meaning for art and science.  Whether scientific research studies produce spectroscopy curves for a new nanomaterial, images of living genetically-modified cells, or, tables of numbers from astronomy and astrophysics, their output is quite beautiful for the eyes of scientists and also for those of many non-scientists.  Rather than create images from their imagination, as do some artists, scientists make them by skillful use of research experiments, instruments, and data analysis. 

One very large difference between art and science immediately pops into view: science often is displayed in black and white, but art mostly is displayed with colors.  Some scientists purposely add colors to their grayscale images or data plots so as to make them more comprehensible and more interesting.  A very simple, but good, example of the significance of colors is given in the text figure below, shown both in its purely black/white condition (upper panel) and with one added color (lower panel). 

Colored text_edited-1

The information or statement provided in these 2 versions is identical, but the human mind is definitely more attracted to and tickled by the one with color(s)!

Images from science can be seen as abstract art! 

People looking at graphic art often do not know exactly how this was constructed, yet they  either like or dislike the display.  Similarly, viewers seeing images from science often have zero understanding about what they are looking at or what it means; nevertheless, they will feel that one of several displayed images is prettier or more interesting than the others.  I believe that this phenomenon is directly similar to the emotional judgments of viewers (including scientists and other artists!) regarding a piece of abstract art where nothing at all is recognizable.  In both art and science, the emotional reactions of viewers are quite independent of their knowledge. 

As one example of what I mean here, let us look together at an electron microscope image of a mitochondrion (see image shown under the title for this article).  That object is one of the energy-producing organelles found inside all nucleated cells of humans, onions, sharks, jellyfish, butterflies, yeasts, and protozoa.  All mitochondria (plural) have the same basic structure, but often differ in small details from one cell type (e.g., cells in salivary glands that produce and secrete saliva) to another cell type (e.g., islet cells in the pancreas making and secreting insulin). 

Let’s say you have never before seen an image of a mitochondrion and had not even known they existed until now.  Despite this ignorance, when you first looked at the foregoing image, certain feelings popped into your mind (e.g., “how cute!”, “how bizarre!”, or, “does it bite?”).  You were reacting solely to the art within this science image!  You can convert your reaction to the science inside this same image simply by learning more about the parts, structure, and functional activities of mitochondria; then, when looking again at the same image you might feel “how interesting!”, or wonder “what happens in cancer cells?”.  The art and the science are both parts of this same display! 

Beauty in science. 

For Dr.M, beauty in science is everywhere!  If one looks with a special light microscope at a solution of DNA while it is in the process of drying, one will see images that are exquisitely beautiful (see images and videos at:   http://biancaguimaraesportfolio.com/mssng/ ).  Many people will dispute my judgement, because they will say that chemicals or chemistry could not truly be beautuful and any apparent beauty is only some artifact or optical trick.  My answer is that this example has all the elements needed for artistic drama: special characters, different paths of movement, balance or imbalance, discrete stages of development, boundaries, suspense, stylized situations, and the possibility for unanticipated endings; further, the videos show the specimen and colors moving and changing similarly to a troop of dancers gliding about on a stage.  All of this easily can lead to a judgment of being pretty.  Can you see beauty here? 

Good examples of striking beauty in science. 

A wonderful example of what I am trying to describe as “beauty in science” is shown in the collection of images from the Hubble telescope, taken as part of its astronomical research mission (e.g., see:  http://hubblesite.org/gallery/wallpaper/pr2007030c/ ).  Even without knowing exactly what real objects are present in these fantastic images from outer space, most people will perceive contours and boundaries, several repetitive components, some symmetries, connections and groupings, and certain repeated shapes, all of which lead to their conscious or subconscious judgment about the presence of beauty in these images.  There is no true up or down in these images from outer space (e.g., view them at different rotations and you will see that these give quite different impressions to the human mind). 

Another excellent example of artistic beauty in science is found in 3-D representations of the structure of viruses or protein complexes.  These come from research into their structure using electron microscopy or x-ray diffraction; the reconstructions displayed on a computer monitor are color-coded 3-D representations that the scientist can rotate into various orientations.  A large gallery of such images for the 3-D structure of poliovirus is gathered by Google (see gallery at : https://www.google.com/search?q=3D+structure+of+poliovirus&client=opera&hs=01j&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=dJ5XVYD8Lcu4sAW2koGYBg&ved=0CCsQ7Ak&biw=800&bih=502#imgrc=MFsAz8D1Bzj2WM%253A%3BFiyXCzSZPuuKVM%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fvirology.wisc.edu%252Fvirusworld%252Fimgency%252Fp1mPOLIO12.jpeg%3Bhttp%253A%252F%252Fictvdb.bio-mirror.cn%252FICTVdB%252F00.052.0.01.001.htm%3B641%3B487 ).  All these images are scientifically meaningful representations of Nature’s sculpting, but also are esthetically very pretty.  Do you see beauty in any of them?  Note that it is not necessary to understand anything at all about science in order to perceive beauty in many displays at this gallery! 

Concluding remarks. 

Science and art have a number of common aspects, including beauty, simplicity vs. complexity, mood, and tension.  On the one hand, an artist creates a canvas or sculpts a figure; on the other hand, a research scientist collects experimental data and derives conclusions from their analysis.  Both artists and scientists feature creativity, mental vision, hard work, experience, and personal talent.  The outputs from both art and science can be pretty, stimulating, and meaningful, or, can be ugly, boring, and meaningless; each individual viewer must make this judgment. 

Some scientists can be almost as creative as are artists.  Some artists are as concerned about very small details as much as are scientists.  Both workers produce outputs that stimulate the senses of onlookers.  Both scientists and artists are essential for human society, and both types of authors should be more widely appreciated by everyone for their creative talents and expressive output. 

 

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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART V: LESSONS TO BE LEARNED ABOUT ARGUMENTS BETWEEN SCIENTISTS.

 

Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Scientists love to question each other and argue about science all the time!  Following the previous examinations of professional scientists arguing with other scientists (see: Part I: “Background to controversies involving scientists” , Part II: “Why is there such a long controversy about global warming and climate change?” , Part III: “Is glyphosate poisoning us all?” , and Part IV: “A closer look at a scientist whose research causes immense controversy!” ), the final essay in this series will briefly summarize my views about what lessons can be learned from this common activity.

What results come from controversies between research scientists? 

The result of controversies between scientists basically is either a decision about which position triumphs, or a continuation of the unresolved dispute.  Some loud controversies do not yield any settlement for many decades and sometimes never end (e.g., Darwin’s theory about evolution was published over 100 years ago, but still remains controversial).  Disputes between scientists often have inputs from outside science (e.g., governments, religions, other cultures, dedicated institutions, businesses, associations, etc.); in such cases, arguments that originally were about science often shift into debates about official national or local policies, public health regulations, cultural and religious restrictions, predicted expansions of business profits, policy alliances, international interests and conflicts, etc.  These non-science factors make such disputes much more complex, and easily can prevent any agreements about the science aspects from being reached. 

Where a controversy can be kept at the level of science and research, further experimental investigations usually will permit some agreement or a consensus to be reached.  In principle, if good experimental data are available, then any controversy between scientists should be settled readily; failure to arrive at a decision for a pure dispute about science can simply indicate that the needed experimental data are not yet available.  

What can we learn about disputes between scientists? 

In my personal opinion, all the following generalizations about controversies between scientists are valid and worthy of recognition. 

(1)      Arguments about science occur between scientists all the time, but infrequently reach awareness of the public.

(2)      Issues in disputes that strictly involve science often are settled when further or better experimental data are acquired.

(3)      Disputes between scientists are normal and good for science; the progress of scientific research always depends upon asking questions about everything.

(4)      Many controversies between scientists about research are settled, particularly when further experiments are conducted; however, some other controversies never end.

(5)      External factors often enter controversies involving science; this always makes the issues become more complex, since non-science factors inject self-interest, ignorance, and money into the dispute.

(6)      Scientists in complex controversies often are being used; giving expert testimony about science commonly is intended to gain support for some non-science position.

(7)      When scientists work for a company or a governmental agency, they must only support the views of their employer and so are not really free to objectively seek the truth; thus, expert testimony by doctoral scientists can have aims quite outside science.

(8)      In theory, it would be better to initially let expert scientists argue and decide about the science, and only then let outside interests start disputing what should be done (e.g., by authorities, government, industries, lawyers, officials).

(9)      Controversies between scientists can be ended outside science (i.e., by external authority, laws, or institutions); although an official decree can stop a dispute, the issues for science might not be settled.  

(10)    It takes personal courage and strong determination for a professional research scientist to maintain their position when confronted and opposed by traditional beliefs, esteemed authorities, government figures, or large crowds of opponents; those individuals who do continue to argue against such opposition always should be highly respected for their personal integrity and dedication to science.

Types of disputes involving science and scientists.  

Based upon the above generalizations, we can identify and characterize several fundamental  types of controversies involving science and scientists.

(1)      Small disputes (e.g., 2 scientists do not agree about the best interpretation of some research data) vs. large disputes (e.g., many scientists and many in the public disagree about what should be done about humans intentionally altering the weather).

(2)       Disputes within science (e.g., scientists in a discipline of science disagree about whether some new technology is truly a part of their research focus) vs. disputes with outsiders (e.g., scientists working in a laboratory facility disagree with local officials about whether their research activities pose any hazard to local residents).

(3)       Simple disputes (e.g., some scientists disagree with others about whether the use of satellite data to measure surface temperatures of Earth is truly accurate) vs. complex disputes (e.g., debates by scientists, governments, and industries about global warming and climate change; see Part II:  “Why is there such a long controversy about global warming and climate change?” ).

Concluding remarks. 

Controversies between scientists are a prominent feature of science and research.  These disputes are wonderful since they halp ensure that scientists are succeeding in seeking and actually finding the truth.  When interests outside science enter disputes between scientists, the arguments become much more complex and more difficult to settle.  The input of scientists into large and complex disputes is most meaningful when made for  issues involving science and research, versus those issues involving the entire public (including scientists as citizens).

 

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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SCIENTISTS DISAGREE? PART IV: A CLOSER LOOK AT A SCIENTIST WHOSE RESEARCH CAUSES IMMENSE CONTROVERSY!

 

Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!    (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Controversies Involving Science Affect Everyone!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

When scientists dispute something, attention generally is given to their research data and arguments, but not to the individual people.  As a followup to the materials about disputes between scientists presented in Part I, Part II, and Part III, this article examines an individual scientist who is courageously active in disagreeing with some other scientists about several public health issues.  Prof. Stephanie Seneff currently is best known for her proposed identification of a direct cause for the childhood malady, autism.  She vividly exemplifies how unusual new thoughts by a scientist and new approaches to scientific research can produce unexpected advances for science and society.  Following some introductory material, I will let Dr. Seneff speak for herself via some video recordings.

Who is Prof. Stephanie Seneff, and what does she investigate? 

Dr. Seneff is a very active product of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she is a Senior Research Scientist at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory ( http://people.csail.mit.edu/seneff/ ).  Her collegiate degree in Biophysics was followed by a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (1985).  For her earlier investigations, she used computation to model human audition and to develop understanding about language in conversations between humans and computers.  More recently, Dr. Seneff has sought to identify correlations between human disease states, known biochemical and physiological pathways, and alterations produced by pathophysiology in diseases; this approach necessitates surveying extensive bodies of knowledge, but can lead to recognition of hidden interactions causing the known signs and symptoms of a disease.  She has fruitfully applied this research approach to heart disease, brain and nervous sytem pathology, and developmental disorders; her findings and proposals are new, provocative, and often run counter to commonly held and widely supported beliefs in medical science (e.g., she has suggested that statin drugs actually hurt heart disease patients, and that reduced cholesterol levels are bad). 

Prof. Seneff is a very controversial scientist.  She is curious, open minded, fascinated by details, and driven to find answers to research questions.  Current investigations center on her controversial conclusion that autism and certain other diseases are caused by the weed killer, glyphosate, from the popular agricultural herbicide, Roundup®.  Dr. Seneff’s conclusions and proposals immediately resulted in her being criticized by large commercial concerns; not only were her research results and conclusions questioned, which is perfectly good, but there also were very personal attacks.  She has never hesitated to vigorously push ahead with health-related research, in an effort to use her new scientific knowledge and insight to invite changes in current medical practices. 

To get to know Dr. Seneff and her work, I recommend the selected video presentations listed below (1-5).  These videos illustrate her background, controversial proposals, and commitment to science; they also give a glimpse into why curiosity and independent thinking are so highly important for research scientists.  Many other videos also are available on the internet, including some disagreeing with Dr. Seneff’s proposals. 

Concluding remarks. 

Prof. Stephanie Seneff is controversial because she is a very good scientific researcher!  If and when her proposal about what causes autism becomes proven and accepted, an explosion of remedial measures then will be taken immediately in order to prevent her startling prediction that by 2025 half of new births in the USA will have autism.  Even if she is mistaken, which I do not think will be the case, her controversial proposals serve to draw needed attention by researchers and government officials to critical health issues in the modern world. 

 

(1)  Inner Eye, 2014.  You must be nuts! – Dr. Stephanie Seneff interview – Part 1.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3x9zqTqSPFo

(2)  Biofilm, 2014.  How herbicides are killing us: Dr. Seneff, Part 1.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3HyfoNa2Sw .

(3)  Next News Network, 2015.  MIT doctor links glyphosate to autism spike – Dr. Stephanie Seneff.  Available on the internet at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zOlGf_MWsg .

(4)  The Institute for Responsible Technology, 2015.  Gluten and GMOs, Jeffrey Smith interviews Dr. Stephanie Seneff.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVo51yLnohY .

(5)  Mercola, 2012.  Dr. Mercola interviews Dr. Stephanie Seneff on statins.  Available on the internet at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hbNSHPco0g .

 

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