Field of Science

First lap around the sun

The blog's first anniversary today! And it's still alive! *amazement*

The initial intent wasn't so much to create 'the protist blog' (as it's headed right now), since I wasn't sure I'd be able to do much science blogging, especially from peer reviewed sources. It started out stumbling about as a place to write the occasional rants and musings, which mostly happened to be at least somewhat related to science. But my growing obsession with protists seeped into this blog, and the whole thing kind of 'evolved' into a protist blog.

Since I don't have anything 'prepared' for today, let's reflect on the past year, blog-wise:
- introductory post, some slime moulds, then fled offline for a couple weeks...

September - ranted about uninterested classmates on the first day of the protistology course; discussed fundamentalism (and why I avoid politics); fungi and slime moulds; first Sunday Protist - Tetrahymena, wherein I exhibit the very hyperadaptationist thinking I have by now come to despise >_> ; post on memetic infections(a bit too idealistic); exploding ciliate =(; and a rant on pluralism I'm still kinda proud of.

October - trippy plant epidermis micrographs; cool picture of ciliate diversity; weird protist features: kDNA, algal vision and cytotaxis.

November - reaction to the US elections (holy crap, politics! on my blog!); my own clip of Saccinobaculus motility, to my knowledge, the only publicly available one on the internet!; an introduction to the protist 'kingdom'; pictures from a moss microorganism adventure.

December - EXAMS! *shudder* ...then internetlessness...


January - Declaration of ridiculously overly ambitious plans to go aroud the Keeling et al. 2005 tree. Haha! Ha! Funny! But I never wrote any of that, shhh!; excerpts of a 'lab notebook' attempt from age 9 or 10... (I was so totally not a nerd... ok, maybe just a little bit.)

February - introduction to and brief history of protistology, was meant to be part of a series, but I really don't work well with structure; intro to my current research (stomatal development), I do intend to write more about cool secrets of their developmental biology sometime...

March - obligatory apology for slow posting; public apology to prokaryotes for calling them structurally 'simple and uninteresting', upon finding out about multicellular fungal-like Streptomyces.

April - mystery cysts (feel free to ID them! please!); my essay on ciliate genome rearrangements for protistology; squashed cockroach guts under polarised light (yumm!).

May - a reflection upon science (while running a gel); astonishment at the fact the PCRs worked despite one of my pipets having a 25% error (and photographic evidence thereof).

June - insects and jumping spiders; discussion of the state of memetics.

July - finally get my act together and start updating at a marginally acceptable rate! Post on Why should cell biologists care about evolution?; algal parasite that shoots bare nuclei into host cell cytoplasm; defending the tree concept; rant about the stupid 'gene for [X]' phrase that gets thrown around in the media.

August - Story behind 'Psi'; cute phaeodarian; termite gut microforay; Myth of evolutionary ascent; and you know the rest...

Reflection - Benefits of blogging
That probably sufficiently bored everyone. Personally, I find it interesting to see thinking change with time - while sometimes it is a bit embarassing to look back on some older ideas and thoughts, it's satisfying to know you've moved on and developed somewhere. I think that's one reason to blog - you can trace the evolutionary history of your thinking! Kinda like leaving a fossil record behind at regular intervals...

Blogging also helps think more deeply about things - being careful about what you write (and fact-checking obsessively) helps correct some of your own misconceptions, and explore topics you normally ingore. Furthermore, I found it gives me an excuse to read stuff I otherwise would never need to. As much as I'm fascinated by random obscure organisms, reading about them just for the hell of it has to go to the rock bottom of my priority list; however, if I'm reading to later relay some of the information to the public, it becomes more important and...meaningful.

I'll emphasise the importance of meaningful reading for a moment. Perhaps this is just yet another facet of my own insanity, but I find it incredibly hard to just read something without a proper context. That's not to say there's a lack of curiosity, but rather that I have problems retaining information unless I have something to do with it. Even if I'm reading for pleasure, I'll hardly remember anything unless I can apply it to some sort of real (not necessarily practical) task. Taking notes helps somewhat, but one wouldn't call notes as a real product of any kind. Having a real research project definitely accelarates the learning process by a lot, but there's a physical limitation on how many of those you can manage simultaneously. So the next best thing would be...writing about it for other people!

This, in my current view, is part of the problem with your average education techniques - your 'task' isn't genuinely necessary or interesting enough; something as blatantly artificial as a final exam is insufficient to 'seal' the information you obtain for its sake. You cram, scribble in intense mental agony for a few hours, and then the entire course simply evaporates from your mind. There's nothing controversial there. But even if you're fascinated in the subject, simply reading the textbook for the sake of learning it is not enough. Not for my particular hive of madness anyway. There's needs to be a need. And preferably, a meaningful one.

Personally, I learn a lot from writing research essays. It's weird perhaps, but those force you to explore and extract data from the literature to carefully, yet in an interesting manner, argument your thesis. This, unlike solving exam problems, is a creative activity, one demanding judgement and sound reasoning from the writer. And you have the freedom to explore the available knowledge - unlike exams, where this knowledge is artificially restricted.

As for less selfish benefits of blogging: perhaps some of my writing could could at least encourage someone, somewhere, to stop and examine topics like protistology or memetics or whatever else I blabber about here. Especially protistology. It's such a neglected, marginalised field in biology (partly due to the traditional zoology/botany dichotomy), and if I could at least convince someone to take a second look and enjoy some of its wonders, I'd be quite happy and satisfied! I don't know how well I succeed at that, but hopefully there's some positive result out there. I wish I could actually write decently...

After all, I did steal the idea for the blog title from Carl Sagan's Demon Haunted World, the chapter called "The Marriage of Skepticism and Wonder". Science (ideally) is driven by wonder, and steered by skeptical inquiry. It seems that while the public is generally low on the skepticism, science tends to lag behind in the wonder department. Especially the way it's portrayed to the public. Perhaps, eventually, the naive wonder will get beaten out of me by the harsh realities of academic life - but for now, I'll enjoy its sweet euphoria.

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