Monday, April 18, 2005

Publications or disasters??

Last month I communicated two papers. Two more papers are ready. I am waiting for the permission from my boss to post them. It’s the worst time. A time of incubation; when all the hard work of last 5 years will be judged through these papers.

It reminds me some mails that I exchanged with one of my friend few months back.
One night he wrote me a mail. It was like this:

He was preparing for his professional exams while sitting on his bed. The table lamp was kept on the bed. All on a sudden he realized that the bed sheet had caught fire from the heat of the light of the table lamp. So he was amazed. He saw such an incident for the first time.

So I shot back a mail immediately to him. It was like this:

Ok, you do a few things. First, look into literature databases to know whether some one has already published such incident or not. Then you change the bed sheet of different colors but made up of same material. Then check, whether they are catching fire or not. Then use bed sheets of different materials. Try the same thing. Again do the experiments with various types of lamps and with varying exposure time. Repeat all those experiments at least thrice. Then jot down the data. Do factor analysis or cluster analysis which one you find suitable. Dig out the statistically significant observations. Then write down the whole story in a scientific paper format. Let your friends (?) read it and scratch your back. Then send it to a journal.

Now you wait. Wait another month. Mean while you can open your author account every day, just to make your day ugly. Then on an auspicious day, you get the reply from the editor with referee’s comments. And the fun begins now. One referee has raised really good questions. You get stimulated. You can even write down a new grant application based on this idea.

But hey! Wait. Read the comments of the second referee. He has asked, what happens if you spread cow dung over a bed sheet and then keep it bellow a lamp? Now you are in soup. Where does this cow dung come from? You scratch your head. Got agitated, then depressed. Any way, after two three days you start exploring the literature databases. This time your search command is: Cow dung AND bed sheet. Pfuuuuu….. After three four days of toil you write down all the answers to referees comment and re-write the whole paper a bit. And then re-submit it. Now pray again. Pray early in the morning and even before you go to sleep. If you are lucky you may get the article published just before your next promotion.

So it got published. And you are happy and excited. In the evening you ring up your girl friend and break the news: honey I have got a publication. Her reply: “so what?

You cannot help. When rape is inevitable enjoy it.

Hey I don’t say that; neither the story. HA HA HA!!!!
Abstraction, Theory and Biology:

Two three days back I posted a question in the Internet regarding use of ATP as energy currency in cell. It is quite amazing that only ATP is extensively used for energy storage, though all other nucleotides can be used energy storage molecules. This question must have an answer. Either I am ignorant or it has not been solved yet (most probably the first one). However I only got 4 replies and that too inconclusive. Even one person reminded that: "Always remember, biology, of all the sciences, has the fewest Laws."

This is a typical attitude I have always observed amongst many of the biologist. If any life form is dictated my physcio-chemical processes, then every thing can be explained by natural laws. We may be ignorant about many of them right now or may be we have not tried to explain them in the proper fashion. That’s the basic principle of Biochemistry. However I found that many of the biologists forget this and treat biology just as a compilation of observations. They always provide the lame logic that living system is too complex. (Remember here they usually use the word "complex" in layman’s term; not as complex system as defined in physics). In there believe system they are actually still in the age of "vitalism".

It is true that the history of development of Biology is quite different from other sciences like physics or chemistry. Historically Biology has developed as Natural History- compilation of information regarding living organisms. In the early days of biology there were very few options to setup any reductionist experiment with living systems. At the same time religion has a great shadow over people even who are working in the field of other pure sciences. Biologists were not exception. And as we are also part of this living world, it is always socially and psychologically problematic for us to consider that living systems are governed by natural laws.

Physics developed with a well titrated methodology: Observation ----> Abstraction -----> Theorization ----> validation . Many a time such abstractions crossed the barrier of general understanding and proposed some audacious thesises. Many of them got proved experimentally long after it was theorized. And now they are the most essential tools in physics. Chemistry also followed a similar path, holding the hand of physics. And in both of the cases, Mathematics helped as a natural language for abstraction. And that’s why in physics and chemistry we strongly believe in abstraction and theorization. Definitely experimental observations are important but those are not independent of theory.

As I have noted earlier, biologist usually put more importance to information gathering. And usually leave the job of theorization to mathematicians/physicists/Chemists. It is true we really know very little about living system even in terms of just information and it takes a lot of energy and time to gather that information. But that does not mean that we should not use our valuable energy for abstraction. In fact, history has shown that, such abstractions actually help us to discover many principles, which are otherwise neglected. Our strong believe in thermodynamic theories are the best example. Our strong believe in the conservation of mass and energy led us to the discovery of many sub-atomic particles.

There are similar examples in Biology too.