Monday, 10 May 2010

This is how scientists get a bad name

I'm currently reading the interestingly titled Bats Sing, Mice Giggle by Karen Shanor and Jagmeet Kanwal for review on (see the review here). In it, I came across a phrase that stopped me in my tracks. It seemed to typify why people are often a little worried by scientists.

The context was a sensible one. It was explaining how scientists study the salamander because it has considerable regenerative properties, and we want to learn about this to see if there's anything we can make use of in helping human body regeneration. Fair enough. But then I came across this:

...neuroscientists have taken out the brain of a salamander, ground it up, and put it back in its cavity, and soon the salamander is able to function quite well again.

Leaving aside that worryingly vague 'quite well', I couldn't help but wonder what would make any scientist decide this would be an interesting thing to try. And whether they could resist going 'Mwah-hah-hah!' and rubbing their hands together as they did so.

I'm sure the research was valuable - and the outcome was certainly remarkable - but it's understandable why people might be a little concerned about the thought processes of some scientists. It's certainly the sort of experiment that needs to be very carefully communicated, a lesson both scientists and science writers should learn.

Image from Wikipedia

1 comment:

  1. Neural rewiring is an interesting phenomenon. Until recently it was thought that the various areas of the brain had fixed functions, and that they could not be reassigned. The classic counter example is Braille. Sighted people cannot read Braille, basically because they lack the brain power. But for blind people the optical cortex is redundant, and they can use this to provide the extra processing power needed to read Braille in real time. In other words, the brain fights back.