Category Archives: Scientific research

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Why are there imperfect mimics?

Katatrepsis

A few colleagues and I recently had a paper published in Nature on “A comparative analysis of the evolutionary of imperfect mimicry”. Those of you fortunate to have a Nature subscription can read the paper here.  Alternatively, you can email me and I’ll send you a copy.  Unfortunately, I can’t make the paper available due to issues with copyright from Nature (see elsewhere for details of scientists’ love-hate relationship with publishers…) but I can summarise the paper here.

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War or Police metaphor in immunology?

Immune modeling

I am concerned about the use of the police and war metaphor in immunology; you can have a look at my previous post. I find it very difficult to think outside of this specific box. We are taught immunology with this metaphor. We told to communicate about immunology with this metaphor. I have the feeling that I face a wall when I try to think differently.

When you try to avoid the political extremism of this metaphor, it is difficult not to go into an other extreme, into a caricature of the opposite position. Indeed, we could be tempted by a peace and love metaphor (ref 1), but this would  be such a caricature.

I chose here to take a political direction to give an example of a way to rethink the metaphor. I agree that science should avoid politics. But today for the sake of thinking outside of the…

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Which metaphors for immunology?

Immune modeling

Many good articles have been published on the use of metaphor in science and in particular in biology (ref 1&2).

I will try to sum up a few questions about the metaphors used in immunology following the discussion of the conference given by Michel Morange at IHPST.

First, what are the metaphors used?

– The metaphor of the immune system being endowed with the mission of a police, or to make war : Indeed words such as “defence”, “attack”, etc…. are very frequently used. Even if immunologist will answer that they are aware that it is a metaphor, I am worried about the effect of such large use. Even if the metaphor may be discussed by the community, this does not appear to the general public that is only exposed to this war or police metaphor. One example shows that it is even the way of presenting immunology that is…

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Science writing as art form

This quote from Michael Regnier of The Guardian, writing about “science writing” as a form of literary expression rather than reportage, expresses my thoughts on writing creatively about science rather perfectly. And Regnier gives the example of Italo Calvino’s Mr. Palomar for the win.

“But let’s not forget that writing is an art form as well as a tool. Let’s take inspiration from the science we report and, from time to time, experiment with the way we write about it.”

Observing for beauty

The Scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so. He studies it because he takes pleasure in it; and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful.

– Jules Henri Poincare (fieldnotes from “Field Notes on Science and Nature”

An interesting look at using skeletal remains and historical reports to reconstruct the geographic distribution of a vector-borne disease.

Contagions

England once looked very different. Much of southern Britain was marshland for most of the island’s occupied history. These bogs, fens, and marshes ensured that areas of virtual wilderness persisted  from before Roman Britain through the Norman period and beyond. Despite the difficulties of using fenlands, these areas were not only occupied throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, but important centers like Croyland, Bardney, and Ely eventually developed in the marsh.

The largest fenland region was known as ‘the Wash’.  This low-lying region drained four rivers into  a square bay of the North Sea that forms the corner between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. In Anglo-Saxon times, this tidal marsh and bog was a vast border region between the region of Lindsey and East Anglia.  Places like Croyland and Ely were islands in the wetlands.  The eighth century Life of Guthlac describes the environment of Croyland when Guthlac arrived:

There is…

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