With the headlines screaming “age-reversing” possibilities regarding the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard University’s results with mice telomerase manipulation, I felt a bit of cold water was in order. I am as excited as can be about serious evidence for how important telomeres and telomerase is for anti-aging medicine, don’t get me wrong. But that evidence doesn’t mean there is going to be a longevity pill in our hands this year, this decade, or even this century. And more than a few folks with a grasp of science better than mine agree.
Thankfully, I’m not the only one. My fellow Discover blogger Jennifer Welsh has a great post on 80 Beats about why the discovery, though exciting, is far from a genuine anti-aging solution. The Harvard team showed the following. Mice engineered to lack telomerase aged prematurely. When given telomerase treatments, the mice rejuvenated to age-appropriate health without adverse side-effects. That’s it. That’s the extent of the discovery.
It still remains to be seen if telomerase treatments can delay normal aging, reverse normal aging, or extend life in any way in mice. From there scientists have to then figure out what side-effects there are, why those side-effects occur, and then somehow translate the results to human beings. In short, the Harvard team only confirmed the hypothesis that telomerase in mice impacts the aging process and that it may have potential uses in treating premature aging. Hypotheses beget hypotheses. And not all our hypotheses hinge on mice. Read More
I’m a science educator. I often think, nay obsess, on how I can do my part to help bring more scientific literacy into everybody’s daily life. In a recent blog post entitled The Myth of Scientific Literacy, worthy of a read, Dr. Alice Bell opines that if we (scientists, educators, politicians) are going to plead the case for increased science literacy, then we should do a better job of defining just what we mean by “science literacy.” She says:
Back in the early 1990s, Jon Durant very usefully outlined out the three main types of scientific literacy. This is probably as good a place to start as any:
- Knowing some science – For example, having A-level biology, or simply knowing the laws of thermodynamics, the boiling point of water, what surface tension is, that the Earth goes around the Sun, etc.
- Knowing how science works – This is more a matter of knowing a little of the philosophy of science (e.g. ‘The Scientific Method’, a matter of studying the work of Popper, Lakatos or Bacon).
- Knowing how science really works – In many respects this agrees with the previous point – that the public need tools to be able to judge science, but does not agree that science works to a singular method. This approach is often inspired by the social studies of science and stresses that scientists are human. It covers the political and institutional arrangement of science, including topics like peer review (including all the problems with this), a recent history of policy and ethical debates and the way funding is structured
On the first point, I do think that there are some basic science facts which should be required fodder in K-12 education. From my field alone, people should not only know that Earth orbits the sun, they should know that our year is based upon the time takes Earth to complete the journey. Don’t laugh. On my last birthday, when I told folks that I’d completed another orbit of the Sun, a distressing number of them did not understand the implication and, upon further questioning, didn’t know that Earth’s orbital period was the basis of one year. K-12 students should know that the Moon orbits Earth, why it goes through phases, and given it’s significance (in particular for several religious holidays), that our month is based upon that orbital period. Finally, everybody should know why we have seasons.