Friday, 21 November 2014

Human universe - are we alone?

I have to admit I was really disappointed with the second episode of Brian Cox's latest trip around the world documentary series but I was glad I gave it another chance. I'm a sucker for anything about the possibility of alien life and this 1 hour documentary summed up the possibility for life out there.
Some spoilers to follow.

 In one sense the numbers are stacked in life's favour with there being billions of potential stars and current data suggesting there are billions of planets that could sustain life. Cox does a good job of explaining why the odds vastly reduce when you consider the possibly unique event of the symbiosis that created eukaryotic life on our planet. He then reduces the odds further by introducing the Fermi paradox which states any intelligent life existing 10 million years prior to us would have fully colonised the galaxy. I guess they could be more adherent to the laws of Star Trek in not interfering or civilizations burn out before they can escape their gravity well.

The show ended well with the sobering thought that if we are the only intelligent beings* out there ** then we have a responsibility to protect this unique situation and to go out there and explore. I particularly like the latter idea (it should also help with preserving other life on earth) of us going out there and colonising (preferably empty planets as opposed to conquering others). I'm a firm believer of humanity having to create its own aliens - give us a few millenia on different planets separated by near impossible distances and we'll eventually evolve into our own Klingons and Ewoks.

Anyway - a solid episode that has me willing to give the remaining episodes a chance.

*Don't worry he acknowledges there's plenty of intelligence on our own planet - something I think we really need to acknowledge. His point was that none of these animals are physically capable of building things (with the exception of primates and possibly the octopus with some minor mutations) that would allow them to communicate beyond the stars.

** He sticks to the Milky way for what I assume is the fact that a) all bets are off when you include the universe (as you multiply the chance by at least 100 billion) and b) the distances between galaxies are vast even if you happened to be next door to an intelligent galaxy.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Biology on TV

Bit of a personal slam from a quote on "the Blacklist"

"anyone working with Cullen is doing so in isolation, illegally and for no good purpose"

As an aside, the show is fun but rarely has much biology in it. If anything it has the most glaring example of "why don't you perform a DNA test?" I can think of. It's like the show exists in a world where paternity testing doesn't exist.
Otherwise the biology is usually in the hands of people who could make billions using their amazing findings legitimately but decide to use them for "EEEVILL" instead. Case in point, the episode I quoted from where a biologist who came up with a cure for a disease decided to use it to blackmail people with as opposed to selling said cure. It would have been a dull episode though,
Another curious example of science was in an episode where [mild spoilers for an episode that aired a year ago] a scientist deliberately infects large groups of people with a disease (which he magically turned into a virally bourne version of a genetic disease) in order to find a person with natural immunity whom he could then study and find a cure. I'd like to see the reaction of the review panel looking at that grant outline!