science commentary

Science and cultural fascism

A leading scientist has become the victim of feminist overreach.

by T.J. Nelson

science commentary

On the Internet, no one can tell whether you're a dolphin or a porpoise

What's more important: curing cancer or never offending anybody? You might think it's not even a close call. And for a lot of people, apparently, it's not. But not the way you would think.

Tim Hunt is an esteemed cancer researcher, Nobel laureate, and respected biochemist. Everyone in the field knows who he is and what he accomplished. For a time I worked at the same institute (the Marine Biological Laboratory) where he had discovered cyclin. My discovery was that I hated sea urchins, and I decided to study the brain instead.

I have fond memories of MBL, though. It was there that I invented what I consider to be the best tongue-twister of all time:

Sixty-six shiny coarsish sloshed socialists shall stylishly schmooze slushy shyster shiksas at the seashore.

Not a tongue-twister, you say? Try pronouncing it out loud, and prepare for tongue surgery.

Here's another one, which has the advantage of actually making sense:

The socialists sprinkle soy sauce on their sushi at the seashore.

Out there in the vast cesspool that occupies the space where a culture should be, Tim Hunt was forced to resign from his university position for saying something hideously terrible:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls ... three things happen when they are in the lab ... You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.“

My reaction when I heard that was: Yes, okay, that's nice ... but tell me ... what was that terrible thing he said? A 72-year-old guy makes a wistful comment about how life was decades ago and people—even some conservatives—think it's a firing offense? Devotion to the feminist cause is one thing. Fanaticism and tunnel vision are another.

Tim Hunt is right. Women have been known to cry in the lab. It's not fun to watch, but it's a fact of life. Science is frustrating sometimes. I knew one postdoc who was so stressed out by her Harvard job that for a time we couldn't ask her where her samples were without eliciting tears. Another one had so much trouble understanding the King-Altman derivation in enzyme kinetics class that she broke into sobs.

It's preposterous that we're living in a culture where mentioning something this mundane will destroy your career. My fellow scientists sometimes criticize me for speaking out on political matters. But if we do not, how can we complain when the twittermobs come after us?

Here is what is really important:

In the early 1980s Tim Hunt and his graduate student Jon Pines discovered a protein in sea urchin eggs called cyclin which regulates cell division. Cyclin levels change dramatically throughout the cell cycle. It is rapidly destroyed (by the ubiquitin mediated proteasome pathway) and then re-synthesized at specific time points during cell division. Cyclin binds to a variety of specific proteins called cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), forming different protein complexes. Once bound to cyclin, these kinases are activated, permitting the relevant step in the cell cycle to occur.

In cancer, cell division is out of control. Since drugs that block or inhibit the kinases, known as Cdk inhibitors, prevent cell division, it was thought that they could be useful for treating cancer. Some cancer cells have elevated levels of Cdks. Unfortunately, more information is still needed: some cells can still proliferate in the absence of Cdk4 and Cdk2. Knocking out all Cdks could block cell division in healthy cells as well. Nonetheless, finding a cure to cancer is inconceivable without an understanding of cyclin.

Fascinating stuff, and a spectacular achievement for our civilization. But to a cultural fascist, none of that matters.

See also:

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jun 16, 2015; revised jun 19, 2015; updated sep 15, 2015


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