There's no such thing as a genetic defect. All genetic changes result from the decisions of a God or Intelligent Force.
A quarter of Americans believed that this is true. This absolutely floors me.
But it also has me wondering: do people understand what, exactly, a genetic defect is? Do they understand what DNA is beyond, say, mentionings in the O.J. Simpson case or paternity tests on Maury?
Another poll states that 80% of Americans believe the U.S. should create a "DNA bank" of its citizens. What exactly are they believing in, then?
There is a great divide between the scientific community and the average non-scientific layperson. And just before I enrolled in my Ph.D. program to begin my scientific career, it became clear to me how I'd like to use my knowledge: to educate others, in their terms, about what's going on in their bodies.
There are two truths about which I have been certain for most of my life: I love to write and create, and science is endlessly fascinating.
Back home, a large box is filled to the brim with papers I'd taped together to create books—stories I'd share via illustration before I could write words. As my language skills developed, so did my stories, as seen in the work of art below:
|"He wonderd he saw Christol did." I think it's supposed to say something|
about a girl named "Crystal" dying. I was about 4 years old here...
|Me in 4th grade, around|
the time I knew I wanted
to "discover a substance."
To spice it up a bit, I suggested to my group that we give our experiment a backstory: the county fair is approaching, and we want to make the 1st place winning apple pie. To do this, however, we must identify which apple has the slowest browning rate to keep the pie fresh and tasty.
Our presentation earned us an "A." In a side note, however, the professor wrote, "Too gimmicky."
In my junior year of college, a semester-long class assignment had us critically review a popular press article about a recent pharmaceutical breakthrough. The article contained so many errors that even my modest knowledge of pharmacy could register them. And among all of the popular press articles I could find for this particular study, the scientists themselves—those who had developed the treatment—authored none of them.
I didn't understand why the researchers weren't translating their own work for lay audiences. I didn't understand why I couldn't write about apple pies in my presentation. As a result, my 50-page undergraduate senior thesis in biology is some of the dullest, most confusing writing I've ever produced. And can you blame me?—it's not hard to be beaten down when reading hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers and their mind-numbing jargon. I'm proud of all the work I put into the project, but, in retrospect, rather embarassed by the final product.
Admittance to my neuroscience Ph.D. program was simultaneously one of the most exciting yet scariest moments of my life. I'm going to be Dr. Gaines! But...oh, crap, I have to be a poor, seemingly perpetual student during the most vibrant years of my young adult life, toiling away in a laboratory to compose a long, exhaustingly dull thesis about the 20% of my experiments that don't fail.
Naturally, as any paranoid soul of the 21st century is wont to do, I performed a Google search and found that scientific writing is...well, it's an actual thing—as in the same people writing about scientific breakthroughs aren't necessarily the same people reporting the scores of the weekend's Phillies/Braves game. And better yet, in many cases, it's advantageous to have a degree in the sciences.
I felt the same as I did when I was 9 years old and read A Wrinkle in Time. I found an intersection between science and words. I could teach people science, like the teaching assistant positions I so enjoyed, but better—for I could reach not just undergrads who voluntarily signed up for a science course, but the Average Joe picking up a magazine or opening their Internet browser to see the latest headlines on Alzheimer's research or advancements in neuroimaging. And I could make them understand it.
And that's the goal of this blog and my research as a young scientist: to make sure people understand what's going on, between the antagonists and deoxyribonucleic acids and medulla oblongatas and other scary words that are actually quite simple to understand.
At the young age of 22 (23 tomorrow!), I like to think I've already found my calling. And if I had to tell the little 4-year old illustrating decapitated girls what she'd have to do to get to this spot, I wouldn't tell her to change a thing.