Tw**t of the day: “Epigenetic poetry”

May 22, 2016 • 8:00 am

Antonio Regalado is the Senior Editor for Biomedicine at MIT Technology Review. Sadly, given his position he seems unable to distinguish between reality and well-written but incorrect descriptions of reality. “Epigenetic poetry” indeed. If you want lyrical science, first be sure it’s good science.

UPDATE: In the comments, reader suggested that Regalado was being sarcastic here, and, if so, it’s pretty good sarcasm. Sadly, it was indistinguishable from postmodernism by not just me, but by at least one other writer. While sarcasm that’s indistinguishable from enthusiasm is bad sarcasm, this is just enough over the line to suggest that it isn’t serious.

How dare those tedious literalists disturb our sonorous epigenetic poetry?

15 thoughts on “Tw**t of the day: “Epigenetic poetry”

  1. Amazingly, as I prepare for breakfast with a group of psychologists (we’re at a conference), this morning I’m not so offended by epigenenetic poetry or other ways of knowing or even the Catholic iconography at our setting, despite hiding the crucifix in my room in a drawer.

    Dislike that Regalado adjectivized as tedious those of us who know that Muhkerjee’s NYer piece mischaracterized the science.

    But I have methylation data. And I’m an epidemiologist. So, I’m also one of the people caught in the dangerous stream of poetic wonder.

    But this morning I feel palely poetic and didn’t sleep well. I bet some of my genes are methylated differently than they would be had I slept well.

    Invisibly marking the passing state of being (even Tippet-esk) in Chicago a few days,

    a hidden likely meaningless chemical here and there,

    differentially placed in fat and muscle tissue.
    No causality, just description, just some bad poetry before coffee and a day of analysis, dreams, and hope for discovery.

  2. I feel bad for Mukherjee. MukherjeeGate is just sad.

    But not so bad that I won’t say – also because I have a moment – The writing seems to seize upon Dawkins’ approach, but then tries too hard to get too much out of it.

    For example,- and off the top of my head, skipping citations/details – Dawkins’ “survival machines” part in The Selfish Gene, to me anyway, was very exciting to read. I remember the first time reading it. He sets up the important points of the argument, times the delivery for the end of the chapter, before dropping the powerful, visceral, easy-to-understand – and possibly easy to invent as a writer – metaphor of a “survival machine”.

    But if he had skipped the setup, I think it would sound like
    e.g. that part about the histones and DNA breathing or whatever that Mukherjee wrote.

  3. I remember reading one of Dan Ariely’s books, The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty, in which he describes studies that indicate that more creative minds also tend to be more prepared to tell lies and distortions.

    I don’t know how robust the studies are, but when someone tries to dismiss literalism and claim something as a “metaphor” or as “poetry” (as though that was OK), it definitely pops up in the back of my mind.

  4. Perhaps Antonio Regalado is simply pointing to the fact that “The New Yorker” is a literary magazine that regularly publishes opinion, not a peer-reviewed scientific journal. “Epigenetics” as it is commonly used doesn’t seem to have a widely agreed upon meaning.

  5. The Ptolemaic view of the terran system of planets orbiting around the earth is very poetically and beautifully described by Dante in “Paradiso” but I’m awfully sure it isn’t true.

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