Our lives are getting more complicated all the time. How many of us could explain Bitcoin to our parents (or children), or what an immunosuppressing agent actually does to us? What about something as mundane as what we should eat? There is a massive and growing body of information claiming to inform us all about diet. Yet, most of us, including me, aren’t really certain about many aspects of human metabolism — beyond basic needs such as, vitamins, minerals, and calories, there is a plethora of unknowns and variables.
Scientific explanations exist in different layers. The least technical are articles in mainstream media. Some of these are well written and informative; although it can be a challenge to know which ones those are — the source matters. The Economist and the New York Times, for example, have reputations for good science reporting, and many websites and books (I’ve listed some of them on another page) are good sources of information. Alternatively, if we drill down to the reports in the working scientific literature, these are usually sound, but very few people (I speak for myself, but I’m pretty sure the generalization is correct) can understand most of it.
In between the gloss of the daily news and the granular of the working scientific literature there’s room for the kind of explanation that I am trying to provide on this site. Information for people who want to understand how things work at a greater depth than provided by a daily newspaper or television news broadcast, but who don’t have the broad expertise to delve into the primary literature. A kind of Goldilocks project, aimed at the scientifically curious.
I’m Vern Paetkau, a life sciences academic with a post-retirement interest in scientific education. I’d like to help people understand the science behind some of the everyday events in our lives. Welcome to my “Common Science Space” website; a space focusing on the science of common things, with a common sense approach. Like the late David MacKay, I believe we need facts and numbers, not more adjectives, to try to understand the important science and technology issues of the day. There are many such issues, including health, global climate change and energy. In addition, there are some things that are just plain. . . interesting, or fun, that I want to write about.
Feel free to respond to anything you see on the site, or to suggest topics. If you disagree with something, or have additional information, let me know, and please tell me what you are basing your comments on. I’m happy to learn and to change my opinions, and the contents of the site, based on new information.
The picture at the top shows men harvesting “Marquis wheat”, a hybrid which was identified in 1903. This was two years before the term “Genetics” was invented to define the new science, which would focus on the “genes”, a term invented in 1901. Marquis was created by crossing the old-country “Red Fife” (of renewed interest to bakers as a tasty heritage grain) and an Indian grain called “Hard Red Calcutta”, which matured earlier. The resulting genetic hybrid, called “Marquis”, ripened early enough to yield crops during the limited growing season of the Canadian prairies, but was of such high quality that it quickly became the wheat of choice on millions of acres from Nebraska to Saskatchewan.
The men in the picture are stacking the bound sheaves of wheat into piles called “stooks”, which would later be forked onto wagons and taken to stationary harvesters. The scene looks disarmingly bucolic; in fact, stooking was backbreaking labour.