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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

"Bits of DNA" from Lior Pachter


We live in a scientific culture populated simultaneously, by increasing numbers of specialists who, even in the same general field, can sometimes barely communicate with one another, and, on-the-other-hand, increasing numbers of “polymaths” who cross boundaries and work in multiple fields at once. This latter category has long fascinated me, especially since the most important future knowledge/findings may well come from them (though specialists too have much to contribute).
Lior Pachter is one such multi-disciplined individual. He calls himself “a computational biologist” though his PhD. from MIT is in mathematics, while his work focuses on genomics and crosses the boundaries of statistics, biology, and computer science. One of his longish blog posts is a favorite of mine, relating to the cross-cultures of biology and math (a really rich read):

[...Another of his posts that is a long-time favorite, by the way, is related to Common Core, education, and math problems (again, very rich with ideas):

I often can’t follow the depth and detail of Lior’s biology blogposts, but that doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the range and manner of his thinking.

While he has been at UC Berkeley for many years, he moves to Caltech (one of his alma maters) next year; a great addition to their talented faculty... and what better place to be working on cutting edge science.

The general field of “mathematical biology” has grown substantially in the last decade (not sure it even existed way back when I was in college), but it’s the sort of field requiring great care — like “Big Data” and other algorithmic areas it can be fraught with misunderstanding or misuse… Pachter seems to approach it with the necessary care and critical eye… and, as a bonus, engages in public communication about it (many scientists don't bother).  He is also a strong proponent of 'open access,' and doesn't shy away from controversy either (sometimes called a 'gadfly'), though I won't delve into that.

I’ve written previously of my delight in Jim Propp’s rich math blogposts for general readers; and broadening out, have cited Brian Hayes' blogposts, which, even when not on math, are fun and thought-provoking for math enthusiasts. And then there is Scott Aaronson's "Shtetl-Optimized" I've noted previously as perhaps my favorite math-related (but wider-ranging) blog (and I never know what to expect from Scott!).  So I’ll add Pachter’s blog ("Bits of DNA") to this list (broadening out still further to more biology than math), of blogs that really shouldn’t be missed, even if not your particular field:

[p.s…. I have no personal connection to Dr. Pachter, beyond an admiration for his online presence.]



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