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The Eighth Day of Creation and the weight of knowledge

18 Jul The Eighth Day of Creation and the weight of knowledge

There have been several obituaries for Horace Judson recently [1][2], and today Larry Moran in an excellent Sandwalk blog post talked about the lack of knowledge of the history of their field by molecular biologists

modern researchers are completely unaware of the history of their field. That’s partly because the work on bacteria and bacteriophage—where the basic concepts were often discovered—is no longer taught in biochemistry and molecular biology courses. This leads to the false idea, as expressed in the press release, that all new discoveries in eukaryotes are truly new concepts that nobody ever thought of before. The solution to this problem is to make all students read The Eighth Day of Creation.

I liked the quote from John Hawks too

I suppose we could rephrase Santayana: Those who ignore history feel privileged to reinvent it.

Judon wrote the truly epic book “The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology” which describes in detail the development of molecular biology from extensive interviews with its early pioneers. It’s a great read, his writing style is easy and absorbing, and the content fascinating. Despite not having yet finished the book, I can recommend it very highly indeed. What? Wait, you haven’t finished the book yet? How good can it really be? It’s a great book, but one that suffers from poor publishing by Cold Spring Harbor Press. Let me get my excuses out of the way now; I’m really busy, have little time for reading things that aren’t journal articles, and have a big backlog of other books to read. Yet these aren’t the real reasons. The real reasons are that it is enormous and only comes as a paper copy. The book, at 714 pages, is very weighty and thick even as a paperback. It is about as thick as a single volume of this size can be, and of course the pages themselves don’t open out very flat. It is pretty heavy and I have decided not to take it on holiday with me based on this alone. That is a shame, as holidays are when I catch up on reading.

There is a simple solution however – release it as an eBook. I would love to read this as a Kindle book on my iPad and be able to take it anywhere and just dip into it. It wouldn’t matter then how long it was. What is more I would be able to look stuff up when sitting in seminars and journal clubs, just quickly checking the history of a topic. Lastly I would like to be able to highlight and comment on sections. I have an absolute phobia of writing in books, I just can’t do it. Somehow (almost religiously) I know it is just plain wrong, even though I can’t think of a single reason why. I have no such qualms about marking up an eBook however, highlighting sections and adding notes. These notes and highlighted sections are searchable and easily found again- very useful indeed.

Although I really agree with Larry Moran’s concluding sentence “The solution to this problem is to make all students read The Eighth Day of Creation” I think that the chances are remote without good modern publishers helping the process along. Do something useful today, go to the Amazon webpage of Eighth Day of Creation and click on the link (usually just under the picture) to request a Kindle version from the publisher.