I love Crash Course

My next series is going to be a synthesis series. I'm going to review anatomy, physiology, histology, cell and molecular biology, biochemistry, and the oxygen and carbon cycles in the world around us. It sounds like a lot, I know (trust me, I know - I'm the one writing it!) but my goal, by the time I'm done, is that you can follow your breath in and out of your body, and see all the amazing things it does along the way, and follow the same breath in and out of the world around you, which means we'll also review what happens to the food you eat. It turns out that we are all connected, you and I, to this planet we walk upon.

Now, I have a fat stack of text books beside me as I write this, all of which I will be using to assemble what I learned in my molecular biology degree into an easy-to-follow review of this complex, interwoven process. You don't want the same stack of books I have, and you don't want to do the reading. Let's be honest - I'm not sure I do, either. So after I gathered my stack of books, I turned to my favorite series on the internet to do a brief (ha!) review.

Crash Course was created by vlogbrothers John and Hank Green, and the series I'm linking to for this particular post is all hosted by Hank - he's the scientist in the family. In Crash Course Biology, he reviews the biological systems in the world around us. We may use much of this material for this synthesis (or putting together) of systems, but there's probably stuff I won't get into as much, like the comparative anatomy. When it comes to the anatomy, I'll lean on Crash Course Anatomy and Physiology. His Crash Course Chemistry will be good to understand some of the biochemistry involved (though he never directly reviews biochemistry), and Crash Course Ecology is almost certain to help tie the planet into this review of our systems.

I invite you to pick a series and dive in. While you're waiting for me to get things moving, this will help you have a better understanding, a better visualization, than you might currently have. And for those of you in biology programs, it might just help on those pesky finals...

NB: While Crash Course and SciShow both have Patreon pages to support them, this material is and always will be free to viewers. If you like it enough to support them, go for it (we do), but if you just can't, don't worry - it's still here for you to view! And no, I'm not getting paid for this endorsement - not that I'd object. ;)

Bias shows up in really strange places...

In the history of the Nobel Prize, a total of 4 people have won the prize more than once. Linus Pauling is one of those four people. He won the award in Chemistry in 1954, and then again for Peace in 1962. This makes him one of only two people to have won the award in two unrelated fields (Marie Curie being the other). He's also the only person not to have shared his prizes - these prizes were not shared with other scientists (as with the discovery of the structure of DNA, credited to Watson & Crick) or humanitarians. Pauling's work is credited with having helped found both the fields of quantum chemistry (think about our understanding of the atom, and how that shapes our comprehension of how chemistry functions - for instance, that bonds are about the sharing or exchange of electrons) and molecular biology, or the application of chemistry to the biological sciences and the exploration of biology on the molecular level - including his own search for the structure of DNA. In fact, it was Pauling who discovered the secondary structure of proteins - alpha helices and beta pleated sheets.

Pauling's genius in the fields of chemistry and biochemistry in the beginning of his career makes his approach to dietary supplements, starting with vitamin C, even more surprising. In this article from The Atlantic, Dr. Paul Offit discussed Pauling's views on vitamins, minerals, and other supplements. The problem, it turns out, isn't that there aren't any studies examining the impact of these supplements. No - given Pauling's faith in them, multiple studies were done - the support for the claims being made simply didn't exist. No matter how much Linus Pauling wanted extra-dietary vitamins to be panaceas, the evidence from studies repeatedly demonstrated that not only were these supplements not helpful, some can actually be harmful.

The distinction between extra-dietary supplements and what is consumed in food is apparently important. The problems seen from consuming supplements as pills, tablets, or other dosage forms can be avoided if the nutrients instead come from dietary sources. In other words, instead of taking an iron supplement, consuming red meat, green vegetables, and nuts is safer.

All of this just demonstrates that it is important to rely on repeatable, measurable evidence rather than our gut instincts when exploring science. Even geniuses can be lead astray.