Archive for June, 2011

Difference and Representation

In Michael Cook’s Forbidding the Wrong in Islam—an abridged version of his Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought— a striking difference of opinion amongst Muslim jurists is shown in the picture he paints of “the duty”—to forbid wrong. One sees differences amongst jurists about the legality of certain musical instruments; some jurists forbade all instruments while others allowed for the use of some in certain circumstances.  On a much more problematic level there is a wide variety of opinions on the issue of taking up arms in order to enjoin good and forbid evil; some scholars reserved the right of the use of the sword and force to forbid wrong for the state only while others held that individuals can choose to use force without any recourse to any social or political authority or consensus. The implications here are immense: How does a Muslim society run itself if the people take a variety of juristic opinions with the assumption that these are all “legitimate”?

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27

06 2011

Can You Believe What She’s Wearing?

Just last week, when I went to the local masjid to pray jumuah, I was told I wasn’t dressed properly. I left the house thinking I looked perfectly appropriate for prayer, but apparently my sleeves were too short. It was a hot day, and I chose to wear something a little shorter than I normally would have. The sleeves were a little revealing, sure, but probably not something you would notice unless you were looking for fault with someone. And there’s definitely nothing scandalous about my wrists, I assure you.

I’m also working on a project at the same masjid, and one of the other volunteers was worried about the way she dresses. She’d never been to this masjid before, but she wants to get involved. She has some great ideas and is very enthusiastic. But, her one worry is that someone will call her out on the fact that her shirt may be deemed too tight or that strands of her hair are showing.

While I’ve tried to reassure her, there’s no hiding the fact that Muslims can be pretty judgmental when it comes to other Muslims. I know it’s not too much of a stretch that someone at some masjid has probably told this woman that she’s not dressed properly.

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19

06 2011

(The Not So) Central Dogma of Molecular Biology

Original Diagram (circa 1958). Nature 226: 1198 (1970).

The Central Dogma was coined by Francis Crick in the late 1950s as the following:

The central dogma of molecular biology deals with the detailed residue-by-residue transfer of sequential information. It states that information cannot be transferred back from protein to either protein or nucleic acid.

Hence, the end process, which is protein production can never be reversed and always originates from the DNA sequence. There have been many analogies that sought to describe this concept in simpler terms. The famous house example is just one of many. In this example the instructions are the DNA, the copies are the RNA and the end products, which is the house, are the proteins. The information flow originates from the DNA to the protein, with the RNA being the intermediary. These products are what makes us who we are- at least physically. Some examples of this are our eye color, skin tone, and the size of our bodies. This is a very common analogy that is sometimes used to describe how our specific traits and characteristics are generated from tiny regions and fragments of DNA. Each step in the process is important and any mistake and/or error may result in cell death, or more dire consequences. Essentially, if given a string of DNA, we can predict the proteins that would be produced.

This is traditionally taught in modern textbooks and courses. However, as we build upon our knowledge through research and discovery, we find that it is not  so simple. There are numerous exceptions that were found in the past as well as presently. The more one reads the latest articles, publications and journal entries the more one doubts this molecular biology paradigm. Nonetheless, it is still a very general and important concept to grasp as it illustrates a fundamental concept.

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15

06 2011

Ramblings of a Working Mom

My daughter goes to a home day care two times a week while I work, and my mom watches her the remaining three days. Yesterday, when I picked Noora up from her home day care, she pointed to a wall where a thumbtack pinned 4 small pieces of construction paper together. Each paper had cotton balls torn apart and glued on the paper like clouds, and the paper also had the name of the child who created that particular cloud. Noora, my 18 month old artist, was clearly proud of her work. It was a bittersweet moment for me, with part of me thrilled that she has so much fun during her day care, and the other part of me sad that I did not spend the day with her making clouds from cotton balls.

It is the life of the working mom. I went back to work when Noora was almost 10 months old, and I had not spent more than a couple of hours away from her before that point. Before I went to work, I would look at her and think, You have no idea what is about to hit you… how can I possibly make this easy for you? We went through a long adjustment phase, and, while Noora is mostly settled into her new routine now, I still have days where I feel sad that I can not be the mom that I had envisioned myself to be.

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11

06 2011

Citizen Science: When Science becomes a Civil Duty

The notion that science is an abstract discipline—one that is only accessible to the few elite that are professional or trained—is slowly fading away with the expansion of citizen science. As new technologies are being used as revolutionary tools for rapid data analysis, gateways for volunteers with no formal training to become a part of the professional field have opened up.

According to Wikipedia

Citizen Science is a “term used for projects or [an] ongoing program of scientific work in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have no specific scientific training, perform or manage research-related tasks such as observation, measurement, or computation”.

In short, Citizen Science can be considered a layperson’s observations and research in a scientific endeavor that is incorporated into a larger study answering and solving a particular issue or a set of questions. Furthermore, studies are not confined to a particular sub-field in science, but may be applied to a broader spectrum of different fields ranging from genetics to physics. [1]

Though there is a modern form of Citizen Science that has expanded in the past few decades, it has origins in the past. Science as a profession is a relatively new idea. Centuries ago most scientists, including Benjamin Franklin and Charles Darwin made their living in other professions, but were still able to contribute to science tremendously. Historically, most of the contributions towards the field were through some form of citizen science. It was not until the late 19th century that science became a paid profession. Nonetheless, employment did not eliminate or disengage citizen scientists— especially in fields where skills in observation can be more important than expensive equipment like archeology and ecology.

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03

06 2011