The Thursday Thesis - 17/10/2019
As a discipline and a protocol, science is in the business of proving itself wrong – or at least it should be. In an ideal World, all knowledge is considered to be contingent and subject to upgrade at any time by new and more provable ideas, based upon evidence.
But often, new ideas which challenge the accepted wisdom are poo-pooed and dismissed for reasons which have more to do with academic tenure and money than science and evidence.
Archaeology has a particularly hard time explaining why a good number of artefacts and numerous megalithic structures conflict with the accepted timeline for mankind and civilisation – despite the fact that only one of these anachronistic artefacts is sufficient evidence to contradict accepted theory.
Nutrition advice has taken decades to sidle away from the old Food Pyramid built on the corrupt and shoddy “research” of Ancel Keys – the doctor who led the charge toward low fat, high carbohydrate diets in the US and later the World. Despite the shocking rate of obesity and heart disease, the medics and nutritionists clung like limpets to Keys’ hypothesis.
Across the sciences and academia, professionals tend to like things to stay the same and to make changes slowly: large paradigm shifts are uncomfortable and can potentially make a career built on the accepted theory look particularly shaky.
Against this backdrop I’m amused to watch science trying to sidle away from its previous insistence that genetics was supremely powerful in shaping how we live and die. For as long as I can remember the scientific line was “It’s in your genes...” and that you’ll have heart problems, die young, develop cancer or whatever ghastly condition is flavour of the month, based on the latest snippet of AGCT code ripped from the Human Genome Project.
But it turns out that genes are not the be-all and end-all of life after all – who knew?
There’s been a gradual loosening of genetics’ grip on things over the last decade or two, and the emergence of an over-arching field known as “Epigenetics”, meaning “upon genetics”. Epigenetics is the study of influences even more powerful than genetics – diet, exercise, behaviour, environment and so on.
What should be trumpeted from the rooftops of every lab and schoolhouse is that we are not slaves to our genes – we have choices, whatever our genetic potential. Whatever hand we are dealt by our inheritance, we have the ability to materially affect our outcome: we are no longer the passive executors of our genetic code after all.
Our genetics give us only potential outcomes, but it’s becoming obvious from the research that since we each have to power to choose how we live, what we eat, how we move and how we think – we each have some degree of influence over how our genetic code operates.
Once upon a time, Geneticists told us we were destined to be victims of our genes, but the new Epigenetics frees us from the heaviest chains of genetic determinism.
What a pity they couldn’t come up with a better name than “Epigenetics” – it sounds kinda like Big S Science can’t quite let go of Big G Genetics, or is it just me?
© Neil Cowmeadow 2019
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