Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Stuff of Life

In The Stuff of Life, the main character Bloort 183 is an interplanetary biologist assigned to study the planet earth. After compiling his findings, he presents them to his leader Floorsh 727. This is the premise of a new educational graphic novel called The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA. I received this in the mail the other day. I don't know how I got on their list of review copy recipients, but I'm glad I did. I would love to receive any kind of graphic material for the purpose of review.

After reading selections of this book, I'm convinced that this book is a great example of how the medium of comics can be used to take material that might be complicating, confusing and dry -- and present it in a way that is entertaining, amusing and fun. As the main character Bloort presents his findings, he has to really break it down for his dim-witted boss. That makes it easier for people like me to grasp it as well!
In a recent interview, the artists involved in the project give their own insights.
Artist Kevin Cannon explains, "Complicated scientific concepts like DNA are best understood through viusal metaphors." He continues, "I dropped out of an A.P. biology course in high school because I was having trouble grasping the basics of DNA and genetics, so I guess my experience is having once been the ideal audience for this book."

If I were a science teacher who taught this subject matter, I would definitely want at least one copy of this book. I'm sure it would be useful to explain some material to students who just weren't "getting it". If possible, I'd get enough copies for a whole class and use it as a supplemental text. As a parent who sees more and more of this topic being covered in school, I'm grateful to have it for my kids to read. I think it will promote understanding of some difficult concepts.

That being said, I will also say that at times some of the controversial aspects of the subject matter come across a little like heavy-handed propaganda. For instance, the author questions whether objections to cloning are based on ethics or superstition. I'm also going to open up a huge can of worms here -- evolution. Now, I'm not a scientist. As an individual, I have come to believe in God and that there is much Truth revealed in the Bible. If I can go off on a tangent here, I think some of the quandaries in reconciling science to the Bible are based on misinterpretations and mistranslations. For example, the "Seven Days" of Creation presents a problem to a lot of thinking people. However, the Hebrew word translated day in Genesis 1 can also be translated age.
I recognize as a parent that it takes a huge leap of faith to believe in the super-natural and it's not Science's job to teach that. However, the book summarizes where life came from in this way

5 billion years ago (the earth) was no more than a river of dust and rocky
fragments circling...its sun. Over enough time, even dust clotting together can
gain enough mass to create a gravity chain reaction...The transmutation of base
elements and compounds jump-started by a supply of energy into self-perpetuating
It just all happened by itslef at random? I'm sorry -- I just don't buy it. To me, it takes more of a leap of faith to believe that! I guess the point I'm making is that while it isn't Science's job to teach faith -- it wouldn't hurt them to respect it.

"The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom." -Lady Bird Johnson


Ben Villarreal said...

You totally beat me to reviewing this, you jerk ;-) I also received a free random copy via my office mail box. Uh-oh...They're on to us comics folk, Andy!

Andrew Wales said...

I hope you still review it! I'd like to hear what you thought of it.

Jeffrey Weston said...

This is a great book. I'm half way through it and learning a lot.

As a cartoonist for a Skeptic comic ( this is a great education in science.