Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Library: Experimental Biology

Brought to you by the Dead Professors Book Heap.

Experimental Biology
Richard W. van Norman
Prentice-Hall, 1963

This detailed and dated work is a pompous treatise on Science, how to worship it, how the 'layman' should come to an elementary understanding of centrifuges in order to better himself [sic] and how the Scientist Is Always Right.

Above, a microtome: Some things never change.
The Compound Microscope

ScopeScope room

[Left: Old scope. "Fig. 8-2: A recent model, high-grade microscope." Right: The second-newest of my lab's six scopes. Bells, whistles, laser table, etc.]

To the conservative old timer, some of the newer models hardly look like microscopes. Figure 8-2 shows the Leitz Labolux IIIa. [Ed: now Leica.] The body tube contains a set of prisms arranged to form the image at the eyepiece, as in the conventional microscope. The prism system, however, permits the tilting of the eyepiece for greater comfort and even allows the upper part of the body tube to be rotated.

Selection of Techniques

Most of the modern experiments in biology employ instruments, tools, or techniques assembled from the various physical sciences.... Many papers in the literature contain descriptions of complicated assemblies of parts put together for use in rather simple experiments. If such an instrument (or combination of instruments) is unique and expensive, or if it depends on principles not commonly used, it is likely to be called 'elegant.'... Some people, who are born gadgeteers, do all their experimenting with such instruments. It is fun and stimulating to the imagination.
Not all experimental research requires elaborate instrumentation, however. Even the most impassioned gadgeteer, with pliers for hands and vacuum tubes for brains, would agree that the most completely mechanized work is not necessarily the most 'scientific.'

Selection and Preparation of Organisms

In addition to the strict scientific aspects of choosing the organism which will best answer the question, there is no harm in remembering the feelings of the general public. Experiments on animals are very necessary, but they may seem cruel to the layman [sic] who has had little experience or training and who does not understand experimental research... Occasionally a group of do-gooders becomes fanatical about the use of animals in research. Picturing the biological scientist as a cruel, inhumane monster without a conscience, they even apply pressure to legislative bodies urging the passage of laws which would in fact stifle medical research, but these same persons are as willing as anyone else to accept modern medicine's ability to keep them alive longer.... Actually, modern biologists have an appreciation of animal life that the fanatics can never achieve. They never condone needless cruelty. [Ed: But sometimes they design experiments badly, and the net effect is the same.]