One book a week
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
― Jorge Luis Borges
Written on the last day of 2019:
I planed to read on average one book per week at the beginning of 2019. Speedy progress was made in the first half of the 2019. In summer and autumn, I had faced a lot of troubles and spent all my time on maintaining my dying self-esteem. Towards the end of the year, I finally regained my peace and excitement in research but did not get the chance to rekindle the momentum for reading. Thanks to the early half of 2019, I still finished 54 books this year.
Progress (last update: Dec 31, 2019):
52 Finished (I like most of the books, but the books I select to read are based on personal taste; the ones I would recommend to anybody are in bold):
Reading is a luxury, and if there is anything I feel privileged to have, that is my appetite, time, and money for books. At the beginning of this year, I decided to set a reading challenge for 2019 -- one book per week. So hopefully, I will finish 52 by the end of Dec. I did not think I could have nearly enough time and dedication to finish 52 books at the beginning, but halfway through the year, I am now convinced I don't have to limit myself by it.
Most of the books on my reading list are recent (published 2016-2019), but I also picked up a couple of classics that I haven't read when younger.
Goodreads is a great website to find book reviews and new titles to add to your reading list; I also rely on book reviews from newspapers and magazines, best selling charts, and Bill Gates's blog. I spend time "reading" audio books in the morning with a slow breakfast and take time to get ready for the day (I highly recommend getting an audible membership and take advantage of the Amazon deals); in the evening before sleep, on days I don't have better things to do, I read Kindle books or iBooks on iPad (I actually have two spare Kindles, but I don't like the reading experience with them. The lookup function on the iPad is much better than Kindle); whispersync is a great invention that I enjoy, which I occasionally use if I would like to binge-read&listen to a book, but it can be expensive to buy both the Kindle and the Audible version of the same book. Mid of the year, I also discovered that library cards would allow me to deliver e-books to my kindle and listen to audiobooks through Libby. Although the libraries often only own best-sellers, and there can be a long waiting time and limited flexibility, it is very economical.
After teenager years, I found it harder and harder to finish fictions, which used to be something I enjoyed most when young. But occasionally, I can still be entertained by some authors' imagination and the more profound philosophical and moral problems in their stories.
Now I love reading biographies and autobiographies, especially the ones on people who have lived a very different life from mine. They allow me to see different upbringings and societies, and help me understand other people's struggles, pains, desires, and purposes of life. I find these books add new dimensions and perspectives to my simple mortal life.
I also love reading nonfiction, which covers topics I am interested in, especially on topics of science, technology, and economics. It fits my nature of being an infovore, and these books simply make me happy and entertained. I also love nonfiction on issues of human rights, legal and social (in)justice, moral, race and society. They make me think and reflect, on deeper and more crucial issues in the human history and current society, on how to make the world a better place, rather than focusing on my own interests and desires.
There is a social media debate about whether Dr. Tomoko Ohta should get the credit as the initiator and primary contributor of the Nearly Neutral Theory. In my mind, her name has always been synonymous to the Nearly Neutral Theory, so I was puzzled and wanted to figure out if I was wrong.
Since this is an important chapter in the history of population genetics, and because young scientists are often curious about what is it like to be a giant and to have worked with other giants, I decided to ask Dr. Ohta if she could clarify her contribution and comment on some other related issues. Luckily, my e-mail found her, and she replied.
Her narratives, help clarify the history to scientists who care about who and when, in addition to how and why, and shed light on how ideas and research evolve.
Here are a few things I have learned from my correspondence with Dr. Ohta. (With the permission from Dr. Ohta, I am sharing this exchange).
Regarding the history before the Nearly Neutral Theory.
“The idea of importance of slightly deleterious mutations goes back to H J Muller, Our load of mutations, 1950. The point is that it was based on phenotypes. So were the arguments of Kimura, Crow, Maruyama and others in 1960s. Also someone says that Darwin recognized existence of neutral variations. All these discussions were based on phenotypes.”
Regarding Kimura’s Neutral Theory and her own role in the Nearly Neutral Theory.
“Kimura’s neutral theory is concerned with the evolutionary changes at the molecular level. So is the nearly neutral theory. Now, my contribution is mainly on the behavior of nearly neutral mutant genes in populations, and on how it differs from the strictly neutral case. The prediction of the neutral theory on evolutionary rate and polymorphisms is simple and nice as everyone knows. Kimura liked the simple and elegant theory and did not like complicated problems. Once slightly deleterious (weakly selected) mutations are incorporated into account, the problem becomes very complicated. I thought that natural selection is not so simple as Kimura says, and presented the nearly neutral theory. Here interaction of selection and drift becomes very significant.”
Regarding Kimura’s work on Nearly Neutral Theory:
“Kimura recognized the significance of the nearly neutral theory in 1970’s, and published a couple of papers on this.But his discussion had been mostly on the strictly neutral mutations afterward.“
Regarding Neutral vs Nearly Neutral and their hot discussions:
“I and Kimura, sometimes including Crow, have had many hot discussions on the problem. I had often been criticized.”
Regarding how to move the field forward:
“Rather than going back to the credit problem, people should study about the recent progress on molecular processes of gene expression, that is very interesting. Numerous molecular interaction systems are working together at the chromatin level, for controlling gene expression patterns in various tissues and organs. It is remarkable that such complex systems evolved. I would like to say that the nearly neutral processes have been quite important for their evolution. Molecular machineries are connected directly or indirectly forming large network systems. We may need to investigate evolution at the systems level in the future.”
Regarding the work environment as a female scientist in Japan
In addition to these, Dr. Ohta mentioned that she did not have much gender problems in her research career, she has been able to discuss freely with people in Japan, and she thinks the research environment is good. She also mentioned that Kimura had been nice on this.
After seeing what I have written, Dr. Ohta corrected me that she is not a giant, but she probably has been lucky that she could do her work at the best time in the beginning of molecular evolution. I have to respectfully disagree with her about the first part-- she has been a giant, she has worked side by side with another giant, she has worked on the shoulders of previous giants, and on her shoulder future giants will stand.
She also said: “I am very glad to know that the comments are useful for young people like you. From the time of Darwin, evolutionary biology is related to many different fields of biology, and nowadays many areas are developing so rapidly. So it is a difficult but interesting time for us.”
I very much appreciate Dr. Ohta taking the time to clarify the history to a random unknown trainee. Quoting a story that perhaps explains this "When I was young, I sent my letter and paper on slightly deleterious mutations to S Wright. He sent me back the letter saying how his shifting balance theory was different from mine, but his theory also might explain the data. I was happy to receive the letter, as some younger seniors did not respond to me. So I responded to you."
July 6th, 2019
April 's blog