Science Corner: “Nobody Worries about Upsetting a Droid”

clone photo

No one does identical reproduction quite like LEGO; their quality control is legendary. Photo by HJ Media Studios

DJ asks:

Why and when should we start mentoring and investing in those younger or at a less advanced place than we are academically?

As a biologist, I’m always a little puzzled by public perception of clones. Going by the stories we tell, we think human clones would somehow be biologically inferior, second class, easily controlled or perhaps even nearly programmable. We think about photocopies of photocopies and imagine a similar process of degradation. Meanwhile, if duplicating DNA were really that error prone, we’d all have been in big trouble a long time ago. Not to mention how identical twins look and act and think differently than their “clone.” Far from accurate biology lessons, stories of clones probably reveal our own desire for other people to be more predictable and controllable and less individual.

In Star Wars there is the obvious contrast of light and dark, Rebellion and Empire, Jedi and Sith. I’ve talked about the differences in Jedi and Sith training styles, yet they also have a common element of personal apprenticeship. The Rebellion reflects similar values on a larger scale; its strategies make the most of individual talents of its volunteer forces. The Rebels learned the lesson of their antecedents, as both the Old Republic and the Separatists built armies from easily controlled, interchangeable clones and droids. Having one’s will obeyed perfectly and absolutely is a tempting way to magnify your influence, but it will magnify your flaws as well as your strengths.

Why mentor? Well, don’t do it because you want one or a horde of “mini-me’s” to think like you do, act like you do, and ask “How high?” when you say “Jump!” Children, undergraduates, graduate students, junior faculty — they all have ideas, habits and experiences all their own. Your job is to facilitate their strengths, lend your strength to their weaknesses when necessary, and, if you’re lucky, learn something about your own weaknesses.

Do you have experience, on either end, with cloning-as-mentoring or apprenticeship-as-mentoring?

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog.

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