Friday 29 April 2011

"What Genetics Can Really Tell Us" — Adam Rutherford — Winchester SitP

The ubiquitous Adam Rutherford gave a fascinating talk at Winchester Skeptics in the Pub on Thursday evening. Ubiquitous? Well, he's been on telly this week, and last, with his new BBC Four series The Gene Code (which reminds me — I wonder if there are any of those fridge magnets left...), and his previous series The Cell began a re-run that very evening. Also he's had several recent Radio 4 appearances: Science Betrayed, for instance, and last week's Start the Week with Andrew Marr.

DSC_1806w_AdamRutherfordAdam's appearance at TAM London 2010 detailed his experiences on the Alpha Course, but on Thursday he was on his own territory with a talk entitled "What Genetics Can Really Tell Us". We learned, for instance, that compared to indigenous Africans the majority of western humanity is extraordinarily inbred. We learned that except in a very few cases there isn't a "single gene" responsible for specific human attributes — or diseases. This is something the tabloid press (or at least the Daily Mail) hasn't yet caught on to, and we saw slides of several articles that claimed that "the gene for" various specific things had been found. Bizarrely, several of these disparate characteristics were attributed, in different articles, to the same gene. Adam also managed to outline the history of genetics (including the scientific principles) in about 20 minutes, which is no mean feat.

I should also mention that despite this being the first time Adam had delivered this talk he was engaging and funny throughout. While he may or may not keep the bingo cards (don't ask) in subsequent talks, if you get the chance to hear him on this subject don't pass it up. It's unlikely, however, that he'll be able to arrange a flypast of the International Space Station every time he delivers his talk. (During the break we all paraded into the pub car park to watch the ISS go by.)

Winchester SitP's regular venue, The Roebuck — now under new management — has been done up, which contributed to the general success of the evening.