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Saturday, January 28, 2023

ChatGPT won't pass my exams!

Here are a few questions for ChatGPT and its answers. The AI program takes the most common information on the web and spews it back at you. It cannot tell which information is correct or which information is more accurate.

It's easy to recognize that these answers were written by something that's not very good at critical thinking. I agree with other professors that they mimic typical undergraduate answers but I disagree that these answers would get them a passing grade.

ChatGPT shares one very important feature that's common in undergraduate answers to essay questions: it gives you lots of unecessary information that's not directly relevant to the question.

It's important to note that (lol) these ChatGPT answers share another important feature with many of the answers on my exams: they look very much like BS!

Monday, January 23, 2023

Read a short preview of What's in Your Genome

Check out this website, What's in Your Genome if you want to see a preview of my book (Preface, Prologue, part of Chapter 1).

The book will be released on May 16, 2023. We are currently working on the proofs prior to typesetting. You can preorder the hardcover version on (Canada) for $39.95 (Cdn). I don't know when the electronic version will be available. You can also preorder on for £26.99.

You can't yet preorder on and there's no information on that site about availability. I don't know about other Amazon sites.

Monday, January 02, 2023

Jupiter weighs two quettagrams

New names for very large and very small weights and sizes have been adopted.

Last November's meeting of the General Conference on Weights and Measures wasn't covered by the major media outlets so you probably don't know that the mass of an electron is now one rontogram and the diameter of the universe is about one ronnameter [SI units get new prefixes for huge and tiny numbers].1

The official SI prefixes for very large things are now ronna (1027) and quetta (1030) and the prefixes for very small things are ronto (10-27) and quecto (10-30).

This is annoying because we've just gotten used to zetta, yotta, zepto, and yocto (adopted in 1991). I suspect that the change was prompted by the huge storage capacity of your latest smartphone (several yottabytes) and the wealth of the world's richest people (several zeptocents). Or maybe it was the price of houses in Toronto. Or something like that. In any case, we needed to prepare for kilo or mega increases.

The bad news is that the latest additions used up the last two available letters of the alphabet so if things get any bigger or smaller we may have to add a few more letters to the alphabet.

1. A friendly reader has pointed out that my title should have been "The mass of Jupiter is two quettagrams." My bad.

Sunday, January 01, 2023

The function wars are over

In order to have a productive discussion about junk DNA we needed to agree on how to define "function" and "junk." Disagreements over the definitions spawned the Function Wars that became intense over the past decade. That war is over and now it's time to move beyond nitpicking about terminology.

The idea that most of the human genome is composed of junk DNA arose gradually in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The concept was based on a lot of evidence dating back to the 1940s and it gained support with the discovery of massive amounts of repetitive DNA.

Various classes of functional DNA were known back then including: regulatory sequences, protein-coding genes, noncoding genes, centromeres, and origins of replication. Other categories have been added since then but the total amount of functional DNA was not thought to be more than 10% of the genome. This was confirmed with the publication of the human genome sequence.

From the very beginning, the distinction between functional DNA and junk DNA was based on evolutionary principles. Functional DNA was the product of natural selection and junk DNA was not constrained by selection. The genetic load argument was a key feature of Susumu Ohno's conclusion that 90% of our genome is junk (Ohno, 1972a; Ohno, 1972b).

A multivalent mRNA flu vaccine

Scientists have recently developed an mRNA-lipid nanoparticle flu vaccine that protects against all known flu variants.

There are four types of influenza viruses but only the A and B viruses cause significant problems [Types of Influenza Viruses]. Influenza A viruses are the ones can have caused pandemics in the past and the current flu vaccinations are unlikely to offer a lot of protection since they are only directed toward the specific subtypes that are predicted to cause problems in the next flu season. The next global flu pandemic will probably come from a new influenza A virus that nobody predicted.