Poem: Science, Attenborough et al

October 27, 2019

David Attenborough: It’s amazing, the discoveries made in my lifetime. Have you heard of hox genes?

Andrew Denton: No. (Then didn’t pursue the matter.) [From an interview a few years ago.]


I’ve always rather liked Andrew Denton,

But I thought he missed a good chance then,

Given all the time I’ve spent on


Reading up scientific gen.

Attenborough was, I think, intent on

Expanding on genetics again.


But he never got the chance,

Imagine if he went on

To expound on the romance


Of thrilling new knowledge,

The untold immense expanse

Of science now, and the homage


Due to the science pioneers.

In many an institute and college

Through the last hundred years


Sensational finds have been made

In a multitude of spheres,

In biology, astronomy, a cascade


Of startling findings are now known:

The genetic code displayed,

It’s now been clearly shown


That all life on earth is kin,

That the earth’s a speck alone

In the vast cosmic dark within


Which a billion galaxies revolve.

Now, muons, gluons, quarks and their “spin”

Present more conundrums to solve,


With which quantum mechanics copes,

A mind-boggling topic, which might absolve

Us from getting up our feeble hopes


Ever to understand the subject.

But bear in mind this theory scopes

(In a way we couldn’t expect)


Devices like computers, lasers,

Which might induce us to respect

Physics findings in all their phases.


This torrent of discoveries

Which our whole cerebellum dazes

Might, too, indulge our reveries


That science knowledge might be liked,

Accepted not only by devotees

But by all, not spitefully spiked


By those whose vested interests clash.

Climate scientists have striven and hiked

A million miles to check and rehash


Their results, only to be vilified,

Traduced, by corporate cash

And their paid politicians, who lied.


But to Attenborough again!

He was clearly seeking to confide

Genetic secrets to us then,


Part of the amazing global survey

Since Crick and Watson, two young men,

Discovered the structure of DNA.


So much more is known now,

The genetic code, evolution’s way:

How a spider relates to a cow,


Fossils, the dinosaurs’ extinctions,

Continental drift, and how

Science makes true predictions.


The genetics Attenborough instructed

(Hox genes) lay out the directions

On which the body is constructed:


The head here, limbs there, as if planned,

In amazing detail conducted.

This evidence itself is grand,


The process fascinating too.

From the science we understand

More now about the “genome view”


Of which the hox genes form a part.

The genome is what makes you you,

What makes all creatures from the start.


And these discoveries have all been made

While Attenborough’s noble heart

Strove decade after decade


To illuminate nature’s broad domain.

Lately his temper’s been more frayed

By the deniers’ and doubters’ campaign.


His warnings are much stronger now

As his time ebbs, trying to explain

To his public they must not allow


Vested interests to dominate.

Too much is at stake, so disavow

The purblind before it is too late.


The urgency is still no less,

Attenborough’s vision still will rate.

I share his excitement at the progress


Of modern science, not to abate

His warnings on our present state.

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