Category Archives: Opinion

I am also learning to code on my own

Last week  I read an interesting article on WIRED about the current need of  biologists who are able to code. The article stressed how more biologists need to learn coding in order to analyze huge data sets, and how most biology curricula in universities lack such topics.

After reading it I could not relate more to it. This is because right now I am working on my master’s thesis in which I need to use R to analyze my data. For those who are not familiar with it, R is a statistics software and programming language widely used in in data analysis. The only “problem”, let’s say,  is that to work on it training is needed because is based on a specific coding language.

This is how my “work space” on R looks like.

However, during my education in Colombia and Sweden I have not had any training whatsoever in coding. From my own perspective I thought coding was a skill only necessary for hard-core software engineers, computer scientists or bioinformaticians, so I never really bothered not taking a course until now, when I face the need to learn how to code  to analyze the data I have generated during my degree project.

As said in the article on WIRED, I am learning these skills on my own -as many other biologists are doing too. Luckily, there are some courses online to learn the basics and manuals to learn  more advanced functions. I followed one online course offered by the University College of London for free .  Additionally, at the Department of Forest Mycology and Plant Pathology (where I’m doing my thesis) we are learning with a group of researchers, master students and PhD students how to use PoppR (Population genetics in R) a package of R to analyze molecular data for population ecology. We are together following the instructions and manuals with our own data sets , which has been a very nice learning experience because together we have been able to compare, discuss, read additional literature and learn topics beyond the mere coding aspect of R.

Today I honestly regret not paying more attention to coding- that I have realized is even fun!  in the past . Nonetheless it is exciting learn such a powerful skill, that will be for sure useful to answer relevant questions in biology.

Best!

Hernán.

 

Colombian peace agreement (1/2): How it all started

Disclaimer: I am not an historian,  nor an expert on political sciences. Therefore, I tried to make this as simple as I could to fit it in the format of this blog. I apologize beforehand for omissions, bias  or inaccuracies.

Today is one important day in Colombia: people are voting to end a 52 years war. Many of my friends in Sweden have asked me to explain how a country could have such a long war and why are they voting to decide whether the war will continue or not. Well, it is not that easy to explain. Therefore, I decided to write 2 posts about the peace agreement to share what I know and think about it. In this post I will try to briefly frame the problem by summarizing how it all started.

In 1947 Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, a left-wing presidential candidate was murdered in Bogotá. He was a famous leader among the less favored, and his death unchained the most violent days Bogotá has ever seen. The people became mad and started destroying  basically everything during three days. The message was clear: there was no space for left-wing ideas. This made the violence sharper in the cities and the country side, as the government would literally chase any left-wing  sympathizer, and those who would feel underrepresented and chased by the government would start forming guerrillas to fight back.  After some years of unfortunate and subsequent violent events, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)  were officially founded in 1964- 52 years ago. Besides fighting for not getting killed by the government, the FARC started to implement social activities in the countryside, where they had more adepts. They even played the role that the state should have played by providing education and health services in those isolated areas.

However, things got only uglier with time. Both sides became more violent, but specially the FARC started to commit awful crimes that affected both people involved in the war and civilians. This included terrorist attacks, kidnaps and killings.  Furthermore, the FARC found in drug trafficking  a way to support themselves, and this became such a good business that for some of the militants the fight was not anymore about  political participation, communist ideas or a land reform. It was a fight for keep up the drug trafficking business.

In the early 2000’s, when the war reached one of its more violent points (not only because of the FARC and the goverment, but also because of other many new actors including drug cartels and paramilitary groups),  the USA government decided to help,  fund and train Colombia’s army. This led to a sharp decrease in the FARC forces, as many of their leaders were killed and some other guerrilleros surrendered (It is worth saying that  Colombia’s army killed  innocent civilians too during this time).

In 2003 the FARC bombed El Nogal, an exclusive an elite social club in Bogotá. It showed the power FARC had at that moment. If they were able to bomb a building in down town Bogotá, they could do whatever they would like to. Picture by Semana.com
In 2003 the FARC bombed El Nogal, an exclusive and elite social club in Bogotá. It showed the power FARC had at that moment. If they were able to bomb a highly secured building in downtown Bogotá, they could do whatever they would like to. Picture by Semana.com

After all this, at some point negotiations to end the war between the FARC and the Colombian government started. These were held in La Havana, Cuba since 2012 between a commission created by the President and FARC leaders- who were allowed to leave the country and fly to Cuba to negotiate. After 4 years, negotiations came to an end and the 26th of Septemeber this year in Cartagena both sides signed the agreement.

Picture by Semana.com

Colombian president and FARC leader shaking hands in Cartagena. Picture by Semana.com

However the government decided that Colombians should be the ones to approve and legitimate the agreement they came up with. Therefore today people will vote to decide if they approve the agreement or not. Although the polls show a tendency for the approval, people against it are numerous.

But, what is it so important the approval? It is mainly because besides the terms of surrender (which are already complicated), the agreement includes changes in land management and drug policies. But about this, I will elaborate further in a next post.

Hoping war ends in Colombia today,

Hernán.