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From Ducks and Horses to Clone Armies

In case you were wondering (and someone was), the Broad Institute's Eric Lander would rather study the genomes of 100 duck-sized horses than that of one horse-sized duck because "with 100, you get information about the population genetics," he said. "So you can learn cool things about why some of the duck-sized horses can fly better and others can run better."

Lander answered that, and other serious and not-so-serious questions, during a two-hour "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit yesterday.

A number of the questions posed dealt with Lander's work on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. As part of that group, Lander said that he has met with President Obama several times and that the group has written a number of reports, including ones on the flu, science education, and climate change, and now are working to put those recommendations into action. Further, Lander noted that the time between scientists receiving their PhD and getting a faculty position needs to be shorter. "Young people should get out into the scientific world early, when they have lots of fresh ideas. We should encourage grants to young scientists and should encourage them to take big risks," Lander said. "When you're taking big risks, science is amazingly fun."

One questioner, called FiachB7, though, wanted to know whether Lander had "ever advised raising a clone army to Obama?"

Lander said no. "I have never advised the President to raise a clone army," he said. "As I recall, the clone army didn't work out so well for the Empire." (That likely lead Star Wars fans in the exchange to chuckle knowingly.) Lander also pointed out that the White House recently answered a citizens' petition regarding building a Death Star (one isn't going to be built).

And what about Lander's mustache? Basehead2002 wanted to know how long Lander had been sporting that look. Lander said he's had it since high school, and he offered "an embarrassing picture of me in high school with mustache and long (albeit era-appropriate) hair" as proof.