If you don’t already suspect it before reading Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories About the World Are So Often Wrong, we humans are often very, very ignorant and wrong about the way things work. The author takes us, chapter by chapter, through physics and biology and shows that, at every age, we fall prey to preconceptions and plain misunderstandings of what we supposedly learned. (He is very kind and gives us examples of confused graduate physics students so we don’t feel so bad!)
He also tries to lay out recommendations for how to bridge the gap and is less successful at that (for one thing, his specialty is psychology, not physics or biology). Still, it seems that STEM courses should spend a little more time contrasting the truth with common preconceptions rather than just solving equations. The problem seems to be the intersection of “common” sense and technical knowledge.
This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society is not for the faint of heart, as the author muses about hens preferring to eat parasite-infected crickets (because they are slower), the dengue fever virus that enhances its mosquito carrier’s ability to detect the scent of humans, or rat parasites that cause male rats to somehow be more successful with the ladies… After reading of those adventures, you may want to wash your hands more often and avoid anything that looks unsafe, including fellow humans — and indeed animals and humans have developed all kinds of techniques to fight against parasites. The scariest and darkest part of the book is that perhaps these very techniques suggest that it’s the parasites who control us, rather than the other way round. Fascinating.
Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures tells the story of a dream, that to bring back to life the wooly mammoth. The author chooses to tell the story in dramatic manner, with cliffhangers at the end of each chapter and emotional depictions of the various scientists. It feels rather overdone. That said, the science is thrilling, even if the rationale for resurrecting the woolly mammoth is obscure, at best, and the story is certainly lively.
South Pole Station has everything a great novel may want: an exotic venue in a hostile environment, a cast of misfits, and plenty of political intrigue, both local and global. And yet it never came together for me. Not that I did not enjoy the absurdity of the selection and training process (chillingly conducted by a military contractor), the war between the old cook and the new cook in which cookbooks mysteriously disappear, or the solidarity between national bases once the US base runs afoul of its budget and politics — but the heroine’s back story, whether her family’s attachment to explorers’ stories or her brother’s suicide, seemed forced and irrelevant rather than providing a unifying theme.
Is this Science Week for the FT Books blog? The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Sharks’ Teeth to Frogs’ Pants, the Long and Strange Quest to Discover Where Babies Come From tells the remarkably long and chaotic discovery of how babies are made. The author has lots of amusing anecdotes, including about the Italian priest that fashioned the lovely frog pants on the cover (they were effective contraception devices) and also explains how the philosophy of science changed over time, from a completely non-desirable, pointless endeavor to an amateur pursuit to the orderly testing protocols of more modern time. An enjoyable history.
I love short books, and I thought it would be wonderful to read Astrophysics for People in a Hurry to finally understand something about the mysterious undertakings of astrophysicists. I was sorely disappointed. Yes, the book is short. It’s also very hard to understand, written in a compact style without any visuals that may help a neophyte understand or retain all the abstract concepts that are raining on us. So despite the wonderful first sentence (“In the beginning…”) and lots of factoids stuffed into the slim book, I would advice against it as a learning tool.
Did you think Darwin was a great scientist? Well, one thing he got very wrong is his belief that women were inferior to men (in intellect; somehow, he thought them superior “in moral qualities”, reflecting the prejudices of his time) — and we now have over a century of so-called science “proving” him right. Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong-and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story sets out to show that studies designed and conducted overwhelmingly by men can confirm traditional roles and stereotypes, and even exclude women entirely from some studies, with the assumption that the results would be same. It all reminded of the discussion of whether animals are intelligent (not that women are animals, right?!)