Archive for: November, 2010

Best Science Books 2010: SFGate / San Francisco Chronicle

Nov 30 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science books

This list is from SFGate / San Francisco Chronicle and is drawn from their nonfiction, architecture and nature lists.

  • The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
  • Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester
  • City Building: Nine Planning Principles for the Twenty-First Century by John Lund Kriken
  • Float!: Building on Water to Combat Urban Congestion and Climate Change by Koen Olthuis and David Keuning
  • Bird Songs Bible: The Complete Illustrated Reference for North American Birds edited by Les Beletsky
  • Rivers of California: Nature's Lifelines in the Golden State by Tim Palmer

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

Earlier entries in this year's list of lists can be found here and the 2009 summary post here.

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Around the Web: New models for university presses, Blogging researchers and more

Nov 30 2010 Published by under around the web

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The Science of Blogging

Via Bora Zivkovic, I see that there's a new blog in town -- this one devoted to the joys of scientists blogging to advance their work.

It's called Science of Blogging and it's by Peter Janiszewski and Travis Saunders who blog at Obesity Panacea.

I'll let them explain their mission:

Social media provides a tremendous outlet by which to translate and promote scientific knowledge and engage the public discourse. All scientists, researchers, clinicians, government and not-for-profit organizations have much to gain by adopting an effective and viable social media strategy.

Science of Blogging will not only highlight the ways by which social media is changing the way science and research is communicated, but also will provide basic guidelines for those individuals or organizations who seek to use social media to increase the public understanding of scientific research.

You should definitely follow up and read their story on the About page.

Their first few posts are:

Scientists: Publicizing your research gets you cited more often

There is no shortage of benefits for scientists - young and well-tenured - to publicize their research beyond peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations. And yet, few scientists look beyond the pages of their discipline's journal to showcase their work.

While all researchers should strive to translate their work for mass consumption, the scientist's day is a long one, and often this task is overshadowed by more pressing issues of academia; grants, lectures, publications, conferences, student's dissertations, etc.

Part of the problem is that many researchers fail to recognize the more tangible benefits of exposing their research to a greater audience.


How building your online social network may affect your offline social life

In the realm of online vs offline social networking, an interesting question often arises: As one's online social networks grow, does that person also become more popular offline?

There are generally two schools of thought on this issue, broadly promoted by the cyberpessimists and the cyberoptimists.

You can almost guess what I'm about to write next, right?

Why all scientists should blog: a case study

Although the PLoS Blogs network was rather new and traffic to our blog was lower than usual, the series hit a nerve.

The biggest nerve I managed to hit was that of BoingBoing.com, a very popular aggregator of interesting news stories which sent a good chunk of traffic our way.

All of this interest resulted in a total of 12,080 page views and over 70 comments from readers during the week of the series.

Put another way, the same research which I published in a prestigious medical journal and made basically no impact, was then viewed by over 12,000 sets of eyes because I decided to discuss it online.

And it doesn't end there.

Working with your Public/Media Relations office: A primer for researchers (by Andrew Careaga)

Ideally, the media relations folks on college campuses are valuable partners for scholar-bloggers who want to get their research ideas out to the public. PR folks should not serve as personal publicists for certain faculty members - although most of us in the PR field know of a few professors who would love it if that were the case. Rather, we are partners in disseminating scholarship. We can do so not only by publicizing faculty research, but also by talking about the researchers' own public-service blogging, and by pointing journalists and others to the researchers' own blogging efforts.

How to Promote Your Science Blog: ResearchBlogging.org

Research Blogging is a website that aggregates blog posts that discuss peer-reviewed research. The blog post must discuss the research in a relatively in-depth fashion (e.g. the post must do more than simply summarize the abstract), but this is something that many science blogs do on a fairly regular basis. If you discuss peer-reviewed studies on your blog, then you simply need to register your blog with Research Blogging, and then insert the Research Blogging citation code into each blog post which discusses a peer-reviewed journal article. For example, on our obesity blog roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of our posts discuss the results of a peer-reviewed paper, and so we include the Research Blogging code on each of those articles. These posts then get advertised on the Research Blogging main page, as well as the sidebar of the Scienceblogs network (Scienceblogs and Research Blogging are both owned by SEED media group). This is huge, as Scienceblogs is one of the most popular science websites in the world. So by signing up for Research Blogging, you are basically getting your work advertised for free, on a tremendously popular website that caters to people who like to read about science.

A project near and dear to my own heart, I wish them great success in spreading the word about the usefulness of blogging to scientists, academics and other professionals. They're soliciting suggestions and feedback here.

Here's some of my own writings and presentations on the topic, broadly defined as blogging for professional development and/or professional practice:

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From the Archives: Books by Samuel Florman, Tim Berners-Lee and Ellen Ullman.

Nov 28 2010 Published by under book review, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one includes three shorter reviews:

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Florman, Samuel C. The Introspective Engineer. New York: St. Martin's Press. 3/1996. 220 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0312151522

Finally, a book that I like! Engineers don't have such a great reputation -- they tend to be "can do" people with a lot of confidence and, supposedly, arrogant and indifferent to social needs. Florman's rather introspective extended essay takes a long hard look at this stereotype and finds much truth in it. At the same time, however, he also finds in engineers the practical bent to do a lot of good in the world. After all, virtually every aspect of our material lives is engineered in some form or other, so engineers and engineering can't be all bad, can it? Personally, I've always liked engineers and valued their mindset and this book is a good examination of the strengths and weaknesses of that mindset and how they are manifested in the profession today.

Berners-Lee, Tim with Mark Fischetti. Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999. 209 pp. ISBN-13: 978-0062515872

This is the story of how the web was created at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland in the early 90s. It's a pretty good story, made even more interesting by how close it seemed to never happening. Berners-Lee always seemed to be under pressure to spend more time on his real work instead of fiddling with this hypertext business. Also remarkable is Berners-Lee's commitment to making the web as open and free as possible.

If Berners-Lee hadn't developed the web, what eventually would have come would have been very different, certainly more commercial than even today. A near miss, and an interesting idea for an alternate history story.

Ullman, Ellen. The Bug. New York: Anchor, 2004. 368pp. ISBN-13: 978-1400032358

This is quite simply, a novel about how crazy it is being a software developer. It revolves around the a software project in the mid-1980's and a huge, impossible bug that creeps into the user interface code. The bug only appears sporadically and unpredictably, make it very difficult to figure out the underlying cause. The main characters in the novel are the programmers, Ethan Levin, and the tester, Berta Walton. Each of them have troubled personal lives that parallel the progress of the bug, while the view each other with distrust and suspicion.

The soap opera aspects of their lives doesn't work as well as the portrait of the programmer's life; at about page 300 (of 350) we learn something about Ethan's relationship with his girlfriend that totally changes our view of him and the root cause of their breakup, which I think is unfair to the reader. Nevertheless, the characters and plot are certainly strong enough to support the more interesting aspect of the novel from our point of view here. For those of you who want to understand what it's like to be a programmer, working with flaky systems, uncertain requirements, killer deadlines and and the limitations of the human capacity to understand very large and complex systems, this is the novel for you.

Ullman is a former software developer and it shows. Having been a software developer myself for 12 years, it rings very true.

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Best Science Books 2010: The Globe and Mail 100

Nov 27 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science books

If The New York Times list is the big one in the US and probably over all, then the Globe list is the big one in Canada. Interestingly, it's another list that's been a bit spotty on science coverage in the past but that seems to have reformed it's ways.

  • The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
  • The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant
  • The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey
  • Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks by Ben Goldacre
  • The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That is Connecting the World by David Kirkpatrick

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

Earlier entries in this year's list of lists can be found here and the 2009 summary post here.

One response so far

From the Archives: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Nov 27 2010 Published by under book review, science books

I have a whole pile of science-y book reviews on two of my older blogs, here and here. Both of those blogs have now been largely superseded by or merged into this one. So I'm going to be slowly moving the relevant reviews over here. I'll mostly be doing the posts one or two per weekend and I'll occasionally be merging two or more shorter reviews into one post here.

This one, of A Short History of Nearly Everything, is from September 25, 2006.

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I'm a bit of two minds on this book. Really, I almost consider it two different books that I could review separately. The first, a book I really like, that I think is an important contribution to efforts to improve scientific literacy amongst the general population. The second, a book that subtly undermines efforts to improve scientific literacy among the general public by essentially portraying most scientists as lying, egocentric freakazoids.

Let's do the good review first. This book is a fun read, a hard thing to say about most science books, popular or otherwise. Bryson has an engaging style and a good eye for the most accessible stories. And the emphasis is definitely on stories, on the role of individual scientists in the history of scientific discoveries. He comes at the science using the stories of the scientists and inventors, always bringing the knowledge to a human scale and understanding, always giving a good understanding and grounding of the science in everyday life. And, the search for scientific understanding as part of the everyday lives of the scientists. Like I said, the story is king here and Bryson really personalizes science in this book. If scientists often seem a little remote as they are portrayed in popular culture, well Bryson goes out of his way to make scientists seem very human.

What sciences does he concentrate on? Really what we sometimes call the hard sciences: physics and astronomy especially, chemistry, geology, all the earth sciences. The age of the universe, the earth and life (especially human life) on earth is one of his dominant themes throughout the book, so palaeontology, paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology, particle physics all play important roles in those big questions and he treats them all engagingly.

I also admire Bryson's resolutely rational and non-supernatural approach to the material. No intelligent design theories here, only a scientific, rational, reality based approach. And a very strong environmental message. Bryson fights the good fight here, with good material on species extinction, pollution and climate change. Another bonus is an 11 page bibliography to get you going on further reading on all the subjects he tackles.

And now for the not-so-good news. The humanization-of-science thing goes a bit too far, and Bryson seems to go out of his way to dig up some unsavoury gossip on virtually every historical scientist he talks about. It's one thing to glorify and sanctify these all-too-human people, but on the other hand, I don't think portraying them all as a bunch of kooks is a good idea either. For example, on p. 357 he tell us how Linnaeus was obsessed with sex and always giving organisms slightly naughty names, such as one genus of plants he named Clitora. On p. 351 he tells us of other scientists who were in the habit of stealing hundreds of specimens from London's Natural History Museum. And on p. 385, he gives us a detailed description of Charles Darwin's mysterious disease, making him seem to be a bit of a hypocondriac. And on and on, these are just a few examples from a short stretch of the book. A bit of balance, please, Mr. Bryson.

Actually, I guess there's a third book under discussion here. The book that includes the stuff that Bryson chose not to cover. The list of scientific disciplines I mention above is pretty impressive, but I think that some areas that he covered excessively could have been trimmed and some areas that were left out could have been added. As I imply above, one candidate for trimming was his very extensive coverage of how we have come to the current age of the universe and the Earth. While interesting and useful, it could easily have been shortened. The areas I would have added, which I think would have made the book even more valuable, are math, computing, a more general coverage of biology and a bit on the philosophy of science. First of all, biology. Bryson really doesn't cover biology to the same extent as the earth sciences, and what he does cover in biology is mostly human evolution, ie. paleobiology. Related to palaeontology and really in the same strain as the earth sciences. So, at least a little more botany, a little physiology and maybe even some expanding the decent coverage of genetics to include the bioinformatics revolution. Math -- it seems to me that most of modern science rests on a foundation of mathematical reasoning and to not even cover calculus and what it means to scientific progress is shortchanging the reader. Mathophobes be damned. "Nearly everything" has to include a bit of math.

Computing -- as we know, computers are ubiquitous in the world today, and that is no less true of modern science. Computational methods are so prevalent in scientific research these days that I think Bryson owed it to his readers to give at least a taste of the growth and development of the computing field and its influence on science. And really, the pioneers of computing have to be at least as colourful as any other discipline.

And lastly, the philosophy part. I'm certainly not advocating that he go into all the gory details of the philosophy of science -- all that postmodern sociology stuff is a bit heavy for a pop science book. But I also think he owed it to his readers to talk a little bit about what the scientific method is and how it works. It seems to me that understanding a little bit about how scientists know what they claim to know is a useful bit of knowledge. With all the various wars on science going on out there, a little bit of understanding of how scientists get around to making their claims will make us all a better informed citizenry, and this book leaves us hanging a bit in that respect. Remember, "nearly everything."

But enough of all the carping. Buy the darn book. It's mostly pretty good and a surprisingly easy read with more positives than negatives. The illustrated version, which I don't have but have glanced through in bookstores, is probably even easier to get through.

Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2003. 544pp.

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Friday Fun: Pop Culture Expert Surprisingly Not Ashamed Of Self

Nov 26 2010 Published by under friday fun

Whenever I'm feeling lazy about digging up something for these weekly (yes, I did just type weakly and then correct myself) posts, I always know that The Onion will save my bacon. And who knows, maybe one day The Bacon will save my onion.

In any case, submitted for your approval, Pop Culture Expert Surprisingly Not Ashamed Of Self.

Shelham, who spends 10 hours every day consuming news updates on various entertainers and then commenting on their activities on an entertainment website, has reportedly shown no signs of humiliation or self-hatred over the way she spends the bulk of her time, and is also apparently not disgusted by the fact that this is actually what she does with her life.

"Basically, I like to look at what's going on in pop culture and comment on it with a sort of fresh, wry voice," said Shelham, who by all accounts still possesses the ability to look at herself in the mirror every morning. "I try to find things that I think are really lame and vacuous and then just tear them apart."

*snip*

"Say what you will about Perez Hilton's tackiness, but you have to respect what he's built," she said. "You know, I did a parody of him once? Kim Kardashian re-tweeted it."

(A great big No-Prize for anyone that catches the "submitted for your approval" reference.)

4 responses so far

Best Science Books 2010: Chapters Indigo

Nov 26 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science books

Another list, this time from the Chapters.Indigo.ca site.

  • The Tiger: A True Story Of Vengeance And Survival by John Vaillant
  • The Wave: In The Pursuit Of The Rogues, Freaks And Giants Of The Ocean by Susan Casey
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr
  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
  • The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Packing For Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
  • Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms,and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

Earlier entries in this year's list of lists can be found here and the 2009 summary post here.

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Best Science Books 2010: New York Times Notable Books

Nov 25 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science books

It's the big one, probably the most important "best of" list of the year -- The New York Times. Often a bit spotty on it's science-y coverage, let's see how they fare this year:

  • Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership by Lewis Hyde
  • Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory by Peter Hessler
  • The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food By Paul Greenberg
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Insectopedia by Hugh Raffles
  • Long for this World: The Strange Science of Immortality by Jonathan Weiner
  • The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
  • Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives by Annie Murphy Paul
  • The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness by Oren Harman
  • The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey

Not bad, actually. Some of them might stretch a reasonable definition of "science book" but that's ok.

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

Earlier entries in this year's list of lists can be found here and the 2009 summary post here.

(By the way, I'm officially calling Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks to top the year end summary like The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes did last year.)

One response so far

Best Science Books 2010: HistoryNet and O Magazine

A couple more shorts lists.

HistoryNet

  • Rival Rails: The Race to Build America's Greatest Transcontinental Railroad by Walter Borneman
  • DC-3: A Legend In Her Time-A 75th Anniversary Photographic Tribute by Bruce McAllister
  • Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas that Revolutionized War, from Kitty Hawk to Iraq By Stephen Budiansky

O Magazine

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

I'm always looking for recommendations and notifications of book lists as they appear in various media outlets. If you see one that I haven't covered, please let me know at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

I am picking up a lot of lists from Largehearted Boy.

Earlier entries in this year's list of lists can be found here and the 2009 summary post here.

No responses yet

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