Archive for: December, 2010

Best Science Books 2010: Vancouver Sun, Largehearted Boy, Slate, Boston Globe

Dec 21 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science books

Another bunch of lists for your reading, gift giving and collection development pleasure.

Vancouver Sun

  • Drowning in Oil: BP & the Reckless Pursuit of Profit by Loren Steffy
  • How the Scots Invented the Modern World The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It by Arthur Herman
  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Largehearted Boy

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


Slate

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


Boston Globe

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
  • Travels in Siberia by Ian Fraser

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

Best Science Books 2010: BoingBoing

Dec 21 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science fiction

Another list for your reading, gift giving and collection development pleasure. The list is a compilation of selections from all the different BB editors. I'm also only selecting 2010 books from their lists.

  • How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel
  • Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky
  • The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely
  • Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python by Al Sweigart
  • Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks by Ben Goldacre
  • Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
  • What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires by Tim Wu
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
  • Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food by Jeff Potter
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer
  • Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature by Brian Switek
  • Superbug: The Fatal Menace of MRSA by Maryn McKenna
  • Brain Cuttings by Carl Zimmer
  • The Matchbox That Ate a Forty-Ton Truck: What Everyday Things Tell Us About the Universe by Marcus Chown
  • Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynes
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (here only)

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

Best Science Books 2010: Physicsworld.com

Another list for your reading, gift giving and collection development pleasure.

  • The Tunguska Mystery by Vladimir Rubtsov
  • Coming Climate Crisis? Consider the Past, Beware the Big Fix by Claire L Parkinson
  • How It Ends: From You to the Universe by Chris Impey
  • Lake Views: This World and the Universe by Steven Weinberg
  • The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It by Scott Patterson
  • Newton and the Counterfeiter: The Unknown Detective Career of the World's Greatest Scientist by Thomas Levenson
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach
  • Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle by Ian Sample
  • How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel
  • The Edge of Physics: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Cosmology by Anil Ananthaswamy

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

Best Science Books 2010: Library Journal

Dec 20 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science books

Another list for your reading, gift giving and collection development pleasure.

FWIW, this tends to be the most important list for me every year in terms of collection development.

  • The Vertical Farm: The New Urban Agriculture by Despommier, Dickson
  • Not a Chimp: The Hunt for the Genes That Make Us Human by Taylor, Jeremy
  • Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Costs of Civilization by Wells, Spencer
  • The Grand and Bold Thing: An Extraordinary New Map of the Universe Ushering in a New Era of Discovery by Finkbeiner, Ann
  • The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness by Harman, Oren
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Skloot, Rebecca
  • Drawing the Map of Life: Inside the Human Genome Project by McElheny, Victor K.
  • The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Kean, Sam
  • The Grand Design: New Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life by Hawking, Stephen & Leonard Mlodinow
  • Once Before Time: A Whole Story of the Universe by Bojowald, Martin
  • How To Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest To Fix the Earth's Climate by Goodell, Jeff
  • The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health--and a Vision for Change by Leonard, Annie
  • Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on Earth by Foster, John Bellamy & others
  • The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution in Personalized Medicine by Collins, Francis S.
  • The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Mukherjee, Siddhartha
  • The Youth Pill: Scientists at the Brink of an Anti-Aging Revolution by Stipp, David
  • The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature by Ferris, Timothy
  • Proofiness: The Dark Side of Mathematical Deception by Seife, Charles
  • The Great Penguin Rescue: 40,000 Penguins, a Devastating Oil Spill, and the Inspiring Story of the World's Largest Animal Rescue by DeNapoli, Dyan
  • The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by Vaillant, John
  • Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food by Greenberg, Paul
  • The Watchman's Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction by Costa, Rebecca
  • The End of Discovery: Are We Approaching the Boundaries of the Knowable? by Stannard, Russell
  • Present at Creation: The Story of CERN and the Large Hadron Collider by Aczel, Amir
  • Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Sample, Ian
  • Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation by Zeilinger, Anton
  • How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like by Bloom, Paul
  • Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Damasio, Antonio
  • The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future by Smith, Laurence
  • Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery by Pyne, Stephen J.
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Roach, Mary
  • What Technology Wants by Kelly, Kevin
  • Deadly Kingdom: The Book of Dangerous Animals by Grice, Gordon
  • Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by French, Thomas

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

From the Archives: Voodoo science: The road from foolishness to fraud by Robert Park

Dec 19 2010 Published by under book review, culture of science, 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 Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud, is from November 14, 2006.

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This year, during my sabbatical, I'm really trying to read a lot of science non-fiction, as opposed to my usual diet of science fiction. And so far, it's been great. Bryson, Suzuki and now Park have all given me both entertainment and information and perhaps even a little knowledge. Suzuki and Park, in particular, perhaps have even shared a bit of wisdom.

Both books, the Suzuki bio I finished a few weeks ago and this book, Voodoo Science by Robert Park, are about teaching the world to be a little more rational, a little more humane and a little less gullible.

So, Bob Park, physicist, author and debunker. The weekly dose of rationality in his What's New newsletter. Subscribe, you won't regret it. Every week is a few pointed notes about the world, a few sceptical take-downs of those who would cheat, cover-up or manipulate science to their ends. That's what Voodoo Science is all about.

One by one, Park takes on various frauds and deceptions, both by those in the scientific community and politicians, media or corporations, and debunks them. From homoeopathy to the international space station, from perpetual motion machines to electromagnetic fields causing cancer, from Roswell & UFOs to abuses of quantum theory by Deepak Chopra and his ilk, Park is unafraid to tackle the big issues. And he always makes sure that the news media get the scorn they deserve for sloppy and ill-informed coverage.

A grim and depressing book in some ways? Sure. But Park always keeps the tone light and pace fast. A good and entertaining book, as well as an important one.

Park, Robert. Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. 230pp. ISBN-13: 978-0195147100

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From the Archives: Countdown: A history of space flight by T.A. Heppenheimer

Dec 18 2010 Published by under book review, engineering, history, 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 Countdown: A History of Space Flight, is from November 14, 2006.

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The decision to read this book was certainly not rocket science, even if it is a book about rocket science. An engaging and fascinating read, you don't have to be a brain surgeon to understand it either, as it concerns itself as much with the human challenges in the history of space flight as with the purely engineering ones.

Since this book was published in 1997, it obviously doesn't cover any of the more recent missions from the last ten years or so, but I didn't really find that to be much of a problem, as what I was really looking for was information about the early years of rocketry, and this book covers those quite well, including the programs in Germany, Russia and the USA.

I really appreciated the focus on the early careers of Wernher von Braun in Germany and, in particular, Sergei Korolev of Russia, whose name was unfamiliar to me before. The hardships of the Russian engineers and other workers who were forced to work in incredibly bad conditions for Stalin were something that was also a revelation. Von Braun's story was also fascinating, perhaps the only flaw in the book's coverage is that I would liked to have learned more about the program under Nazi Germany. Von Braun was very likely an unacknowledged war criminal, and this was underplayed.

The great strides of the Soviet program in the 1950s is also well covered, including the determination by the Americans to ultimately overtake the Soviet program, which they did by the 1960s. The stories of the machinations of the US Army, Air Force and Navy and their jockeying for position and influence was very well presented. The seamless integration of the military and industry is also quite apparent, leading the Eisenhower's famous comment about watching out for the military industrial complex. Well, it's all here, laid out in the history of the space program. The main developments in ICBMs, spy planes, spy satellites, high altitude bombers are all covered.

In some ways, the most exciting part of the book is the chapters leading up to the dramatic Apollo moon landing, contrasting with the Soviet program's declining success at that time. The chapters following the moon landing could have been anti-climactic. However, I found the history of the various unmanned, exploratory missions very interesting; Heppenheimer is definitely a proponent of unmanned exploration versus the political showmanship of dangerous and expensive manned missions. This part of the book, leading up to the Challenger disaster, was very critical of the American decision to put all it's eggs in the shuttle basket and showed how the Europeans were able to capitalize on that and how even the Soviet/Russian program was able to make many positive strides.

The book ends on a positive note, hoping for a renewed international space program based on international co-operation. We're not quite there yet, but this book certainly gives the background necessary to understand where we are and how we got here.

Heppenheimer, T. A. Countdown: A History of Space Flight New York: Wiley, 1997. 398pp.

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Around the Web: Principles of computational science, The state of open source and more

Dec 18 2010 Published by under around the web

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Friday Fun: Building the ultimate cookbook library

Dec 17 2010 Published by under friday fun

Nice article by Rob Mifsud in the Globe and Mail the other day combining two of my favourite things: food and books!

First, some pointers. Ditch the superstore and head to a shop that specializes in cookbooks. As Jonathan Cheung, co-owner of Appetite for Books in Montreal, points out: "I have personally cooked out of at least 700 of the cookbooks in the store. So we have a personal knowledge of how certain books could work for certain people."

Understand your cooking limitations, expectations and audience. Mika Bareket, owner of Toronto's Good Egg, tailors her recommendations based on a simple set of questions: "What do you already own and like? Do you follow recipes word for word, or are you looking for ideas more than instructions? Who do you cook for - children, vegetarians, fancy dinner parties etc.?"

The author then proceeds to recommend a Bible, Nice to Have and a For the Adventurous in a couple of different categories. Check out the original link for fuller descriptions of the choices!

General

Canadian

Baking/Dessert

International

Reference

Wild Card

I tend to use cookbooks to browse and expand my repertoire. I'll use the web for known item searching. For example, if I want to make braised short ribs, I'll google it and see how a bunch of different people are preparing the dish and then either pick one or freestyle based on a kind of composite picture. Of the websites out there, my favourite is probably Simply Recipes.

As for cookbooks I keep going back to over and over again, I'll pick just a couple: by far my favourite cookbooks are Michael Smith's two Chef at Home books, the first one here and the expanded edition here. I really love Smith's emphasis on simple recipes as scaffolding for experimentation in the kitchen. It's really about "cooking without a recipe" -- or at least as much as a book of recipes can be.

2 responses so far

Best Science Books 2010: New Scientist

Dec 17 2010 Published by under best science books 2010, science books

Another list for your reading, gift giving and collection development pleasure. This is a compilation of picks from various writers on their Culture Lab blog.

  • The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
  • Alex's Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics by Alex Bellos
  • Angel of Death: The Story of Smallpox by Gareth Williams
  • The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff
  • The Mind's Eye by Oliver Wolf Sacks
  • The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It by Philip Ball
  • Massive: The Hunt for the God Particle by Ian Sample
  • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in Space by Mary Roach

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

#ArsenicLife #Fail: A teachable moment

For those that haven't heard about the NASA/arsenic bacteria story that's been exploding all over the science blogosphere over the last couple of weeks, I like the summary over at Jonathan Eisen's Tree of Life blog:

  1. NASA announced a major press conference
  2. at the conference they discussed a new Science paper claiming to show the discovery of a microbe that could replace much/some of its phosphate with arsenic
  3. initial press coverage of the paper was very positive and discussed the work as having profound implications for understanding of life in the universe - though some scientists in some of the stories expressed scepticism of the findings
  4. subsequently many science bloggers further critiqued the paper and/or the press coverage
  5. NASA and the scientists have now refused to discuss the criticisms of their work and press interactions
  6. News stories have now come out summarizing the blogger criticisms and also discussing the unwillingness of NASA / the authors to discuss their work

So, in the middle of all that I really appreciated Bonnie Swoger's recent post, Using the 'arsenic bacteria' story as a teaching moment for undergraduates. It really warmed my cold, dark science librarian's heart.

Precisely because it is so perfectly science-librarianish. It combines an interest and fascination with science and the scientific method with the drive to carry out one of the core missions of the academic librarian. That would be what we call Information Literacy instruction. In other words, helping faculty teach their students about the process of scholarly communication in the sciences.

From the ACRL Information Literacy Standards for Science and Engineering/Technology:

Standard Three

The information literate student critically evaluates the procured information and its sources, and as a result, decides whether or not to modify the initial query and/or seek additional sources and whether to develop a new research process.


Standard Five

The information literate student understands that information literacy is an ongoing process and an important component of lifelong learning and recognizes the need to keep current regarding new developments in his or her field.

From Bonnie's post:

First, you have scientists on record saying that basically, the peer review system didn't work as well as we'd like. These scientists are saying that the scientific methods used were not as rigorous as they should have been. In addition, many folks are arguing that what the scientists actually discovered isn't nearly as important as the hype surrounding it makes it seem.

*snip*

Second, you have the controversy about where scientific debate should take place. Some scientists see little value in the scientific blogosphere. Many others (including myself) view it as a vital part of the communication between scientists and the general public. In addition, blogger's comments have led to the retraction of at least one article in a highly respected journal (that I know of).

I agree completely with Bonnie that this type of media event is the perfect opportunity to reach students about both the idealized conception of scholarly communications as well as the more sausage-making aspects of a very human process.

In fact, on December 6th, just a few days after the bacteria hit the fan, I was at a workshop session for a fourth year Science & Technology Studies seminar course here at York. I was there to help the students think about their major projects in the context of the sources they will need and just the practicality of various ideas in the time frame they were looking at.

And wouldn't you know it. One of the students wanted to do a media analysis of a scientific controversy. Bingo. I don't know if he'll end up doing the arsenic life story for his project, but it was a good example for me to talk about finding media reporting (new and old media) and the context that blogs and the web in general brings to that sort of issue.

Which led me to #ArsenicLife #Fail and Bonnie's post. Picking up a bit where she left off, I started to think in a bit more detail about how I could use the issue as kind of a case study in scientific communications and the media in the 21st century.

I thought about from the point of view of progression of media documents, from the original reporting to the various reactions. I also saw the case more or less mirroring Eisen's breakdown of the story I quoted above. I wanted my selection of documents to be concise and manageable yet give a good sense of the scale of the controversy and the main themes.

This is what I've come up with. Please, feel free to suggest documents and themes that I've missed that'll add to the picture, especially if you think there's a document that better illustrates one of the themes than the one I've chosen. Do keep in mind that I want to have something that will be manageable to talk about and discuss with a class in, say, 30-45 minutes.

Not that I'm ever going to get to do such a class or make such a presentation -- but it's fun to think about.

Here goes:

It'll be very interesting to see where this goes over even the next few days as the blogosphere digests the authors' latest response and the fact that they've decided to engage at all with non-traditional media.

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