Archive for: December, 2013

Canadian Science Policy Advocate Interviews: Dak de Kerckhove, Ph.D. candidate, University of Toronto

Dec 17 2013 Published by under Canada, interview, Politics, Uncategorized

Welcome to the rebooted science interview series here at Confessions of a Science Librarian! The previous incarnation mostly concentrated on people in the broadly definined scholarly communications community, like Mark Patterson of eLife, Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt of PeerJ or author Michael Nielsen.

The series has been lying fairly fallow for the last few years so I thought my more recent involvement with Canadian science policy advocacy presented an interesting opportunity to start over. In particular, my participation in the recent iPolitics science policy series presented itself as a amazing chance to tap into a wonderful pool of science policy advocates and see what they think about the current situation in Canada.

So what I've done is invite each of the authors from that series to respond to the same set of email interview questions with the idea that I would publish their exact responses here.

Over the next month or two I will be publishing the interviews from those that have agreed to participate. Once a few of those are up, I plan to widen the field and invite a broader range of Canadian science policy advocates to join the fray.

Suggestions of interview participants are more than welcome. Please feel free to email suggestions to jdupuis at yorku dot ca.

University of Toronto Ph.D. candidate Dak de Kerckhove is up first.

Enjoy!

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Q1. Could you tell us a little bit about your scientific/technical/journalistic/political background and how you ended up involved in science advocacy? How do you define advocacy and what’s been the focus of your advocacy activities?

I am a fisheries biologist who through 10 years in environmental consulting and even more obtaining academic degrees has worked closely with government agencies (like Fisheries and Oceans Canada) on improving the accuracy and efficiency of environmental regulations, and with private companies on environmental permitting for large and small industrial projects (from the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline to culvert upgrades in Alberta). I am fortunate that these experiences have allowed me to sit on all sides of the table while everyone tries to balance economic development with ecological sustainability. I gradually became aware that there was a growing problem in Canada as I discovered that the only participants at this regulatory table who were clearly not interested in evidence-based policy decisions were the elected officials of our current government. Industry, regulators, consultants, contractors, and public stakeholders all favoured evidence-based solutions that could lead towards a better outcome for all. And importantly, even when my industrial clients were frustrated by the regulatory system, they understood its merits, and that scientific advancements could only improve it. My awareness turned to alarm as “belt-tightening” became the justification to cutting science-based programs (e.g. Experimental Lakes Area, Marine Pollution Prevention) even if their social, environmental and economic benefits vastly outweighed their cost. When the omnibus Bill C-38 neutered parliamentary debate on very questionable changes to established laws and our public servants could only privately voice their concerns from having being publically muzzled, I realized I had to get involved and raise my own voice for them.

The type of advocacy I was inspired to participate in is led by the examples from Kevin Page (former Parliamentary Budget Officer), Dr. David Schindler (former Professor), Brett Favaro (current PhD student), and the countless journalists doggedly filling Access to Information requests. Their example is to convey the numbers behind the political issues to the public and let them come to their own conclusions. In a sense, if one believes that science is repressed in Canada because it contradicts the ideology of the government, then objectively obtained numbers should stand on their own merit, without the need for political embellishment. This approach is attractive to me for a few reasons: 1) it starts by giving our government the benefit of the doubt and taking the statements they make at their word - which to me seems like the fairest place to start, 2) it provides everyone, including the government, with all the tools and data needed to check methods and even launch any counter arguments – which is transparent and based on peer-review, and 3) it simply allows scientists in the private arenas to state the results that their muzzled colleagues are well aware of, but not able to release, without needing to learn how to be a great publicist, debater or orator.

My first piece of advocacy was to look for the numbers behind Minister Joe Oliver’s claim that environmental legislation was holding up economic development. We couldn’t find them, and the publically available data we did find suggested instead that the great majority of reviews were efficiently done. We released this finding in a peer-review paper, as well as all the data, and offered recommendations on alternate policies that could expedite reviews. The paper is the most read in the journal since it was released in March 2013, and media outlets picked up the story and reported our findings. In that relatively small effort we achieved more than we had hoped. So it encouraged me to continue on.
 

Q2. The Conservative Government’s science policies since 2006 have been pretty controversial and hotly contested. What do you think has been the most damaging thing that they’ve done?

There are many policy changes that concern me, many valuable science-based programs that have been cut, and a few laws that have been perhaps unnecessarily changed, but what I am most concerned about is that the government has encouraged a public belief that all expert opinion is partisan and so should be controlled. When the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy was closed, Minister John Baird argued publically that the group’s promotion of a carbon tax, which had become a partisan debate in federal politics, was the reason. When the government was criticized for muzzling scientists, Phillip Cross justified government control in his “What War on Science?” article in the Financial Post by invoking Steven Pinker’s statement that academics are biased towards the left, and government scientists are merely data gatherers without the expertise to comment on larger issues, and so both types of scientist should be controlled (by presumably someone with no scientific experience). This is an unbelievable statement by the former Chief Economic Analyst at Statistics Canada considering that 1) he above all people should recognize that it is primarily the data that has been muzzled, and 2) many of the former and current scientists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada are world renown and widely recognized pioneers in their field, some much more respected than the academics whose opinion he considers has more value (even if biased). The danger of this message is that it contaminates the credibility of all fields of research, and may not be so easy to reverse over time, even with a new government.

 
Q3. The conservative response to a lot of the activism that’s happened over the last few years has basically been to affirm that the Harper government has increased overall funding for science and that what some have called muzzling is really just management asserting its right to control what their employees communicate to the media. How do you respond to this?

There are others who have presented the data that at most completely counters, and at least qualifies, the statement that overall funding to science has been increased (e.g. Arthur Carty’s, Executive Director of the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, informative presentation at the 2013 Science Policy Forum on some of those numbers). My personal feeling is that the muzzling goes far beyond asserting a right to control a message. We’ve seen that nternational colleagues are pulling out of scientific relationships with public service scientists from the fear that their hard earned research will be buried. We’ve heard from recently retired public service scientists that anything from routine interviews with the press to discussing polluted watercourses near major urban centers was disallowed by ministry managers. We’ve seen leading economic and scientific journals weigh in that the muzzling in Canada is much worse than anything that was found in the George W. Bush administration whose policies were promptly dropped when the new administration took over. These are serious infringements on the public’s right to know the expert opinion of the scientists that we the taxpayers fund to create and maintain a better life for us all. If Philip Cross is correct, and these government scientists are simply number crunchers who couldn’t possibly comment properly on policy, then should it not be easy for the wiser scientists in middle management positions to refute their statements? That may sound a little glib, but to state my overall approach to advocacy once more, if we are take the government and their apologists at their word, then wouldn’t a public debate still be a better option than muzzling? I certainly think so, and I am one of the public, and it is also the official policy of sister scientific ministries in the United States (e.g. the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration).

 
Q4. When the next government comes in, they will effectively have a kindof science blank slate to work with. What do you think are some policies the next government should focus on to rebuild their science and technology activities and infrastructure?

I think there are some attractive policy directions already being discussed on both sides of the floor in the House of Commons. The Open Data Portal which was created by the Conservatives is a significant step forward towards allowing the public to access the vast databases in our ministries. With a colleague, I recently review the portal and found the current data underwhelming, but the portal is young. No matter who governs after the next election, this platform needs to be further developed, and I certainly agree with Dr. David Eaves that new legislation should carry data reporting requirements and federal Access to Information responses should be posted on the portal. The NDP MP Kennedy Stewart recently introduced private member’s bill C-558 which calls for establishing an independent Parliamentary Science Officer. This idea seems so clearly in the interest of the Canadian public, and as it is also a Liberal priority policy resolution and is so obviously related to the PBO which was a Conservative initiative, it’s surprising that anyone could characterize it as a partisan initiative and not support it. With an independent science advisor I would hope that many of the other needed scientific and environmental policies would follow suit. Many of the policy decisions of the sitting government are beyond objective comprehension and cannot be justified by any reasonable arguments. A retroactive evaluation of some of these decisions needs to be undertaken with input from the technical experts in the ministries. Some of these decisions may need to be reversed (e.g. closing of important scientific and monitoring stations, loss of a robust census), others modified (e.g. provide the resources to achieve mandatory review times of environmental assessments) and some maintained (e.g. Rouge National Urban Park).

 
Q5. In the meantime, there’s lots of work to be done. But many in the science community shy away from overt political activity as it relates to their work. How would you convince skeptical but interested scientists to get involved with advocacy? And what do you think would be the most effective way for them to channel their energies?

Its difficult to encourage scientists to speak up if they think it will harm their careers. An understanding that advocacy and opinion is not treason is important, and the best way to do that is to encourage free speech with public employees and a communication strategy that includes the caveat that a technical expert’s opinion is not necessarily that of the government (this has been achieved in the US). Beyond this step, I encourage other scientists to get involved by doing what they do best: ask questions about policy directions, seek answers by examining the available data behind decisions, and release conclusions with the supporting evidence for the public to scrutinize. This allows scientists to play a valuable role in shaping Canada’s public policy without necessarily becoming advocates of any particular movement or party, and importantly preserve their objectivity in letting the numbers do the talking.

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Best Science Books 2013: Science Friday

Dec 16 2013 Published by under best science books 2013, science books

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets.

From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here.

This time it's Science Friday Science Book Picks for 2013.

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
  • The Sixteenth Rail: The Evidence, the Scientist, and the Lindbergh Kidnapping by Adam Schrager
  • Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car and Food on Your Plate by Rose George
  • Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am? by Gemma Elwin Harris
  • The Inheritor’s Powder: A Tale of Arsenic, Murder, and the New Forensic Science by Sandra Hempel
  • On Looking: Eleven Walks With Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz
  • Cosmic Apprentice: Dispatches from The Edge of Science by Dorion Sagan
  • Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America by Jon Mooallem
  • Smarter Than You Think by Clive Thompson
  • Einstein and The Quantum: The Quest of the Valian Swabian by A. Douglas Stone

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 most of my lists from Largehearted Boy. The summary post for 2012 books is here and all the posts for 2012 can be found here.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Quiet or Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

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Best Science Books 2013: The Economist

Dec 16 2013 Published by under best science books 2013, science books

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets.

From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here.

This time it's The Economist Books of the Year.

  • Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident and the Illusion of Safety by Eric Schlosser
  • Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship and Betrayal by Nick Bilton
  • The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone
  • Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings
  • Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better by Clive Thompso
  • The Triumph of Human Empire: Verne, Morris and Stevenson at the End of the World by Rosalind Williams
  • Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis

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 most of my lists from Largehearted Boy. The summary post for 2012 books is here and all the posts for 2012 can be found here.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Quiet or Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

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Best Science Books 2013: Cocktail Party Physics

Dec 15 2013 Published by under best science books 2013, science books

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets.

From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here.

This time it's Cocktail Party Physics Baker’s Dozen: Best 2013 Books for the Physics Fan.

  • The Universe in the Rear-View Mirror by Dave Goldberg
  • Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game by Anissa Ramirez and Allen St. John
  • Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings
  • Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality by Edward Frenkel
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield
  • The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics by Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky
  • Angry Birds, Furious Forces: The Physics at Play in the World’s Most Popular Game by Rhett Allain
  • Neutrino Hunters: The Thrilling Chase for a Ghostly Particle to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Ray Jayawardhana
  • Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian by A. Douglas Stone
  • The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures by Edward Ball
  • The New York Times Book of Physics and Astronomy: More Than 100 Years of Covering the Expanding Universe edited by Cornelia Dean
  • Quantum Computing Since Democritus by Scott Aaronson

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 most of my lists from Largehearted Boy. The summary post for 2012 books is here and all the posts for 2012 can be found here.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Quiet or Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

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Around the Web: Elsevier vs. Academia.edu vs. Researchers

This is a tale of two companies and a bunch of not-so-innocent bystanders.

Both Elsevier and Academia.edu are for-profit companies in the scholarly communications industry. Elsevier is a publisher while Academia.edu is a platform for scholars that, among other things, allows them to post copies of their articles online for all the world to see.

Both are trying to make money by adding value within the scholarly communications ecosystem. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There is plenty of room within that ecosystem for all kinds of players, both for-profit and non-profit. It's all about the value you bring to the table. It's about whether or not you contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem or are a parasite.

Recently Elsevier has begun sending take-down notices to Academia.edu for articles that authors have posted where they are in violation of the copyright transfer agreement that the author has signed. Most authors sign such agreements with publishers.

On the one hand Elsevier is completely justified in enforcing their author agreements. I also have little sympathy for Academia.edu. They are a for-profit company that certainly understands exactly what their customers are doing. On the other hand, this is a stark reminder to authors just who owns their research outputs. It's not the researchers, it's not the repositories where they might post copies of their articles. It's the publishers like Elsevier who own their research outputs.

Authors are caught between these two for-profit companies, one a massive dinosaur trying to protect its profit margins as it recalibrate to a new, more open world. The other a nimble start-up, trying to be a part of that new world. The road to that new world is full of bumps and false starts and blind alleys. Hopefully Elsevier and Academia.edu's troubles will help raise awareness about the fundamental unfairness of the current scholarly communications ecosystem.

Authors, if you don't want to get caught in the middle of this kind of struggle, don't sign away your copyright to publishers. There is another way.

It's not too late to sign the Cost of Knowledge boycott.

Many of the links below are courtesy of the Open Access Tracking Project.

As usual, if I've missed any important posts, please let me know either at jdupuis at yorku dot ca or in the comments.

Update 2013.12.12. Added new posts up to December 11.

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Reading Diary: Survive! Inside the Human Body graphic novel series

Dec 09 2013 Published by under book review, science books

As I've often said, there are two kinds of science-themed graphic novels. The kind that's usually more fun reading are historical or biographical in nature, like a couple of my favourites Feynman or Logicomix. Generally in this species of graphic novel, the actual science content kind of takes a back seat to the historical or biographical narrative. In some ways, I think those are easier to do than books that try to very directly convey scientific information via the comics medium. These often end up as little more than regular textbooks with funny pictures, kind of boring and dry but maybe even a bit lamer for trying so hard. It's very challenging to take what's best about dynamic graphic storytelling and use that to teach core scientific knowledge. A good example is Evolution: The story of life on Earth by Jay Hosler, Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon, another of my all-time favourites. There are many others that try the same thing, with mixed results.

A little while back the publisher No Starch Press approached me to review three physiology graphic novels which are basically translations and reprints of a series aimed at schoolchildren which is insanely popular in Korea: Survive! Inside the Human Body, Vol. 1: The Digestive System, Survive! Inside the Human Body, Vol. 2: The Circulatory System and Survive! Inside the Human Body, Vol. 3: The Nervous System.

Can lightening strike twice? Are these books any good?

I'm here to tell you they are outstanding.

The conceit is rather amusing, kind of a take on the film Fantastic Voyage from back in the 1960s. The wacky Dr. Brain and his intrepid sidekick Geo shrink down in a nanometer scale probe and go on a three volume adventure through the body of the unsuspecting young girl Phoebe. The first volume is the digestive system and at the end the voyage accidentally transitions into the circulatory system and finally accidentally into the nervous system for the third volume.

With an emphasis on the wacky and accidental, Dr. Brain and Geo's adventures are fast-paced, light-hearted and fun. The manga-style art is a perfect complement to the story, making it very appropriate for young kids. The anatomical and physiological detail is presented fairly simply as the duo travel through Phoebe's body, framed more in terms of the challenges of successfully surviving their voyage than as info-dump. It's all about the discovery and adventure! At end of each chapter in each book, there is a two-page recap of all the most relevant facts and ideas, kind of a catch-up for those paying more attention to the story than the details. To me, that's one of the best features as it does concentrate the "medicine" in a few spots in each book so that they can be used for actual study in a course. Otherwise, if the information is too spread around among all the story "sugar" it would make is difficult for students to figure out what they really need to know at the end of each book.

Overall, as I said above, these books are outstanding. Like all truly great kids stories, there is enough story and long-forgotten physiological detail to make these books fun and useful for both adults and children. Age-wise, I would suggest these books most directly for children from grades 5 to 8, but I think they would be useful to any high school kid that needs a biology brush up. As such, I would recommend these books for any school library, from primary through high school. These would also be perfect for any public library collection. As for academic libraries, these probably too basic a level to be appropriate for actual college or university science students but there are fun enough for a casual reading collection. They may also be useful for non-science students taking introductory science human biology courses. And given the holiday season, these would make great stocking stuffers for just about any youngster, whether or not they think they are interested in science.

Co, Gomdori and Hyun-Dong Han. Survive! Inside the Human Body, Vol. 1: The Digestive System. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2013. 184pp. ISBN-13: 978-1593274719

Co, Gomdori and Hyun-Dong Han. Survive! Inside the Human Body, Vol. 2: The Circulatory System. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2013. 184pp. ISBN-13: 978-1593274726

Co, Gomdori and Hyun-Dong Han. Survive! Inside the Human Body, Vol. 3: The Nervous System. San Francisco: No Starch Press, 2013. 184pp. ISBN-13: 978-1593274733

(Copies of all three books provided by the publisher.)

  
Other science graphic novels I have reviewed:

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Best Science Books 2013: New Scientist

Dec 05 2013 Published by under best science books 2013, science books

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets.

From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here.

This time it's New Scientist The best science books of 2013.

  • Big Data: A revolution that will transform how we live, work and think by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier
  • Forecast: What physics, meteorology, and the natural sciences can teach us about economics by Mark Buchanan
  • The Anatomy of Violence: The biological roots of crime by Adrian Raine
  • The Bonobo and the Atheist: In search of humanism among the primates by Frans de Waal
  • Ginkgo: The tree that time forgot by Peter Crane
  • The Universe in the Rearview Mirror: How hidden symmetries shape reality by Dave Goldberg
  • A Tale of Seven Elements by Eric Scerri
  • The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and our gamble over Earth's future by Paul Sabin
  • Beyond the God Particle by Leon Lederman and Christopher Hill
  • Experiencing Art: In the brain of the beholder by Arthur Shimamura
  • The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami shaman by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert (translated by Nicholas Elliott and Alison Dundy)

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 most of my lists from Largehearted Boy. The summary post for 2012 books is here and all the posts for 2012 can be found here.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Quiet or Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

No responses yet

Best Science Books 2013: Boing Boing Gift Guide

Dec 03 2013 Published by under best science books 2013, science books

Every year for the last bunch of years I’ve been linking to and posting all the “year’s best sciencey books” lists that I can find around the web in various media outlets.

From the beginning it’s been a pretty popular service so I’m happy to continue it. The previous posts for all the 2013 lists are here.

This time it's the Boing Boing 2014 Gift Guide.

  • Make: Analog Synthesizers by Ray Wilson
  • Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong-and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster
  • Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars by Lee Billings
  • Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin
  • An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield
  • You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and Allthe Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney
  • My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs by Brian Switek

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 most of my lists from Largehearted Boy. The summary post for 2012 books is here and all the posts for 2012 can be found here.

And if you wish to support my humble list-making efforts, run on over to Amazon, take a look at Quiet or Steve Jobs or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks or maybe even something else from the today's list.

No responses yet

Cyber Monday is Einstein Monday!

Dec 02 2013 Published by under physics, science books

While browsing through my various social media feeds this morning I noticed that Amazon is having crazy Cyber Monday Kindle sales. Not much science or technology is on offer -- it's mostly popular fiction -- but there is a very nice selection of Einstein books that you can purchase.

They are all $2.82 TODAY!

There are a few Rachel Carson and James Gleick books that people might find interesting, also at $2.82.

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Reading Diary: Unfeathered bird, Marie Curie and her daughters, Creation & Engineers of victory

Dec 02 2013 Published by under acad lib future, book review, history, science books

Some capsule reviews of books I've finished over the last little while, in the spirit of catching up.

van Grouw, Katrina. The Unfeathered Bird. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. 304pp. ISBN-13: 978-0691151342

This is a seriously beautiful coffee table-sized scientific illustrations book on birds. Basically the idea of the book is to explore birds through drawings mostly of whole or partial skeletons but also some of musculature and "plucked" bodies. A bit odd, a bit creepy but breath-taking. The book opens with a very general section on what birds have in common and then goes into much more detail about various different families of birds, such as accipitres (vultures, birds of prey, owls), picae (parrots, turacos, etc), anseres (waterfowl, penguins, etc), grallae (flamingoes, herons, etc), and gallinae (gamebirds, screamers, etc) and passeres (pigeons, nightjars, etc).

Each section has some explanatory text, detailed but not overwhelming for the non-specialist, and occasionally a bit whimsical. I certainly learned a lot.

While probably not suitable for academic collections, this might be fun for a public library that collects nature art books and certainly as a gift for any bird lover.

 

 

Emling, Shelley. Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science's First Family. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 256pp. ISBN-13: 978-0230115712

This is a really terrific book covering a lot of less-well-know things about Marie Curie and her family. Mostly covering Curie's life from her 1921 trip to the USA until her death in 1934 it covers a lot of ground. Interestingly, the focus is on her administrative and fundraising duties for the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw rather than her directly scientific contributions. The book also covers her personal life after the death of Pierre Curie quite a bit including some of the politics she found her self not-so-willingly enmeshed in.

Perhaps what makes this book most valuable is that is doesn't end with her death. It picks right up and tells the stories of her daughters Irene and Eve, both of whom had lives as interesting as their mother's. Irene of course was a renowned scientist but Eve also lead a very public life as a journalist so I very much appreciated their stories to complement Marie's.

I would recommend Marie Curie and her daughters to any library which collects scientific biographies or on women in science. Most public and high school libraries would benefit from this book as well.

 

 

Rutherford, Adam. Creation: How Science Is Reinventing Life Itself. New York: Current, 2013. 288pp. ISBN-13: 978-1617230059

The species of book that this belongs to can be problematic sometimes. It's a popular introduction to a new and hot field of academic study. The danger? Too dumbed down or too sexed up. Fortunately Adam Rutherford's introduction to synthetic biology doesn't fall into either camp at all. I't actually a pretty reasonable introduction, providing decent detail at an appropriate level for the target audience. The target audience being fairly scientifically literate people who want to catch up a bit on the whole biotech field and see what all the fuss is about.

The first section gives a fairly long overview of where life came from on the planet, both from a geological and biological perspective. The second section goes into some fairly detailed examples of what synthetic biology can do, with some interesting case studies in biofuels, bio circuitry, food crops, plug and play remixing and others. The final chapter makes the case that biotechnology is a transformative technology that's worth pursuing.

Overall, a fine book that might be too basic for research collections but is completely appropriate for collections aimed at non-scientists. In that vein, public libraries would find it useful.

 

 

Kennedy, Paul. Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned The Tide in the Second World War. New York: Harper Collins, 2013. 464pp. ISBN-13: 978-1400067619

This is a very cool idea for a book: take a look at all the major technological innovations by the Allies during World War II and analyse how they contributed to their ultimate success against the Nazis. This ideal book would balance scientific and engineering detail with keen insight into military and political strategy and tactics along with solid narrative drive to paint a vivid picture of how those technologies made a difference on the ground, in the air and at sea.

This isn't quite that book, but it's close. What's it's perhaps lacking from that ideal vision is a bit more on the science and engineering side, in particular more on the scientists and engineers who researched, designed and developed such key technologies as radar, better fighter engines and all the rest. In other words, this is a bit more of a traditional popular history book than I was hoping for, with an emphasis on political and military/operational detail.

But not to any great detriment. This is still one of the best books I read in 2013, vivid and fascinating. It worked as a wonderful companion to Antony Beevor's The Second World War<img src="http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=confofascieli-20&l=as2&o=1&a=0316023744" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" / which I read just before picking up Kennedy's book. I really appreciated how it dove into detail on some of the themes and campaign's that Beevor by necessity wasn't able to address, like the battle of the Atlantic.

I recommend this book to any collection that deals with military or scientific and engineering history. Any public library would find a ready audience for this book. It would also make a great gift for the military/science/engineering geek in your family.

(Copies of The Unfeathered Bird, Creation and Marie Curie and Her Daughters provided by the publishers.)

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