Books I'd like to read: Ebola, Vaccines, AirBnB, Democracies and more

For your reading and collection development pleasure...

It's been a while since I've done one of these posts, kind of seeing what's on my mind a little in the science-y and tech-y book world and kind of a way to help me remember what I want to pick up. It's also been a while since I've actually reviewed a book, but I do think I'll be getting to some of the backlog fairly soon in some mass group posts.

In any case, some books I'd like to read, ones that I've not acquired yet but probably will soon.

The Politics of Fear: Médecins sans Frontières and the West African Ebola Epidemic. Edited by Michiel Hofman and Sokhieng Au

The 2014-2015 Ebola epidemic in West Africa was an unprecedented medical and political emergency that cast an unflattering light on multiple corners of government and international response. Fear, not rational planning, appeared to drive many decisions made at population and leadership levels, which in turn brought about a response that was as uneven as it was unprecedented: entire populations were decimated or destroyed, vaccine trials were fast-tracked, health staff died, untested medications were used (or not used) in controversial ways, humanitarian workers returned home to enforced isolation, and military was employed to sometimes disturbing ends.

The epidemic revealed serious fault lines at all levels of theory and practice of global public health: national governments were shown to be helpless and unprepared for calamity at this scale; the World Health Organization was roundly condemned for its ineffectiveness; the US quietly created its own African CDC a year after the epidemic began. Amid such chaos, Médecins sans Frontières was forced to act with unprecdented autonomy -- and amid great criticism -- in responding to the disease, taking unprecedented steps in deploying services and advocating for international aid.

The Politics of Fear provides a primary documentary resource for recounting and learning from the Ebola epidemic. Comprising eleven topic-based chapters and four eyewitness vignettes from both MSF- and non-MSF-affiliated contributors (all of whom have been given access to MSF Ebola archives from Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia for research), it aims to provide a politically agnostic account of the defining health event of the 21st century so far, one that will hopefully inform current opinions and future responses.

 

The Vaccine Race: Science, Politics, and the Human Costs of Defeating Disease. By Meredith Wadman.

The epic and controversial story of a major breakthrough in cell biology that led to the conquest of rubella and other devastating diseases.

Until the late 1960s, tens of thousands of American children suffered crippling birth defects if their mothers had been exposed to rubella, popularly known as German measles, while pregnant; there was no vaccine and little understanding of how the disease devastated fetuses. In June 1962, a young biologist in Philadelphia, using tissue extracted from an aborted fetus from Sweden, produced safe, clean cells that allowed the creation of vaccines against rubella and other common childhood diseases. Two years later, in the midst of a devastating German measles epidemic, his colleague developed the vaccine that would one day wipe out homegrown rubella. The rubella vaccine and others made with those fetal cells have protected more than 150 million people in the United States, the vast majority of them preschoolers. The new cells and the method of making them also led to vaccines that have protected billions of people around the world from polio, rabies, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A, shingles and adenovirus.

 

Science in the Archives: Pasts, Presents, Futures. By Lorraine Daston (Editor)

With Science in the Archives, Lorraine Daston and her co-authors offer the first study of the important role that these archives play in the natural and human sciences. Reaching across disciplines and centuries, contributors cover episodes in the history of astronomy, geology, genetics, philology, climatology, medicine, and more—as well as fundamental practices such as collecting, retrieval, and data mining. Chapters cover topics ranging from doxology in Greco-Roman Antiquity to NSA surveillance techniques of the twenty-first century. Thoroughly exploring the practices, politics, economics, and potential of the sciences of the archives, this volume reveals the essential historical dimension of the sciences, while also adding a much-needed long­-term perspective to contemporary debates over the uses of Big Data in science.

 


Wolf Nation: The Life, Death, and Return of Wild American Wolves. By Brenda Peterson

In the tradition of Peter Matthiessen’s Wildlife in America or Aldo Leopold’s work, Brenda Peterson tells the 300-year history of wild wolves in America. It is also our own history, seen through our relationship with wolves. Native Americans revered them. Settlers jealousy exterminated them. Now, scientists, writers, and ordinary citizens are fighting to bring them back to the wild. Peterson, an eloquent voice in the battle for twenty years, makes the powerful case that without wolves, not only will our whole ecology unravel, but well lose much of our national soul.

 

The Airbnb Story: How Three Ordinary Guys Disrupted an Industry, Made Billions...and Created Plenty of Controversy. By Leigh Gallagher

In addition to exploring the colorful history of its founding and the many factors contributing to Airbnb’s success—an epic recession that left people with a much greater incentive to travel cheaply or to turn their homes into something monetizable; fatigue with a hospitality industry that had become overpriced and overcommoditized; and a new generation of millennial travelers who didn’t bat an eye at the idea of sharing space with strangers—Gallagher also investigates the more controversial side of the Airbnb story. Regulators have fought back forcefully in many markets to curb the company’s rapid expansion. Hotel industry leaders wrestle with the disruption it has caused them and the growing threat it represents to their bottom line. And residents and customers alike struggle with the unintended consequences of opening up private homes for public consumption. Gallagher closely examines crises that hit the company at its core, like ransackings and other fraudulent uses of the platform (including the story of one family in a wealthy New Jersey suburb who learned the hard way that Airbnb’s promise of “trust” can fall short); accidents and even deaths resulting from unsafe conditions at Airbnb listings; and racial and other kinds of discrimination by Airbnb hosts.

 

Stalin and the Scientists: A History of Triumph and Tragedy, 1905-1953. By Simon Ings

Stalin and the Scientists tells the story of the hugely gifted scientists who worked in Russia from the years leading up to the Revolution through the death of the "Great Scientist" himself, Joseph Stalin. It weaves together the stories of scientists, politicians, and ideologues into an intimate and sometimes horrifying portrait of a state determined to remake the world. They often wreaked great harm. Stalin was himself an amateur botanist, and by falling under the sway of dangerous charlatans like Trofim Lysenko (who denied the existence of genes), and by relying on antiquated ideas of biology, he not only destroyed the lives of hundreds of brilliant scientists, he caused the death of millions through famine. But from atomic physics to management theory, and from radiation biology to neuroscience and psychology, these Soviet experts also discovered breakthroughs that forever changed agriculture, education, and medicine.

 

Why Democracies Need Science. By Harry Collins, Robert Evans

We live in times of increasing public distrust of the main institutions of modern society. Experts, including scientists, are suspected of working to hidden agendas or serving vested interests. The solution is usually seen as more public scrutiny and more control by democratic institutions experts must be subservient to social and political life.

In this book, Harry Collins and Robert Evans take a radically different view. They argue that, rather than democracies needing to be protected from science, democratic societies need to learn how to value science in this new age of uncertainty. By emphasizing that science is a moral enterprise, guided by values that should matter to all, they show how science can support democracy without destroying it and propose a new institution The Owls that can mediate between science and society and improve technological decision-making for the benefit of all.

 

Gravity's Kiss: The Detection of Gravitational Waves. By Harry Collins

Scientists have been trying to confirm the existence of gravitational waves for fifty years. Then, in September 2015, came a “very interesting event” (as the cautious subject line in a physicist’s email read) that proved to be the first detection of gravitational waves. In Gravity’s Kiss, Harry Collins—who has been watching the science of gravitational wave detection for forty-three of those fifty years and has written three previous books about it—offers a final, fascinating account, written in real time, of the unfolding of one of the most remarkable scientific discoveries ever made.

Predicted by Einstein in his theory of general relativity, gravitational waves carry energy from the collision or explosion of stars. Dying binary stars, for example, rotate faster and faster around each other until they merge, emitting a burst of gravitational waves. It is only with the development of extraordinarily sensitive, highly sophisticated detectors that physicists can now confirm Einstein’s prediction. This is the story that Collins tells.

 

How about some books you think I should read? Suggestions always welcome!

No responses yet

Leave a Reply