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Science Books

February 1, 2007

Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation into Civilization's End
Lawrence E. Joseph (2007)
ISBN: 0767924479

While we might live in a highly scientific and technological age, it is always intriguing to observe how the human mind is drawn like a magnet to the mysterious and inexplicable for answers. The title of this book, Apocalypse 2012, is a case in point, as it refers to a prediction made by Mayan astronomers that everything will end in December, 2012. According to science journalist Lawrence Joseph, the Mayans somehow calculated this date as the end of a cycle of eons, which would then be followed by a new beginning. A resetting of the cosmic clock, if you will. As we move inevitably toward this calamitous date, the idea of oblivion has picked-up some currency among the usual New Age types, who now have the Internet to deliver their lentil-fueled gloom to the rest of us. But Joseph claims that he is not about to buy into this gobbledygook, and promptly sets about looking at more serious threats to our beloved planet, as predicted by real scientists. What follows is a rather fascinating look at supervolcanoes, sunspot radiation, fractures in the Earth's magnetic field, and other Earth - or at least life - annihilating phenomena. But at certain points Joseph, perhaps for dramatic effect, undermines his science cred by appearing to buy into bizarre stuff like The Bible Code and the supposed significance of planetary alignments. Other than these occasional slips, Apocalypse 2012 is a great place to start for those interested in knowing more about how we're-all-gonna-die.

Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine's Greatest Lifesaver
Arthur Allen (2007)
ISBN: 0393059111

While vaccines have saved countless lives over the last 200 years, their use has not been without controversy. Understandably, anxieties ran high during early, and very risky, vaccine research, where subjects were infected with smallpox in order to cure them of the disease, but most objections since then have come from political and religious quarters. In Vaccine, journalist Arthur Allen, who contributes to the Washington Post, investigates the pervasive fear of vaccination that overwhelms many in society. Allen articulates brilliantly the anxieties of an age where: vaccines have been linked to neurological disorders in children; vaccines for AIDS and anthrax continue to elude scientists; profits are siphoned into a monolithic pharmaceutical industry as a result of keeping people beholden to treatments rather than cures. Interestingly, Allen points out that as a result of vaccinations having successfully eradicated many diseases, and parents not having to face the horror of a child with smallpox, community fears now stem from the small risks associated with vaccination itself. Other concerns are even more irrational, such as the moral panic over a vaccination for pre-teen girls, which can stop the spread of a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer. Ultimately, Allen's book vividly highlights a choice that society has to make of either protecting the individual, or the whole community. And while vaccinations continue to protect millions of lives, an ever-present sense of self-preservation and individuality will always leave the future of vaccines in question.

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