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Science Books

January 18, 2007

Generation Rx: How Prescription Drugs Are Altering American Lives, Minds, and Bodies
Greg Critser (2007)
ISBN: 0618773568

The simple act of popping a pill to cure, prevent or mask an illness has become such a socially accepted part of our lives that we rarely question its wider ramifications. Greg Critser, whose articles on the pharmaceutical industry have appeared in Harper's, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, says that half of Americans use prescription drugs on a daily basis, and that another 1-in-6 take 3 or more. But just how did we all manage to become so dependent upon these drugs? Critser puts today's dominance of "big pharma" down to a number of political factors that began in the early 80s thanks to the Reaganite enthusiasm for deregulation. Critser's is a compelling and alarming work, detailing how the pharmaceutical companies themselves considered many of the deregulatory effects - such as direct-to-consumer promotions - hazardous to public health. Critser explains that the pharmaceutical market began taking precedence over what was normally considered best for patients, with doctors persuaded to prescribe drugs for even the most trivial of ills. Even more controversially, Critser points to evidence showing how many of the medications that we buy have not undergone thoroughly testing, and that pharma companies even manufacture pills said to cure illnesses of their own creation. While its message is bleak, Generation Rx is not filled with emotive and alarmist language, and nor does it need to be.

Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle
Colin Burgess, Chris Dubbs (2007)
ISBN: 0387360530

Many of us may recall that the Russian dog Laika was the first canine in space, and the American space-chimps, Ham and Enos, were the first primates; but this is far from the truth. Animals In Space abruptly dismisses this mythology when the authors explain that, like the cloned sheep Dolly, many animals prior to these high-profile cases were deployed by the US and Russia to test early spacecraft. In Animals In Space, Burgess and Dubbs, both recognized authorities on the history of animal space flights, explain why animals were so necessary during the initial stages of spacecraft testing as early as the 1940s. Obviously, one of the primary reasons for using dogs, chimps and mice as test subjects was to get a rough understanding of how well a human would cope with first being shot into space, and whether they'd survive once they arrived. But Burgess and Dubbs explain that once the public had gotten wind of these tests, an inevitable outcry from animal activists soon followed; an outcry that would change forever the way that scientists used animals for spaceflight testing. The book is chock full of interesting and little-known tidbits regarding our furry astronaut friends, and their unwitting contribution to modern spaceflight.

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