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Science Books

June 2, 2006

Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good
Jonathan Balcombe (2006)
ISBN: 1403986010

It's taken many years to finally convince people that, like humans, animals can suffer pain and stress, but what about other complex sensations? Can animals experience pleasurable sensations, or is pleasure the sole domain of humankind? Jonathan Balcombe, Animal Behavior Research Consultant for the Washington DC-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, not only thinks that they can, but he also shows us that animals can experience pleasure from a wide array of stimuli. While we need only look to our pet cat curled up on their favorite chair (or yours!) for confirmation of animal enjoyment, Balcombe presents thoroughly researched evidence to numerous other examples. Like humans, other species can derive pleasure from sex, food, intimate contact, being comfortable, and even from anticipation and aesthetics. Balcombe's arguments are not only a joy to read, but they are also biologically and evolutionary sound, as without experiencing the pleasures that accompany sex, food, or companionship, why would any animal go back for more? Balcombe's motivation for writing Pleasurable Kingdom stems from his belief that animal emotions are a neglected area of science. It also makes perfectly good sense that Balcombe should write Pleasurable Kingdom with the general reader in mind, as so many people come into contact with animals everyday. The end result is a carefully balanced book that is neither too heavy nor too light on science, and which also includes some very humorous, enlightening and intriguing animal tales. Pleasurable Kingdom also takes on a stimulating philosophical bent, as Balcombe hammers out some of the ethical consequences that may come with the knowledge that animals can experience pleasure.

Viruses vs. Superbugs: A Solution to the Antibiotics Crisis?
Thomas Hausler (2006)
ISBN: 1403987645

Penicillin's entry into medicine is momentous and remarkable, but statistics show that around 90,000 people a year in the United States die as a result of antibiotic-resistant superbug infections; and health professionals believe that this is only be the beginning. So where does science turn when one of the greatest weapons in the medical arsenal fails? Apparently, the replacement is already available, as the arrival of penicillin overshadowed another equally effective method for eliminating bacteria - bacteriophage. In Viruses vs. Superbugs, Thomas Häusler, award winning journalist and chief science editor of the Swiss news magazine Facts, argues that faced with the threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, now is the time for humanity to reconsider the role of phages. Discovered in 1915, phage therapy was effectively used a full 20 years before it was replaced by penicillin. Häusler shows how phages that destroyed bacteria but were harmless to humans were overlooked once penicillin came onto the scene. Western nations have been sluggish to re-visit phage therapy. This is despite phage therapy's relatively long history and successful application, coupled with the fact that it is still being used in Eastern Europe today. Hausler suspects that the reason behind the West's hesitation towards adopting phage therapy is that there just isn't as much money in it for pharmaceutical corporations. A salient and thought provoking take on society's attitudes toward disease and medicine.

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