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Science Books

August 24, 2007

Supervolcano: The Catastrophic Event That Changed The Course Of Human History (Could Yellowstone be Next?)
John Savino & Marie D. Jones (2007)

While we're all busy worrying about killer-asteroids, global warming, pandemics, and nuclear war wiping out the human species, there looms an even greater threat from the belly of the Earth itself: supervolcanoes. But supervolcanoes aren't deadlier simply because of their sheer destructive power - a nuclear war or massive asteroid could equally alter climate, and turn vast ecosystems into wastelands. According to authors John Savino, a geophysicist with a background in earthquakes and volcanoes, and best-selling author Marie Jones, supervolcanoes are the itch that we can never scratch. Unlike other Earth-threatening catastrophes, there really is nothing that we can do to prevent supervolcanoes. In fact, all that we can really do is hope that one doesn't erupt during our lifetime. But if this is the case, what's the point in worrying about them at all? Well, there really is no point. The only consolation to this is the fact that supervolcanoes - like so many other topics associated with inevitable mass destruction - make for really compelling reading. Aside from explaining the devastating power and magnitude behind supervolcanoes, authors Savino and Jones show how one supervolcano in particular - the Toba supervolcano in Sumatra - determined the course of human development. The population bottleneck that followed the Toba eruption meant that only one branch of our human ancestors remained in existence. It was touch-and-go, say the authors. But they add that there's no good reason why we shouldn't expect another supervolcano to erupt in the future, and that next time we may not be so lucky!

What is Intelligence? Beyond the Flynn Effect
James R. Flynn (2007)
ISBN: 0521880076

What is intelligence? Where does it reside in the brain? What does a person's IQ actually represent? And are humans getting smarter? Is intelligence defined by genes, environment, or a little of both? Over the years, intelligence has proved to be one of the most fascinating of topics, as well as one of the most heated and contentious. Nonetheless, standardized IQ tests show that people do exhibit varying degrees of mental agility on a wide range of tasks. Professor Flynn explains that current research into intelligence is as vibrant as it is illuminating. He explains how genes, environment, and physiology all play a role in the development of an individual's intelligence. Now, armed with a vast collection of data spanning the 20th century, Professor Flynn attempts to explain an even more intriguing trend: we seem to be getting smarter. But just what this finding means has turned out to be a bone of contention among the world's top psychologists. Some suggest that if the justice system uses outmoded IQ tests, then mentally ill people could potentially wind up being executed rather than put into care. Flynn's findings may also raise questions about the validity of IQ tests altogether: do they actually measure intelligence, or accumulated knowledge? In What Is Intelligence, Flynn provides his own interpretation regarding the substantial rise in IQ levels, and, if you can bear to push through the swathes of statistical analysis, his conclusions are, er, pure genius.

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