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Science Books

May 3, 2007

The Case Against Perfection: Ethics In The Age Of Genetic Engineering
Michael J. Sandel (2007)
ISBN: 067401927X

With the potential to heal diseases once thought incurable, genetic engineering is pregnant with promise. But there are those who consider such medical advances to be a double-edged sword, and a slippery slope toward designer babies. One such individual is Michael J. Sandel, from Harvard University, who considers whether or not we have the right to go beyond just curing disease, and genetically augment human physiology. But before broaching such lofty questions, Sandel addresses why we need to raise a red flag at the first mention of genetic enhancement in the first place. According to Sandel, while we may not always be able to adequately express our objections to human bio-enhancements, the barriers to our post-human future are not at all trivial. As well as arguing issues of safety, equality, and spirituality, Sandel argues that genetic enhancements are the wrong approach because they are a sign that we are taking for granted the unique traits and abilities that we humans are born with. If we all lived in a world where we had the same talents and abilities, says Sandel, then we would miss out on the very human characteristic of sharing, benefiting, and ultimately cooperating with others. He also suggests that the availability of genetic enhancements would encourage a type of uber-parenting that would make today's ugly sports-parent look positively tame. While the ground that Sandel covers is hardly new, he does it in a way that adds a breath of fresh air to the bioethics debate.

Headless Males Make Great Lovers: And Other Unusual Natural Histories
Marty Crump (2007)
ISBN: 0226122026

In this fascinating collection of weird and wonderful biological oddities, Marty Crump, adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, relates tales of: birds that swap food for sex; baby spiders that eat their mother; starfish that shed limbs to get out of 'arms way; and, of course, the headless mating practices of the male praying mantis (although, Crump explains how a smart mantis can avoid decapitation). Interestingly, Crump demonstrates how many animal behaviors that we may consider wacky and unusual are, surprisingly, shared by a number of different species. Crump concludes from this that these behaviors are the most efficient way for animals to survive, even if we do tend to find them a little peculiar. Headless Males Make Great Lovers is broken down into five themed chapters, and covers a range of other areas of animal biology, including recent groundbreaking studies into learned animal behavior. Another plus is that Crump makes it both pleasurable and interesting to read about anything from the liberated sex life of sea sponges, to the daily grind of tape worms and dung beetles. While aimed at a general audience, Crump's absorbing assortment of stories is suitable for anyone interested in nature's bizarre side.

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