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Science Books

July 3, 2009

Panic In Level 4: Cannibals, Killer Viruses, And Other Journeys To The Edge Of Science
Richard Preston (2009)
ISBN: 081297560X

In Panic In Level 4, New Yorker contributor and award winning author Richard Preston, The Hot Zone, presents an assorted collection of often unsettling scientific tidbits. Preston's essays were previously published in the New Yorker, and cover a variety of subjects addressing anything from deadly pathogens to self-cannibalization. The title of Preston's book is in reference to a Level 4 biohazard laboratory, were deadly viruses like Ebola are handled everyday. People who unconsciously nibble on their fingers may be shocked by what they read regarding a genetic condition that leads to self-cannibalization. But while Preston's essays may send a chill through your bones, they are first and foremost excellent science articles that eschew stretching the truth for the sake of sensationalism. Also among the articles are profiles of eminent scientists, such as controversial genome researcher Craig Venter, and mathematicians Gregory and David Chudnovsky, the brothers who used mail-order components to build a supercomputer. An arborist stumbling upon an invasion of an Asian insect attacking hemlock trees is the topic of yet another fascinating essay. While there has been some criticism that Preston could have updated a number of his articles, there is little doubt that this collection is both informative and compelling.

Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future
Chris Mooney & Sheril Kirshenbaum (2009)
ISBN: 0465013058

In his popular The Republican War On Science, author Chris Mooney stirred up passionate debate regarding the former Republican government's purported use of tailor-made science to support its policies on wide-ranging ideological issues. Not one to leave a job half done, Mooney, along with Duke University marine scientist Sheril Kirshenbaum, returns to strike yet another blow to the heart of scientific ignorance. Mooney and Kirshenbaum argue that there exists a major rift between scientists and the public, and point to the public furor over Pluto's demotion from planet to dwarf planet as evidence of this alienation. Both sides only have themselves to blame, says Mooney, and a sensationalist media forever eager to run the evil scientist angle are not helping matters one bit. With God still favored over evolution and only 1 minute out of 45 hours of cable news dedicated to science, it's little wonder the American public can't see the light, so to speak, when it comes to science. While Unscientific America's copious amounts of raw notes and documentation may not be to everyone's liking, the upside is that the authors do make some very sound and enlightened arguments. And in a world living on borrowed time as it teeters on the precipice of disaster - climate change, nuclear proliferation and an energy crisis - a shared understanding and appreciation of potential scientific solutions to these problems is a welcome prospect.

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