|Among the Creationists: Dispatches from the Anti-Evolutionists Front Line
by Jason Rosenhouse, Narrated by George Orlando
|The Tide, by Anthony J Melchiorri, narrated by Ryan Kennard Burke|
|I decided to give this book four stars despite the fact that there wasn’t a satisfying ending. The science was excellent and it was just what a biotech thriller should be.|
In The Blank Slate, Pinker outlines three dogmas that he says are the prevailing views of human nature in modern philosophy:
Written by Steven Johnson, Narrated by Alan Sklar
Reason for Reading: Science, Religion, and History group read
Genre: Non-fiction – Medicine and History
The Ghost Map follows Dr. John Snow on his quest to discover the cause of a terrible cholera outbreak in Victorian England. Johnson makes investigative epidemiology so interesting that I could almost see it dramatized (and fictionalized) into a TV show – people DO love their investigative TV! 🙂 But that’s beside the point, I guess. At the time of this outbreak in 1854, the popular theory for the spread of cholera was miasma – deathly air that carried disease. After a LOT of investigative footwork, Snow drew a map of the cholera outbreak, demonstrating that the pattern followed streets that led to a particular well (the Broad Street pump) rather than following a circular pattern you’d expect with the spread of bad air. This map, and the investigation leading up to its creation, revolutionized epidemiology. In fact, many consider Snow the “first epidemiologist.”
I really enjoyed this book. The writing was engaging (it had a few boring parts in the end when Johnson was describing the map in great detail – I think that may be a problem with listening to the audio book rather than actually reading it, though). The subject was fascinating. Sklar did a good job of narrating the book, and except for the very end with the description of the map, I was quite pleased with the book’s audio version. If you have any interest in epidemiology, or the history of medicine, I highly recommend this book.
2012 Book 154: The Social Conquest of Earth
Written by Edward O. Wilson, Narrated by Jonathan Hogan
Reason for Reading: Group read in our LibraryThing “Science, Religion, History” group.
2012 Book 149: The Poisoner’s Handbook
written by Deborah Blum, narrated by Coleen Marlo
Reason for Reading: October Halloween theme
2012 Book 133: The Believing Brain, by Michael Shermer (9/13/2012)
Reason for Reading This book is longlisted for the Wellcome Trust Prize which “aims to stimulate interest, excitement and debate about medicine and literature, reaching audiences not normally engaged with medical science.”
In The Believing Brain Michael Shermer, the founder and editor of Skeptic Magazine, shows the reader how and why we believe. He begins the book with a discussion of religious beliefs, providing a few examples of life-altering religious (or irreligious) experiences, including his own. I found these stories engaging and enjoyed Shermer’s philosophical discussion. Then Shermer defines “agenticity”–the tendency to assume patterns have meaning and intention (an outside agent) instead of seeing them as non-intentional or even random events. He describes the cellular mechanics of our brains and why we would have evolved “agenticity,” and then provides many examples of how we see patterns even when they don’t exist. This part was pretty funny. I enjoyed his examples. Shermer describes how we can become convinced that our own beliefs are accurate and unbiased, how confirmation bias leads to unconsciously ignoring data that contradict our ideas while noticing in minute detail all the examples in which the data confirm our ideas. This leads to a political discussion of liberals versus conservatives versus libertarianism (because, after all, we simply MUST hear about Shermer’s libertarian beliefs!). The final third of the book describes the progress of scientific beliefs from world-is-flat to the multi-verse (again, Shermer inserts a commentary about what HE believes, which seemed a small digression from his main point). This third of the book also describes how the scientific method works. I found the final third of the book less interesting than the first two thirds. It seemed a little less organized than the first two parts, but that may have been because my mind was wandering since I was already familiar with the material he covered. In the end, this was a fun and interesting read, but nothing I’m going to read again.
This is the first book I’ve read on the Wellcome Trust Prize longlist, so I can’t say how it compares to the other books. I think it made medicine fun and interesting and would make medicine more accessible to fresh audiences. However, I think this book might not be the BEST choice because many people in the general public (at least in the US) are offended by skepticism. And Shermer expresses no qualms about his skepticism. Therefore, I think his message about medicine won’t reach much of the general public because they will be too stuck on his “offensive” skepticism. Mind you, I’m not saying he WAS offensive, IMO. But I am only offended with skepticism when it is mixed with judgmental comments about those who believe. Shermer was very respectful of those who believe, he just poo-pooed their beliefs. 😉
The article suggests another alarming reason for this funding disparity as well: many people, consciously or unconsciously, believe that lung cancer is the fault of the victim. If they hadn’t smoked, after all, would they be in this situation? Shame on them! And they’re endangering us with their second-hand smoke as well! But what about non-smokers who get lung cancer? (After all, that second-hand smoke is going somewhere, isn’t it?) And what right do we have to blame the victim of a disease, anyway? Is a person’s death less tragic because he was a smoker? Trust me, I fall prey to those adverts of children with leukemia…I want to send them money, too. But does our culture of blame induce us to spend money on those we consider “deserving” but not on the “undeserving?” Are we ok with that?
I think a good example of our society (and the world) overcoming a prejudice against a culture-of-blame disease is our relative success with suppressing the dreaded AIDS epidemic. Many a politically-incorrect statement about AIDS victims was bandied about when I was younger…but now, I think, those negative connotations are mostly remembered only by older members of society. And although we haven’t successfully “cured” or fully protected against AIDS, we can now suppress it with anti-viral drugs–the result of well-spent research funding. Perhaps we can take a good lesson from our success with AIDS. Perhaps we can see lung cancer for what it is–a tragic disease that steals the lives of tens of thousands of people in the US every year*. Perhaps we can bring a halt to our culture of blame.
Geddes, Linda: Scandal of Underfunded and Undertreated Cancer. New Scientist issue 2871. 28Jun, 2012.
*This number was 35,000 deaths in the UK in 2010 according to Geddes’ article.
*I can’t get the link to work, but you can find it on The Economist’s webpage. Just search for the title Tall, Dark and Stable.