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Volume 97 | Number 6 | November-December 2009


Physics and Pixie Dust

David Kaiser

A review of Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World, by Eugenie Samuel Reich. Reich's exploration of the scientific frauds perpetrated by Jan Hendrik Schön, a researcher at Bell Laboratories, is impressive and sobering, says Kaiser

Despicable, Yes, but Not Inexplicable

Craig Stanford

A review of Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans: An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression Against Females, edited by Martin N. Muller and Richard W. Wrangham. “Sexually coercive males are not just attempting to have sex with particular females,” says Stanford; “they’re trying to control female sexuality in general”

Dr. Strange

Michael D. Gordin

A review of The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom, by Graham Farmelo. In Farmelo’s hands, the story of Dirac’s contributions to modern theoretical physics is both gripping and illuminating, says Gordin; the author captures the beauty and ambition of Dirac’s view of physics and sorts through the mythology that has grown up around him as a result of the many anecdotes that circulate about his oddity

Twilight of the Efficient Markets

Cosma Shalizi

A review of The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street, by Justin Fox. The theory of efficient markets in finance should be relegated to the Museum of Nice Tries, says Shalizi; he praises Fox’s book recounting its history, calling it “a model of what the popularization of social science can be, but too rarely is”

Runaway Change

John R. McNeill

A review of Critical Transitions in Nature and Society, by Marten Scheffer. Like canoes, natural systems have tipping points, argues Scheffer; once a hard-to-recognize threshold is exceeded, runaway change can occur that is difficult to reverse—a relatively wet area can turn to desert, a heavily wooded area can become a savanna. Could the integrated study of complex systems give us the insight to predict and control such shifts?

A Thin Broth

Jon D. Miller

A review of Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future, by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. Mooney and Kirshenbaum offer a media-centric diagnosis of the problem of scientific illiteracy, says Miller, and they see improvements to science journalism rather than improvements to the educational system as the solution

The Loitering Presence of the Rational ­Actor

Karl Sigmund

A review of The Bounds of Reason: Game Theory and the Unification of the Behavioral Sciences, by Herbert Gintis. Empirical findings have necessitated that game theorists modify their assumption that players are rational—that they can figure out the payoff of all possible moves and choose the most favorable one. Gintis wrestles with findings that contradict conventional rationality assumptions, but his attempts to explain those findings are not entirely satisfactory, according to Sigmund, who is disappointed that Gintis allows only a marginal role for evolutionary game theory

Viva Voce

Brian Hayes

A review of Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, by Greg Milner. Milner, who has considerable technical expertise, takes a dour view of the state of the recording industry, deploring in particular the pursuit of loudness at any cost that has led to a compression of dynamic range

Shorter takes on four books

Rosalind Reid, Anna Lena Phillips, Greg Ross, Christopher Brodie

Fresh PondNo Impact ManIn Search of Jefferson’s MooseThe Stuff of Life

 

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