> SCIENTISTS' NIGHTSTAND
A review of In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman: Mathematics at the Limits of Computation, by William J. Cook. The traveling salesman problem falls into that set of mathematical problems that are very difficult, but not impossible, to solve, says Hayes. This book celebrates its idiosyncrasies
A review of How Not to Be Eaten: The Insects Fight Back, by Gilbert Waldbauer. Waldbauer has written another book that delights in the intricacies of the insect world. Seasoned entomologists will find no revelations here, says Youngsteadt, but the book may help convince their friends and family members of the wonders of the field
A review of The Global Politics of the IUD: How Science Constructs Contraceptive Users and Women’s Bodies, by Chikako Takeshita. The scientific and social history of the group of birth-control devices known as IUDs (intrauterine devices) is fraught with instances of design under- or uninformed by empirical knowledge of how IUDs work and even of how the uterus is shaped, says Takeshita
A review of Principles of Applied Statistics, by D. R. Cox and Christl A. Donnelly. Cox and Donnelly’s book “stands as a summary of an entire tradition of using statistics to address scientific problems,” says Shalizi. The lessons the book contains will allow those entering the field to “make original mistakes”
In this special review section, we consider recent poetry collections that engage with science and mathematics—and offer a few poems as well
A review of Approaching Ice: Poems, by Elizabeth Bradfield, and Darwin: A Life in Poems, by Ruth Padel. Scenes from the history of science are rendered in these two well-referenced collections. One offers glimpses into the lives of a plenitude of polar explorers, the other a verse biography of Charles Darwin
A review of Intersecting Sets: A Poet Looks at Science, by Alice Major. What might a poet who has devoted much time to the consideration of science have to say about these two disciplines? Plenty, it turns out: “Major offers us the pleasure of watching another writer’s mind in motion at every scale,” says Chapman
A review of Hypotheticals, by Leigh Kotsilidis. In poems that are at their best engaging, quirky and sharp, Kotsilidis not only delves into the language of science, but questions the enterprise itself, says Mullin
A review of The Scientific Method, by Mary Alexandra Agner. This slim chapbook contains substantive work, including seven poems that take as their subjects the lives and work of historic women scientists
A review of Between Page and Screen, by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse. Borsuk uses the medium of poetry to investigate the interface of print and code, with all its attendant dilemmas and anxieties. This investigation is embodied in the project’s form: a print book that requires a webcam-containing device to be read
A review of The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice, by Peter Corning. “At this moment in history,” Jost writes, “when our problems are so much clearer than their solutions, it is a genuine contribution to offer clearheaded analysis and moral encouragement to take much-needed steps in the direction of social and economic justice.”
A review of Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth, by Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle, and Race and The Genetic Revolution: Science, Myth, and Culture, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Kathleen Sloan. The notion of race as a biological construct has long been out of scientific favor, but the idea persists in medicine and law enforcement, among other areas, leading to inaccurate assessments and inequitable treatment. These two books discuss this problem with critical acuity, says Sapp
A review of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This story of medicine, genetics, ethics and race has received much acclaim, and appropriately so, says Gusterson; readers who have not picked it up yet should add it to their reading list
A review of Mindreading Animals: The Debate over What Animals Know about Other Minds, by Robert W. Lurz. The question of whether animals have a “theory of mind,” the ability to attribute mental states to themselves and to other animals, is a contentious one. Lurz suggests an array of experiments designed to show whether an animal is relying on a theory of mind or simply making judgments based on the behavioral cues given by another animal. The experiments are intriguing, says Allen, but they do not fully answer the question of whether animals can “mind read”
A review of Networks of the Brain, by Olaf Sporns. The vast amount of data that neuroscientists are collecting about the brain requires equally complex systems to analyze it. Sporns relates neuroscience to network science, detailing significant advances in brain imaging, especially for the human brain, and describing what remains to be done in order to understand how our minds work
A review of Giant Silkmoths: Colour, Mimicry and Camouflage, text by Philip Howse, photographs by Kirby Wolfe. The family Saturniidae includes the giant silk moths, which are found in locations around the world and are known for their bold markings. Howse and Wolfe offer descriptions and photographs of many species, grouped according to their mimetic and camouflage strategies
A review of Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present, by Andrew Shryock and Daniel Lord Smail, with Timothy Earle, Gillian Feeley-Harnik, Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Clive Gamble, April McMahon, John C. Mitani, Hendrik Poinar, Mary C. Stiner and Thomas R. Trautmann. The articles in this volume stress the very remote past of the hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era, says Renfrew, and then leap to modernity without sufficiently considering the mediating effects of ancient civilizations.
A review of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, by William deBuys. DeBuys reports on how and why the precipitation and ecology of the Southwest are changing in unpredictable and nonlinear ways
A review of The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, by Richard Panek. Panek has a talent for elucidating difficult concepts and explains the history of dark energy beautifully, says Feng
A review of Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman explores the capabilities, faults, biases and pervasive influence of intuitive thought
A review of Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life, by Martin Meredith, and The Fossil Chronicles: How Two Controversial Discoveries Changed Our View of Human Evolution, by Dean Falk. Both of these books focus on controversies over how to distinguish what is apelike from what is humanlike in early hominin species
A review of Ordinary Geniuses: Max Delbrück, George Gamow, and the Origins of Genomics and Big Bang Cosmology, by Gino Segrè. Segrè insightfully narrates the personal and professional lives of Delbrück and Gamow and explains their scientific contributions
A review of Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City, by Andrew Ross. Ross shows how power, class, greed and prejudice shape the micropolitics of the pursuit of urban sustainability in Phoenix
A review of Physics on the Fringe: Smoke Rings, Circlons, and Alternative Theories of Everything, by Margaret Wertheim. Wertheim wants mainstream scientists to give the work of “outsider physicists” the same sort of attention that folk art has gotten from the elite art community
A review of Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells us about Morality, by Patricia S. Churchland. Churchland regards oxytocin as fundamental to morality, but what is that hormone’s role in a decision to send a $50 check to Oxfam, wonders Richards
A review of Handbook of Floating-point Arithmetic, by Jean-Michel Muller, Nicolas Brisebarre, Florent de Dinechin, Claude-Pierre Jeannerod, Vincent Lefèvre, Guillaume Melquiond, Nathalie Revol, Damien Stehlé and Serge Torres. In the borderland between mathematics and computer science, correct answers are not always to be had, says Hayes—particularly if we demand efficiency
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Happy Birthday to Alvin! August 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Alvin, the submersible that has been so influential in ocean research, including the discovery of hydrothermal vents. In 2014, a retrofitted Alvin also took its first test cruise.
Heather Olins, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, studies microbial ecology at deep sea hydrothermal vents with the help of Alvin, and shares her personal tribute to the submersible on these landmark occasions.
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