Don’t be such a scientist!

Don’t be such a scientist! It’s the kind of thing I’d expect my sister to say to my face if I’ve gone off on one of my lecture mode conversations about some great discovery, or something some of my artier friends might whisper about me behind my back. Sometimes it’s a personal wish…but then I think of everything those who choose to stifle their curiosity about the world around them miss out on:

A rainbow is just as beautiful woven or unravelled, understanding the biochemistry of nectar or photosynthesis doesn’t make a rose smell any less sweet, and the beauty of a clear, night sky is all the more awesome (literally) when you’ve got a vague grasp of its true depths.

Anyway, I suspect that’s what Randy Olson is getting at in his book Don’t be such a scientist. Olson is a Harvard marine biologist turned Hollywood filmmaker who wants people to be interested in science and believes passionately that scientists can help the cause only if they become storytellers. If they get the style, then the substance will out.

If I were to quote from Exposed! Henri Boch’s debunking of Ouija, firewalking and other gibberish, I just know I’d hear the echoes of the scathing title of this post from numerous quarters. Pseudoscience, after all, seems to hold a perennial fascination for so many people. Boch, however, has no truck with charlatans and with a dry wit sorts the sense from the nonsense.

Of similar ilk, but with even more serious implications for humanity is Chris Monney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s Unscientific America which looks at how a lack of scientific literacy could threaten our future. The book is a cry from the heart that should have all scientists up in arms to stamp out propagandists and the peddlers of mythology of all kinds.

Speaking of the substance and style of the natural world, the most arty of my friends would surely recognise instantly the wonder of The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants revealed by Wolfgang Stuppy, Bob Kesseler, and Madeleine Harley. Indeed, nature’s true nature as scientific artist and polymath is demonstrated with wonderful photography of the seemingly alien world of pollen grains, stamens and stigmas, and sadistic fruit. Papadakis Publishers does it again with this follow up to Fruit, albeit in smaller hardback format.

Meanwhile, Viktor Mayer-Schonberger extols the virtue of forgetting, something that every email, tweet and Facebook update continually reminds us we do very little of in the digital age. In delete.

He emphasises that forgetting is an essential human trait, after all forgive and forget is one of those idioms through which redemption can be had. But, with each of us leaving an indelible mouse-click trail following of our every move, M-S suggests that it is time we stamped expiry dates on our digital information, so that we can once more forget.

Also on my desk is Barbara Oakley’s Evil Genes, which sets out to explain why Rome feel, Hitler rose, Enrol failed, and her own sister stole her mother’s boyfriend…

Ellen J Langer tells us in Counter Clockwise how we can turn back our psychological clock and so perhaps also turn back physically too. Her paradigm builds on her research with the elderly in the 1970s that suggested that some of the afflictions of old age could be reversed simply by convincing the afflicted that the year was not 1972 but 1959.

Penultimately, Jeremy Coller (with Christine Chamberlain) tells us about the lives, loves and deaths of 30 pioneers who changed the world in Splendidly Unreasonable Inventors. Among them are Jonas Salk of polio vaccine fame, Alfred Nobel and his dynamite, King Gillette and the safety razor, sharpshooting Sam Colt’s revolver, Rudolph Diesel’s engine, and Nikola Tesla’s alternative energy supply (AC power).

Finally, A two-authored novel is quite a rare breed, but The Dyodyne Experiment by James Doulgeris and V Michael Santoro is just such a beast. Personally, I much prefer science-in-fiction to science-fiction per se and this novel falls between those two stools in a positive way.

By the way, I included links to the Amazon pages purely so you’d have a chance to “take a look inside”. These are not amazon associate links.