Recommended Science Books (for modern citizens)

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Biology, Genetics, Nature and Climate Change

The Code Breaker (2021) Walter Isaacson
subtitled: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race

 highly recommended for all modern citizens

When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would. Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity ​of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions. The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code. Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids? After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020. Her story is a thrilling detective tale that involves the most profound wonders of nature, from the origins of life to the future of our species.

Darwin's Apostles (2019) by David Orenstein and Abby Hafer
subtitled: The Men Who Fought to Have Evolution Accepted, Their Times, and How the Battle Continues

Darwin's Apostles
 highly recommended for all modern citizens
Review by Harriet Hall MD

At a time when denial of scientific evidence could lead to the end of our species and many others, here is an entertaining and accessible book about the search for the origin of species, including ours.

In this very readable tome, the authors talk about the trips and research that Charles Darwin conducted that led him to his theory and those that supported him as well as those that opposed him. Darwin was hesitant to share his theory and was hoping to amass a large volume of research prior to doing so. However, Alfred Russel Wallace was undertaking studies that led to the same conclusion. Wallace sent a letter to Darwin outlining his similar views. I did not know that the first public discussion of evolution was at the Linnean Society of London in July 1858 and that it previewed papers by both Darwin and Wallace. I was impressed that both gave each other credit for the idea although by the 20th century, Darwin was the one receiving the most credit. This book outlines the other "apostles" that supported Darwin's theory and worked to defend it in public. Excellent read!


  1. The Debate That Ushered in Modernity
  2. Evolutionary Thought Before Darwin
  3. Darwin and Defining His Apostles
  4. Life and Times of Victorian England
  5. Darwin's Power for Reason and Knowledge
  6. Biographies of the the Apostles, an Introduction
  7. Thomas Henry Huxley
  8. Joseph Dalton Hooker
  9. Asa Gray
  10. John William Draper
  11. Alfred Russel Wallace
  12. The Storm: Nineteenth Century Reaction to The Origin of Species
  13. The Calm: the Apostles Reach Out, React, and Advocate
  14. Drawing a Line: Darwin as Apical Freethought Ancestor
  15. The Storm Clouds Rise Again: Twentieth and Twenty-first Century Reaction to Natural Selection
  16. In Conclusion: Darwin, the Science of Evolution, and the Wider World
  17. Appendix
  18. Bibliography (14 pages of References)
  19. Index
NSR comments:
  • The one thing all these men have in common (except one who did not have any children) is this: they lost one or more children to disease (Darwin lost three of ten). Perhaps this was a prerequisite to wondering if god was guiding daily life, or not.
  • Over the previous 6-decades, well-meaning people from my family and church have only presented negative points of view regarding Charles Darwin, evolution, and Darwin's 1858 book "On the Origin of Species". These people were not educated in any of these areas so imagine my surprise when I learned that bishop Samuel Wilberforce had not read Darwin's book prior to the debate with Thomas Huxley at Oxford University in 1860. This should resonate with modern life where uninformed and/or uneducated, "science deniers" think themselves on equal footing with those who have had the good fortune to attend higher a higher level of education. Once I started reading "Darwin's Apostles" I could not put it down.
  • Many people today throw around colloquial terms like "atheist" and "agnostic" without any actual understanding of these words. Many claim Darwin was an atheist without knowing that Darwin graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge with an M.A. in Divinity. So even when it comes to religion, Darwin was more educated than most religious people with an opinion.
    • The minister of my church once said to me: "I can determine who has had formal religious education if they can properly define the word agnostic" and this got me thinking. I can determine who has had formal scientific education if they can properly define the words "hypothesis" and "theory"
  • More than a few religious people have told me that we would be better off had Darwin not existed. They seem to be unaware of the fact that that much work in the biological sciences began with Carl Linnaeus or that Darwin sat on his idea for more than 20-years until he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace outlining the same hypothesis (the works of both authors were simultaneously read into the public record of the Linnean Society of 1858) so many people were thinking about this stuff at that time. The modern word to use here would be synchronicity.
  • - Titled: Darwin on God
  • National Geographic 2004-11 - Titled: Was Darwin Wrong? (Answer: No)

Novacene (2019) James Lovelock
subtitled: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence

 highly recommended for all modern citizens

James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia hypothesis and the greatest environmental thinker of our time, has produced an astounding new theory about future of life on Earth. He argues that the Anthropocene - the age in which humans acquired planetary-scale technologies - is, after 300 years, coming to an end. A new age - the Novacene - has already begun. New beings will emerge from existing artificial intelligence systems. They will think 10,000 times faster than we do and they will regard us as we now regard plants - as desperately slow acting and thinking creatures. But this will not be the cruel, violent machine takeover of the planet imagined by sci-fi writers and film-makers. These hyper-intelligent beings will be as dependent on the health of the planet as we are. They will need the planetary cooling system of Gaia to defend them from the increasing heat of the sun as much as we do. And Gaia depends on organic life. We will be partners in this project. It is crucial, Lovelock argues, that the intelligence of Earth survives and prospers. He does not think there are intelligent aliens, so we are the only beings capable of understanding the cosmos. Maybe, he speculates, the Novacene could even be the beginning of a process that will finally lead to intelligence suffusing the entire cosmos. At the age 100, James Lovelock has produced the most important and compelling work of his life.

NSR comments: This well written and easily digestible book may be as pivotal for humanity as Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" but there is a problem: it was written by a nerd (Lovelock) for nerds (scientists, engineers, technicians, computer programmers, students). Non-nerds (especially those people whose primary interest is in sports, finance, politics, religion and war) will be tone-deaf to the topics within. But all is not lost. Nerds created the imperfect internet-based world in which everyone now lives so it is up to the nerds to educate everyone else. It is impossible to Make America Great Again in the context espoused by politicians since it would mean going back to a previous era (did not work for the Luddites)

Quote from page 116: It is horrific that our leaders, almost all of whom are wholly ignorant of science and engineering, are encouraging the development of fill-this-blank. Their ignorance is compounded by an inability to reject the advice of lobbyists whose sole aim seems to be to profit from whatever can be made to seem an environmental hazard.

The End of Ice (2019) Dahr Jamail
subtitled: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption

This is a shocking book about the reality of climate change (things are much worse than you could imagine). I suggest you buy this book but begin by watching this Chris Hedges interview:

Gene Machine (2018) Venki Ramakrishnan
subtitled: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome
With a forward by CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna

 highly recommended for anyone intrested in molecular biology or those considering a life in academia

"An enchanting and invigorating work, Gene Machine casts a many-angled light on the world of science, the nature of discovery, and on one of the deepest mysteries of twentieth-century biology. Ramakrishnan, one of the key players in deciphering the molecular basis of protein translation, gives us both a rollicking scientific story and a profoundly human tale. In the tradition of The Double Helix, Gene Machine does not hesitate to highlight the process by which science advances: moving through fits and starts, often underscored by deep rivalries and contests, occasionally pitching towards error and misconception, but ultimately advancing towards profound and powerful truths. An outsider to the world of ribosome biology--an Indian immigrant, a physicist by training--Ramakrishnan retains his 'outsider's' vision throughout the text, reminding us about the corrosive nature of scientific prizes, and the intensity of competition that drives researchers (both ideas, I suspect, will have a munificent effect on our current scientific culture). Ramakrishnan's writing is so honest, lucid and engaging that I could not put this book down until I had read to the very end."―Siddhartha Mukherjee

"The ribosome is the central processor that decodes the universal machine-code of life, and the history of its unraveling is on a par with that of DNA itself. You could think of Venki Ramakrishnan as a sort of 'nice Jim Watson.' His meticulously detailed and generous memoir has the same disarming frankness as The Double Helix. His personal honesty about the competitive ambition that drove him is tempered by his deeply thoughtful reflections on the potentially corrupting effect of big prizes. Gene Machine will be read and re-read as an important document in the history of science."―Richard Dawkins

Rigor Mortis (2017) Richard Harris
subtitled: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billons

 highly recommended for science students and budding researchers 
I bought this book just after hearing an interview with the author on the NPR radio program, Science Friday (episode: 2017-04-21) which you can still listen to here ( ).

Do not let the subtitle deceive you, this is not a book advocating increases or decreases in government funding. Rather, it advocates experimental researchers doing a better job with the money they already have. This was the first time I heard the phrase "Eroom's Law" which is derived from Moore's Law with the first word spelt backwards. According to interviews by the author, if changes are not forthcoming then humanity can expect no new pharmaceutical treatments after the year 2040.

Skeptic Magazine (volume 20 number 3)

This very thought provoking issue is dedicated to Alfred Russel Wallace. It contains lots of information about:

  • scientific life in Victorian England (Royal Society, Linnean Society,  Geological Society, etc.)
  • how Wallace interacted with people like Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, and Charles Lyle to only name three of many
  • the spiritualism & mysticism craze in both England (Arthur Conan Doyle was a supporter) and America
  • the misguided souls who support the flat-earth view (reminds me of today's climate deniers)

The Invention of Nature (2015) Andrea Wulf

 highly recommended

Excerpt from page 3: Described by his contemporaries as the most famous man in the world after Napoleon, Alexander Humboldt was one of the most captivating and inspiring men of his time. Born in 1769 into a wealthy Prussian aristocratic family, he discarded a life of privilege to discover for himself how the world worked. As a young man he set out on a five year exploration to Latin America, risking his life many times and returning with a new sense of the world. It was a journey that shaped his life and thinking, and that made him legendary across the globe. He lived in cities such as Paris and Berlin, but was equally at home on the most remote branches of the Orinoco River or in the Kazakh Steppe at Russia's Mongolian border. During much of his long life, he was the nexus of the scientific world, writing some 50,000 letters and receiving at least double that number. Knowledge, Humboldt believed, had to be shared, exchanged and made available to everybody.

Excerpt from page 4: Charles Darwin wrote that 'nothing ever stimulated my zeal so much as reading Humboldt's Personal Narrative' saying that he would not have boarded the Beagle, nor conceived of the Origin of Species, without Humboldt.

Comment: we know from his diaries that Darwin continued to read Humboldt during his own five year journey aboard the Beagle

Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (2014) Bill Nye

This book is much more than a defense of Evolution. It's a well-written and entertaining showcase of what makes nature so fascinating. I recommend it for creationists, for those who understand evolution, and for those who simply enjoy a good read.

Other reviewers said:

  1. "With his charming, breezy, narrative style, Bill empowers the reader to see the natural world as it is, not as some would wish it to be. He does it right. And, as I expected, he does it best."—Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D, host of COSMOS
  2. "This gracefully written book provides a tour through not just the big ideas of evolution, but why evolution is such a captivating idea scientifically, philosophically, and emotionally. Written from the heart—but science always comes from the heart with Bill Nye."—Eugenie C. Scott, Ph.D., author of Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction
  3. "Bill Nye has penned one of the clearest and most moving explanations of that process since Darwin's On the Origin of Species. With clarity and passion, Nye brings evolutionary theory to life."—Michael Shermer, Ph.D., author of Why Darwin Matters and The Moral Arc
  4. "Bill Nye has written a wonderfully clear, readable, and enjoyable explanation of what evolution is and is not. In his casual, humorous style, he…describes the gigantic mountain of evidence that demonstrates that evolution not only happened in the past, but is happening in real time."—Donald Prothero, Ph.D., author of Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  5. "Following right in his mentor Carl Sagan's footsteps, this call to action and awareness of the lingering ‘debate’ over the reality of Evolution will further cement Bill Nye's place as our time's premier spokesman for science and reason."—Dr. Jim Bell, president of The Planetary Society and author of The Interstellar Age

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (2013) Donald R. Prothero

 highly recommended for citizens. Should be required reading by all first-year secondary school students 

The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line. To shed light on this darkness, Donald R. Prothero explains the scientific process and why society has come to rely on science not only to provide a better life but also to reach verifiable truths no other method can obtain. He describes how major scientific ideas that are accepted by the entire scientific community (evolution, anthropogenic global warming, vaccination, the HIV cause of AIDS, and others) have been attacked with totally unscientific arguments and methods. Prothero argues that science deniers pose a serious threat to society, as their attempts to subvert the truth have resulted in widespread scientific ignorance, increased risk of global catastrophes, and deaths due to the spread of diseases that could have been prevented.


  • quote from page 13: The next time you hear a modern Luddite -- from a creationist who rejects all modern astronomy, biology, and geology, to the faith healer or homeopath or other quack who rejects modern medicine --  just ask yourself one thing: Would you want to go back to the world of the late eighteenth century with its high death rates and short life expectancy, suffer exposure to many deadly diseases, and live in a world with limited education and poverty? This is the choice they are offering you -- even as those same creationists and other Luddites benefit from modern medicine, and even exploit modern technologies like the internet to push their antiscientific causes. As Michael Shermer put it, science and critical thinking are "the most precious things we have".
  • paraphrased from page 34: just a few individuals (Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, William Nierenberg, Robert Jastrow, Edward Teller, and a handful more) were at the front of attempts to deny reality (denying the science of: the dangers of smoking tobacco, secondhand smoke, nuclear winter, ozone hole, DDT, acid rain, anthropogenic global warming). Most of these men gained their reputations as nuclear physicists, and some actually built the first atomic bomb. After the Cold War ended there was no more Commie bogeyman to fear, they retained the Cold War mentality that anything threatening capitalism and free enterprise is bad -- even if the scientific case for it is overwhelming. Never mind that a background in nuclear physics gives one absolutely no qualifications whatsoever to evaluate studies in medicine or climate science. These few men have done more to harm the country and stunt the the dissemination of scientific research than any Soviet threat ever could have accomplished.
  • quote from page 208: Yet this scientific rejection of astrology has had relatively little impact on the general public, thanks to the general scientific illiteracy of the American people.
  • page 109 includes a list of the top 34 countries by GDP but orders the list by scientific comprehension of their citizens:
    1. Greece
    2. Bulgaria
    3. Lithuania
    4. Latvia
    5. Cypress
    6. The United States of America
    7. Turkey
  • Chapter Titles:
    1. Reality Check
    2. Science, Our Candle in the Darkness
    3. Betrayers of the Truth: Selling Out Science
    4. Making the Environment the Enemy: Acid Rain, the Ozone Hole, and the Demonization of Rachel Carson
    5. Hot Enough for You? The Heated Debate over a Warming Planet
    6. Gimme That Old Time Religion: Creationism, Intelligent Design, and the Denial of Humanity's Place in Nature
    7. Jenny's Body Count: Playing [vaccine] Russian Roulette with Our Children
    8. Victims of Modern Witch Doctors: AIDS Denialism
    9. If it Quacks like a Quack: Snake-Oil Con Artists in an Era of Medical Science
    10. What's Your Sign? The Ancient Pseudoscience of Astrology
    11. Down the Slope of Hubbert's Curve: The End of Cheap Oil and Natural Resources
    12. Far from the Madding Crowd: Human Overpopulation and Its Consequences
    13. The Rejection of Reality: How the Denial of Science Threatens Us All

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (2012) Michael Mann

 highly recommended for all citizens 

The ongoing assault on climate science in the United States has never been more aggressive, more blatant, or more widely publicized than in the case of the Hockey Stick graph -- a clear and compelling visual presentation of scientific data, put together by Michael E. Mann and his colleagues, demonstrating that global temperatures have risen in conjunction with the increase in industrialization and the use of fossil fuels. Here was an easy-to-understand graph that, in a glance, posed a threat to major corporate energy interests and those who do their political bidding. The stakes were simply too high to ignore the Hockey Stick -- and so began a relentless attack on a body of science and on the investigators whose work formed its scientific basis.

The Hockey Stick achieved prominence in a 2001 UN report on climate change and quickly became a central icon in the "climate wars." The real issue has never been the graph's data but rather its implied threat to those who oppose governmental regulation and other restraints to protect the environment and planet. Mann, lead author of the original paper in which the Hockey Stick first appeared, shares the story of the science and politics behind this controversy. He reveals key figures in the oil and energy industries and the media front groups who do their bidding in sometimes slick, sometimes bare-knuckled ways. Mann concludes with the real story of the 2009 "Climategate" scandal, in which climate scientists' emails were hacked. This is essential reading for all who care about our planet's health an dour own well-being.

  • 377 pages, 106 of them are cross references (I checked many of them - NSR)
  • quote from page 254: I can continue to live with the cynical assaults against my integrity and character by the corporate-funded denial machine. What I could not live with is knowing that I stood by silently as my fellow human beings, confused and misled by industry-funded propaganda, were unwittingly lead down a tragic path that would mortgage future generations. How could we explain to our grandchildren that we saw the threat coming, but did not do all we could to ensure that humankind took the necessary precautions.

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True (2011) Richard Dawkins

  • Magic takes many forms:
    1. Supernatural magic is what our ancestors used in order to explain the world before they developed the scientific method
    2. Stage magic involves everything from card tricks to rabbits in hats to communicating with the dead
    3. Poetic magic involves the awe and wonder you experience when observing stars in the night sky
  • Packed with clever thought experiments, dazzling illustrations and jaw-dropping facts, The Magic of Reality explains a stunningly wide range of natural phenomena. What is stuff made of? How old is the universe? Why do the continents look like disconnected pieces of a puzzle? What causes tsunamis? Why are there so many kinds of plants and animals? Who was the first man, or woman? This is a page-turning, graphic detective story that not only mines all the sciences for its clues but primes the reader to think like a scientist as well.
  • Richard Dawkins, the world’s most famous evolutionary biologist and one of science education’s most passionate advocates, has spent his career elucidating the wonders of science for adult readers. But now, in a dramatic departure, he has teamed up with acclaimed artist Dave McKean and used his unrivaled explanatory powers to share the magic of science with readers of all ages. This is a treasure trove for anyone who has ever wondered how the world works. Dawkins and McKean have created an illustrated guide to the secrets of our world—and the universe beyond—that will entertain and inform for years to come.
My parents were conservative Lutherans who refused to accept evolution primarily due to the fact that they possessed no scientific education whatsoever, and their church told them not to (you do not need to give up your belief in God to accept the evidence of Darwin's Theory). While reading this unexpected gem, I kept thinking "I wish my parents were still alive so they could read this lucid explanation of evolution (in chapter one)". Although not a book targeted toward young adults, I would have no problem gifting this book to pre-teenagers about to enter secondary school. What an unexpected surprise.

The Inquisition of Climate Science (2011) James Lawrence Powel

  • Climate deniers are under the impression they are some sort of modern day Galileo but they've got it backwards: Their views represent the traditional view of the Vatican
  • Modern science is under the greatest and most successful attack in recent history. An industry of denial, abetted by news media and "infotainment" broadcasters more interested in selling controversy than presenting facts, has duped half the American public into rejecting the facts of climate science -- an overwhelming body of rigorously vetted scientific evidence showing that human-caused, carbon-based emissions are linked to warming the Earth. The industry of climate science denial is succeeding: public acceptance has declined even as the scientific evidence for global warming has increased. It is vital that the public understand how anti-science ideologues, pseudo-scientists, and non-scientists have bamboozled them. We cannot afford to get global warming wrong -- yet we are, thanks to deniers and their methods.
  • The Inquisition of Climate Science is the first book to comprehensively take on the climate science denial movement and the deniers themselves, exposing their lack of credentials, their extensive industry funding, and their failure to provide any alternative theory to explain the observed evidence of warming. In this book, readers meet the most prominent deniers while dissecting their credentials, arguments, and lack of objectivity. James Lawrence Powell shows that the deniers use a wide variety of deceptive rhetorical techniques, many stretching back to ancient Greece. Carefully researched, fully referenced, and compellingly written, his book clearly reveals that the evidence of global warming is real and that an industry of denial has deceived the American public, putting them and their grandchildren at risk.
  • quote from page 46: By now, the conservative administration of U.S. President Ronald Reagan had begun to worry that action to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions could hurt the American economy. [snip] Growing alarm over carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels might lead to a Montreal-like protocol to reduce carbon emissions, allegedly crippling the economy -- and on Regan's pro-business watch. To have scientists meeting where they liked, saying whatever they pleased, issuing disquieting statements, could force the government to respond. The solution was to create a new, international scientific body and endure that government representatives vetted it reports. The U.S. signed off on a proposal from the United Nations to create an overarching climate advisory committee called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), mandated to "provide the decision makers and others interested in climate change with an objective source of information". Governments would appoint their own scientists to the panel. Diplomats and government bureaucrats form scores of nations would oversee the scientists' work and edit their reports. The structure guaranteed that the IPCC reports would neither appear too rapidly nor overdramatize the extent of global warming. From the get-go, by design, the IPCC was a conservative organization predestined for understatement.
  • quote from page 136: Oceans, land plants and animals emit about 780 gigatons of carbon annually, and absorb nearly all of it. Human activities emit 29 gigatons of carbon per year but absorb almost none of it (so it ends up in the atmosphere).
  • quote from page 175: In the 1920s, to increase crop production, Soviet leaders forced farmers to give up their land to large collective farms. The farmers grew restive, production fell, and in the "breadbasket of Europe," millions starved. Then came the Rasputin of Soviet science, Trofim Denisovitch Lysenko, who claimed he could make wheat flower earlier, putting more farmers to work and increasing grain production. That was biologically possible but Lysenko went further to claim that the offspring of "vernalized" wheat would also flower earlier, as though a parent who lifts weights will have more muscular children. Genetics showed instead that characteristics are passed on by genes, which are unaffected by traits the parent has acquired. Lysenko denounced geneticists as bourgeois, fascist, pseudoscientists: "fly-lovers and people haters". Lysenko's image as the peasant genius outwitting the world's biologists dovetailed perfectly with Soviet mythology. In 1938 the authorities placed him in charge of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and in 1948 they fired all the geneticists and outlawed dissent from Lysenkoism. Purges sent his opponents to prison, some to the executioner. Lysenko accused his scientific opponents of trying to "wreck" the Soviet economy. (sound familiar?)


  1. many of today's climate deniers think "they" are smarter than professional scientists; think scientists are part of some sort of world-wide liberal conspiracy; think addressing the issues of climate change will "wreck" the economy. A much smaller number of deniers have actually suggested killing some scientists. Do any of these points sound familiar
  2. prior to the 1990s, Soviet peoples wasted much bandwidth labeling everything as either "bourgeois this" or "proletariat that" and I thought it made them sound ridiculous. Since the 1990s, Americans seem to be unable to discuss anything without including labels liberal or conservative. I wonder why this ideological shift has gone unnoticed?

Merchants of Doubt (2010) Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway
subtitled: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

 highly recommended  for any citizen wondering about science denial or political lobbyists
  • Oreskes and Conway tell an important story about the misuse of science to mislead the public on matters ranging from the risks of smoking to the reality of global warming. The people the authors accuse in this carefully documented book are themselves scientists—mostly physicists, former cold warriors who now serve a conservative agenda, and vested interests like the tobacco industry. The authors name these scientists—all with powerful connections in government and the media—including Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, and S. Fred Singer. Seven compelling chapters detail seven issues (acid rain, the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke, the ozone hole, global warming, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the banning of DDT) in which this group aimed to sow seeds of public doubt on matters of settled science. They did so by casting aspersions on the science and the scientists who produce it. Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at UC–San Diego, and science writer Conway also emphasize how journalists and Internet bloggers uncritically repeat these charges. This book deserves serious attention for the lessons it provides about the misuse of science for political and commercial ends.
  • UCSD (University of California at San Diego) Professor of History and Science Studies Naomi Oreskes Ph.D. presented this 58 minute lecture on the History of Global Warming Science titled The American Denial of Global Warming <--- 58 minute video lecture by Naomi Oreskes Ph.D.

 This book is recommended to anyone who...

  • wonder why "peer-reviewed scientists" are attacked by "non-peer-reviewed scientists working for big tobacco, big pharma, the fossil fuel industry, as well as political and economic think tanks"
  • wondered how conservative politics shifted from "conserving the environment" to "conserving big money"
    • Conservative presidents from Theodore Roosevelt through to Richard Nixon equated some part of their administration to also conserving air, land, and water.
      • Theodore Roosevelt's administration was well known for setting aside large tracts of wilderness areas for recreational use by current and future citizens
      •  Richard Nixon's administration created: The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), "The Clean Air Act", "The Clean Water Act", "Banned DDT", etc.
    • Conservative presidents starting with Ronald Regan (stating: "government was in the way") openly attacked government organizations like the EPA while turning a blind eye to the actions of big business. Then people of a similar political mind-set label environmentalists as left-wing liberals, tree-huggers, and enviro-nazis. After this, the Bush-Cheney administration had no problem opening "protected wilderness" to oil and mining companies.
  • wondered why some people have such faith in the "unfettered free market". Can anyone give me one example where pollution control targets were ever adhered to without government legislation?
  • wondered if the "science denial movement" (which was started by conservative scientists working for "big tobacco") might have been amplified by that other large faction of conservatives, namely "the religious right". People, no amount of prayer will ever be as effective as the polio vaccine.
  • wondered why conservatives claim that a liberal-bias exists in the US media when in 2010, the US was home to 76 right-wing think tanks but only 4 left-wing think tanks. Then there is the takeover by corporate conservatives (see associated scandals)

The Greatest Show On Earth (2010) Richard Dawkins
subtitled: The Evidence for Evolution

 science lover's "must have"
  • I have read almost every popular publication by Dawkins and can tell you that this is his best work yet. I liked it so much that I immediately read it a second time.
  • Chapter 4 ("Silence and Slow Time")
    • Excerpt from page 85:
      If the history-deniers who doubt the fact of evolution are ignorant of biology, those who think the world began less than ten thousand years ago are worse than ignorant, they are deluded to the point of perversity. They are denying not only the facts of biology but those of physics, geology, cosmology, archaeology, history and chemistry as well. This chapter is about how we know the ages of rocks and the fossils embedded in them. It presents the evidence that the timescale on which life has operated on this planet is measured not in thousands of years but in thousands of millions of years.
    • pages 91-107 contain a superb explanation of "radioactive clocks" including Carbon-14 (half-life: 5,730 years), Potassium-40 (half-life: 1.260 billion years), as well as eight others. By the way, these clock prove the Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
  • Chapter 5 ("Before Our Very Eyes") contains a detailed explanation of a stunning experiment done by Richard Lenski and his colleagues at Michigan State University. In the experiment, 12-isolated colonies of e-coli are encouraged to grow beyond the their food resources every day (inducing a competitive pressure) over a 20-year period and are seen to evolve.
  • Chapter 9 ("The Ark of the Continents") contains a superb explanation of "plate tectonics" (previously known as the Continental Drift Hypothesis) and how it affected evolution on planet earth (marsupials only in Australia; lemurs only in Madagascar; entire order of Edentata only in South America)

The Discovery of Global Warming (2008) Spencer R. Weart

The Discovery of Global Warming very highly recommended  for anyone interested in science or climate change
  • Author Spencer Weart was originally trained as a physicist but is now a science historian
  • This book The Discovery of Global Warming is a true gem containing no-nonsense facts.
  • The second edition (2008), extensively revised and updated
  • You should really buy this book but if you can't then please check out the online edition here:
  • Recommendations:
    • A Discover Top Science Book of the Year
    • A USA Today best book of the year
    • A Scientific American "Editors Recommend" selection
  • Excerpt: In 1973, Nicholas (Nick) Shackleton nailed it all down for certain. What made it possible was the new magnetic-reversal dates established by radioactive potassium, plus Shackleton's uncommon combination of technical expertise in different fields. A splendid deep-sea core had been pulled — "one of the best and most complete records of the entire Pleistocene that is known" — the famous core Vema 28-238 (named after the Lamont Observatory's oceanographic research vessel, a converted luxury yacht). It reached back over a million years, and included the most recent reversal of the Earth's magnetic field, which geologists dated at a bit over 700,000 years ago. This calibrated the chronology for the entire core. As a further benefit, Shackleton managed to extract and analyze the rare foraminifera that lived in the deep sea, and which reflected basic oceanic changes independent of the fluctuating sea-surface temperatures. The deep-sea forams showed the same isotopic variations as surface ones, confirming that the variations gave a record of the withdrawal of water to form ice sheets. When Shackleton showed his graph of long-term change to a roomful of climate scientists, a spontaneous cheer went up. The core Vema 28-238 and a few others contained such a long run of consistent data that it was possible to analyze the numbers with a mathematically sophisticated "frequency-domain" calculation, a well-established technique for picking out the lengths of cycles in a set of data. Detailed measurements and numerical calculations found a set of favored frequencies, a spectrum of regular cycles visible amid the noise of random fluctuations. The first unimpeachable results (well, almost unimpeachable) were achieved in 1976 by James Hays, John Imbrie and Shackleton. The trio not only analyzed the oxygen-isotope record in selected cores from the Indian Ocean, but checked their curves against temperatures deduced from the assemblage of foraminifera species found in each layer. The long cores proved beyond doubt what Emiliani had stoutly maintained — there had been not four major ice ages, but dozens. The analysis showed cycles with lengths roughly 20,000 and 40,000 years, and especially the very strong cycle around 100,000 years, all in agreement with Milankovitch calculations. Extrapolating the curves ahead, the group predicted cooling for the next 15,000 years. As Emiliani, Kukla, and other specialists had already concluded several years earlier, the Earth was gradually — indeed, perhaps quite soon as geologists reckoned time — heading into a new ice age. These results, like so many in paleoclimatology, were promptly called into question. For one thing, there was no solid reason to suppose that our current interglacial period would be of average length and was therefore nearing its end. (And in fact, as noted below, improved orbital calculations and paleoclimate data would eventually show that the natural end of the current interglacial is tens of thousands of years away.) But the main results withstood all criticism. Confirmation came from other scientists who likewise found cycles near twenty and forty thousand years, give or take a few thousand. The most impressive analysis remained the pioneering work of Hays, Imbrie, and Shackleton. They could even split the 15,000 year cycle into a close pair of cycles with lengths of 19,000 and 23,000 years — exactly what the best new astronomical calculations predicted. By the late 1970s, most scientists were convinced that orbital variations acted as a "pacemaker" to set the timing of ice ages. Science magazine reported in 1978 that the evidence for the Milankovitch theory was now "convincing," and the theory "has recently gained widespread acceptance as a factor" in climate change.

The Evolution of Charles Darwin (2009) CBC Audio

Charles Darwin very highly recommended  for people wanting more details about Darwin, and the times in which he lived.

He Knew He Was Right (2008) John Gribbin

What an unexpected surprise. Not only does this book include a biography of James Lovelock along with a description of his Gaia Hypothesis, it also includes a general history of the physics and chemistry of atmospheric and geological sciences which starts in the 1700s with the work of Jean Fourier (heat) and Joseph Black (discoverer if Carbon Dioxide which was then known as "fixed air"). Maybe it is only because I am a science fan but I couldn't put this book down. It is highly recommended to the general reader wishing to learn more about climate change.

Climate Wars (2008) Gwynne Dyer

 highly recommended  for everyone in the modern world
  • Although the current warming trend began with the industrial revolution, it really ramps with global industrialization after World War 2. During this time industrialization of farms enables human population to grow from 2 billion (in 1927) to 6 billion (by 1999) with a projected value of 7 billion by 2012.
  • Average atmospheric CO2 levels:
    • 180 ppm during the previous ice age
    • 280 ppm after the previous ice age
    • 380 ppm after the beginning of the industrial age
    so human activities are equal to the changes which moved our planet out of an ice age
  • Since oceans are colder than land, global temperature averages can be very misleading. For example, an average temperature increase of 1.3°C would translate into 2°C over land and 4-5°C over the polar regions.
  • Melting winter snow and glacial ice is responsible for most river water in the summer time. A warmer planet will cause three major changes:
    • rivers will be higher in the winter but much lower in the summer
      • the Tibetan plateau feeds 6 rivers running through India, Pakistan, and China. What will happen when these people can't feed themselves?
      • Rivers feeding California will eventually run dry in the summertime.
    • the ocean levels are already 20 cm higher since 1880 which means that storm surges will destroy human communities situated too close to river deltas (perhaps Hurricane Katrina at New Orleans was the first "heads up" warning for the west; people in India and indo-china have been experiencing these surges for a lot longer)
    • Hadley Cells involve ocean evaporation at the equator which results in rainfall north and south of the equator. A hotter ocean means the cells can rise to a higher height before falling as rain. This higher height will result in more droughts and desertification (Australia has been experiencing increased droughts for the past 6 years)
  • Chapter 7 contains shocking information from paleontologists like Peter Ward. It appears that four out of five mass extinctions were due to climate change (one was due to an asteroid strike 65 million years ago).

Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning (2006) George Monbiot

Just a few interesting facts from the first couple of chapters:
  • being a technological-Luddite will make things worse: when used as a light source, a candle is 71 times less efficient than than an old fashioned incandescent bulb and 357 times less efficient than a compact florescent model (page xxii)

  • sometimes actual facts are counter-intuitive: burning a liter of kerosene in an engine, to drive a generator, to power a fluorescent lamp, can produce 250-450 times more useful light than burning the same amount in an oil lamp (page xxiii)

  • In 2004, an article in Science reported the results of a survey of scientific papers containing the words 'global climate change'. The author found 928 of them on the database she searched. None of the papers, she discovered, disagreed with the consensus position. Politicians, economists, journalists and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect. (page 4)
    (to put it another way, lobbyists have manipulated the facts to protect their own financial interests)

  • Web sites are popping up all over America to cast doubt on real science. These web sites are funded by companies like oil producer ExxonMobil and tobacco companies Philip Morris and "Brown and Williamson". These web sites sometimes publish articles by actual scientists with no experience in Climatology. As is true on the web, these biased articles spread like wild-fire across the net and eventually get published by newspapers.

  • Carbon trading won't work but carbon rationing will (if you're dumb enough to buy an SUV, then when you use up your carbon rations for the year you'll need to buy rations from someone who is behaving a little more responsively. This will shift the carbon burden away from industries who will never accept it (Oil, Airline, etc.) and place it directly on the consumer.

The Human Advantage (2016) Suzana Herculano-Houzel
A New Understanding of How our Brains Became Remarkable

Humans are awesome. Our brains are gigantic, seven times larger than they should be for the size of our bodies, use 25% of all the energy the body requires each day, and became enormous in hardly any time in evolution, leaving our cousins, the great apes, behind. So the human brain is special, right?

Wrong: according to the evidence uncovered by the author, humans have developed cognitive abilities that outstrip those of all other animals because we have a brain built in the image of other primate brains that managed to gather the largest number of neurons in the cerebral cortex due to a technological innovation that allowed a larger caloric intake in less time: cooking.

comments: this book explains why "dogs are twice as smart as cats" and "humans are twice as smart as gorillas". And why is it that elephant brains are three times larger than human brains, and yet human are three times smarter than elephants.

New science proves why "dogs are smarter than cats" and "humans are smarter than gorillas". Even through elephant brains are three times larger, why are humans smarter?

my review: This book is a real "page turner" and I recommend it for all modern citizens who ever wondered "why humans are so much more intelligent than other species?" Much of my own knowledge on this subject began in 1977 when I read a book by Carl Sagan titled "The Dragons of Eden" (subtitled: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence). In chapter 1 of "The Human Advantage", the author mentions that much brain science popularized in Sagan's book (who was publishing outside his area of expertise) is now considered wrong. Error-1: the concept of the human "triune brain" (where a neocortex is layered over a paleocortex which is layered over a reptilian (limbic) brain) is now considered a complete fiction because the first mammalian brain evolved "before" the first reptilian brain. Error-2: previous books claim the human brain is composed of 100 billion neurons. But it appears that an actual experiment was never done, and the number every book quotes is just a rounded-up estimate. Error-3: the cultural meme that we only use 10% of our brains is totally wrong. In fact, we use 100% of our gray matter (our brains are composed of 10% gray matter layered over 90% white matter which acts as a mechanical substrate). CAVEAT: Everything I have just written comes from chapter 1. The remainder of the book is just as rich with new information. If you enjoyed reading general science books by Carl Sagan then you will definitely enjoy reading "The Human Advantage".

The Epigenetics Revolution (2012) Nessa Carey
How Modern Biology Is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease, and Inheritance

Epigenetics can potentially revolutionize our understanding of the structure and behavior of biological life on Earth. It explains why mapping an organism's genetic code is not enough to determine how it develops or acts and shows how nurture combines with nature to engineer biological diversity. Surveying the twenty-year history of the field while also highlighting its latest findings and innovations, this volume provides a readily understandable introduction to the foundations of epigenetics.

Nessa Carey, a leading epigenetics researcher, connects the field's arguments to such diverse phenomena as how ants and queen bees control their colonies; why tortoiseshell cats are always female; why some plants need cold weather before they can flower; and how our bodies age and develop disease. Reaching beyond biology, epigenetics now informs work on drug addiction, the long-term effects of famine, and the physical and psychological consequences of childhood trauma. Carey concludes with a discussion of the future directions for this research and its ability to improve human health and well-being.

Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance (2011) by Richard C. Francis

"The potential is staggering. The age of epigenetics has arrived." Time, January 2010
Epigenetic means "on the gene," and the term refers to the recent discovery that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that those biological scars are actually inherited by the next several generations. For instance, a recent study has shown that men who started smoking before puberty caused their sons to have significantly higher rates of obesity. And obesity is just the tip of the iceberg many researchers believe that epigenetics holds the key to understanding cancer, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, autism, and diabetes. Epigenetics is the first book for general readers on this fascinating and important topic. The book is driven by stories such as the Dutch famine of World War II, Jose Canseco and steroids, the breeding of mules and hinnies, Tasmanian devils and contagious cancer, and more.

DNA: The Secret of Life (2003/2004) by James Watson

What makes DNA different from hordes of competitors purporting to help readers understand genetics is that it is written by none other than James Watson, of Watson and Crick fame. He and his co-author Andrew Berry have produced a clear and easygoing history of genetics, from Mendel through genome sequencing. Watson offers readers a sense of immediacy, a behind-the scenes familiarity with some of the most exciting developments in modern science. He gleefully reports on the research juggernaut that led to current obsessions with genetic engineering and cloning. Aided by profuse illustrations and photos, Watson offers an enthusiastic account of how scientists figured out how DNA codes for the creation of proteins--the so-called "central dogma" of genetics. But as patents and corporations enter the picture, Watson reveals his concern about the incursions of business into the hallowed halls of science. After 1975, DNA was no longer solely the concern of academics trying to understand the molecular underpinnings of life. The molecule moved beyond the cloisters of white-coated scientists into a very different world populated largely by men in silk ties and sharp suits. In later chapters, Watson aims barbs at those who are concerned by genetic tinkering, calling them "alarmists" who don't understand how the experiments work. It is in these arguments that Watson may lose favor with those whose notions of science were born after Silent Spring. Nevertheless, DNA encompasses both sides of the political issues involved in genetics, and Watson is an enthusiastic proponent of debate on the subject.

Who better than James Watson to lead a guided tour of DNA? When he and his English colleague, Francis Crick, discovered the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953, little could they imagine that a mere 50 years later scientists would be putting the finishing touches on a map of the human genome. In this magisterial work, Watson, who won the Nobel Prize with Crick for their discovery, guides readers through the startling and rapid advances in genetic technology and what these advances will mean for our lives. Watson covers all aspects of the genome, from the layout of four simple bases on the DNA molecule through their complex construction into genes, then to the mechanisms whereby proteins produced by genes create our uniquely human characteristics-as well as the genetic mutations that can cause illnesses or inherited diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy and Huntington's disease. Watson may have mellowed a little over the years since he displayed his youthful brashness in The Double Helix, but he still isn't shy about taking on controversial subjects. He criticizes biotech corporations for patenting genes, making diagnostic medical procedures horribly expensive and damping further basic research. He notes that while China and other countries with large populations to feed have eagerly grasped the potential of genetically modified foodstuffs, America squandered $100 million on a recall of taco shells and the genetically modified corn used in them. He pleads passionately for the refinement and widespread use of prenatal genetic testing. Watson will probably provoke the most controversy with his criticism of scientists, corporations and government funding sources for their avoidance of important areas of research-notably the genetics of skin coloration-for political reasons. Every reader who wants to understand their own medical future will want to read this book.

The Code of Codes (1993/2000) Daniel Kevles and Leroy Hood
subtitled: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project

Another popularization of the Human Genome Project, this one has the distinction of being the first published as an anthology, and among its contributors are some leading scholars, scientists, and social critics. The three parts of the book present essays covering topics in "History, Politics, and Genetics," "Genetics, Technology, and Medicine," and "Ethics, Law, and Society." Some of the essays are quite provocative, especially editor Kevels' "Out of Eugenics: The Historical Politics of the Human Genome" (creepy to read but necessary so humanity does not repeat this mistake - NSR) , Dorothy Nelkin's "The Social Power of Genetic Information", Ruth Schwartz Conan's "Genetic Technology and Reproductive Choice", and James D. Watson's "A Personal View of the Project." Still, there is a good deal of substantive overlap among the essays and, while the discussions by experts are more sophisticated and specialized than those appearing in other books, little new information is presented for general readers. Public libraries with either Jerry Bishop and Michael Waldholz's Genome ( LJ 7/90) or Robert Shapiro's The Human Blueprint ( LJ 9/1/91) do not need this title, but academic libraries should consider it.

Leroy Hood, MD, PhD, President and co-founder of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, is a pioneer in systems approaches to biology and medicine. Dr. Hood's research has focused on the study of molecular immunology, biotechnology and genomics. His professional career began at Caltech, where he and his colleagues developed the DNA sequencer and synthesizer and the protein synthesizer and sequencer--four instruments that paved the way for the successful mapping of the human genome and lead to his receiving this year's prestigious Russ Prize, awarded by the Academy of Engineering. A pillar in the biotechnology field, Dr. Hood has played a role in founding more than fourteen biotechnology companies, including Amgen, Applied Biosystems, Darwin, The Accelerator and Integrated Diagnostics. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, one of only 10 people in the world to be elected to all three academies. In addition to having published more than 700 peer reviewed articles, he has coauthored textbooks in biochemistry, immunology, molecular biology and genetics, as well as a popular book on the human genome project, The Code of Codes. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lasker Award, the Kyoto Prize and the Heinz Award in Technology. Dr. Hood has also received 17 honorary degrees from prestigious universities in the US and other countries.

The Eighth Day of Creation (1979/1996/2004) Horace Freeland Judson
subtitled: Makers of the Revolution in Biology (25th Anniversary Edition)

In the foreword to this expanded edition of his 1979 masterpiece, Horace Freeland Judson says, "I feared I might seem the official historian of the movement"--molecular biology, that is. If by official he means "authoritative; definitive; the standard against which all others are measured" then his fears are warranted. Detailed without being overly technical, humane without being fulsome, The Eighth Day of Creation tells of molecular biology's search for the secret of life. "The drama has everything--exploration of the unknown; low comedy and urgent seriousness; savage competition, vaulting intelligence, abrupt changes of fortune, sudden understandings; eccentric and brilliant people, men of honor and of less than honor; a heroine, perhaps wronged; and a treasure to be achieved that was unique and transcendent." And in Judson this drama found its Shakespeare.

This lay history of molecular biology now contains material on some of the principal figures involved, particularly Rosalind Franklin and Erwin Chargaff. The foreword and epilogue sketch the further development of molecular biology into the era of recombinant DNA.

Good Calories, Bad Calories (2007) Gary Taubes

 Everyone needs to read this book
  • A well researched and extensively referenced book describing how the marketing of "low fat food" by government and industry has made us all much fatter.
  • This book begins with a popular low-carb weight-loss program in 1862 which was popularized by William Banting
  • I was shocked to learn that people in modern medicine routinely ignored the scientific method while preferring to stick with preconceived notions "knowing that the science was just around the corner" (I guess medicine really is an art rather than a science). Each of the chapters begins with a little prolog containing snippets of the scientific method which, in my opinion, is the only tool for separating the proverbial "wheat from the chaff".
  • I was shocked to learn how persuasive personalities, like that of Ancel Keys (the "K" in K-rations), were able to negatively change the direction of the whole western world without requiring any objective science. Keys' theories seem to be based on "over analysis of limited data"
  • In November of 2007 I  heard a radio interview with the author which ended with professionals from the medical community calling in to attack personally attack him and his book. Some of their arguments sounded like a witch-hunt so I guess you'll need to read the book then decide for yourself. (but while listening to the medical people I remembered the old adage that "medicine is an art rather than a science")
  • Lots of information touches on missionary records about Africa, India and China. Apparently there were no instances of diabetes, cancer, hemorrhoids, etc. until the natives started to consume a western diet. And just like smoking cigarettes, it takes approximately 18 years of abuse to make the damage permanent.
  • Fat doesn't make you fat, carbs make you fat.

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Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.