Category Archives: science

The Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a Difference by Darlene Cavalier

The Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a DifferenceThe Field Guide to Citizen Science: How You Can Contribute to Scientific Research and Make a Difference by Darlene Cavalier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, who took part in SETIhome? Raise your hand… I did for a couple of years and it’s in here. I have way too many reading obligations (ARCs and borrowed) but this popped up and I… let myself be sidetracked with this advance review copy received from the publisher from NetGalley, due out in February 2020. Fortunately, it is a very fast read. It comes off targeted to youth/young adults, but Mses. (I know Messrs. is the plural of Mr., but had to look up the plural of Ms.) Cavalier, Hoffman, and Cooper talk early on of “[e]xposing your children to citizen science…”

The authors give “fifty-plus” programs to participate in and they range from things seemingly obvious like bird/animal watching/observing to mushrooms, monarch butterfly migrations, or trash on beaches, Alzheimer’s observations and selfies at streams to help map all of the streams, even reporting infrequent events like landslides. They tell the reader how to find the project, what’s required (simple as a clipboard or a computer, perhaps needing special software or specific collecting materials), how broad the scope is (localized or global), the goal, task, outcome and their opinion why they like the project.

Most importantly, the authors affirm the value of citizen science. You don’t need scientific credentials. You do need to “review all of the instructions, training modules, and information” before beginning. And for it to work…you need to participate. Rightly, the authors advise that the project needs to fit you as much as you fit it. You may not have the time, resources or maybe passion to commit, and we all know sifting bad data is a necessary burden, but responsible limiting of bad data is so, so welcome.

Cringe when reading it moment: An MIT project called DeepMoji is designed to teach Artificial Intelligence systems about emotions, but requires a … [cringe again as I type this}…Twitter account. Oh, MIT, Twitter? Really? Sifting the sludge, I guess, has some value.

Really cool eye opener when reading it moment: One project (Foldit) has teams solving folding puzzles to help predict protein structures (and gathering data on pattern recognition and general puzzle solving to teach computers how to solve better), used in genetics and drug targeting. The eye-opener./..teams that successfully solve protein folding puzzles become coauthors on the scientific papers!

Five stars for being a novel book on something extremely important, particularly as the US slips backwards on the science front. Check out SciStarter for more information and opportunities.

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The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the ElementsThe Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Checking off one from my far too many (just kidding…one can never have too many books to read) Small Stacks of Found Books that I kept setting aside for others, this is in one word a delight! Mr. Kean has done something marvelous here: making the periodic table fun and accessible! For science geeks (and professionals) it always has been, but for those less inclined…this is great.He says in his Introduction that from the one element mercury, he “learned history, etymology, alchemy, mythology, literature, poison forensics, and psychology.” He also learned physics and chemistry, clearly, because it’s all through this book, and politics that sometimes had play in the field. And Kean conveys the history and concepts in the best mystery page-turner style, along with humor and sagacity. Even if you know the history and concepts, the chemistry and physics (I’m not a neophyte to either), I suspect you’ll learn something or somethings.

Kean talks of the discoveries of the elements (and many of the gaffes), the origins of the table, the blanks and how they were filled. He delves into the biological interactions of some of the elements, from poisons to medicines, and how some elements mimic others, causing all kinds of havoc on the biological front. There is the politics of the Nobel prizes, the currency of elements, art and literature of elements. Something as seemingly simple as the Parker 51 pen gets copy time here, as the nibs were made of “durable ruthenium”, “an element little better than scarp until then.”

Near absolute zero, bubble chambers, “Tools of Ridiculous Precision”…there is so much information here. I couldn’t begin to summarize with any justice. I’ll share one nugget to illustrate Kean’s keen science. (Forgive, please!) There’s a chapter on toxicity of exposure (or ingestion) and a GREAT observation I flagged. Great to me, anyway. In talking about William Crookes, his “lapse into spiritualism”, and succumbing to “pathological science”, Kean explains pathological science:

In explaining what pathological science is, it’s best to clear up any misconceptions about that loaded word, “pathological,” and explain up front what pathological is not. It’s not fraud, since the adherents of a pathological science believe they’re right – if only everyone else could see it.

(And here’s the gem…

It’s not pseudoscience, like Freudianism and Marxism, fields that poach on the imprimatur of science yet shun the rigors of the scientific method.

Love it! Pseudoscience! I’ve been saying so for years!

It’s also not politicized science, like Lysenkoism, where people swear allegiance to a false science because of threats or a skewed ideology. Finally, it’s not general clinical madness or merely deranged belief. It’s a particular madness, a meticulous and scientifically informed delusion. Pathological scientists pick out a marginal and unlikely phenomenon that appeals to them for whatever reason and bring all their scientific acumen to proving its existence.

Kean says that a pathological science’s “believers use the ambiguity about evidence as evidence – claiming that scientists don’t know everything and therefore there’s room for my pet theory, too.”

Read it. Highly recommended.

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The World Beneath: The Life and Times of Unknown Sea Creatures and Coral Reefs by Richard Smith

The World Beneath: The Life and Times of Unknown Sea Creatures and Coral ReefsThe World Beneath: The Life and Times of Unknown Sea Creatures and Coral Reefs by Richard Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a review copy of this from the publisher through Edelweiss. It’s short, when you consider that half of it is photographs, but what photographs!! Stunning, jaw-dropping “wow” for some of the tiniest creatures in that world beneath. Dr. Smith is an incredible photographer. And he’s had access to some amazing reefs in his work, which he shares in here. He says,

I am drawn to animals that are easily overlooked or ignored, and I use underwater photography to share their beauty – hopefully imparting a greater sense of appreciation to people who haven’t been able to see these animals firsthand.

And that sharing is wonderful. Continue reading

Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal

Primates and Philosophers: How Morality EvolvedPrimates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved by Frans de Waal

Thought provoker, but then de Waal tends to do that. I finished this a couple of days ago and still don’t know if I can do this review justice, but… The basis of this is his criticism (and dismissal) of the Hobbesian view that morality is a layer (a veneer) overlaying the baser, brutish animal that humans really are. This Veneer Theory, as dubbed by de Waal, has advocates and opponents (de Waal being one) and his leading essay here outlined his positions as to why the veneerists are wrong…in his view. No, humans are not moral “by choice” as Hobbes, Huxley and, it seems, Dawkins would have…rather, morality evolved from social constructs evidenced by some of our primate cousins. Four essays respond to his, and then he responds to them…an interesting format. A civilized debate; a food network throw down for people who actually think. They want to address “why don’t we think it is good to be bad?” And none of the five feel “that there is any reason to suppose that humans are different in their metaphysical essence from other animals, or at least, none base their arguments on the idea that humans uniquely possess a transcendent soul.” See? For people who think. Continue reading