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Full of sound and fury

Opinion, Science | September 22, 2007 ⋅ 2:33pm

Andy Coghlan could learn a lot from the late Stephen Jay Gould. For all his contributions to the fields of paleontology and evolutionary biology, Gould is perhaps best known as a prolific science writer. An ambassador of science to the general public, he wrote his many books and magazine articles with a lay audience in mind, yet never compromised the science behind the story for the sake of petty sensationalism.

In his 1984 essay, “Sex, Drugs, Disasters, and the Extinction of Dinosaurs,” Gould wrote, “My greatest unhappiness with most popular presentations of science concerns their failure to separate fascinating claims from the methods that scientists use to establish the facts of nature. . . .If the growing corps of popular science writers would focus on how scientists develop and defend those fascinating claims, they would make their greatest possible contribution to public understanding.”

Some of today’s science writing lives up to Gould’s exacting standards; much of it falls short. Andy Coghlan’s article, “Dying for Some Peace and Quiet,” from the August 25, 2007 issue of New Scientist, fails so dismally that it merits special attention. » More... » More »


Review: “Parasite Rex”

Books, Science | July 9, 2007 ⋅ 6:01pm

Much has already been written about Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex, and I have to concur with the early reviewers: it’s a fascinating work. Not a novel, but it occasionally reads like one, especially if you’ve never contemplated the mysteries of parasites in all their various forms.

Probably you have not. Even the word “parasite” has a bad connotation in our society. Parasites are the spongers, the moochers, the lowlifes. Call someone a parasite and it’s clear you have nothing but contempt for him.

But that’s human society, says Zimmer. In nature, the role of the parasite may be considerably different. Modern thinking in the field of parasitology suggests that parasites might not be mere afterthoughts in natural ecosystems, but absolutely essential to them. » More... » More »

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