THE REAL SCIENCE BEHIND THE X-FILES

MICROBES, METEORITES, AND MUTANTS

TV’s popular X-Files, criticized for peddling woo-woo ideas, is actually careful to preserve scientific accuracy’so says the show’s science consultant. Simon (Biochemistry/Univ. of Mass., Amherst) was a fan of the show before she discovered that its creator, Chris Carter, was a family friend. She was attracted by the characterization of Scully, the show’s resident skeptic, one of the most realistic scientists to appear as a regular TV character. When Carter contacted Simon to vet the science on one episode, she became a regular consultant. Here she examines the scientific basis for a number of the shows, focusing on her own areas of specialty—biochemistry and molecular biology—from which many episodes have drawn material. The biology of our own planet still has many unexplored areas—new species are being discovered every day, many in environments formerly thought hostile to life (the ocean depths or deep underground). Simon lays the groundwork for an understanding of how DNA and the other basic molecules of life operate. The show’s tension between the credulous FBI agent Mulder and the skeptical Scully arises from the unexpected ways that living things can act. Many episodes’such as the one featuring El Chupacabra, the goat-sucking vampire of Hispanic folklore—involve Scully’s finding a naturalistic explanation for what Mulder is ready to see as a supernatural phenomenon. This gives Simon plenty of room to explore byways of science, and she does so without betraying either her scientific training or the entertainment value of the show. She cites specific episodes, often with excerpts from the script, then goes off to explore the wider scientific background. This gives her a shot at everything from evolution to exobiology, from cryptozoology to DNA sequencing, and the result is a lively, well-written book that will please fans of the show without embarrassing serious scientists. Of most interest to fans, but the science is still solid. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-85617-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1999

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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