SCIENTISTS AT WORK: The Creative Process of Scientific Research by John Noble--Ed. Wilford

SCIENTISTS AT WORK: The Creative Process of Scientific Research

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Gathered here in under 300 photo-illustrated pages are 29 glimpses of ""Scientists at Work"" on such diverse problems as the dating of man's entry into the new world, the detection of subatomic particles, the invention of a telephone switching system (BTL's ""ferreed"" crosspoint), and the search for a male contraceptive. First published separately in the daily New York Times, the articles focus on the ""human adventure"" and ""creative process"" of scientific research. Most are organized around visits with individual scientists in the lab or field--where a dedicated tree-ring dater scours the California mountains for old buried logs in order to complete a master chronology that improves on other dating systems; a patient young forest geneticist nurses twin elm seedlings (""we find about one twin for every thousand seeds"") in hope of breeding a beautiful and disease-resistant species; or a New Hampshire ecologist denudes a forest with herbicides so he can study its regenerative powers. The needle in the haystack is a frequently evoked image, and readers are often guided along the scientists' routes from search to discovery. The heaviest, and longest, piece concerns a process of DNA analysis of ""genetic decoding""; unsurprisingly, the least satisfactory are the ""newsy"" but here incomplete stories of swine flu vaccine and legionnaires' disease. Reading the items en masse one can't help reflecting that Jeremy Bernstein's collected New Yorker pieces--or Bertrand RouechÉ's, for that matter--make a far more satisfactory book, for their sharper pictures of the creative process as well as their more extensive treatment of the subjects. In contrast, these mostly six- or seven-page notices, stimulating enough as commuter-train companions, often seem mechanically constructed and frustratingly patchy. However, accessible pictures of scientists at work are rare and this has the added lure of access to current investigation--an approach most likely to appeal to just those undirected science watchers who will benefit most from the very mixed bag.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1978
Publisher: Dodd, Mead