Much has been made of the slowness of the scientific community to accept new theories (evolution, relativity); Sabbagh...

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A RUM AFFAIR

A TRUE STORY OF BOTANICAL FRAUD

A thorough investigation (first published in Britain in 1999) into a case of deviant science from the 1930s and 1940s.

For many years, the papers of John Heslop Harrison (a botanist working on the Isle of Rum off the coast of Scotland) have astounded naturalists with observations of plants never before seen in Great Britain. His findings, if accurate, would have major theoretical implications, supporting his theory that parts of Scotland were not encased in ice during the last Ice Age (thus allowing plants to survive that would have perished in adjacent locales). But as Harrison’s list of unlikely discoveries grew, so did his colleagues’ doubts—and in 1948 John Raven (a classics scholar with a botanical background) was recruited to investigate them. Sabbagh (Skyscraper, 1990) has succeeded in bringing this decades-old academic controversy to life, but his academic writing style sometimes slows the story down. As the tale unfolds, it becomes clear to both Raven and the reader that Harrison’s “finds” were actually planted. Raven published a letter in Nature, alerting the scientific community to many of the discoveries from the island that seemed problematic, and essentially no further action was taken against Harrison. Over the years, as researchers were unable to verify Harrison’s sightings, they were dropped from the record books. Sabbagh’s conclusions are sometimes a stretch (for example, he asserts that the scientific community failed, in that nothing was done to publicly expose Harrison), while the letters he draws from show a community deeply concerned with both professional and personal fairness. Generally, though, he has a clear grasp of the significance of his story, placing it in context of examples of more recent—and equally audacious—fraud.

Much has been made of the slowness of the scientific community to accept new theories (evolution, relativity); Sabbagh offers an illuminating, if not always engaging, account of the virtues of such skepticism. (photos)

Pub Date: July 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-374-25282-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2000

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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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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