A thought-provoking examination of the political side of high-stakes science.




Meyers (Radiology and Medicine/School of Medicine, SUNY Stony Brook; Happy Accidents: Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs, 2007, etc.) examines distortions in the process of assigning credit for major scientific discoveries.

The author thinks reform is necessary to encourage creativity despite the financial pressures of competitive team science. He debunks the “dogma that science is self-correcting,” giving evidence of failures in the process of peer review, and he cites instances of university department heads taking sole credit for discoveries made by student researchers and instances of outright fraud (e.g., the notorious 1986 Baltimore Affair). Priority disputes, writes Meyers, are not new to science (see the Leibniz-Newton calculus controversy), and Dmitri Mendeleev's groundbreaking discovery of the periodic table was denied a Nobel Prize. Robert Gallo and Luc A. Montagnier argued over who should receive credit for the discovery of the AIDS virus. It took a meeting and signed agreement between President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Jacques Chirac to ensure the right of both the American and the French scientist to claim credit. They finally reached a settlement in 1991, with Gallo conceding priority, and Montagnier was awarded the Nobel in 2010. Another example of a scientific dispute arose in 2005, when the first of a series of full-page advertisements appeared in the New York Times with the headline “This Shameful Wrong Must Be Righted!” The ads—which attacked the Nobel Prize committee for awarding to Paul Lauterbur and Sir Peter Mansfield the prize for work that “led to the applications of magnetic resonance in medical imaging”—were purchased by another claimant who had been passed over, Raymond Damadian. Meyers, an expert in the field, knew both Lauterbur and Damadian, and he gives a fascinating account of the scientific issues involved as well as the political aspects of the dispute.

A thought-provoking examination of the political side of high-stakes science.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-230-33890-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.


A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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