While exploring a rich variety of topics, from climate change to Einstein, this collection of scientific thoughts lacks...

A New Science

FROM LIGHT TO ETERNITY

A scientific freethinker draws on his Usenet posts to argue for reinterpretations of mainstream theories.

In this book, Prasad (God vs. the Universe, 2015, etc.) challenges scientific orthodoxy on subjects ranging from the role of carbon dioxide in shaping the Earth’s climate to the physical characteristics of the human soul. In presenting his arguments, the author also celebrates the culture of Usenet and other online discussion forums, where he developed and honed his theories over several decades. Prasad approaches established science with a contrarian’s enthusiasm, disputing the particle-wave dual nature of light, the conclusions of climate change studies, the customs of academic publishing, and Albert Einstein’s role in developing scientific theory. The book draws on a broad range of published research, though the papers’ authors would likely dispute many of Prasad’s interpretations of their work. Prasad writes in an excitable style, with more than 90 exclamation points appearing throughout the nearly 140 pages of the book’s body, and with unfettered confidence: “Judged on the basis of this principle [Occam’s Razor], my theory of light is superior to existing theories.” There is also a hint of the conspiracy theorist in the volume’s approach, particularly in the discussion of government-funded research into climate change, described as “massive corruption.” The author accuses climate researchers of ignoring the complexities of the system immediately before supporting one of his arguments with “This is what happened in reality, though the actual data are different, and these graphs are merely an example to clarify what really happened.” With its overabundance of exclamation points, italics, and all-caps text, along with its sense of entitlement (“My objection and my answers to all the other questions, including my explanation of light, need to be on the record and fully acknowledged”) and incredulity (“I felt that the totality of online information on these subjects was somehow subtly changing”), the book retains close ties to its origins in online postings without moving beyond Usenet into a more refined and coherent scientific argument.

While exploring a rich variety of topics, from climate change to Einstein, this collection of scientific thoughts lacks polish.

Pub Date: May 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5309-4838-3

Page Count: 152

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2016

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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

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LAB GIRL

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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