Biology

The Book of Shells in the NYT

July 14, 2010
By
The Book of Shells in the NYT

It’s summer time and for many that means hitting the beach for sand, sun, and, perhaps, some seashell collecting? If the latter happens to be on your list of activities this summer, it would definitely behoove you to pick up a copy of M. G. Harasewych and Fabio Moretzsohn’s new book The Book of Shells: A Life-Size Guide to Identifying and Classifying Six Hundred Seashells. Filled with hundreds of amazing color images of seashells from around the world along with an explanation of the shell’s range, distribution, abundance, habitat, and operculum—the piece that protects the mollusk when it’s in the shell—The Book of Shells is an essential accompaniment to any shell scouting adventure. But even if a trip to the seashore isn’t on the agenda, as this sampling of images from the book featured in a recent review for the New York Times demonstrates, The Book of Shells posses the uncanny power to transport you there anyway. Also, check out these sample pages from the book (PDF format, 1.7Mb) Happy shell hunting! . . .

Read more »

Seasick wins Grantham Prize

June 22, 2010
By
Seasick wins Grantham Prize

Congratulations to Alanna Mitchell, whose book Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth won the 2010 Grantham Prize for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. Awarded by the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting, the prize honors outstanding coverage of the environment and recognizes reporting that has the potential to bring about constructive change. Seasick is first the book to be named a Grantham Prize winner. Mitchell will receive $75,000. Seasick is an engaging work that clearly and eloquently explains the specific dangers facing global marine ecosystems,” said Dr. Sunshine Menezes of the Metcalf Institute. “Reading Alanna Mitchell convinces you that the ocean is at least as important as the atmosphere when we worry about climate change,” added Phillip Meyer, chairman of the Grantham Prize Jury. Editorial Director of the Sciences at the University of Chicago Press Christie Henry said, “Alanna Mitchell possesses exceptional empathy for and understanding of the natural world, inclusive of our role within in. We’re thrilled that she’s being recognized by this prestigious award. In the wake of the Gulf oil spill, the ocean and its health are at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Seasick could not be more timely.” The first book to . . .

Read more »

Massimo Pigliucci goes to war against public ignorance

June 15, 2010
By
Massimo Pigliucci goes to war against public ignorance

Massimo Pigliucci, author of Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk was recently invited to write for the Washington Post‘s Political Bookworm blog. The blog’s regular author Steven Livingston introduces Pigliucci’s article: analyzes how the belief in bunk science occurs, looking into how scientists work and spread their knowledge and how the culture absorbs it. Here, Pigliucci, a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, turns his sights on a related issue: the way ideology worms its way into public education and elbows aside serious scholarship. His case in point: Texas. Continue reading online at the Washington Post‘s Political Bookworm blog. . . .

Read more »

Michael Forsberg on FORA.TV

May 11, 2010
By
Michael Forsberg on FORA.TV

Michael Forsberg whose stunning photographs of some of America’s last untamed prairies grace the pages of his new book Great Plains: America’s Lingering Wild recently delivered a fascinating lecture on his work and the importance of conservation efforts on the great plains at the California Academy of the Sciences. FORA.TV is currently hosting video of the entire lecture, which features images from Forsberg’s book including some behind the scenes shots of the photographer in action, demonstrating the painstaking lengths to which the author went to photograph the lingering wild that still survives in America’s heartland. View the video below or watch it at FORA.TV. Also, see a gallery of photographs and sample pages from the book in PDF format (4.2Mb). . . .

Read more »

On the Nature of Science and Psuedoscience

April 29, 2010
By
On the Nature of Science and Psuedoscience

Climate change—and the debate about its causes or validity—is a subject of perpetual interest. Recently, we told you about the chasm between meteorologists—who predict short-term weather patterns and remain skeptical about long-term change—and climatologists—who, as the New York Times reported, “almost universally endorse the view that the earth is warming and that humans have contributed to climate change.” (Stephen Colbert also recently covered in conflict with an amusing “Science Catfight” between Joe Bastardi, a weather forcaster, and Brenda Ekwurzel, of the Union of Concerned Scientists.) Now the UK’s Independent has offered an overview of books that “separate global warming fact from fiction.” And Massimo Pigliucci’s Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk get singled out as “entertaining and valuable guide to sorting the scientific grain from the chaff of pseudoscience.” He makes a distinction that clarifies some of our current problems. There are two kinds of bone fide science: one is law-based and experimental, cut-and-dried as a crystal chalice or a perfect intertwined double helix of DNA. Then there are historical sciences such as evolution or climate research that employ “the methods of a crime detective.” .… As Pigliucci points out, what happened happened, and can be deduced . . .

Read more »

“The Terrorist Crop-Duster”

April 16, 2010
By
“The Terrorist Crop-Duster”

As Lynn C. Klotz and Edward J. Sylvester write in this recent article from the Huffington Post, in the wake of 9/11, and the subsequent lethal anthrax letters, the United States has spent billions of dollars on measures to defend the population against the threat of biological weapons. Over the last decade a significant proportion of taxpayer dollars have been funneled into clandestine biosecurity labs where thousands of scientists labor to identify possible terrorist threats, and produce countermeasures to protect a vulnerable population. But in their article as in their recent book, Breeding Bio Insecurity: How U.S. Biodefense Is Exporting Fear, Globalizing Risk, and Making Us All Less Secure, Klotz and Sylvester convincingly argue that all that money and effort hasn’t actually made us any safer—in fact, it has made us more vulnerable. In the article, the authors use a scenario put forward by the congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism—a scenario in which a single crop duster with a payload of anthrax could potentially “kill more Americans than died in World War II”—to demonstrate how efforts to defend against such far-fetched imaginary threats can actually play a major role in creating the . . .

Read more »

Climate change and human evolution

March 23, 2010
By
Climate change and human evolution

NPR’s Morning Edition recently aired an interesting piece that investigates the next big trend amongst evolutionary scientists to explore how climate change has effected human evolution—a project recently endorsed by a panel of experts from National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. In the piece reporter Christopher Joyce talks with several experts on the subject including Smithsonian Anthropologist Rick Potts, curator of a recent exhibit titled “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” The exhibit offers climate change as perhaps the most important factor influencing evolution, especially the evolution of the genus homo over the last 2.5 million years or so. Anticipating this trend in the evolutionary sciences by nearly a decade, William H. Calvin’s 2002 A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change offers one of the most thorough explorations of the topic, taking readers around the globe and back in time to demonstrate how climatic cycles of cool, crash, and burn, provided the impetus for enormous increases in the intelligence and complexity of human beings. And with the recent warnings of more climatic catastrophe to come, Calvin’s book not only offers a look at our evolutionary past, but perhaps at our future as well. Navigate . . .

Read more »

On the Origins of Altruism

March 15, 2010
By
On the Origins of Altruism

Sure, evolution explains how modern humans have come to look as we do, but can it explain how we act? What can Darwinian thought tell us about altruism and morality? This is the question posed this week by the Guardian as part of its fascinating “The Question” series. Is merely a trick played on us by our genes? Or is that in turn an incoherent idea? Can science naturalise morality, and show that there are certain good ends which come naturally to the sort of animals we are? Where, in that case, is the belief that we are free too choose our own ends? Does an evolutionary account of human nature challenge liberalism as much as it challenges conservatism? The first respondent is University of Chicago Press author Michael Ruse, a philosopher of biology, who writes that morality is a product of natural selection: Morality then is not something handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. It is something forged in the struggle for existence and reproduction, something fashioned by natural selection. It is as much a natural human adaptation as our ears or noses or teeth or penises or vaginas. It works and it has no meaning over . . .

Read more »

Culture is Essential to Human Evolution

March 4, 2010
By
Culture is Essential to Human Evolution

How has drinking milk changed the human genome? It used to be that humans switched off the gene that digests lactose shortly after being weaned from their mothers’ milk, but Northern Europeans keep the gene switched on until adulthood. How did that happen? It’s a direct effect of culture shaping evolution. The theory that human culture can play an evolutionary role is relatively new; it used to be thought that human culture slowed or stopped evolution. Two of the earliest proponents of this new approach to genes and culture coevolution are Robert Boyd and Peter J. Richerson, and they were the centerpiece of a recent New York Times article on the theory. The idea that genes and culture co-evolve has been around for several decades but has started to win converts only recently. Two leading proponents, Robert Boyd of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Peter J. Richerson of the University of California, Davis, have argued for years that genes and culture were intertwined in shaping human evolution. “It wasn’t like we were despised, just kind of ignored,” Dr. Boyd said. But in the last few years, references by other scientists to their writings have “gone up hugely,” he . . .

Read more »

Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth

March 2, 2010
By
Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth

Good science doesn’t always tell you what you want to hear. So while the message at the core of Alana Mitchell’s Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth, might be particularly hard to swallow, it is nevertheless a much needed medicine for our ailing oceans. As Rick MacPherson notes in a recent review of the book for the latest edition of the American Scientist: In Seasick: Ocean Change and the Extinction of Life on Earth,… Mitchell trawls the oxygen-depleted oceanic dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, counts the days after the full moon in Panama to figure out when to search for signs of coral spawn, questions what a souring ocean chemistry holds for the future of marine plankton communities, and recounts the actions that have depleted global fisheries, documenting the toll that one frightening assault after another has taken on our ocean. Their cumulative effect has pushed us across a threshold. It appears that global systems may already be unable to return the ocean to its former state and are beginning instead to interact to create a new, far less hospitable state. Find out more about the book on the University of Chicago Press website, . . .

Read more »

Search for books and authors