What We're Reading

In reviewing a new (but, sadly, not novel) book espousing "intelligent design," Kriti Sharma points to the author's assertion that the only possible response to evolution is existential despair. A brief survey of biologists, however, suggests that such is hardly the case. Indeed, the study of evolution inspires wonder, excitement, intrigue, and adventure--and that describes just one extraordinary evolutionary biologist, whose new memoir is reviewed below. Now, when it comes to climate change, the bare facts are depressing enough--contemplating the likelihood of an adequate response given the political challenges can be chilling. At least science continues to make new discoveries, suggest solutions, inspire action, and provide options; I, for one, take hope in that.

  • A Wild Life Indeed (PDF), Current Biology, August 8, 2016 -- Jonathan B. Losos reviews Robert Trivers's memoir Wild Life: Adventures of an Evolutionary Biologist: "a frank, honest and compelling view of a complicated man who's lived a fascinating life and happens to be a scientist."
  • Bracing Ourselves for the Climate Tipping Point, Pacific Standard, August 16, 2016 -- As scientists prepare to evaluate the prospects for not exceeding the 1.5-degree Celsius global warming limit, Eric Holthaus is pessimistic: "if maintaining the 1.5-degree limit is technically achievable, that in no way means it is politically achievable."
  • Holding Out for a Hero, Religion Dispatches, August 16, 2016 -- Reviewing the latest "intelligent design" screed, Kriti Sharma is unimpressed both with "the same tired, often-refuted argument" at its center and with the simplistic motivations behind it: "this book and its proponents can't save those of us who don't believe that salvation is as simple as answering one question correctly."
  • Mouse Microbes May Make Scientific Studies More Difficult to Replicate, Science, August 17, 2016 -- Not to brag, but you heard it here (and here, and here) first. Unrecognized variables often explain research results that appear not to be reproducible​. For example: "Increasingly, experimenters are questioning the potential research impact of the microbiome.... Rarely even discussed a few years ago, this potential source of variability attracts growing attention at lab animal care conferences, says MSU's attending veterinarian, Claire Hankenson. 'We didn't know to look for it before,' she says."

Photo: "Despair," by Edvard Munch, via Wikimedia Commons / The Athenaeum.