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review 2018-06-07 19:19
Facts, anecdotes, some opinions, and a very engaging way of learning about the human body.
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes - Nathan H. Lents

Thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I saw this book on offer, I could not resist. I studied Medicine and have been fascinated by Biology and the Natural Sciences for ages. I have also thought and often commented on our (mostly mine, but yes, most of the issues are general, not exclusive to me) flawed design, no matter how superior we feel to the rest of the species that share the planet with us. In a later chapter of the book, the author sums it up observing that if we participated in an Olympic Games-style contest that included all of the Earth’s species, we would not win at anything, apart from perhaps decathlon (or chess if it was included), as we are generalists. We might not be able to compete with the physical prowess shown by many other species (we are not the fastest, the strongest, the best hunters, the ones who jump higher or who can run for longer), but we can do many things to a reasonable level. And yes, we are pretty intelligent (however we choose to use our minds).

There is enough material to fill several books under the general title of this book, and Lents chooses pretty interesting ones (although I guess some will appeal to some readers more than others). He talks about pointless bones and anatomical errors, our diet (here he talks about our tendency to obesity and our need to eat a varied diet due to the fact that our bodies have lost the ability to synthesise a number of vitamins, amino acids… while other species do),junk in the genome (issues to do with our DNA), homo sterilis (we are not very good at reproducing as a species), why God invented doctors (about our immune system and autoimmune diseases, cancer…), a species of suckers (about cognitive biases. The title of the chapter refers to P.T. Barnum’s edict ‘a sucker born every minute’ although as the author notes, this is an underestimate), and he discusses the possible future of humanity in the epilogue. There is a fair amount of information contained in this book, and that includes some useful illustrations, and notes at the end (I read an ARC copy, but it is possible that the final version contains even more documentation and resources). It is an educational read that I thoroughly enjoyed. I listened to the book thanks to the text-to-speech facility, and it suits it well, as it has a very conversational tone and manages to impart lots of information without being overbearing or obscure.  I read some reviews suggesting that it was so packed with facts that it was better to read it in small bites. Personally, I read it in a few days and never got bored of it, but it might depend on the reader’s interest in the subject.

I was familiar with some of the content but I appreciated the author’s take and the way he organised the materials. Although I enjoyed the whole book, I was particularly interested in the chapters on genetics (the DNA analysis and the identification of specific genes have moved on remarkably since I completed my degree) and on cognitive biases. As a doctor, I also agreed with his comments about autoimmune diseases, the difficulties in their diagnosis, and how these illnesses can sometimes be confused with psychiatric illnesses (being a psychiatrist, I know only too well this can happen). Of course, as is to be expected from the topic, the book reflects on the development of the species and discusses natural selection and evolution, and I was fascinated by the reviews of people who took his arguments as personal attacks on their beliefs. I agree that some of his interpretations and his hypothesis of the reasons for some of these flaws can be debatable, but that does not apply to the facts, and I did not feel the book is intended as a provocation but as a source of information, and entertainment. As the writer notes, we remember better (and believe in) anecdotes and stories than we do dry data. (I am not an expert on the subject but was fascinated by the comments on his blog.)

I found the book fascinating, and as a writer, I thought it was full of information useful to people thinking of writing in a variety of genres, from science-fiction (thoughts about how other species might evolve crossed my mind as I read it), historical fiction (if we go back many years), and any books with a focus on human beings and science.  I would recommend checking a sample of the book to see if the writer’s style suits the reader. I highlighted many lines (and was surprised when I learned that female Bluefin tunas don’t reach sexual maturity until they are twenty years old and was pleased to learn about the important roll old female orcas play in their society) but I particularly like this one:

Scurvy is a dystopian novel written by the human body.

A great read for those who prefer non-fiction and fact-packed books, perfect for people with little time, as it can be picked up and savoured in bite-size instalments, and a book that might pique our interest in and lead to further research on some of the topics. Experts are unlikely to find new information here, but other readers will come out enlightened and with plenty to think about. I strongly recommend it.

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review 2016-04-04 00:00
Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution From the Origin Of the Universe
Cosmosapiens: Human Evolution From the Origin Of the Universe - John Hands The author really needs to chill out, watch a Neil deGrasse Tyson video on the universe and put the wonder back in science instead of trying to tear it apart. Dark Matter, Dark Energy are not currently observable and we just have educated guesses to what they are. As Tyson says, we can just as easily call them Fred & Barney until we know more about them. They are just place holders for now. That's the way science works. The author just tries to tear apart the science. The teams that discovered the universe was expanding and hypothesized Dark Energy deserved the Nobel Prize, but this book just doesn't like Dark Energy, Dark Matter and a host of other standard science.

Science never proves anything. Our knowledge is what we consider to be 'justified true belief". Sometimes we have to use mathematics and theory to account for manifestations. That doesn't mean we are necessarily wrong, but we use every tool at our disposal to explain nature by using nature. The author seems to want to go beyond nature. He quoted Einstein twice in the book to the effect that Einstein believed in a "transcendental intelligence". The author sees that as a good thing, and he doesn't think the mathematics alone can explain the phenomena.

The author really doesn't like standard (he uses the obnoxious term 'orthodox') science. It's a pity. For within our current best understanding of science there are many awe inspiring stories to be told. Look at LIGO and its discovery of gravitational waves (ripples) through out the fabric of space-time. They measured the contraction and the expansion of space itself. They used Einstein's General Theory, known physics and mathematics about black holes, quantum theory and a whole host of other theories and used mathematical computer simulations to determine what happens when two black holes walk into a bar.... A story like that is so much more interesting then the constant picking apart of the standard science which the author constantly does in the book, and the author loses the forest for the trees because he doesn't realize that even without science being perfect we can still use what we think we know and tell incredibly interesting stories and use that to see space-time itself contract and expand.

Science will always be underdetermined, for any set of facts about nature there will always be multiple theories to explain that data. But the author doesn't seem to understand this and sees that as an opportunity to show that science is faulty.

The author would summarize our current understanding of our science about a big topic, then criticize it, and then present alternate ways of looking at it, and then present some of his usually far out conclusions.

I would say that there was almost nothing new in this book that I hadn't read elsewhere. All of the statements on matters about science or philosophy I had read elsewhere.

The author has a pernicious teleological bent to his presentation. He really seems to like Fred Hoyle. He'll quote the absurd statement that life forming randomly is on the order of a tornado sweeping through a junk yard and making a 747. The author's favored model for the universe seemed to be Hoyle's QSSC (probably stands for quasi steady state crap, I'm too lazy to look it up and I know the 'C" does stand for crap). He really thinks fine tuning of the universe is the best explanation for the explanation of some of nature's constants. He could be right, but there is a reason why we don't measure the heights of basketball players in light years. They would be the same to the 17th decimal place just as some of the 'fine tuned' constants are. He at least owes the reader the other side. The author is not a creationist but he does quote from the absurd creationist Michael Behe favorably, and I would think a host of creationist believers would love this book since he offers a plethora of criticisms on the standard explanations of science.

He believes 'psychic energy' can explain certain natural phenomena, that entropy (the second law of thermodynamics) needs a fifth force to explain how it is constantly increasing, that insight should be put back into philosophy instead of only being reason based, the start of life is a near impossible event and so on.

I have nothing good to say about this book and can't recommend it. I don't know why I finished it. It reminded me of the movie "Plan 9 from Outer Space", I just wanted to see what other disasters awaited. I regret starting this book, and definitely would not recommend it to anyone.
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text 2015-02-28 20:27
It's Undeniable - Biology is Fascinating
Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation - Corey Powell,Bill Nye

Bill Nye recently participated in a controversial debate with young-Earth creationist Ken Ham. In his new book, Undeniable, Nye writes "For those readers who might be deeply religious, welcome... I did not disparage anyone's religion." He notes that "many people... see no conflict between their spiritual beliefs and their scientific understanding of evolution." This fact always makes me wonder how individuals can be so sure they speak for God. When someone makes an assertion in science, scrutiny across the world and over time weeds out falsehoods. Similarly, in religions wisdom accumulates over time. Why some individuals cling to the past puzzles me.
Nye writes that "evolution is one of the most powerful and important ideas ever developed in the history of science," with "essential practical applications." He fears that if the "pseudoscience of creationism" makes inroads into education, it "is an assault not just on evolution but on the whole public understanding of science."
Nye refutes creationism. For example, Ham claims that 7,000 kinds of animals were on Noah's ark - there are 16 million species known today, so eleven new species would have come into existence every day under Ham's vision of the Great Flood to reach today's total. Surely someone would have noticed if that happened. Kangaroos would have had to climb down from snowcapped Mount Ararat and hop to Australia without leaving any sign they passed through. No recorded sightings, no bones in Tibet, and across a land bridge that left no trace of its existence. There's loads of information available about the debate on the internet.
But most of the book goes beyond the debate with Ham. Nye begins with the major concepts of biology such as the age of the Earth, biodiversity, fossils, and mass extinctions; as well as history- the contributions of Darwin, Wallace, Lamarck, Linnaeus, Eldridge, Gould, and others.
He addresses topics in the news, such as vaccine safety, genetically modified organisms, human cloning, racism, extraterrestrial life, and research into the origin of life on Earth. If you're already grounded in biology, you might skip to these chapters.
Nye even tackles an evolutionary topic that leaves some people squeamish - the "short evolutionary distance" between us, apes, and other hominids. We can't say "that humans are no longer evolving, because we surely are." "Cue the spooky music."
Nye is known for his TV series, Bill Nye the Science Guy, which "aimed to teach a specific topic in science [in each episode] to a preteen audience, yet it garnered a wide adult audience as well."
In this same vein, the book avoids jargon and uses a conversational tone ("you and I ain't such a big deal," "I thought about how cool it would be," "he was in a bad mood in Tacoma") and personal references ("when I was a senior in college," "while my family was seated together eating a chicken dinner," and dressing up in a gorilla suit for a TV comedy). This makes the book quite accessible - as Steven Pinker says, statistics without stories are empty.
In addition to a teen audience, adults who haven't thought about the subject since high school will enjoy the book. I think even quite young kids who are interested can handle it - if you know any youngsters who rattle off a dozen dinosaurs' Latin names, you may agree.
I recommend this book to anyone unsure of evolution, new to biology, or interested in biology in the news. As Nye says, "evolution is inspiring" and "profoundly humbling" and well worth your time.

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text 2014-12-25 13:00
TBR Thursday
Defenders - Will McIntosh
Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell
Gridlinked - Neal Asher
Bad Feminist: Essays - Roxane Gay
Solo - Robert Mason
When We Join Jesus In Hell - Lee Thompson
Love and Sex with Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationships - David H. Levy
Cress - Marissa Meyer
When Harlie Was One - David Gerrold
Twisted Metal - Tony Ballantyne

These are the big purchases this week.  I got a lot of them on sale, so not money wise but in my mind, these are the highlights of my purchases.  What I'm most looking forward to reading. 


I'm going to focus on getting some non-robot related stuff read so I leave that for the challenge next year, which will be mostly to please myself by getting robot stuff done.   Plus, I'm loving Eleanor and Park so going to try to finish that today.  


My plans for next week are to hopefully finish up Eleanor and Park, read When We Join Jesus in Hell, and hopefully at least start Bad Feminist.   


By the way, I've burnt myself out on comics, so I'll be abandoning the comic book/graphic novel challenge for the month.   This falls in line with two resolutions for next year: to stop freaking myself out with arbitrary rules/challenges I set for myself, and to read more based on what I want to read rather than feel forced to read certain things.   So I'll also be abandoning monthly challenges: they not only add to that stress in the first, they make me feel boxed in and I end up longing to read something else, but forcing myself through something else. 


Hopefully this will streamline my reading a bit more, too, so I won't start so many books that languish on the currently read list!


Thanks to Moonlight Reader for starting TBR Thursday and I'm sorry I forgot to link to you on my earlier post. 

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text 2014-12-23 20:07
Love & Sex with Robots
Love + Sex With Robots: The Evolution Of Human Robot Relationships - DAVID LEVY



I'm considering this one, but checking out reviews before I commit!


ETA: read reviews, sampled, purchased, now going to nap off this migraine!  

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