Science fiction and fantasy
by Alex Boese
The stakes are higher when it comes to nuclear research, which includes tests in living in bunkers as well as the inevitable bomb blast tests. For a while a surprising number of scientists were fixated in nuking the moon, and the author examines why that was and why, thankfully, the idea was abandoned.
The most fascinating section for me was the one on deceptive psychology. The researchers here aren't so much mad as sly. The kind of experiments featured here reveal a lot about conformity, memory, and our perceptions of others. Although lying tends to be considered unethical this isn't exactly fringe science.
The same can't be said for the anecdotes about primate research, with scientists who went to live in the wild in the hope of uncovering facts about primates and language, or who tried to bring up a chimp as a human. But that pales in comparison to the chapter on self-experimenters, which is truly disgusting in several places. If the thought of a surgeon operating on his own appendix makes you queasy be warned that there's far worse in this chapter. It's quite sensationalist, and often the people involved are leaning more towards the mad end of the mad scientist spectrum.
The author presents a dramatisation of how things might have happened before he explains each anecdote in more detail. This gives the stories a more human touch, even though he's taking minor liberties with the truth because we don't always know exactly what was said at the time. The subject matter is far from dry and Boese writes with a clear, engaging style, so this is the kind of book you could easily read in one gulp. Although there's a list of further reading at the end there are no notes: this isn't aimed at academics. However I found it full of surprises and it made me want to learn more about mankind's quirky and perilous quest for scientific knowledge.
20th February 2012
If you like this, try:Storm In A Teacup by Helen Czerski
Helen Czerski takes a look at how physics affects everything we do, whether it is making a cup of tea or powering our lives.
Physics Of The Future by Michio Kaku
An examination of how science could shape the world of 2100, and how it can help us to predict the near future.
How Many Friends Does One Person Need? by Robin Dunbar
A look at what evolution can tell us about the science of friendship, culture, morality and various other curiosities.