January 2013: Scary Science | Mechanics' Institute

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January 2013: Scary Science










Are you losing sleep over worries about the fiscal cliff, the world ending, or just the prospect of a new year?  Turn your attention instead to more immediate concerns like over exposure to radiation, electromagnetic fields or a world without apes.

Books that bring science - the good, the bad, and the bogus - into the mainstream seem to be hot this winter.  Warm up with a few of National Geographic's short and amazing Tales of the Weird and then move onto the stronger stuff.

Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic - David Quammen (614.43 Q16)

The emergence of strange new diseases such as Ebola, SARS, AIDS, and the horse-killing Hendra is a frightening problem that seems to be getting worse.  In this era of frequent and speedy travel, the pathogens that cause these diseases can quickly spread worldwide and they share one terrifying characteristic: they originate in wild animals and pass to humans by a process called spillover

In Spillover, the author takes the reader along on an astonishing quest to learn how, where from, and why these diseases emerge, and he asks the terrifying question: What might the next one be?  Don't read this book before bed or while taking an exotic trip!

A Field Guide to Radiation - Wayne Biddle (539.2 B58)

Nuclear energy, X-rays, radon, cell phones - radiation is part of modern life yet the sources, and the ramifications of our exposure to it, remain mysterious. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wayne Biddle explores the history, meaning and health implications of radiation in short essays that may have you crying, moving to the wilderness, or calling your Congress person!

This is a simple guide to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and how to reduce their harmful effects.  While this handbook might not be something you'd put in a Christmas stocking, it presents information that may help you make choices about limiting your exposure to EMFs.

Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks - Ben Goldacre (500 G618)

This expose of "bad science" will have you reeling! Author Ben Goldacre exposes quack doctors, biased and bogus scientific studies, and flat out "scientific" lies fed to us by the media or whatever industry is fronting the money; teaching the reader how to recognize "bad science" when exposed to it.

The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics : a Math-Free Exploration of the Science That Made Our World - James Kakalios (530.12 K13)

In the imagination of the 1950s, it was predicted that the future would be like an episode of The Jetsons - flying cars, jetpacks, and robotic personal assistants.  Obviously, things didn't turn out that way! 

However, today's world is actually more fantastic than the most outlandish predictions of science fiction.  The World Wide Web, pocket-sized computers, mobile phones and MRI machines have changed the world in unimagined ways.  In The Amazing Story of Quantum Mechanics, James Kakalios uses examples from comics and magazines to explain how breakthroughs in quantum mechanics led to such technologies.

Posted on Jan. 1, 2013 by Taryn Edwards