“Torture numbers and they will confess to anything,” author Gregg Easterbrook once wrote in a magazine piece on climate change. But his quip could have been the subtitle for this new book on the abuse of numbers in the courts.
Its authors, mother-daughter mathematicians, belong to a research group devoted to improving the use of statistics in criminal trials. Each chapter focuses on cases exemplifying a particular class of statistical error. Poignant tales detail exonerations resulting from faulty math used in the original trials (errors usually corrected only after intervention by stati... (p. 30)
The periodic table, which arranges elements based on chemical behavior and physical properties, is a triumph of science. Yet the first table, developed in the late 1860s, was riddled with gaps created by undiscovered elements.
By the time researchers recognized in 1913 that elements should be arranged by atomic number (the number of protons in their nuclei) rather than by atomic weight, only seven gaps remained in the list of naturally occurring elements. Chapter by chapter and element by element, Scerri, a historian of science, chronicles scientists’ efforts to fill those holes. A bonus... (p. 30)
Balloon Clears Arteries
A tiny balloon inserted into dangerously clogged arteries at the tip end of a long tube is saving lives by sweeping away the blood clots. A 29-year-old resident in surgery invented the device…. It has been used on 22 patients at the Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati. Dr. Thomas J. Fogarty, now at the University of Oregon Medical School, originated the new … balloon-catheter technique…. A small incision is made either in the groin or other location nearest the clot, and the tube is inserted as far as it will go. The balloon inflates and is filled with... (p. 4)
I found the recent article “Evolutionary enigmas” (SN: 5/18/13, p. 20) fascinating because I know of another example of an invertebrate animal possessing a “strictly vertebrate” quality. As a high school human anatomy and physiology teacher, I sometimes have my students test the effects of the constituents in cigarette smoke on live Daphnia heart rates. These arthropods are known to have myogenic hearts, whereas most arthropods have neurogenic hearts. Myogenic hearts contain muscle cells with an innate ability to contract without neural input, just as vertebrate ... (p. 31)
Erin Wayman’s article “Faint young sun” (SN: 5/4/13, p. 30), about how the early Earth stayed warm enough for liquid water, made me wonder about the effect of the temperature of the planet itself. A hotter core, thinner crust, more volcanism — wouldn’t those factors in addition to atmospheric influences affect surface temperature?
Virginia Bruce, via e-mail
“For the present-day climate, internal heat provides only 0.02 percent of the energy input to the climate system,” says Georg Feulner of Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Scientists e... (p. 31)
Thirty years to Mars
Men should land on Mars before the century’s end. Some optimists say this could happen by the late 1970s but others argue that the formidable problems to be solved make any time period less than some 30-odd years unrealistic. Unless, they add, there is a now unforeseen breakthrough in launching giant loads into orbit or propelling such loads through interplanetary space. Even before man lands on Mars, however, the question of whether some form of life exists there will be answered ... next year when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will send Mariner o... (p. 4)
Buy Zombie Birds, Astronaut Fish and Other Weird Animals
Buy Weird Life
Even on bad days, humans don’t have their tongues eaten by crustaceans. Fish in the English Channel are not so lucky, reports Crew, a science writer. Neither have human males evolved into little more than mobile genitals that attach to females for life, as have some anglerfish. Putting our own species’ vexations in perspective may be a big part of the fun of reading about other life-forms. Whatever drives biodiversity gawking, it’s persistent. So is, thank goodness, the stream of books that satisfies it.
Crew’... (p. 30)
In late 1942, less than a year after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. government began snapping up property in eastern Tennessee. Within a matter of months, approximately 59,000 acres of farms and orchards, homesteads and hovels just south of the Black Oak Ridge hosted immense construction sites that became the home of supersecret facilities used to enrich uranium for the Manhattan Project. Kiernan chronicles the fascinating lives of some of the young women who lived and worked in this fenced-in town, helping to develop the first atomic bombs.
At its wartime peak, the largely self-contained Oak Ridge ... (p. 30)
Artemis may look like any other goat, but a little human DNA inserted into her genetic code gives her life-saving potential. This University of California, Davis wonder produces milk rich in the bacteria-busting enzyme lysozyme, a compound that could help prevent some of the hundreds of thousands of deaths from diarrhea worldwide each year.
“Science has given us a whole new toolbox for tinkering with life,” writes journalist Anthes. Frankenstein’s Cat shows off just a small sampling of this humanmade (or at least human-modified) menagerie. Some, like Artemis, are the result of genetic ... (p. 30)
An astronomer looks at how and where life may have emerged and whether Earthlings are alone in the universe.
Thames & Hudson, 2013, 224 p., $24.95 (p. 30)