Barbara Kiser reviews five of the week's best science picks.
In this incisive tour of sociotechnology and its discontents, forensic cyberpsychologist Mary Aiken has much to say about children and the digital world. Parents addicted to mobile phones, for instance, fail to give babies the 'face time' they need to develop non-verbal communication skills; and the UK Association of Teachers and Lecturers has linked toddlers' tablet use with delays in speaking. With “compulsion loops” built into online games, and cybercommunities focused on extreme behaviours luring people in through online disinhibition, it's time for industrial accountability, she argues.
Over an illustrious career, Victorian surgeon James Barry became Britain's inspector-general of military hospitals, performed one of the first successful Caesarean sections in Africa and achieved the Crimean War's highest recovery rate. But under the overcoat, Barry was Margaret Ann Bulkley, who with the complicity of her mother and radical friends defied the rules and studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Urologist Michael du Preez and writer Jeremy Dronfield have drawn on fresh archive material for this nuanced biography of a medic with a mind-blowing secret.
From a fashion for feathers to habitat loss, US bird-life in the late nineteenth century faced pressing threats, prompting naturalist George Bird Grinnell — who had ties to the family of ornithologist John James Audubon — to launch a society and magazine in the great man's name. Carolyn Merchant's lavishly illustrated environmental history analyses Grinnell's contribution, from biographical writings on Audubon to delightful field descriptions of birds he portrayed — noting, for instance, how cedar waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) aid in reforestation by excreting undigested cherry stones.
Andrew Lawler's 2014 Why Did the Chicken Cross the World (Atria; see Nature 515, 490–491; 2014) gave us a natural and cultural history of Gallus gallus domesticus, from its south Asian origins to global ubiquity. In a breezy narrative brimming with retro recipes, culinary historian Emelyn Rude focuses on the history of US chicken consumption, currently 8.6 billion birds a year. From New York immigrants' foul “ornithological parks” of the 1880s and 1890s to the rise in global demand — which can push production at the expense of animal welfare — Rude reveals chicken as a troublesome taste.
Polio, Ebola, influenza — it's the viral villains that hit headlines, yet a number of viruses are benign. Environmental microbiologist Marilyn Roossinck sets the record straight with this stunning explication of 101 viruses that infect everything from humans to archaea. Along with basics on life cycles, transmission and more, Roossinck offers succinct descriptions, schematic drawings and a gallery of electron-microscopy images that have more than a passing resemblance to the paintings of Jackson Pollock and Wassily Kandinsky.