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Pseudoscience, zero waste, and female scientists save the world: Books in brief

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Beloved Beasts

Michelle Nijhuis W. W. Norton (2021)

In 2019, a white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) was born at a zoo in San Diego, California, as a result of artificial insemination. A related technique using a complex robotic catheter might lead to a free-roaming population of the northern subspecies of white rhino, which is functionally extinct. Such are the complexities of modern conservation covered in science writer Michelle Nijhuis’s thoughtful and readable history of people “who did the wrong things for the right reasons, and the right things for the wrong reasons”.

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On the Fringe

Michael D. Gordin Oxford Univ. Press (2021)

All scientists agree that cold fusion, creationism and Nazi eugenics are examples of pseudoscience. But what about superstring theory (mathematically elegant but untestable), extraterrestrial intelligent life and cosmological inflation? The “mainstream consensus … turns out to be squishier than you might expect”, writes historian of science Michael Gordin in his brief but illuminating survey, provoked partly by the debate over mass COVID-19 vaccination. As long as science exists, Gordin concludes, so will pseudoscience.

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The Waste-Free World

Ron Gonen Portfolio (2021)

Ron Gonen co-founded New York City company Recyclebank in 2003, and became the city’s deputy commissioner for sanitation, recycling and sustainability in 2012. He calls for a “circular economy”: investment in advanced technologies involving materials science, product design, recycling and manufacturing to create a zero-waste, “closed-loop” system. Profit, he says, then becomes synonymous with preservation of our health and environment. His clear, practical book will engage anyone who has felt guilty while sorting their rubbish.

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James Goff & Walter Dudley Oxford Univ. Press (2021)

The term tsunami, derived from Japanese words for ‘harbour’ and ‘wave’, first appeared in English in 1896. Today, it means a series of travelling waves of extremely long period, usually associated with earthquakes below or near the ocean floor, note marine geologists James Goff and Walter Dudley. Their expert, general-interest history has chapters on key tsunamis in Lisbon (1755), Chile (1960) and the Indian Ocean (2004), but not, strangely, on the one that wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011.

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The Curie Society

Heather Einhorn et al. MIT Press (2021)

“Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie’s words preface this action-adventure graphic novel fostered by a group of female scientists from varied disciplines who aim to inspire young women. Created by Heather Einhorn and Adam Staffaroni with writer Janet Harvey and artist Sonia Liao, it shows the three diverse heroines of the secret Curie Society using brains, resourcefulness and cutting-edge technology to outwit nefarious rogue scientists who threaten the world. Right on!

Nature 592, 506 (2021)



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