The Master Builder

Alfonso Martinez Arias Basic (2023)

The structure of DNA was discovered in Cambridge, UK, in 1953. How ironic, then, that it was while he was a researcher in the department of genetics at the University of Cambridge that biologist Alfonso Martinez Arias developed doubts that genes constitute an organism’s operating manual. For example, he says, genes cannot explain why the human heart is usually on the left or why the hand has five fingers. In his revolutionary book on cell biology, he argues: “I feel certain that cells hold a creative potential that genes cannot dream of.”

The Age of Prediction

Igor Tulchinsky & Christopher E. Mason MIT Press (2023)

Chief executive of a quantitative-investment firm Igor Tulchinsky, and Christopher Mason, who runs a genomic medicine laboratory, share an interest in prediction. “Predictive algorithms have changed the world, and all the worlds to come, and there is no going back,” they say in their articulate book on how current and future artificial-intelligence algorithms will change apprehension of risk and affect human behaviour. They accept that economics, business, finance and some aspects of medicine are not governed by scientific logic.

A Myriad of Tongues

Caleb Everett Harvard Univ. Press (2023)

In the Amazonian region of Brazil, where anthropologist Caleb Everett spent much of his childhood, speakers of Tupi-Kawahíb never refer to time ‘passing by’. Indeed, the language has no word for ‘time’. By contrast, most European languages have few abstract words for odours, whereas languages in a number of other cultures have more than a dozen. Everett’s fascinating book — based on collaboration with biologists, chemists, political scientists and engineers — ponders such differences between the world’s 7,000-plus languages.

The Return of Inflation

Paul Mattick Reaktion (2023)

According to Paul Mattick, former editor of the International Journal of Political Economy, who trained in philosophy, “economists have a long record of theoretical and predictive failure”. After failing to predict the 2008 financial crisis, they failed to explain why inflation stayed unexpectedly low for a decade, before suddenly rising in 2021. Was the COVID-19 pandemic responsible for the high inflation? If so, why does it continue? This book, from a left-wing perspective, argues that modern capitalism is inherently inflationary.

Research Design in the Social Sciences

Graeme Blair et al. Princeton Univ. Press (2023)

“This is a research design book, not a statistics textbook,” note political scientists Graeme Blair, Alexander Coppock and Macartan Humphreys. It is aimed at readers launching their first research projects in the social sciences, at graduate students wishing to understand research findings and at funders assessing a project’s design rather than its results. Its unique framework, MIDA (model, inquiry, data strategy and answer strategy), uses DeclareDesign, a software package co-created by the authors.