Wednesday, April 1, 2009

When Science Goes Wrong

When Science Goes Wrong: Twelve Tales from the Dark Side of Discovery by Simon LeVay was originally published in April, 2008. My paperback copy has 304 pages, including the preface and chapter sources. In this book each chapter is a different story of science gone wrong. As LeVay writes in the preface, "Mostly we here about science's triumphs....But for every brilliant scientific success there are a dozen failures....Once in a while, though, science doesn't just fail - it goes spectacularly, even horribly, wrong."(pg.1) Rather than being comprehensive about scientific mistakes made in one specific area of study, he presents twelve examples from a wide variety of disciplines. Even if every story doesn't interest you, certainly several will. In the quotes I will include a quote from the beginning of each chapter after the title.
When Science Goes Wrong is highly recommended.

Chapter 1 - Neuroscience: The Runner's Brain
"...Max didn't know much about Parkinson's disease, but Kay was well aware that it was a progressive and potentially fatal disorder of movement." pg. 7

"So he decided that Truex should undergo....a transplant of cells from the brains of human fetuses." pg. 13

Chapter 2 - Meteorology: All Quiet on the Western Front
" 'Earlier on today apparently a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there's a hurricane on the way,' said Britain's best-known weatherman, Michael Fish, on an October evening in 1987. 'Well, if you're watching, don't worry - there isn't.' Then the hurricane struck." pg. 37

Chapter 3 - Volcanology: The Crater of Doom
"Volcanoes demand respect, but they don't always get it. In 1993, when geologist Stanley Williams led a party of scientists to their deaths in the crater of an active volcano, he triggered an eruption of controversy and blame." pg. 59

Chapter 4 - Neuroscience: The Ecstasy and the Agony
"In 2002, when a neuroscientist at John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore published a study on the toxic effects of the drug Ecstasy, the findings bolstered a political campaign against recreational use of the drug. Only much later did it turn out that the findings were the consequence of an almost laughable laboratory blunder." pg. 78

Chapter 5 - Engineering Geology: The Night the Dam Broke
"These monoliths serve as memorials to the victims of America's worst civil-engineering disaster of the twentieth century, the failure of the St. Francis Dam [in California] on March 12, 1928." pg. 99

Chapter 6 - Gene Therapy: The Genes of Death
"Before there were stem cells, there was gene therapy." pg. 121

Chapter 7 - Nuclear Physics: Meltdown
"McKinley was one of three men....who died in a nighttime explosion [on January 3, 1961] at the National Reactor Testing Station..." pg. 143

Chapter 8 - Microbiology: Gone with the Wind
"During the six-week period starting on April 6 [1979] least sixty-six persons died [in Sverdlovsk, now Ekaterinburg, Russia] What killed them was anthrax." pg. 161

Chapter 9 - Forensic Science: The Wrong Man
"Although they were behaving innocently enough, the two youths were stopped by police, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a squad car. Sutton didn't see freedom again for four and a half years." pg. 181

Chapter 10 - Space Science: Off Target
"In fact, no signal was ever received from the spacecraft again. The Mars Climate Orbiter was lost and the mission was a total failure." pg. 199

Chapter 11 - Speech Pathology: The Monster Study
"Tudor's mission [on January 17, 1939] was to discover the cause of stuttering. She didn't accomplish her mission, but the methods she used in her attempt to do so are now - sixty eight years later - the subject of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit and the focus of fierce ethical controversy." pg. 221

Chapter 12 - Nuclear Chemistry: The Magic Island
"In August 1999, nuclear chemists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced the creation of three atoms of a new 'super-heavy' element, element 118. Two years later they had to retract their claim and a firefight broke out that cost a star scientist his career and sullied the reputations of several others." pg. 246


raidergirl3 said...

This book looks very interesting - I think I'd really like it. Thanks for the review.

Jane said...

I might be interested in reading this.

Lori L said...

It was interesting! Some of the stories will be more compelling than others, based on personal interest, but almost everyone will find several that will really capture their attention.