Professional, Popular, Literary
Books about science communication
typically start from the premise that
communication is important and pro-
ceed to tell scientists
how to do it better.
Russell’s book departs
from that tradition to
analyze the history of
and look at how views
of its importance have
changed over time. The result is a fasci-
nating exploration of past and current
trends, with some insight into what the
future may hold.
As the title denotes, the book covers
science communication in three realms,
beginning with information sharing
among scientists themselves. Russell, a
professor of science communication at
Imperial College London, describes how
respected journals such as Philosophical
Transactions of the Royal Society
evolved. He questions the effectiveness
and fairness of peer review and looks
The Faith Instinct: How Religion
Evolved & Why It Endures
Several recent best sellers in the natural
and social sciences have portrayed religious belief as irrational and even downright harmful. In his new book, Wade
gives faith a reprieve. He argues that religion served crucial purposes in ancient
societies and, via evolution, became
ingrained in the human brain.
Wade offers a respectful outlook on
humanity’s faith in gods and supernatural powers, while not shying away from
the darker side of religious convictions,
including wars and inquisitions. But his
notion that natural selection equipped
human brains with an innate system for
learning religion is speculative.
Beginning at least 50,000 years ago,
bands of hunter-gatherers acted according to religious rules and rituals, Wade
proposes. Religion fostered moral standards that held groups together. The
ahead to the future role of open-access
online journals in professional science
Russell then parses efforts to impart
scientific understanding to the public
and engage the public with scientific
efforts. He references primarily British programs, but the challenges he
describes for popular science communication apply more broadly. In an
interesting departure from the standard
spiel, the book also questions what level
of popular science communication is
truly necessary to create informed citizens in a democracy.
The final section discusses how the
literature of a culture or era reflects
general attitudes toward science and
scientists. Russell examines such greats
as The Time Machine, Dr. Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde and, of course, Frankenstein. Dissertations have addressed this topic, so
Russell’s treatment is relatively abbreviated. But the section is cogent and provides a fitting close to this interesting
and important book. — Rachel Zelkowitz
Cambridge University Press, 2010,
324 p., $31.99.
societies that benefited most from the
unifying power of shared beliefs outcom-
peted rivals and thus left more survivors,
Wade writes, and so genes underlying
a brain-based “faith
Wade, a science
journalist, grounds his
ideas on two contro-
that natural selection
acts on groups, not just
individuals, and that genes can provide
the basis for faith.
Wade’s thesis will generate at least as
much dispute as has the notion of a language instinct, which he also embraces.
Beliefs in higher powers may get built
from basic forms of interpersonal
and social learning, not from a preset
brain circuit, some social scientists
argue. Heaven knows, some fascinating
research lies ahead. — Bruce Bower
Write an Effective
Funding Application: A
Guide for Researchers
Mary W. Walters
A step-by-step guide
to creating successful
funding proposals. Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2009, 151 p., $22.
Robert Koch’s Medical
and Elborg Forster,
A science historian
examines the origins of the field of
medical bacteriology and the life of
one of its founders. Johns Hopkins
University Press, 2009, 318 p., $35.
Solid State Physics
Sharon Ann Holgate
The authors explain
basic physics principles with undergraduates in mind.
CRC Press, 2010, 349 p., $79.95.
The Nature Study
Kevin C. Armitage
A scholar describes the
amateur naturalists of
the late 19th century
and their influence on
modern environmentalism. University
Press of Kansas, 2009, 291 p., $34.95.
Turtles: The Animal
Whit Gibbons and
Turtle experts address
100 or so of the most
common questions about these reptiles. Johns Hopkins University Press,
2009, 163 p., $24.95.
How to Order To order these books or others,
visit www.sciencenews.org/bookshelf. A click on
a book’s title will transfer you to Amazon.com.