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Boston Skeptics’ Book Club #6

Posted on : Apr-25-2010 | By : Mary | In : Blog Post

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Yesterday, the BSBC met at Borders to discuss Neil Shubin’s Your Inner Fish. We found that the book is a good read, both for scientists and non-scientists, because it provides a narrative to Evolution and Common Descent.

I appreciated the author’s use of humor and anecdotes to describe the origins of our bodies. Some interesting facts that I didn’t know before reading this book:

  • It took single-celled organisms 40 million years to start to group together and form “bodies” of cells, because even though cell-groupings provided an advantage in the predator-prey environment with regards to size, the Earth’s atmosphere did not have a lot of oxygen and life could not support multi-celled organisms (until the oxygen levels changed).
  • Two of the bones in our inner ear evolved from a common ancestor of reptiles, when the back of the reptile jaw started to shrink and move back towards the ear.
  • If you take a section of a mouse embryo responsible for eye development and you graft it onto a fruit fly embryo, the fly will grow an eye in that spot and it will be a fruit fly eye (although it won’t work exactly the same because not all the nerve endings line up).

This book also illustrates how un-intelligently designed the human body is, so it provides a good rebuttal to anyone who thinks that bananas evolved to point towards our faces

Our next book is The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science by Julie Des Jardins. From the Amazon.com description:

Why are the fields of science and technology still considered to be predominantly male professions? The Madame Curie Complex moves beyond the most common explanations—limited access to professional training, lack of resources, exclusion from social networks of men—to give historical context and unexpected revelations about women’s contributions to the sciences. Exploring the lives of Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin, Rosalyn Yalow, Barbara McClintock, Rachel Carson, and the women of the Manhattan Project, Julie Des Jardins considers their personal and professional stories in relation to their male counterparts—Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi—to demonstrate how the gendered culture of science molds the methods, structure, and experience of the work. With lively anecdotes and vivid detail, The Madame Curie Complex reveals how women scientists have often asked different questions, used different methods, come up with different explanations for phenomena in the natural world, and how they have forever transformed a scientist’s role.

Our next meeting is at 3 pm on Saturday, May 22, and the location is TBD. Since the weather is so nice, we’re thinking of having the meeting in a park, so if anyone has any park suggestions, please leave them in the comments! I’ll keep everyone posted, and if it looks like it’s going to rain, we’ll meet back in our new location at the Borders on Boylston Ave.

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