Deep in the Peruvian rain forest, a helicopter descends into a clearing. Moving quickly, its passengers emerge from its open side doors and spring nimbly to the ground the moment its skids touch the surface. They have to move fast to get their equipment unloaded and operational. Time is of the essence. The rest of the team will arrive soon; everything must be set up for when they do. No effort can be wasted if they are going to complete their assignment; everything must flow seamlessly – and even then, they all know that the their task is, realistically, impossible. They will simply have to do all they can before their designated extraction time.
Covert military operation? Far from it. It’s a rapid inventory team from The Field Museum in Chicago’s Keller Science Action Center seeking to assess a plot of previously unexplored forest before it is disturbed by logging or simply cleared for agricultural use. Needless to say, it’s not the type of activity most people think of when they imagine the activities of the curators and other scientists working out of the public eye in the world’s natural history museums. But then as Lance Grande, the Negaunee Distinguished Service Curator at The Field Museum, so vividly depicts in his remarkable new book Curators; Behind the Scenes of Natural History Museums, little about the activities of natural history museum curators and their teams is what it might be commonly thought to be. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
The scene: England in the middle ages. King Arthur and his faithful servant Patsy have just clip-clopped by two men standing by the road.
Large Man: Who’s that then?
Dead Collector: I dunno. Must be a king.
Large Man: Why?
Dead Collector: He hasn’t got shit all over him.
(Monty Python and the Holy Grail)
Once, not so very long ago, people all around the world lived with dung as a part of their daily lives. If they lived in the countryside, there was a dung pile somewhere nearby. If they lived in a city, the draft animals that provided the engines of transportation dropped it copiously in the streets. Then, of course, there was the little matter of all the human waste that needed to be managed in both these environments; and without central plumbing, that meant various “closets” and pots (often emptied directly into gutters, sometimes out of upper-story windows) in the city and simple latrines (at best) of varying forms in the country side. Keep reading…
As most anyone who reads books on a regular basis will attest, some of the most significant books they’ve ever read were found to be such not only because of what was written upon their respective pages, but also because of when in the life of the individual reader the book was read. I can’t recall from whom I originally heard it, but whenever I think of the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald, I think of the observation that one must read his novels before one reaches the age of thirty or else much of their potential significance will be lost (as someone who neglected Fitzgerald until his forties, I can attest to this, as I could not find in them what so many others have so strongly asserted is there). Similarly, had I tried to read Darwin’s Origin before my forties, I don’t think I would have found it as profound as I did; my understanding of the significance and power of time – a key element in Darwin’s defense of his ideas – simply wasn’t sufficiently developed until then. Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
Let’s face it; in this day of both social media and an often ill-educated general public, all of us who write about any aspect of science are involved in science communication – or as it is often identified in a hashtag, #scicomm. Consequently, we have a responsibility no only to engage our readers but to inform them in a way that they will not only remember what we wrote but also not be confused by the manner in which it was written.
Anyone interested in becoming involved with wild mushrooms had better have themselves a good field guide. For those in the Pennsylvania and Mid-Atlantic region, such a guide has long been Bill Russell’s 2006 book “Field Guide to Wild Mushrooms of Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic,” part of the Keystone Books series from Penn State University Press.
“Science!” The famous exclamation from Thomas Dolby’s immortal pop hit from his 1982 “She Blinded Me With Science” (also covered to noteworthy effect by William Shatner in 2011) with which I startle my family and friends each time the subject is mentioned and I’m feeling a bit jocular.
Sure, sharks are sexy – that’s why so many people watch Shark Week; to see all the muscular, sleek, and popularly-thought dangerous species depicted. But what about all the other members of the Class Chondrichthyes? The skates, rays, and those fascinatingly curious chimeras? Don’t they deserve a bit of attention as well?
As Johns Hopkins University Press so well and succinctly points out in the description of the their new “Sharks of the Shallows,” “few places on Earth are home to the amazing diversity of shark species that beautify the shallow waters of Florida and the Bahamas.” Consequently, its author Jeffrey C. Carrier no doubt decided that this was the region on which to focus as a new book about the lives and behaviors of some of the planet’s most often mentioned sharks.
Turning on the most recent edition of Steve Mirsky’s Scientific American podcast, I was delighted to discover that the entire episode was devoted to an interview with Susan Ewing and her recently published book from Pegasus Books titled “Resurrecting the Shark; A Scientific Obsession and the Mavericks Who Solved the Mystery of a 270-Million-Year-Old Fossil.”
On the day this article is published, it will be exactly one month until the day of the 2017 North American Solar Eclipse; an event that is expected to cause tens of millions of people to stop what they are doing and turn their eyes (properly protected, it is hoped) skyward to witness one of […]
The Well-equipped Naturalist
For as long as I’ve ventured afield in search of whatever nature might wish to show me, I’ve gone fully vested. That is to say, I’ve worn a field vest. Not that I have anything against day packs or shoulder bags, mind you; I just find that vests (or as my British friends call them, waistcoats) allow me to carry what I need in a way that allows me easy access to all of it while still letting me move about with a feeling of being unencumbered.
The recent arrival of a copy of “The Oxford Handbook of the Science of Science Communication” spurred me to look further into the Oxford Handbook series as a whole. What I found was indeed quite a remarkable selection of high-level but still remarkably readable collections of scholarly articles on a wide range of subjects.
While you likely know at least a bit about mammoths and mastodons, those proboscideans from the days of yore, can you say the same when it comes to another family of now extinct tuskers, the gomphotheres? The recently released Palaeocast Episode 77 takes up the natural history of the gomphotheres of South America with the […]