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Not Just for the Boys - Athene Donald ****

Physicist and Cambridge college Master Athene Donald takes on the complex and important issue of the gender balance in the sciences. We get plenty on the problem and the vast difference there is between the stats in the biological sciences, where there are more female than males entering the profession, and subjects such as maths, physics and computing, where females remain significantly in the minority. We also see how career progression, even for the biological sciences, seems biassed against female scientists. What is less clear is the solutions. One of the essential contributory factors, for instance, how science is taught in secondary schools doesn't get as much coverage as it deserves. Donald mentions the important aspect of hands on - how taking part in experiments is an important introduction, but health and safety has made it far less part of the curriculum - but not how to overcome this. And there's no real mention of the way that school science, particularly physics,
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The Confidence Game - Maria Konnikova ****

One of my favourite TV shows is Hustle , and in effect what Maria Konnikova gives us in this 2016 title is the science of Hustle - the psychology behind the way that confidence tricksters are able to manipulate their marks, whether it’s to sell something dodgy or to live a fictional life.  Konnikova breaks down a con to its traditional stages, from the first contact (the put-up) to the final subtlety where the true con artist does not go for a single take, but rather makes it seem like things have gone a little wrong, so the mark needs to double down and come up with even more. At each stage we are presented with one or more stories from real life, some quite as remarkable as the fictional cons in the TV programme, others far simpler. From Nigerian princes to Ponzi schemes, all of fraudulent life is here. The temptation would be to focus on the stories at the expense of science, but Konnikova gives us plenty of depth in psychological studies that help explain why some con artists are

Jaime Green - Five Way Interview

Jaime Green is a science writer, essayist, editor, and teacher, and she is series editor of The Best American Science and Nature Writing. She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Columbia, and her writing has appeared in Slate, Popular Science, The New York Times Book Review, American Theatre, Catapult, Astrobites, and elsewhere. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and son. Her new book is The Possibility of Life . Why science? On the one hand, a love for it was instilled in me from a young age, by my dad who loves space, and by my maternal grandfather, an engineer who loved gardening. But it really stuck with me. I think it's the mix of mystery and wonder, the amazing invisible things that are all around us—cells and atoms and fossils—and the sense of interconnectedness that comes from scientific understanding. Why this book? Astronomy has always been my favorite science, and when I read Carl Sagan in my teens, both Contact and Cosmos , he had a huge impact on me, t

Quantum Supremacy - Michio Kaku ***

Douglas Adams in The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy points out that the guide starts off frenetically, commenting on how mind-bogglingly big space is, but 'after a while it settles down a bit and it starts telling you things you actually want to know…' Quantum Supremacy is written in this style. To begin with, the reader is battered with all the amazing things quantum computers will (or at least might be able to) do, but eventually things calm down and we get onto some useful content. What you won't find here is any detail on the nature of quantum computers, how they work or on the very significant challenges faced in achieving anything that is to become mainstream. This is all treated at even higher level than a serious newspaper article would. What Michio Kaku is interested in is the potential applications, and the book takes us through a significant number of these. You will read how quantum computers have the potential to transform our understanding of biology

The Future of Geography - Tim Marshall ****

Geography is a strange subject. Parts of it - physical geography - are definitely scientific in nature. The rest - political and social geography is far more removed from anything that could be described as hard science. What Tim Marshall, an expert in foreign affairs, covers here is a strange hybrid - it's all about the political side, but because Marshall is here not considering geopolitics but astropolitics, it has a science and technology aspect. The Future of Geography ( Astropolitics in the US) is about the politics that applies in space, and space inevitably comes with plenty of STEM baggage. The majority of the book is a very effective exploration of how different space-going blocs - notably US, China and Russia, plus significant others like the EU and UK - are likely to take on the potential benefits and risks of space over the next 30 years or so. There is a relatively short consideration of the commercialisation of space (I would have liked a little more on this), but

Experimenting with Religion - Jonathan Jong *****

The idea of experiments related to religion may seem more than a little odd, but Jonathan Jong's exploration of a small but significant corner of the psychological landscape is genuinely fascinating. The aim is not to somehow prove or disprove religious beliefs, but rather to get a better understanding of what we really believe and what, if anything, influences those beliefs. Since the replication crisis, which has showed that the results of many classic psychology experiments were dubious, I've been suspicious of all claims for new discoveries in the field. What's excellent about the way that Jong approaches it is that he doesn't cover things up (all too often, pop psychology books don't even mention the crisis), but rather openly discusses it. In fact, several of the studies discussed here have proved unreproducible - this is what makes the book particularly interesting. It doesn't just operate at the level of the findings - it tells us how the experiments wer

Dan Levitt - Five Way Interview

Dan Levitt spent over 25 years writing, producing and directing award-winning documentaries for National Geographic, Discovery, Science, History, HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute).  He has filmed with Stephen Hawking, Michio Kaku, Bernard Carr, and Sean B. Carroll among many others. His latest book is What's Gotten Into You? Why science? I’ve always been drawn to the beauty of science. It offers me a way to appreciate the natural world and the fantastic physical, chemical, and biological web we’re part of. I think my sense of that deepened when I lived for a few years near a game park in Kenya. There was a small rainforest close by and everywhere I walked I had a view of Mount Kilimanjaro. It gave me a visceral sense of how enmeshed we are in a much larger ecosystem. Of course, science also helps us understand things that would otherwise be inexplicable, like the question at the heart of this book—how did we end up here? Why this book? The inspiration came when I realized that