Monday, July 23, 2012

BC2012: When Science Goes Wrong by Simon LeVay

I often read while dining in restaurants, sucking down free refills of Coke. With this book, that was a terrible mistake. I can sum it up in one word: brains!

In the first chapter, a doctor takes a patient suffering from Parkinson's Disease to China to inject fetal tissue into his brain. Later an autopsy reveals hair growing inside the patient's brain. If that doesn't gross you out, rest assured that the book describes the operation and autopsy in much finer detail. Two chapters later, geologists studying a volcano are caught by surprise when it erupts. A flying piece of rock hits one man in the head. When another attempts to sit the victim upright, his brains fall out. I've never come so close to puking while reading a book.*

My wife says I should have known better; with a title like When Science Goes Wrong, the book has to be full of disgusting tales. She reads lots of "true crime" stories, which she contends are less gory than this book.**

Tossing cookies aside, this is a pretty good book. LeVay describes and analyzes a dozen major screw-ups in a variety of scientific disciplines. His personal expertise is in neuroscience, which perhaps explains the preponderance of cerebral tissues.

* Granted, I normally avoid stomach-turning genres.

** I shouldn't misrepresent the book -- at least a third of the scientific mistakes do not result in gruesome human deaths. But other chapters are utterly horrifying.

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