Friday, October 23, 2009

When Science Goes Wrong: Twelve Tales from the Dark Side of Discovery

From Publishers Weekly
Experimental brain surgery goes horribly awry; a dam fails catastrophically; a geologist leads an ill-equipped party to its doom in the mouth of an active volcano: these are the amazing and sometimes horrific stories of technical errors and scientific mistakes that LeVay (The Sexual Brain) relates. Some, like the case of the British meteorologist who failed to predict a hurricane that killed 18 people, seem due to arrogance. Others—the loss of a costly spacecraft, a criminal conviction based on inaccurate DNA analysis, multiple deaths after an accidental release of anthrax—are the result of ordinary human error. Some incidents may well have been deliberate, such as a nuclear reactor error that was possibly the result of a love triangle gone bad, or the data falsified by a physicist seeking fame as the discoverer of a new element. LeVay surveys a range of fields, offering several reasons why things go wrong and noting that for every brilliant scientific success, there are a dozen failures. Readers curious about particularly notorious cases will find LeVay's book both entertaining and thought provoking. (Mar. 25)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Booklist
LeVay, a neuroscientist and author of popular-science books, relates a dozen stories involving science going, in his words, “spectacularly, even horribly, wrong.” A man who receives a cutting-edge treatment for Parkinson’s later dies, possibly as a result of the treatment; a group of researchers enters an active volcano, under the mistaken belief that it’s dormant; a NASA exploratory mission fails; forensic evidence fingers the wrong man; and so on. The stories (cautionary tales, really) are intriguing and well told, but most readers will find themselves resisting the exposé angle; surely, in every scientific discipline, no matter how rigorously practiced, it’s possible to find cases where the system breaks down. It’s a bit ironic, too, that LeVay, who has seen his share of controversy over charges that some of his research cannot be repeated or verified, has written a book about the consequences of human error. Still, there is much of interest here, though readers may want to do some homework in order to form an informed opinion on some of the author's claims. --David Pitt --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.