Picks

Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs: 67 Digestible commentaries on the fascinating chemistry of ordinary life

Joe Schwarcz is Director of McGill University's Office for Chemistry and Society. He hosts a weekly radio call-in radio show in Montreal and also writes a column about chemistry in everyday life for the Washington Post. The essays in this book are collected largely from his radio show, and they are exactly in the spirit of "Hal's Picks".

The Measure of All Things: The Seven-Year Odyssey and Hidden Error That Transformed the World

In 1792, the French Academy of Sciences appointed two respected scientists to survey a north-south meridian from Dunkirk to Barcelona, for the purpose of determining the size (and shape) of the earth. Why is this important? Because it would establish an international basis for the meter, foundation of the metric system.

Acid Tongues and Tranquil Dreamers: Eight Scientific Rivalries that Changed the World

Many people have difficulty understanding the motivation of scientists for precedence and the recognition it brings. While there are monetary incentives for some of the protagonists in "Acid Tongues", it is more often pride and the acceptance of one's ideas that drove the rivalries of Newton vs. Leibniz, Edison vs. Tesla, Crick and Watson vs. Pauling vs. Franklin and Wilkins.

DNA as Destiny

We all know that, with the deciphering of the human genome as well as those of other animals, and of plants, that the future will bring a new level of understanding and control of our own heredity. But what can the present level of genetic testing provide? In this story, writer David Duncan has as much determined about his future as you can learn with current technology.

The Odds of That

When nearly a dozen scientists, all in some way associated with research on biotechnology, die within a year of the 9/11 attacks, can it be coincidence? Yes, says Lisa Belkin, author of this excellent article on one of the constants of pseudoscience, the attribution of "cause" to random events.