Ruth Francis, Nature’s Head of Press, is reviewing all the entries shortlisted for the Royal Society’s science book prize. She’ll be reading one per week and posting her thoughts on The Great Beyond every Friday between now and the prize ceremony on 21 October.
Science comes in three different versions: the facts, the linear model and what really happened, says Frederick Grinnell in his introduction. His aim is to shed light on the third, the reality of practice.
Everyday Practice of Science: Where Intuition and Passion Meet Objectivity and Logic offers the reader a glimpse behind the linear descriptions in papers and reports. This reality is sometimes seen in biographies of big-name scientists, and is familiar to members of the scientific community, but misunderstood by those on the outside.
Grinnell’s avuncular tone lends his depictions authority, and in choosing a supporting cast of Nobel Prize winners to quote, he reinforces this clout.
With the first half focused on science itself and the second on science and society, Grinnell, a cell biologist and bioethicist at the University of Texas in Dallas, offers insight into practice, discovery and credibility, integrity, informed consent and faith. The second half is meatier than the first, dealing with issues surrounding ethics and embryos, religion and evolution, and genetics and disease, presenting the opposing arguments gently and clearly.
But it puzzles me who this book is aimed at. Grinnell writes that it is for “a broad audience, including students, scholars and the public interested in science”.
The Royal Society, in it’s eligibility guidelines, says that it is looking for books that are: “stimulating, engaging, clear, accessible, high-quality, and/or that might challenge people’s views about science being too difficult, boring, or inaccessible to be of interest or relevance to them.” Further, “The judges’ interpretation of ‘popular science books’ excludes books published primarily for scientific or other professional or specialist audiences.
I enjoyed The Everyday Practice of Science, and agree with the judges about its accessibility. But I I can’t see it having appeal outside of the community.
Previously on Ruth’s Reviews: