Books

A Dubious Golden Elixir

In parts of India, where cows are revered, their urine is thought to have healing powers. Studies investigating these claims come mainly from Indian researchers and their work is rarely published in Western journals. But scrutiny must come from outside this cultural context for the science to hold up.

The Ancient Magic Power of Alien Creatures from the 17th Dimension

The only science behind the Q-Ray bracelet, sold on late-night television as a cure-all for everything from headaches to sciatica, was that of the placebo effect: the potency of beliefs to trigger physiological changes. In that sense, it had ties to both ancient mysticism and cutting-edge science.

The Claws Come Out

Peter Marra’s new book, “Cat Wars,” makes a convincing case that unconfined felines are taking a major toll on wildlife — and putting the growing ranks of cat lovers and bird lovers on an ugly collision course. The war — call it Big Cat vs. Big Bird — is on. And right now, we’re all losing.

Blind Rage and the Killing at Carderock

In 2013, David DiPaolo was seen arguing with his longtime climbing partner, Geoff Farrar, near a popular span of cliffs outside of Washington, D.C. Before the day was out, DiPaolo would bludgeon Farrar to death with a hammer in an apparent fit of rage. What makes a brain snap, and does biology play a role?

Five Questions for Amy Stewart

In this installment of the Undark Five, we asked Amy Stewart, the bestselling science author and this year’s editor of the “Best American Science Writing” book series, about what makes a story stand out, and about gender and diversity in science writing — and in society — a topic that she believes is crucial.

Mind, Body, or Both? The Experience of Gender Identity.

Some people have argued for an innate, biological basis for gender, whether it is physiological, neuroanatomical or hormonal. Others say it’s purely a product of the way we’re socialized, and that we learn to be masculine or feminine. But in many important ways, it appears that both can be true.

‘What Could Have Happened?’ Unraveling a Death by Cyanide.

In her new book, “Death by Cyanide,” Paula Reed Ward, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, describes the investigation and trial of Robert Ferrante, who was ultimately convicted of murdering his wife, Autumn Klein. In this excerpt, paramedics and hospital staff struggle to save Klein’s life.

Book Excerpt: ‘Hood: Trailblazer of the Genomics Age’

Two weeks before Christmas 1999, biologist Leroy Hood appeared to have it all. But his endowed professorship at the University of Washington proved to be a roadblock in achieving his vision for revolutionizing healthcare. So he quit, and wasn’t going to let anything — or anyone — stand in his way.

Book Review: What We Cannot Know

Through his new book, “What We Cannot Know: Explorations at the Edge of Knowledge,” mathematician Marcus du Sautoy takes us on a quest for the unknowable, which involves a series of close encounters with the known, and particularly with what he terms the edges of our mathematical and scientific understanding.

On the Benefits of Biodiversity

I could say that biodiversity should be saved for its beauty alone. I could discuss the intricate connections between food webs around the world and explain how removing key elements will ultimately affect all life on this planet. But there are even more pragmatic reasons for saving biodiversity.

Instantaneous, Electrifying, Excruciating Pain

The advice I give in speaking engagements for those unlucky enough to be stung by a tarantula hawk — a breed of wasp and one of nature’s most powerful stingers — is to lie down and scream. The pain is so debilitating and excruciating that the victim is at risk of further injury by doing otherwise.

Cogito Ergo Sum … Avis?

For centuries, humans have struggled to understand animal intelligence — and have displayed a disappointing reluctance to explore it with real open-mindedness and integrity. But a growing literature showcases the keenness of animal minds.

Excerpt: ‘One in a Billion’

In this excerpt from their new book, “One in a Billion” — which is based on their 2010 Pulitzer prizewinning series for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel — reporters Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher reveal how doctors set about understanding the genetic origins of a 4-year-old boy’s rare immune disorder — and eventually saving his life.

Excerpt: The Banality of Eugenics

From 1932 to 1944, an Illinois-trained anthropologist conspired with the most prominent leader of the American eugenics movement to take body measurements of black children in Alabama. They ranged from the prosaic (weight and height) to the esoteric (the depth of ear pits). The goal: Creating a standard for racial typology.

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