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The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice: And Other Classic Essays on Science

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Sir Peter Medawar was not only a Nobel prize-winning immunologist but also a wonderful writer about science and scientists. Described by the Washington Post as a genuinely brilliant popularizer of science, his essays are remarkable for their clarity and wit. This entertaining selection presents the very best of his writing with a new Foreword by Stephen Jay Gould, one of h Sir Peter Medawar was not only a Nobel prize-winning immunologist but also a wonderful writer about science and scientists. Described by the Washington Post as a genuinely brilliant popularizer of science, his essays are remarkable for their clarity and wit. This entertaining selection presents the very best of his writing with a new Foreword by Stephen Jay Gould, one of his greatest admirers. The wide range of subjects include Howard Florey and penicillin, J. B.S. Haldane, whom he describes as a with-knobs-on variant of us all, and, in the title essay, scientific fraud involving laboratory mice. There is Medawar's defence of James Watson against the storm of criticism that greeted the publication of The Double Helix. A merciless debunker of myths, he reveals the nonsense to be discovered in psychoanalytic interpretations of Darwin's illness and launches devastating attacks on Arthur Koestler, IQ psychologists, and, most notably, Teilhard de Chardin. He raises questions about the nature of scientific endeavour--he famously defined science as the art of the soluble--and a common theme is his desire to communicate the importance of science to the widest possible audience.


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Sir Peter Medawar was not only a Nobel prize-winning immunologist but also a wonderful writer about science and scientists. Described by the Washington Post as a genuinely brilliant popularizer of science, his essays are remarkable for their clarity and wit. This entertaining selection presents the very best of his writing with a new Foreword by Stephen Jay Gould, one of h Sir Peter Medawar was not only a Nobel prize-winning immunologist but also a wonderful writer about science and scientists. Described by the Washington Post as a genuinely brilliant popularizer of science, his essays are remarkable for their clarity and wit. This entertaining selection presents the very best of his writing with a new Foreword by Stephen Jay Gould, one of his greatest admirers. The wide range of subjects include Howard Florey and penicillin, J. B.S. Haldane, whom he describes as a with-knobs-on variant of us all, and, in the title essay, scientific fraud involving laboratory mice. There is Medawar's defence of James Watson against the storm of criticism that greeted the publication of The Double Helix. A merciless debunker of myths, he reveals the nonsense to be discovered in psychoanalytic interpretations of Darwin's illness and launches devastating attacks on Arthur Koestler, IQ psychologists, and, most notably, Teilhard de Chardin. He raises questions about the nature of scientific endeavour--he famously defined science as the art of the soluble--and a common theme is his desire to communicate the importance of science to the widest possible audience.

30 review for The Strange Case of the Spotted Mice: And Other Classic Essays on Science

  1. 5 out of 5

    Shonna Froebel

    Some essays were good, but many were dry. Donated my copy to the library

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ashwani Gupta

    Poorly produced Kindle edition... looks like the book was scanned in without much quality control. Medawar's essays and his writing are great, but the compilation itself is less than delightful, with many essays returning to the same points again and again. Poorly produced Kindle edition... looks like the book was scanned in without much quality control. Medawar's essays and his writing are great, but the compilation itself is less than delightful, with many essays returning to the same points again and again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Makomai

    Peter Medawar (Nobel per la medicina nel 1960) e’ stato uno dei pochi scienziati ammessi sia alla Royal Society sia alla British Academy. Et pour cause. Il suo motto come scrittore di scienza era “Brevity, cogency and clarity are the principal virtues and the greatest of these is clarity”. Questa e’ una raccolta di recensioni, prefazioni, interventi ed articoli su diversi temi scientifici, il cui filo conduttore mi sembra essere una fiera difesa della scienza di fronte alla diffidenza, ignoranza Peter Medawar (Nobel per la medicina nel 1960) e’ stato uno dei pochi scienziati ammessi sia alla Royal Society sia alla British Academy. Et pour cause. Il suo motto come scrittore di scienza era “Brevity, cogency and clarity are the principal virtues and the greatest of these is clarity”. Questa e’ una raccolta di recensioni, prefazioni, interventi ed articoli su diversi temi scientifici, il cui filo conduttore mi sembra essere una fiera difesa della scienza di fronte alla diffidenza, ignoranza, superficialita’, sottovalutazione - da parte di chi crede che la formazione scientifica sia un mero apprendimento di tecniche e dati, ovvero di chi ritiene che la scienza sia meno “nobile” della filosofia o della poesia (quante volte mi sono sentito dire che la scienza non puo’ rispondere ai quesiti “veramente importanti”!*). Nel far cio’, Medawar appare spesso altero, a tratti sprezzante**; ma in fondo “cum feris ferus” non e’ motto poi cosi’ sbagliato. Trovo inoltre che tale suo tratto sia ampiamente compensato dall’impostazione di fondo: “I do not believe – indeed, I deem it a comic blunder to believe – that the exercise of reason is sufficient to explain our condition and where necessary to remedy it, but I do believe that the exercise of reason is at all times unconditionally necessary and that we disregard it at our peril”. Il tutto e’ un po’ datato, ma non per questo meno vero (anche se eterogeneamente interessante). Divagazioni: Molto prima di Sokal (che prima o poi finiro’ di leggere), Medawar fu insigne nel demistificare il pattume pseudo-scientifico/mistico tanto di moda. Ma il bello di Medawar e’ che analizza anche i perche’ della facile presa della pseudo-scienza, della “philosophy-fiction” e della “psycobabble masquerading as philosophy”: “(…) the spread of secondary and latterly of tertiary education has created a large population of people, often with well-developed literary and scholarly tastes, who have been educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought”. Elitista, ma non per questo meno vero. Medawar – uno dei pochi veri scienziati seriamente interessati alla (e versati nella) filosofia della scienza - mi riconcilia (anche se molto parzialmente) con tale campo di indagine, ma – e la domanda non e’ retorica - perche’ Popper (ok, devo decidermi a leggerlo) dice che nel procedimento scientifico non c’e’ posto per l’induzione? Quanto alla sua inidoneita’ a dimostrare, nulla quaestio; ma il processo che conduce alla formulazione di un’ipotesi – parte fondamentale del procedimento scientifico - non potrebbe a buon titolo essere definito induttivo (ed avere l’effetto di restringere il campo delle possibili congetture, escludendo quelle non sostenute – ovvero “indotte” - dall’osservazione)? Non e’ in fondo questo che indica Russell, quando sostiene che l’induzione e’ (solo) un “method of making plausible guesses”? Sno cnfuzo IMHO la scienza ha poco o punto a che vedere con l’etica. Medawar puo’ ben dire (estrapolo) che il tabu’ dell’incesto equivale ad un’operazione di eugenetica negativa: cio’ non comporta necessariamente che tali operazioni possano essere (impunemente) estese per via normativa. * Cfr. Douglas Adams, “Life, the Universe and Everything”. ** un esempio tra i tanti (parlando della pubblicazione nel 1953 dello studio di Watson e Crick sulla struttura del DNA): “it is simply not worth arguing with anyone so obtuse as not to realise that this complex of discoveries is the greatest achievement of science in the twentieth century”.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Philipp

    A range of essays - some are book reviews, which are a delight to read, very British in humor, witty, and usually fair. The only problem with them is that the book they are reviewing is usually outdated, or even out of print. The titular essay is a review of a book on a case of scientific fraud of the 70s (the book, again, is out of print). It surprised me how many similarities there are in this case to the recent acid-bath stem cell case of fraud, and I wonder how much of the psychology Medawar A range of essays - some are book reviews, which are a delight to read, very British in humor, witty, and usually fair. The only problem with them is that the book they are reviewing is usually outdated, or even out of print. The titular essay is a review of a book on a case of scientific fraud of the 70s (the book, again, is out of print). It surprised me how many similarities there are in this case to the recent acid-bath stem cell case of fraud, and I wonder how much of the psychology Medawar mentioned can be applied in this case, too... The ones on philosophy of science seem to be almost 100% based on Popper's work, these are usually rejections of inductivism and praise of falsification, there's even a short essay on why historicism is bad. I'm not sure why you should read these - they're more readable introductions to Popper's work, but if you've read Popper (or of Popper) before, you won't find that much new in these essays. You can clearly see why Gould wrote the introduction for this, this is where Gould's writing is coming from (even though Gould's essay style was much different, more American). The later essays are more personal, focusing on disease, a few good tips on being in a hospital, (from which I loved this quote: It is a rightly humiliating thought that, in spite of Man's ability to reach the moon, etc., etc., [sic], no one has yet designed a bedpan which is not physiologically inept, uncomfortable, and somewhat obscene. Absolute truth - if you've ever been in a hospital and not allowed to get up, the design of any of these things hasn't changed in more than 50 years! Here's something for your "disrupting start up"), and on religion. These are usually short, but playful, I'd read these on their own. Recommended for: Fans of scientific essays, philosophy of science pre-Feyerabend

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pippa

    I was a bit disappointed by this, partly because I thought it would be about early breakthroughs in genetics, and in fact the subject range of the essays is very wide. Having said that, Medawar's style is a delight. (I learnt new words. :)) and it is very interesting to look at the debates of the time, and how things have, or haven't changed. I enjoyed it, but some of it felt like quite hard work. I was a bit disappointed by this, partly because I thought it would be about early breakthroughs in genetics, and in fact the subject range of the essays is very wide. Having said that, Medawar's style is a delight. (I learnt new words. :)) and it is very interesting to look at the debates of the time, and how things have, or haven't changed. I enjoyed it, but some of it felt like quite hard work.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael Welland

    Medawar was one of the great writers about science and how it works. In today's world, with all the misconceptions and fake "debates", this book is required reading, and Medawar ranks alongside Feynman and Gould as lucid narrators of science as, in Medawar's words, "poetry and bookkeeping". Medawar was one of the great writers about science and how it works. In today's world, with all the misconceptions and fake "debates", this book is required reading, and Medawar ranks alongside Feynman and Gould as lucid narrators of science as, in Medawar's words, "poetry and bookkeeping".

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dave Peticolas

    Thoughtful and beautifully-written essays on science and scientists.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Peter Macinnis

    An excellent book for young professional scientists to read. Medawar is clear and concise, a delight to read.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sara

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tony Fidanza

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ana Almeida Gonçalves

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tina

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aleks Baklanovs

  14. 5 out of 5

    Guru Truth

  15. 4 out of 5

    CCC

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alok Singh

  17. 5 out of 5

    You There

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tweeting

  19. 5 out of 5

    Janne

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jethro Elsden

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nickdepenpan123

  22. 4 out of 5

    Thibaut Hochons

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mark Noack

  24. 5 out of 5

    James Hoffmann

  25. 4 out of 5

    Livius

  26. 5 out of 5

    Martin

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mizrob A.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jovany Agathe

  30. 5 out of 5

    William Hendriks

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