Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science Kindle Edition
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Brooks seems to constantly reiterate the notion that truly innovative work is done outside the strictures of a tightly confining scientific establishment, yet the support he furnishes seems to be a lot of unrelated anecdotes about maverick scientists and the stodgy establishment types who are either fame whores or too dull to recognize innovation when they see it.
What should not be a surprise is that science is done by a wide range of personalities and like many other communities, has its leaders and innovators and as well as those who are happy to live and work in the middle behaving well within the norm. Just like other work environments you get people being jerks to each other, acting out of spite and jealousy, but you also have generous, giving types who are interested in pushing their communities forward.
I guess this book rubbed me the wrong way because it seemed to try to push a cute, sensationalist title a little too far. There are several examples in the scientific community where high impact work was done by boring, nice people who didn't have important connections and weren't shunned or mistreated as in the anecdotes that Brooks describes. These kinds of stories are maybe too boring to sell books, but the thesis that Brooks hangs this whole book around is empty and not productive to the discourse between the scientific public and the community.
It is interesting to see that what goes on in scientific research is more like the TV show "House" than "Marcus Welby".
The PR campaign that the scientific community has promoted has really worked in conveying a view of what goes on as something much
different than reality. A true "reality distortion field".
According to Brooks, in Science anything goes. The competition is so tough and the prizes so valuable that no punches are pulled. Drugs, lies, fraud, politics - all are part of the game. He exposes famed personalities from Newton to Einstein - showing how human they all are; and how the successful ones never hesitated to break the rules. Most of us have heard of Newton's famous statement on '..standing on the shoulders of giants', but we would not have heard of his skill of stomping down other scientists!. Any literate person would have heard of Einstein and his E=MC2 equation, but it is unbelievable to hear that he could not fully prove it in spite of eight attempts!!
Well researched and narrated in a fast pace, this book beats most fiction novels. I was enthralled at the stories, though in the beginning some of the `exposes' did give me a shock. But as I proceeded in the book it was clear that the author's intentions were honorable - the objective was not to deride the scientists but show that they are human just like the rest of us. Being an expert in one discipline does not make a person super human - nor does that expertise translate into other areas. I was also surprised at how `close minded' experts are and how difficult is for new ideas to break though - even in a field which is supposed to foster open thinking.
Brooks goes on to explain how to encourage more youngsters to get into Science and exhorts the Scientists to play a more activist role in causes that they believe in. Highlighting scientists like Carl Sagan, Brooks shows the important role that Scientists can play in formulating public opinion. However Brooks seems to get a little carried away on the benefits of drugs like marijuana or LSD to expand the mind's horizons - I am not convinced whether that was as important as he makes out.
I should hasten to add that the book is just not a bunch of `hot' stories. Excellently weaved through these stories, the author brings out beautifully a number of scientific breakthroughs and their impact on society. This is a science book that one can gift to any youngster to read!. It would also not hurt scientists to read it either.
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From what I know about this book's thesis, it seems to be an extremely valid expose.Read more