Showing 51 - 60 of 143 annotations tagged with the keyword "History of Science"

Oryx and Crake: A Novel

Atwood, Margaret

Last Updated: Feb-15-2007
Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Please note that in order to properly annotate this novel, the novel's surprise ending will be revealed here. Snowman--who used to be called, Jimmy--is a rare survivor of a dreadful catastrophe that seems to have been both the product and the demise of modern science. He lives in a tree, clad in rags, hiding from relentless heat and hoarding his precarious cache of food and alcohol, while he tries to obliterate consciousness and avoid contact with a peculiar race of beings, the Crakers. Through a series of reminiscences as he makes his way back to where he once worked, Snowman's past slowly advances to meet his future.

The world heated up to be uninhabitable desert and genetic engineering created more problems (and species! [pigoons, rakunks, wolvogs]) than solutions. People became increasingly reliant on artificial environments--both internal and external--while their purveyors--drug and technology firms--held ever greater but unthinking power. The world was divided into two: the rich, safe controlled spaces and the dangerous chaotic realm of the poor. Then an epidemic wiped out most of the human race.

Two friends are central to the story: brilliant but inscrutable Crake whose nerdy gift for science had a role in engineering the 'pure' Crakers and the horrifying world that they occupy; and beautiful, seductive Oryx whose regard of knowing innocence heaps scorn upon messy human desire and emotion. They are the Yin and Yang of the "constructed" world. Only at the end, the reader learns that Oryx was murdered by Crake, who was slain by Snowman. It seems that his arduous journey was simply to destroy the history of the events that he had written and left behind.

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Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

As a medical student, Martin Arrowsmith (Ronald Colman) approaches the revered Professor Gottlieb (A. E. Anson) wishing to accelerate his studies into bacteriology research. Gottlieb insists that he complete his clinical training first. But Arrowsmith meets the cheeky nurse Leora (Helen Hayes) and throws over his plans for science in order to earn a marriage-sustaining living as a general practitioner in her native South Dakota.

Assuaging his undying passion for research (in the family kitchen), he takes on the problem of an epidemic of black leg disease of cattle and earns the animus of a veterinarian and the admiration of the Swedish farmers by single-handedly disproving the efficacy of a government serum, developing his own serum, and conducting a controlled trial to prove its worth. His frustrated and unemployed wife--now displaced from her own kitchen--continues to support him, answering always "Yes, Martin. No, Martin. Whatever you say, Martin."

The couple move to New York City where Arrowsmith intends to devote himself full time to science at the side of his old hero Gottlieb in the McGurk Institute (a thinly disguised Rockefeller Institute). In his new laboratory, Arrowsmith utters a prayer for clear vision and humility--a prayer that seems to go unanswered.

Late one snowy night after two years of fruitless work, he discovers that "something" (in the novel, it is bacteriophage) has killed the bacteria he has been incubating. "Is it important, Martin?" asks Leora. He is brutal in his zealous response, his eyes gleaming with the promise of promotion, fame, and fortune. But after days of exhausting labour, he learns that he has been scooped by Felix D’Herelle a (real) researcher at the Pasteur Institute.

Arrowsmith quickly finds a new passion and travels to the Caribbean to conduct research into the effect of a serum on bubonic plague. Gottlieb makes him promise to act like a scientist (not a G.P. or a quack) and to withhold the remedy from half his patients. He tries to convince the colonial authorities of the importance of controlled testing, but is rebuffed with accusations of turning humans into guinea pigs. A black medical graduate of Howard University invites him to a different island where the epidemic is so thick that the people willingly cooperate with the controlled trial.

Leora, who had refused to remain in New York, is now left behind. The film implies clumsily that the now solitary Arrowsmith--ecstatic to be back in the research trenches--has a romantic encounter with Joyce, a beautiful stranded tourist (Myrna Loy). Meanwhile, Leora contracts plague from a cigarette, which has absorbed plague germs from Martin’s sloppy lab technique, and which she smokes because of Martin’s inattention and abandonment. She dies miserably and alone.

Crazed with remorse, Arrowsmith abandons his scientific principles and allows the entire population to be treated with the serum after all. The epidemic is arrested. But Martin knows that his success does not justify his scientific sin. Still grieving for Leora, he returns to New York to much fanfare, but is unable to find absolution from Gottlieb who has just had a stroke. He runs out on his lover, his institute, and a press conference to join a friend who is establishing a Walden-like institute dedicated to pure research in Vermont.

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Robinson Crusoe

Defoe, Daniel

Last Updated: Jan-04-2007
Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Young Robinson Crusoe defies his father's recommendation to seek a "middle way" of life, and runs off to find his fortune at sea. After a series of misadventures including storms at sea and capture by pirates, he succeeds in becoming a plantation owner in "the Brasils." When he sets out to add slave trading to his income, a storm shipwrecks him alone on a desert island. Here he must learn to support himself through farming, hunting, and simple carpentry, making whatever he could not salvage from the ship.

Cannibals from a nearby island use his domain for occasional feasts, but Crusoe rescues one "savage" from certain consumption and finally gains a companion, Friday, whom he teaches English and Christianity and learns to love. In Crusoe's twenty-eighth year on the island, Friday helps him engineer the takeover of an English ship with a mutineed crew nearby, and they journey to England with the ship's grateful captain.

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Kim

Kipling, Rudyard

Last Updated: Jan-04-2007
Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Kim, a young Irish boy living in Lahore, India, decides to accompany a Tibetan lama on his search for the River that washes all sin. Kim’s canny street smarts and gift for disguise protect the gentle lama along the Grand Trunk Road, bustling with the peoples of various races, castes, and creeds who make up India’s complex culture and history. Kim’s abilities also inspire Mahbub Ali, an Afghani horse-dealer, to ask him to deliver a coded message to the spymaster Colonel Creighton, who taps Kim to help the British in their Great Game against the Russians for control of the northwest territory of India.

When Kim is discovered by an Irish regiment and nearly sent to an orphanage for soldiers’ children, the lama and Creighton intervene to send him to St. Xavier’s school instead, for training in mathematics, map-making, and other skills of the Great Game along with a classical education. Kim visits Lurgan Sahib for memory training and assessment of his potential, and journeys with the Bengali Hurree Babu to steal survey information from two Russian spies in the Hills bordering Tibet.

When Kim succumbs to exhaustion, uncertain whether to follow the lama’s vision of paradise or to join the Great Game for good, an elderly Sahiba nurses him back to health with traditional remedies. The lama, having discovered the River, invites Kim to bathe in it as well, to attain freedom from all worldly cares, although Mahbub waits for Kim to accompany him on another expedition for the State. The novel ends without Kim’s reply.

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Annotated by:
Kennedy, Meegan

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

Winter surveys the rise and fall of mesmerism in Victorian Britain, from animal magnetism to hypnotism, including electrobiology (a form of group hysteria), table-turning, and other fads. The book offers rich detail about the different stages of the use of mesmerism in medicine: its initial appearance in staged experiments; its uncertain status and the struggle to locate the boundary demarcating alternative medicines; its performance by professional medical men as well as travelers and quacks; its importance in the development of anesthesia; and its role in prompting skeptical scientists to consider the possibility of mental reflexes as one way to explain away mesmeric phenomena.

Winter argues that mesmerism was not "illegitimate" so much as it brought "legitimacy" itself - of medical authority, of evidence, of knowledge -- into question. Thus, she argues, mesmerism crucially inspired many of the considerable changes in nineteenth-century medicine as well as the reorganization of science and the educational reforms of the later nineteenth century. The book also discusses mesmerism as a form of religion, as a conduit for spiritualism and communication with the dead, as a catalyst in orchestral conducting, and as a model for liberal political consensus.

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Annotated by:
Woodcock, John

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

This film rendition of Randy Shilts's documentary book by the same name tells the scientific, political, and human story of the first five years of AIDS in the U.S.--roughly 1980-85. Mainly it is a story of dedicated medical researchers groping to understand the horrifying and mysterious new disease and simultaneously battling the public fear and indifference that prevented, during those Reagan years, both public funding of their research and acceptance of their findings.

The central figure is Dr. Don Francis (Matthew Modine), veteran of the World Health Organization's smallpox eradication program, and the horrifying outbreak of hemorrhagic fever along the Ebola River in central Africa in 1976. Working at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta with no money and no space, Francis pursues his theory that AIDS is caused by a sexually-transmitted virus on the model of feline leukemia. His individual antagonist is Dr. Robert Gallo (Alan Alda), the discoverer of HTLV (the human T-cell leukemia virus), who cuts off assistance when he hears that Francis has shared some experimental materials with French researchers. (Gallo sees the French team mainly as his rivals for a Nobel prize.) Gallo finally claims a French retrovirus discovery as his own and thereby acquires a coveted patent.

Besides lab work and big scientific egos, the film shows us lots of grass-roots, shoe-leather epidemiology, especially in San Francisco; the laborious questioning of AIDS patients about their sexual histories, in search of the chain of infection and its beginning, "patient zero." The film's plot ends with Reagan's 1984 re-election and Francis's departure for San Francisco to set up as an independent researcher. Preceding the credits are a number of updates that take AIDS and the story's heroes and villains from 1985 to 1993, all this appearing over stills of famous AIDS victims and crusaders.

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Mr. Darwin's Shooter

MacDonald, Roger

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

This novel recounts the fictional life of Syms Covington, an historical character who was Charles Darwin's servant during the voyage of the Beagle (1831-1836) and for two years thereafter in England. Covington then moved to New South Wales, but remained in correspondence with Darwin for the rest of his life. (He died in February 1861.)

MacDonald expands on these facts to create the engrossing story of an "elderly" Covington--he would have been in his mid-40's at the time--who befriends a young American physician in New South Wales. Covington develops appendicitis and MacCracken, the young doctor, saves his life. They become friends and during the next two years Covington gradually reveals his story.

The book flashes back to the voyage of the Beagle and reveals the development of Covington's prickly but worshipful relationship with Darwin. In 1860 Covington, who has become a wealthy landowner in New South Wales, anxiously awaits his copy of The Origin of Species. After enduring the agony and adventure, after studying thousands and thousands of specimens, how will Darwin bring it all together? The theory of evolution rocks Covington to the core. Has his work played a part in helping Darwin to develop this godless theory?

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Multimedia

Summary:

The journal, Emerging Infectious Diseases, published by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, features artwork on its cover. Under the guidance of managing editor, Polyxeni Potter, these images are selected to enhance the journal's communication of its scientific public health content. Among the goals that govern the choice of its cover art are the editors' intention to illustrate ideas, stimulate the intellect, and fire the emotions (personal communication).

Acompanying each image is a one-page commentary on the artist, the topic depicted, and its relevance to infectious disease. Cover art (and commentary) from past issues can be accessed from the title page of each current issue.

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Oaxaca Journal

Sacks, Oliver

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Memoir

Summary:

This is the journal that Oliver Sacks kept during a "fern foray" in Oaxaca, Mexico. Sacks is a fern lover, even though he admits to an even greater passion for club mosses and horsetails. In 1993 John Mickel of the New York Botanical Gardens introduced Sacks to the New York chapter of the American Fern Society (AFS). Consisting mostly of amateur naturalists, AFS meetings were both congenial and passionate, unlike the cold competitiveness of professional meetings in neurology and neuroscience. The New York AFS folks arrange periodic trips to hot spots in the fern world to indulge their passion. In 1999 Oliver Sacks accompanied them on a trip to Oaxaca, which is a veritable paradise of ferns.

Though the trip is only 10 days long, Sacks packs a month’s worth of sights and sounds and meditations into his journal. We learn a lot about the hundreds of species of ferns that range from southern Mexico’s rain forests to the nooks and crannies of its arid central plateau. But the author’s curiosity roams freely and absorbs his new environment. We learn about the origin of chocolate, the history of tobacco, and the archeology of Monte Alban. We learn about the process of distilling mescal in one’s backyard. Most of all, we are introduced to nearly a dozen vivid characters, united in their enthusiasm for fieldwork and ferns.

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Summary:

Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that thinking is not universally the same, in time or around the globe. Specifically, Asians and Westerners vary in what they perceive, how they process it, and what action they might take. Nisbett has studied seminal figures such as Aristotle and Confucius, the geographical and social origins of Greece and China, and clues from the languages involved.

He explains a series of polarities, which can be quickly sketched (Eastern first/then Western): relationships/action, choice; feelings/logic; interdependence/independence; circularity, cycles/linearity; field dependence/divisible categories; harmony/debate; ground/figure; context/focal object; setting/outcome; and multiple causes/single cause and effect. Nisbett has also conducted experiments with students of Eastern and Western backgrounds to demonstrate that such differences are still real.

Finally, he argues that, with globalization, the two traditions will merge.

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