Showing 71 - 80 of 199 annotations tagged with the keyword "Science"

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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Antonia Saw the Oryx First

Thomas, Maria

Last Updated: Dec-14-2006
Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Antonia Redmond is a young Harvard-trained doctor who has returned to the East African village where she was raised by American parents to establish a medical practice. Her efforts are frustrated by inadequate supplies and funding, an under-trained staff, and patients whose superstitions and mistrust make diagnosis and treatment difficult. She deals daily with a conflict of cultures, trying to maintain her medical methods and standards in an environment where she competes with the authority of native healers.

Esther, daughter of a native healer who has some familiarity with and respect for Western medicine, envies and longs for Antonia’s Western training and attaches herself to her as a disciple. In her encounters with patients, Esther finds that she has an inexplicable gift for healing which baffles her as well as Antonia and complicates their already tenuous relationship. Esther’s gift forces Antonia to reexamine some of her most basic assumptions about what constitutes healing.

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Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

A stray dog bites the left ankle of 12-year-old Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles. She and her peculiar parents live in a country near the Caribbean Sea during colonial times. Her father belongs to the class of decaying nobility. He is a weak man with poor judgment. Her scheming mother is a nymphomaniac who abuses cacao tablets and fermented honey. Sierva Maria is more or less raised by the family's slaves whose culture she assimilates. The youngster has luxuriant copper-colored hair and a penchant for lying--"she wouldn't tell the truth even by mistake" according to her mother. (p. 16)

Before long, the dog dies of rabies. When Sierva Maria begins exhibiting bizarre behavior, no one is quite sure of the cause even though everyone seems to have his or her own theory. Is the girl displaying signs of rabies? Is she possessed by a demon? The physician Abrenuncio doubts either diagnosis. The powerful Bishop believes the girl may require an exorcism. Perhaps Sierva Maria is simply eccentric or maybe even crazy. Ninety-three days after being bitten by the dog, she is locked in a cell in the Convent of Santa Clara.

The Bishop appoints his protégé, 36-year-old Father Cayetano Delaura, to investigate the matter. The priest is immediately infatuated with the girl. When the Bishop learns of Cayetano Delaura's love for Sierva Maria and his unacceptable actions, the priest is disciplined and then relegated to caring for lepers at the hospital. The Bishop next takes matters into his own hands by performing the rite of exorcism on Sierva Maria. After five sessions, she is found in bed "dead of love." (p. 147)

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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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Summary:

Sims sees his book in the tradition of blazons anatomiques, “poetic tributes to the individual parts of the female body” originating in France in the mid-sixteeenth century. He adds, of course, men, including Adam. Working from head to toe, Sims assembles a very wide variety of scientific facts, cultural perceptions, and representations of the human body by artists, writers, and scientists.

Sims sticks to the outside of the body—no internal organs, nor, it follows, no sense of the integrated body. After a brief Overture (on skin), Part One, Headquarters, treats hair, face, eye, ear, nose, and smile (mouth). Part Two, The Weight of the World, discusses arms, hands, breasts, and the navel. Part Three, “A Leg to Stand On” (but no mention of Oliver Sacks), deals with “Privy Members” (the genitals), the buttocks, legs, and feet. There is no concluding chapter.

Sims draws on sources as diverse as Greek myth, Darwin, Lombroso, French painters, movies, popular culture, Jane Goodall’s chimps, the Bible, feminist writers, William Blake, etymologies, anthropologists, and modern science writers. There are some references to Native American cultures, Africa, and the East, but he stays mostly in the Western tradition.

Chapter 8, “The Monkey’s Paw,” is a good example of Sims's method. He discusses (in this order) handshakes, carpal tunnel problems, Michelangelo’s God and Adam on the Sistine ceiling, the “phalangeal formula” of handbones in mammals, Jesus’s crucifixion, Robert Schumann’s hand troubles, the importance of the thumb for humans, fingerprints, palmistry, and handedness (Ben Franklin was left-handed) and more in 40 pages. The interesting facts keep coming, but there is no basic theme or concluding overview.

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Imago

Butler, Octavia

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Imago is set in the future, after a nuclear war has decimated most of the earth. A foreign species, the Oankali, has made Earth a colony. The Oankali are male and female but also have a third sex, the Ooloi. Ooloi are necessary to Oankali reproduction; they lie between partners, gather and recombine genetic material, and inseminate the female to produce offspring. The main Ooloi organ, the yashi, contains genetic information about every living thing. Ooloi can cure anything with a single touch. Also, of course, an evil Ooloi could start diseases no one has ever seen before.

The Ooloi and Oankali breed with earthlings who are willing and cure them of the tumors, infertility and other effects of the war. Unwilling humans are also repaired and sent to a colony on Mars where they can live autonomously. The Oankali have little hope for these humans, as their biological aggression will eventually cause another war. The Oankali do learn one thing from the humans, cancer. While for humans the fast reproduction of cells is a dreaded disease, the Ooloi control it and use it to recreate lost limbs and repair other damage.

Imago focuses on one particular Ooloi, Judahs. He is an anomaly because he has human parents. Judahs searches for human mates, finally finding two rebels. This pair tell him of a hidden community of humans unknown to the invaders. This area too becomes a colony, but with a more human aspect.

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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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Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Investigative Journalism

Summary:

Brigid's Charge, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Virginia, has devoted his long career (37 years) to amassing and analyzing empirical evidence for reincarnation. In this book the journalist Tom Shroder describes Dr. Stevenson's work and gives a fascinating account of Stevenson's most recent field investigations in Lebanon and India.

The primary data supporting reincarnation are accounts of previous lives spontaneously reported by young children. This phenomenon is relatively common in cultures that accept reincarnation; for example, the Hindu and Druze peoples. In some cases the accuracy of details from reported past lives can be verified, even though there is also good evidence that the child (or anyone in his family or network of contacts) had no "external" way of learning the information.

Stevenson began studying such cases in the early 1960s and gradually developed a rigorous methodology for assessing and classifying the data. In Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation and his other writings, Stevenson has presented hundreds of narratives, many of which seem prima facie convincing, except for the small problem that they fall completely outside the bounds of scientific orthodoxy.

As a participant observer, Shroder tells a sympathetic, yet questioning, story of Stevenson's investigation (or follow up) of a few recent cases. In the process, he presents a compelling portrait of the maverick 80-year-old psychiatrist.

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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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