Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What I've been reading these days: Radioactive by Lauren Redniss and Elephants on Acid by Alex Boese

Since I started working as a Scientific Editor at Elsevier in May, I have found more time for reading for leisure.  I have peppered my reading selections with assorted science writings. First, I quickly plowed through Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss.  Radioactive is a graphic novel that highlights the passion of the Curies for science and for each other.  The book itself was so thoughtfully assembled; for example, the cover glows in the dark, much like Curie's radioactive elements. 

Based on the recommendations of Amazon, I followed up with Elephants on Acid and other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese.  Where Radioactive made me long for my old life in the lab, filled with its ups and down and unusual characters, Elephants on Acid was appropriate for my new position as a Scientific Editor. In my evaluation of the papers and the search for appropriate reviewers, I have found myself in some strange corners of PubMed. At one point, I found a paper that examined the effect of LSD to assist in the rehabilitation of alcoholics (Psychedelic Therapy Utilizing LSD in the Treatment of the Alcoholic Patient: A Preliminary Report).  It seems that scientists were very excited about the effects of LSD, thus they tested everything from spiders (The Effect ofLSD-25 on Spider Web Formation) to suburban housewives (see the work of Sidney Cohen).  The titular experiment that tested LSD in elephants was surprisingly repeated by two, independent groups. While the first group seemed to overdose the poor elephant, who subsequently died, the second group found the right dose and reported their observation in the journal Science
Boese finds lots of other strange experiments. The ones that I found most interesting were the work of Daniel Simons, which explores the phenomenon of change blindness. These experiments are best watched rather than explained. (http://www.simonslab.com/videos.html)  Other experiments tested questions like: Can people distinguish Coke from Pepsi? Do people get less choosy of whom they will take home from a bar after last call? What does the soul weigh? Of course, the author also explains some rather infamous experiments, including the Stanford Prison Experiment and the Milgram Obedience experiment. However, it is unlikely that experiments like these will cross my desk; rather, I am more likely to see papers that examine the proteomics of horse semen or the effect of vanilla extract (or really anything you can imagine) on cancer cells. 

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