Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Adventures in the Wild

The writing of scientific papers is a precise art and produces material that is highly informative, sometimes quite controversial, but is rarely funny. And yet many scientists have a creative side that makes them wonderful storytellers. Adventures in the Wild: tales from biologists of the natural state, edited by Joy Trauth and Aldemaro Romero, presents the human side of science. Reading these brief accounts is like sitting at the campus pub with your favorite professor: there are a few funny mishaps, some hair-raising encounters, some ingenious approaches to the problems that crop up during field work, and some great insight into what it's really like to be a field biologist. Richard Grippo shares a wonderful story of trying to outrun a pod of hunting orcas while sharing a skiff with an excited labrador retriever. Staria Vanderpool shares the frustration of trying to identify a plant for a curious member of the public - over the phone. My favorite piece is "Sir David Attenborough visits Arkansas", by Stanley Trauth. Basically an account of his brush with fame - when Sir David came to film a segment of mating salamanders - Trauth perfectly captures the absolute thrill of working with an absolute legend. (You may have to be a true science geek to get the appeal of this story). But if you have any interest at all in science, you will enjoy these 'behind-the-scenes" essays, and come to appreciate the multi-faceted life of a biologist.

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