The big world seem too big and intense these days? Take a look at Nikon’s Small World Competition for 2011. The contest, which has been around since 1974, judges the best photography done through a microscope. Not surprisingly, most of the shots were taken by scientists. They are remarkable for being so beautiful. Among them: “Intrinsic fluorescence in Lepidozia reptans,” which came in fourth in the competition and looks like something Peter Max might have created; “Retinal flatmount of mouse nerve fiber layer,” which came in seventh and looks like a collection of curvy city streets lit up at night; and No. 8, “graphite-bearing granulite from Kerala,” which, if it were large, could be a painting hanging on the wall of a modern art museum. Cutest: No. 10, freshwater water flea. And creepiest: Ant head, frontal view. Don’t show it to impressionable small children. The winning photos (from 2011 and previous years) and honorable mentions can be seen at www.nikonsmallworld.com/gallery/year/2011/1. Click on “start slideshow” to be mesmerized.
One problem with arguing about evolution, climate change or the point at which human life begins, Shawn Lawrence Otto writes, is that our public institutions approach such issues from very different perspectives. He offers an example:
“Journalism: There are always two sides to every story.
Bob says 2+2=4. Mary says it is 6. The controversy rages.
“Science: Most times, one side is simply wrong.
I can demonstrate using these apples that Bob is right.
“Politics: How about a compromise?
New law: 2+2=5.”
And so he begins “Fool Me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in America.” Otto’s concern is that wildly complex modern science is progressing faster than the social and political institutions that can affect it.
Otto is not your typical science writer: He describes himself as a science advocate but is probably best known for writing and co-producing the movie “House of Sand and Fog” (based on the novel of the same name). But he is one angry advocate for the scientists who overwhelmingly agree, for example, that climate change is happening, evolution is indisputable and children should get certain vaccines. Outraged at what he calls bullying by an anti-intellectual culture, he insists that “scientists need to reengage with politics and become part of the conversation.”
A completely different tone comes from Jonathan D. Moreno, a professor of bioethics who edits the online magazine Science Progress for the Center for American Progress. His book ”The Body Politic” examines what he calls “biopolitics”: controversies that have intensely personal impact, such as abortion, suicide/euthanasia, stem-cell research, cloning, vaccines, eugenics. Yet despite the hot-button topics, he maintains a thoughtful, nonconfrontational attitude. His intellectual style isn’t quite as accessible to the casual reader as Otto’s, but it’s good to read a book that ends with a unifying reminder: “Every living human being’s mitochondrial DNA comes from one African woman, and all male Y chromosomes come from one man. . . . In the end as well as in the beginning, we are all members of the same body politic.”