Given David Grimm's position as the online editor of Science, I had originally thought this book would be about the molecular genetics of domesticatiGiven David Grimm's position as the online editor of Science, I had originally thought this book would be about the molecular genetics of domestication. Then I went to a reading at the Ivy Bookshop, and realized that I was not like the other people there.
But this book does do an excellent job explaining a number of social trends I have observed. Like it or not, the next civil rights battle is for dogs and cats....more
The New York Times appears to also have a review, but they seem to have completely missed the point.
10/20/13: I'm only partway through this book, but I cannot contain my exuberance. This is finally the book that I had just assumed otherpregnancy books would be, but was sadly disappointed to discover they were not.
For a given risk factor (such as caffeine, alcohol, or tobacco), she lays out the studies that have been done, highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each study, shows what they found, and then leaves the reader, now armed with data, to decide her own appropriate course of action.
For example, caffeine. There are a number of studies linking caffeine to miscarriages, which have led different doctors to give their different recommendations: some doctors say up to three cups of coffee per day is ok; others say two; still others say absolutely no caffeine at all. The problem with most of these studies is that it turns out that nausea is actually a sign of a healthy pregnancy, and the more nauseous you feel, the less likely you are to miscarry. Of course, if you're feeling nauseous, you want to drink coffee less than you otherwise might. So any study comparing coffee-drinking to non-coffee-drinking women might not be studying the effects of caffeine, they might actually be studying the effects of nausea.
Fortunately, there was one study in Denmark (that paradise of public health data) that issued free instant coffee to a large cohort of coffee-drinking pregnant women, and instructed them to replace the coffee they would normally drink with the free instant coffee, which was either caffeinated or decaffeinated. The women assigned the caffeinated coffee consumed on average 200 mg more caffeine per day than the women assigned the decaffeinated coffee, but when the researchers looked at birth weight, length at birth, gestational age at birth, or head circumference, they found zero (zero) difference between the two groups of babies. It's pretty clear that caffeine has zero impact on the outcomes measured.
Now, of course coffee has a lot more in it than just caffeine (I could have sworn I had a molecule of the day post on cafestol and kahweol, but I can't find it now), so after reading that study, you might still decide that for your own pregnancy, you might prefer to err on the side of caution and cut down on coffee anyway, and that's fine. But perhaps you might think twice before hassling someone else for the choice she's made for herself.
Like Emily Oster, I find this kind of information a lot more useful for decision-making than simple rules like "only one cup of coffee per day".
10/20/13 (later that day) update:
"My best estimate, based on the data, was that avoiding ham sandwiches would have lowered my risk of Listeria infection from 1 in 8,255 to 1 in 8,333. Would you want to do this? Maybe. Someone certainly could make a case for doing so. However, this change is really, really small. For me, it wasn't worth it."
Feel like the protocols in your lab are voodoo cobbled together from a mess of chance observations from lab members long ago, where something once worFeel like the protocols in your lab are voodoo cobbled together from a mess of chance observations from lab members long ago, where something once worked for them so they kept doing it from then on without really understanding why it worked that one time? Ever get messy results and just had your PI shrug, say it was a "bad gel", and told you to "just repeat it", because "something was just wrong that time", and surely if you repeat it, even if you do everything the same, it will just work this time? Ever wanted to really know how a Western blot worked, but got lost in a chain of references that never actually connect to a decent review?
Then the Practical Approach series is for you. Experts actually stop and explain the voodoo: this is why you do each step, here are the proper citations for how we know what we know, and this is how to troubleshoot an ugly gel. Must-read for undergrads, first-year graduate students, and basically everyone working in a laboratory....more