This is a collection of five essays in the history of the biological sciences, two of which are particularly good and either one alone is worth the value of the book. Possibly the best is Daniel J. Kevles; 'Pursuing the unpopular: a history of courage, viruses, and cancer'. I read this with delight as it is a model of concise and precise scientific exposition. It carefully traces progress from around 1900 to the time of the early AIDS crisis for the evidence that viruses may be a cause of cancer, covering the difficulties replicating the early results, and the mixed motives that alternately constrained and allowed progress. The politics of the science itself and the possible social impact of publishing partial results is clearly demonstrated, along with the more obvious interplay of collecting mere facts and finding best fit within the competing theoretical frameworks. This research is a great success for science, but it will not please the animal rights camp as it is also a clear and undeniable example of the essential utility of animal models in medical research.
The second excellent contribution is by Dr. Oliver Sacks; 'Scotoma: forgetting and neglect in science'. This sets the intellectual juices running and inspired me to look some of the references up. He considers the scientific process as seen in neurology and psychophysiology, making an interesting contrast to Kuhn's physical sciences approach in his famous study. He illustrates with his personal experiences with the 'phantom limb' phenomenon (significant dissolution of body image), and his research into the early literature of migraine, muscular dystrophy, chaos theory, Tourette's syndrome, colour-blindness and visual perception in general. In his concluding section he presents a basic taxonomy of errors in the process of scientific thinking, in particular his analysis of 'scotoma', not merely the misunderstanding and forgetting of early ground-breaking scientific discoveries, but their actual deletion from the active mind due to inadequate theoretical framework to contain them. If I may borrow from computerese, he builds a convincing multi-threaded argument, though some of the processes terminate normally and some do not.
Dr. Jonathan Miller presents a prolix but entertaining overview the history of psychology from the perspective of the concept of Mind, covering hypnosis, 'the long drought of Behaviourism' (well said that man), Freud, and the re-emergence of the mind in cognitive psychology with the beginnings of artificial intelligence and the influence of Chomsky's 'deep syntax' linguistic theory.
Stephen Jay Gould and R.C. Lewontin write on evolution, but to relatively little avail, alas.
This report prepared by Michael JR Jose