Saturday, December 09, 2006

I just finished Gen-e-sis by Robert M. Hazen, a non-fiction book about the scientific research into the origins of life on Earth. I read a fair amount of non-fiction popular science books but this one was a little different. First, it was written by one of the researchers in the field instead of a journalist. Second, it was written about a problem that hasn't been solved yet. Because they are written in hingsight, many of these books pick up a stronger narrative feeling -- the scientists face certain adversities, perservere and eventually they are vindicated. For example, see The Double Helix, which tells the story of Watson and Crick discovering the structure of DNA.

In contrast, Hazen's book provides a slightly different window into the world of working science. There are multiple competing approaches with controversies, false starts and personality clashes with no ultimate winner yet. If you want to get an idea how actual scientists work together, compete or think in general, I highly recommend this book.

I was lucky enough to hear one of the researchers featured speak at Wonderfest, a series of dialogues/lectures that is held at Stanford/UC Berkeley every year. The topic of the debate was "Was the Origin of Life Inevitable". Both of the researchers who spoke actually agreed with the thesis but for the sake of having a debate, one of them took the other side and did a very good job of using his expertise in the field to highlight the missing pieces and problems in the current theories. If you're in the Bay Area, you should check it out next November.

No comments: