Saturday, June 06, 2009

Five best books: scientific fraud

Eugenie Samuel Reich is a former editor at New Scientist. She has written for Nature, New Scientist, and The Boston Globe, and is known for her hard hitting reports on irregular science. Several of her reports have resulted in institutional investigations.

Her new book is Plastic Fantastic: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World.

She named a five best list of books about scientific fraud for the Wall Street Journal. One book on her list:
The Case of the Midwife Toad
by Arthur Koestler
Random House, 1971

Best known for his ­fictionalized account of Cold War imprisonment, “Darkness at Noon,” Arthur Koestler also wrote, in ­addition to much else, an excellent nonfiction narrative about science fraud called “The Case of the Midwife Toad.” The book’s starting point is the 1926 suicide of Paul Kammerer, a researcher at the Institute of Experimental Biology in Vienna. Kammerer had been accused of injecting ink into a midwife toad to create a “nuptial pad,” a dark spot on the feet of some male amphibians that improves their grip for mating in water. The ink scam was a rearguard effort to ­defend the Lamarckian hypothesis of inheritance by adaptation, but the most poignant aspect of Koestler’s narrative is his undisguised sympathy for his subject. Koestler portrays Kammerer’s arrogance in response to questioning as understandable intellectual pride and raises the ­possibility that his hero was framed by a misguided underling or, perhaps, someone unhappy with Kammerer’s sympathies for the Soviet Union. Yet given Koestler’s impressive forensic inquiries, his bias complements rather than clouds this compelling story of the tensions between Kammerer and his critics.
Read about another book on Reich's list.

Writers Read: Eugenie Samuel Reich.

--Marshal Zeringue