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May 11th, 2009     by Tiina Johns     Comments

I love Science.

Well, I love the sort of pop culturey science that can be understood by someone who’s last experience in a laboratory was grade ten biology.

Lately I’ve been obsessively listening to every episode of Radio Lab, a science-oriented, This American Life-esque podcast that covers a topics like sleep, zoos, pop music and deception.

Lucky for me, there are also a bunch of great science comics. A writer named Jim Ottaviani has created a really cool niche for himself, and scripted several history of science comic books.

One of my favourites is Dignifying Science, a collection of stories about women scientists and their discoveries.

Ottaviani talks about science from a real social history angle, so we get a glimpse into the lives of these pioneering women, and see a bit of the circumstances that led to their phenomenal discoveries. The other cool thing about this book is that a different female cartoonist draws each story, so there’s a different artistic style to accompany the vastly different stories of these chemist, mathematicians, biologist, etc.

Anyone remember reading about the wire mothers experiment in a psychology class? Baby monkeys were deprived of their mothers, but given a wire, monkey-shaped mom who had a bottle attached. But getting fed wasn’t enough. The monkeys got depressed and the only thing that made it better was the introduction of a soft, furry, cuddly fake monkey mom. The babies would drink the wire mom’s milk and then haul butt over to the soft mom. In text books, this article was always accompanied by a heart-breaking picture of a baby monkey clinging to its fake fur monkey mom.

Ottaviani’s Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love explains the social history leading up to this experiment. Basically, the discovery of germs, and the conclusion that germs led to disease, drastically affected the way people started to parent their children. Kids weren’t to be hugged or cuddled, because that would make them sick. Some experts even encouraged putting babies into isolated boxes to keep them safe from disease! When Harlow’s monkeys suffered alone, but thrived with their cloth mothers, it proved the basic but essential understanding that babies need love and affection survive.

Recently released was The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA by Mark Schultz and Zander Cannon & Kevin Cannon. This beautifully illustrated book covers everything from the very beginning of life of earth to cloning and stem cell research. The story is framed by a having an alien life form (who looks like a sea cucumber), explain how human genetics work. Complex ideas are made understandable and even fun.

Not only are these books entertaining reads, but they also provide you with some fuel for scientific arguments, and make you sound smart in every day conversation. I totally used the word “mitosis” the other day.

Tags: comics are for everybody

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