Popular Science Books on My Reading List

When I first started this blog (2 years ago, can you believe it?!), I wrote a blog post about 5 popular science books that I recommend to anyone who dares to ask me about the subject. That post had a really good response, and since then I’ve been reviewing books on this blog individually after I’ve read them. I’ve been reading lots recently, but more fiction than non-fiction, which has left me with a pile of popular science books that I still need to get to. I’m not sure which I want to tackle first – I just want to read them all, so I figured I’d list them here, and then if any of you have read and enjoyed them you can let me know.

Invisible women: exposing data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez

From the inside cover:
“Imagine a world where your phone is too big for your hand, where your doctor prescribes a drug that is wrong for your body, where in a car accident you are 47% more likely to be seriously injured, where every week the countless hours of work you do are not recognised or valued. If any of this sounds familiar, chances are that you’re a woman.”

This. Sounds. Incredible.

(and rage inducing)

I preordered this book a few months ago and totally forgot about it. When it landed on my doorstop I did a little squeal of excitement, but now I’ve seen eeeeeeeveryone talking about it on Twitter and I’m nervous that it’s not going to live up to my expectations. Does anyone else get that?

The only woman in the room: why science is still a boys’ club by Eileen Pollack

This is another book that looks like it’s going to make me rage – there’s a theme beginning to form here..

I bought this book when I went to Powell’s City of Books in Portland last year, and despite carrying it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, it’s been tucked away on my bookshelf since then. It looks like a book I’ll love (and again, rage as a result of), and I’m excited to get to this one. It was named one of the notable non-fiction books of 2015 by the Washington Post, and it focusses on Eileen Pollack’s quest to find out why, even now, relatively few women pursue careers in what she calls ‘the hard sciences’. I really dislike that dichotomy of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ sciences, because it implies that there’s a difference in quality, rigour and as a result, respect for and value of. To be clear, I don’t think that there is; so-called soft sciences should be equally as valued as so-called hard sciences – both can be done badly, and both can be done well. Poor phrasing won’t stop me reading this though – I’ll just be mindful of Pollack’s potential biases when I’m reading it.

The war on science: who’s waging it, why it matters, what we can do about it by Shawn Otto

This is another book I carted home with me from Portland, and at 514 pages it’s not the lightest.. I think it’s size is the reason why I haven’t read it yet – it weighs a tonne and the quotes on the back emphasis how ‘well researched’ it is, which is a good thing, but it’s making me hesitate to pick it up in case it’s really dry and full of jargon. Given the subject matter, I really hope that’s not the case!

I’ve never seen anyone talk about this book either. It doesn’t have many reviews on Amazon or GoodReads, but the reviews that are there seem good.
Have any of you read it? I think I need someone to rave about it to finally convince me to start reading.

A guide to making science matter: Escape from the ivory tower by Nancy Baron

I ordered this book after speaking to Jim Handman; science journalist, Executive Director of the Science Media Centre in Canada and former senior producer of science radio show Quirks and Quarks. Jim is kind of a big deal when it comes to science journalism, so when he recommended this book I bought it straight away.
Nancy Baron is a communications coach with an incredible track record, and I am SO excited to read this. From the back, “No one understands scientists the way Nancy Baron does. This book helps connect the worlds of science, journalism, and policy in very entertaining and insightful ways. If you care about linking science with action, this is the book to read.” (Pam Matson, Scientific Director of the Leopold Leadership Program, Woods Institute for the Environment and Dean of the School of Earth Sciences Stanford University).

I already feel like I’m recommending this book before I’ve read it. This is on my April reading pile so expect a review relatively soon.

The state of medicine by Margaret McCartney

Another of Margaret McCartney’s books, ‘The Patient Paradox: Why Sexed Up Medicine is Bad for Your Health’ was included in the 5 science books blog post I mentioned earlier, and this is McCartney’s newest book. Released in 2016, this looks at the NHS – in my opinion, the best thing about the UK.
The back of the book claims that ‘the NHS is the closest thing the UK has to a national religion’, the reason behind that being that it unites people across social and class divides. This book isn’t an ode to the NHS though, it’s about the financial strain that the service is under, and the political decisions that have led to the situation we now find ourselves in.
I love Margaret McCartney, I’ve fangirled about her on this blog before, and I know this book will not disappoint.

If there are any of these books that you’d like to see me review, let me know and I’ll try to make those a priority!

Book Review – Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick by Maya Dusenbery

I wasn’t planning on doing a dedicated book review post for this book – I just fancied reading it. After the first 3 pages I was already frustrated and angry enough that I was ready to throw the book across the room; not because it’s poorly written, far from it, it’s the contents of the pages that annoyed me so much. I hope that this post encourages some of you to read this book, it covers a topic I knew nothing about to begin with, and does a brilliant job of making a complex web of scientific research projects – reasons behind them, the errors they contain, and the source of the funding that enabled them to happen – accessible and easy to digest. Get Maya Dusenbery’s Doing Harm, here.

What the publisher says

Editor of the award-winning site Feministing.com, Maya Dusenbery brings together scientific and sociological research, interviews with doctors and researchers, and personal stories from women across the country to provide the first comprehensive, accessible look at how sexism in medicine harms women today.

In Doing Harm, Dusenbery explores the deep, systemic problems that underlie women’s experiences of feeling dismissed by the medical system. Women have been discharged from the emergency room mid-heart attack with a prescription for anti-anxiety meds, while others with autoimmune diseases have been labeled “chronic complainers” for years before being properly diagnosed. Women with endometriosis have been told they are just overreacting to “normal” menstrual cramps, while still others have “contested” illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia that, dogged by psychosomatic suspicions, have yet to be fully accepted as “real” diseases by the whole of the profession.

An eye-opening read for patients and health care providers alike, Doing Harm shows how women suffer because the medical community knows relatively less about their diseases and bodies and too often doesn’t trust their reports of their symptoms. The research community has neglected conditions that disproportionately affect women and paid little attention to biological differences between the sexes in everything from drug metabolism to the disease factors–even the symptoms of a heart attack. Meanwhile, a long history of viewing women as especially prone to “hysteria” reverberates to the present day, leaving women battling against a stereotype that they’re hypochondriacs whose ailments are likely to be “all in their heads.”

Offering a clear-eyed explanation of the root causes of this insidious and entrenched bias and laying out its sometimes catastrophic consequences, Doing Harm is a rallying wake-up call that will change the way we look at health care for women.

What the critics say

“Maya Dusenbery brings new life to one of the most urgent yet under-discussed feminist issues of our time. Anyone who cares about women’s health needs to read this book.” (Jessica Valenti, author of Sex Object: A Memoir)

“In this groundbreaking book, Dusenbery shows how the same forces that hold women back in society more broadly lead to subpar medical care and inadequate attention to health issues that impact women. Every doctor, scientist, and health care provider and researcher should read this book. And so should every woman.” (Jill Filipovic, author of The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness)

“Maya Dusenbery’s exhaustively researched book is equal parts infuriating and energizing. No woman will see the medical establishment and – perhaps even more profound – her own body the same way after reading it. In a just world, it would be required reading in medical schools from this day forward.” (Courtney E. Martin, author of The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream.

My thoughts

I started this book on a flight to Brussels during my week off – and almost immediately starting to quote bits of it to my friend who was sat next to me, “Did you know that in American medical faculties there’s a gender pay gap of $20,000?”, “Oh my God, you know that aspirin study that led to doctors advising people over the age of 50 to take an aspirin a day to lower the risk of heart attacks? THE STUDY WAS ONLY DONE ON MEN INITIALLY! Then, when there was another study done on women, the results were not the same, yet the advice has stayed constant!”, “HOLY SHIT, WOMEN ARE 50-75% MORE LIKELY THAN MEN TO HAVE ADVERSE REACTIONS TO DRUGS BECAUSE THE MAJORITY OF DRUGS HAVE ONLY BEEN TESTED ON MEN!!”

You can imagine how bad the shouting and swearing got as I progressed through the book.

The book itself is split into three parts; ‘Part 1 – Overlooked and Dismissed: A Systemic Problem’, ‘Part 2 – Invisible Women in a ‘Male Model’ System’, and ‘Part 3 – Neglected Diseases: The Disorders Formerly Known as Hysteria’, and when I read the contents I was immediately intrigued by Part 1 over the other 2. After reading, I think I enjoyed that section the most, but Parts 2 and 3 were the areas that cemented my anger – they were the areas where Dusenbery was able to really drill down into the research; they provided the ammunition to back up the anger she’d fuelled in Part 1.

Honestly, towards the middle of Part 2 I was starting to feel pretty hopeless; how on Earth could we have built a medical system on a foundation of research that was conducted almost entirely on male participants? Even down to the fact that lab research has been found to be conducted on mainly male rats and mice, not female (or God forbid, and equal split)?! Urgggghhh. Anyway, the most I read, the more frustrated I got – until that frustration turned to wanting to do something about the issue of bias in medical research.
I hope that this book stays with me and influences the work that I do over the course of my career; I want to remain in the clinical trials methodology field after my PhD is complete, and bearing the issues described by Dusenbery in mind will mean I can contribute at least in some small part, to alleviating these problems.

Would I recommend it?

10000000% yes. Read it, gift it, take it to medical appointments with you, fold the corners of pages that contain topics that infuriate you, and please, please, spread awareness of the fact that medical research has, and continues to fail women.

Book Review – Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong by Angela Saini

A while ago I posted about the science books that I think everyone should read – but I read a lot so that list of books has probably changed by now. In recent months I’ve seen a lot of scientists posting on various social media sites looking for reading recommendations, or giving their thoughts on what they’ve read recently. I figured I would add in some popular science book reviews into my blog in an effort to provide some more up to date reading recommendations. First up is, ‘Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story’ by Angela Saini.

What the publisher says

From intelligence to emotion, for centuries science has told us that men and women are fundamentally different. But this is not the whole story.
Shedding light on controversial research and investigating the ferocious gender wars in biology, psychology and anthropology, Angela Saini takes listeners on an eye-opening journey to uncover how women are being rediscovered. She explores what these revelations mean for us as individuals and as a society, revealing an alternative view of science in which women are included rather than excluded.

What the critics say

“Angela Saini has written a powerful, compelling and much needed account that challenges deeply rooted preconceptions about sex differences – some blatant misogyny, others buried in thousands of years patriarchy. Inferior shows that both are fundamentally flawed, and beautifully illustrates how science is just beginning to tackle this staggering imbalance.” (Adam Rutherford, author of Creation)

“An immensely readable and compelling book, providing up to date and evidence-based ammunition for readers who want to rebuff tired myths stereotyping men and women’s brains and bodies.” (Professor Athene Donald)

“This is an important book, beautifully written, and with compelling narratives and hard evidence researched through the lenses of anthropology, evolutionary history, psychology, and neuroscience. The evidence for unconscious bias is undisputed – so no matter what you think you think about gender and equality – read this book.” (Aarathi Prasad, author of Like a Virgin)

My thoughts

I listened to this book as an audiobook via Audible – I have a monthly membership that allows me to download 2 books a month; I always use these 2 credits for non-fiction, I prefer reading fiction and listening to non-fiction. Overall, I enjoyed listening to this book, but I did find that there were bits of it that were flawed.

I really enjoyed the parts of the book that were dedicated to sex differences in the brain. This is an area that I’ve always thought was simply bullshit science, but there are talented researchers working on this stuff who believe that there are fundamental differences between male and female brains. To clarify, I still maintain that this is bullshit science, but now I have a whole chapter of examples of poor quality research design to back up my thoughts. I found the final chapter very interesting too; it looked at multiple theories that aim to explain the function of the menopause.

The way that information is presented throughout this book is systematic, each chapter taking on a different concept and presenting, in detail, the research on each side of the argument. What I really liked though, was that unlike lots of other popular science books, this didn’t end with a shrug of the shoulders and a ‘well there are arguments on both sides’. Instead it made a clear statement: “There is no biological commandment that says women are natural homemakers and unnatural hunters, or that hands-on fathers are breaking some eternal code of the sexes.”

My main problem with the book was that I’m not sure how much of an impact it will have; people who are drawn to read it are likely to have the same perspective as the author, and those who believe that women are inferior to men would probably take one look at the front cover of the book, and happily skip over it. That said, maybe the book’s aim isn’t to change minds, maybe it’s just to give women, and their allies, clear evidence for future arguments.

Would I recommend it?

On audiobook, yes. I don’t think I’d have got as much out of the book if I’d read it rather than listened to it – largely because there were some parts of the text that I felt went on for too long to drive the point home that women are not inferior to men. Saying that though, I went into this book as a feminist, I am absolutely certain that women are not inferior to men; this book didn’t have to change my mind, but it did give me some good ammunition for future clashes with misogynists.

Still stuck for science book recommendations? Alice who runs the ‘Mindful of Science’ blog recently uploaded the first in a series of Youtube videos going through her science bookshelf – take a look here.

6 Science Communicators I’m Learning From

I don’t know whether the world of science communication has blossomed in recent months, or if I’m just more aware of it. What’s clear is that the field is booming. The variety of methods being used is vast – there are people using everything from cross-stitch to live streaming to tell people about science. As I’ve said recently, I’m working to do science communication too; I want people to understand what clinical trials are, why we need them, and how to critique them. That said, I follow a lot of other science communicators – I find their science interesting, and I love seeing how them communicate the concepts central to other fields of science. Take a look at the science communicators I’ve been loving recently, and make sure to give them a follow too.


Samantha // Science Sam

For me, Sam is really at the forefront of pushing the use of Instagram for science. She regularly posts about her PhD research, providing easy to understand analogies for complex scientific processes. Not only that, but she’s a champion for women in STEM. Recently she drew attention to the horrendous advertising campaign that Benefit ran, facilitating a global discussion on the campaign via Twitter.

More recently, she is part of a cutting edge research project looking at how scientists represent themselves on Instagram, and how their selfies might influence public perception of scientists.


Alice // Gray Matter

I’ve watched Alice’s YouTube videos for months – she explains concepts related to the brain in short and snappy videos. Some of the topics she covers are pretty common – déjà vu for example, others are weird and wonderful ideas that I’ never heard of – e.g. can babies smell in the womb? Whatever she’s explaining, she managed to simply convey very complication scientific ideas, whilst making sure her viewers aren’t left overwhelmed or confused. I really recommend her channel; she manages to provide answers for questions I wasn’t even aware I had.


Natasha // Surviving Science

Natasha’s blog is one of my favourites at the moment. She blogs about her life as a PhD student, as well as explaining various scientific topics. Her research focusses on resistance mechanisms in targeted cancer therapies, which is something I know very little about – but the way she communicates somehow makes that really accessible.

She also manages to inject humour into her posts. Her latest post ‘7 reasons your western didn’t work (again)‘ had me laughing out loud as the memories from my last stint in a laboratory environment came flooding back.


Maria // Literally Viral and We Are Microbes

Maria is the driving force behind ‘We Are Microbes’, a super creative, and informative (soon to be) set of zines.

The first zine was published in June, and it focusses on science communication. I contributed to that zine – sending Maria a very basic Word document and a few doodles. She managed to integrate a huge variety of scicomm experiences into a professional-looking, engaging and beautiful zine. I was super proud to have been able to contribute, and I really look forward to the zines she has planned in the future.


Sophie // Soph Talks Science

Sophie was one of the first science communicators I ever followed – her name seems to be everywhere! She’s writes her own blog, contributes to others, runs a brilliant Instagram account, but recently I’ve been loving her content on Twitter. Her Twitter feed is the one place where I can keep track of all the projects that she’s involved in! She also retweets content from other science communicators that I find super useful too. Really, she’s one of those women in science that truly champions other women in science too – if you’re not following her, you should be.


Steph // Embroidology

Steph is ridiculously talented. She creates super cute hand embroidery designs that stem from science.

Honestly I don’t even know where she got this idea from, or how on earth she can create such adorable science art – if I had a wall at my desk (my desk’s in front of the window) I’d be all over these! They’d be great as gifts too. Her designs are usually on embroidery hoops, but in the past she’s sold clothing, mugs, and cushions with her designs on too. I’m really looking forward to the opening of her new Etsy shop to see what new products she’s got, and which old ones make it back.


Who are your favourite science communicators? Leave suggestions in the comments, I’m always looking for new scicommers to inspire and educate me!