Science Says Bookclub Blog Posts

The Emperor of All Maladies - Part Five Summary

In part five of an Emperor of all Maladies, we learn about the discoveries that elucidated the mechanisms underlying the biology of cancer. Mukherjee starts the section with a reflection on his time as a medical oncology fellow, reminding the reader of the human costs of cancer as he and the other fellows reflect on the patients they have lost. We also get an update on his leukemia patient Carla, who is now in remission and through the worst of her treatments.

The Emperor of All Maladies - Part Three Summary

In part three of the Emperor of all Maladies, the treatment of cancer begins to shift from the previously seen extremes to being more patient centered. There is a rift in the field of surgery as surgeons such as Dr. Crile and Dr. Keynes begin to question the radical and disfiguring surgeries relied upon by an entire generation of surgeons to treat cancer.

The Emperor of All Maladies - Part Two Summary

The second part of Mukherjee’s compelling biography of cancer details the early stages of a war against cancer. The section begins by introducing a new protagonist in our story, Mary Lasker, the “fairy godmother” of cancer research. With friends in high places and an insatiable motivation to pour more money into battling diseases, she was the perfect teammate for Sydney Farber, who was looking to expand his own cancer research efforts.

The Emperor of All Maladies - Part One Summary

The book begins with the story of Carla Reed, a 31-year-old kindergarten teacher and mother of three who experiences headaches, strange bruising, white gums, and exhaustion. The author learns about Carla as he is heading into work at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. His beeper informs him to see a patient with leukemia when he arrives. Leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, is “breathtaking” with regard to its pace and acuity. Ten months into his two-year fellowship in oncology, the author already feels drained and inured to the death around him.

The Soul of an Octopus - Chapters 7 & 8 Summary

Montgomery and Wilson mourn the loss of Kali, but with Octavia’s health still declining they order a new octopus. Together Sy and jellyfish researchers at the aquarium go to the airport to pick up the new octopus Karma around New Years. This octopus was caught in the wild and kept at a British Columbia facility until it was ready to be shipped. Upon arrival, the dirty water and shedded suckers are a dismal sight, but the team must go through a slow tank transfer process to avoid sending the new octopus into shock.

The Soul of an Octopus - Chapters 5 & 6 Summary

To kick off chapter 5, Montgomery details the struggles of her scuba certification. She notes that her joy of being underwater is detrimental because she can’t stop smiling and allowing water into her regulator. She overcomes several challenges (eardrum pressure, trouble with the regulator, becoming certified in the New England cold) in order to make it to her first official dive in Cozumel. Their first dive is a drift dive and Montgomery actualizes her dream. She and her fellow divers come face to face with an octopus in its natural habitat for the first time, rather than in an aquarium.

The Soul of an Octopus - Chapters 3 & 4 Summary

In chapter three, we are introduced to a new baby octopus at the New England Aquarium named Kali. Kali is one of the first octopuses at the aquarium to maintain specific coloring, in her case a white spot on her head. The coloring of an octopus is thought to be used for not only camouflage, but also potentially to express the emotional state of an octopus. As the author engages with Kali, we are introduced to some of the history of how the interactions between humans and sea creatures have changed at the New England Aquarium over time.

The Soul of an Octopus - Chapters 1 & 2 Summary

In chapter one of the Soul of an Octopus, we are introduced to the world of the octopus through the author’s first meeting with Athena the giant Pacific octopus. The author’s encounter with Athena provides context for how humans have historically viewed octopuses as sometimes frightening but mainly fascinating creatures. As invertebrates, octopuses are not necessarily some of the first creatures that people think of when they imagine animal intelligence. However, there are many instances of octopuses exhibiting behaviors that portray them as intelligent.

The War on Science Part 4 - Chapters 11-13 Summary

In the fourth and final part of The War on Science, Otto shifts his attention to the goal: winning the war. He first makes it clear that he believes the economy and the greater well-being of humanity and the planet are in direct opposition to each other, individualism vs collectivism. His analogy of the farmer’s adding to their herds only benefiting them but depleting the greater resources lends itself to the assumption that selfishness pays the individual but steals from the world.

The War on Science Part 3 - Chapter 10 Summary

Otto begins chapter 10 by reiterating one of his main points so far — science is not independent of politics. He then gives some background on past efforts to shape public opinion in the U.S., focusing on Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays is known as the “father of public relations”; he originally served on the Creel Committee, which sought to sway public opinion in favor of joining WWI. He continued afterward to help companies shape public opinion, advocating a “third party technique” in which the company itself is not the one seen promoting its viewpoint.

The War on Science Part 2 - Chapters 6 & 7 Summary

In Chapter 6, Otto continues his examination of the evolution of public thought and scientific ideas through the space age and into the 21st century. During this time, he argues, the public’s skepticism of science was due to its focus on research with primarily military and industrial applications. During the countercultural movement of the 1960s, young people were critical and suspicious of the government, and therefore government-funded science.

The War on Science Part 3 - Chapters 8 & 9 Summary

Shawn Otto begins the 8th chapter “The Identity Politics War on Science” by introducing the notion that truth as a construct is fundamentally different from scientific claims. Truth may very well be subjective and unique to the perspective of the observer but scientific claims are considered truly objective, meaning that the same conclusion will be reached regardless of who is measuring/observing/determining the claim.

The War on Science - Chapters 5 & 6 Summary

In Chapter 6, Otto continues his examination of the evolution of public thought and scientific ideas through the space age and into the 21st century. During this time, he argues, the public’s skepticism of science was due to its focus on research with primarily military and industrial applications. During the countercultural movement of the 1960s, young people were critical and suspicious of the government, and therefore government-funded science.

The War on Science Part 2 - Chapters 3, 4 & 5 Summary

Otto begins Part 2 by describing the founding of the United States, specifically that the US was founded not as a Christian nation, but rather one based on the ideals of freedom — including freedom of exploration and religion. The founders of the US, as well as European and other scholars, believed that science was to be used to assist in the study of God’s creations and that its purpose was to shed light on the wonders of the world created by God. They felt that Nature, unlike divinity, was knowable and understandable and humans could understand God’s will by studying nature.

The War on Science Part 1 - Chapters 1 & 2 Summary 

The first part of Otto’s book truly digs deep into the questions “Why is there a war on Science?” and “Who is Waging It?” Otto begins this section, titled Democracy’s Science Problem, with an explanation of the role of science in our social and political worlds. Science has the power to do great good, but it can also be weaponized against persons and countries.