Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Decision Tree - by Thomas Goetz

The Choice is up to you....

Good health is the most important aspect of our life, but we seldom pay much attention to it till we fall sick. In this insightful book 'The Decision Tree', Thomas Goetz shows us why we should take control of our health and how this can have a significantly better outcome than just depending on our doctor. All our life, we have been taught that 'Doctor knows best' and we listen (even if we don't follow) to the doctor's advice. However Goetz show us that in this new era of Personalized Medicine, we need to take the decision making into our hands since neither the healthcare system nor the doctors are incentivized properly to focus on the preventive care that is critical.

How do we do this? That is the strategy that Goetz explains to us in this book using his 'Decision Tree' concept. The book is divided into three parts (a) Prediction & Prevention (b) Diagnosis & Detection (c) Care & Treatment. The first part focuses on how the recent advances in genomics can now start providing us the right basic data of our predispositions but still how difficult it is for us to change our habits even if we know that they are harmful. The second part concentrates on the screening and diagnosis tests - with the benefits and pitfalls and the third part targets the approaches to treatment efforts and how people are grouping together to find better ways of treating their diseases. In this time of enhanced privacy concerns I was thrilled to see web sites like and taking advantage of the internet to discover common solutions for those afflicted with similar diseases.

This book has made a significant change to how I view my health planning and I believe it will do the same to any reader who takes the effort to read the book. I would strongly recommend that you do.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whole Earth Discipline - An Ecopragmatist Manifesto by Stewart Brand

Turn the Greens Blue?

'Global warming' is a hot subject these days. For many decades the environmentalists more well known as the 'Greens' were ridiculed as 'anti progress' and leftists. Now when they have been finally proved right, the Greens seem to have lost their way. As a well known environmentalist, Stewart Brand explores where the Greens are going wrong and why they should trust Science more. Brand is keen to show us how Urbanization is Green, Nuclear Power is Green and Genetic Engineering is Green. This is the focus of the first part of the book. The book also traces the Green movement and is filled with references to various publications over the last three decades.

The second part of the book explores how we can take care of the Earth and examines possible global scale nature infrastructure initiatives that can reverse global warming.Brand is ready to acknowledge his mistakes and would like the rest of the Greens also to do so. If not he would like to see some of the Greens split away to become Green-Blues and develop the Green movement in a different direction.

The book was interesting and thought provoking. I was impressed with the coverage on the benefits of Genetically Engineered plants and the various measures that can be taken to improve the conditions on Earth. He exposes the damage caused by the fears of the traditional Greens in opposing genetic engineering. But I would have liked to see a more deeper analysis of some of the conclusions - especially the safety aspects and waste clean up of Nuclear Energy. Brand seems to rely too much of quotes and references and avoid science fundamentals in this case.

I liked the author's summary at the end:

"Ecological balance is too important for sentiment. It requires Science.
The health of natural infrastructure is too compromised for passivity. It requires Engineering.
What we call natural and what we call human are inseparable. We live one life."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How to build a Dinosaur (the science of reverse evolution) by Jack Horman

Hello - I am a T-Rex....

What happens when Paleontology converges with Molecular Biology? Advances in molecular biology now allows us to make changes to the genetic code - the 'language of life'. Paleontology gives us glimpses of extinct animals. The authors of this book challenges the reader to consider the possibility of changing the genome of an existing embryo say that of a chicken and enticing it to 'remember' its past and develop characteristics of its ancestors - such as teeth, tail etc. And since birds are descendent from Dinosaurs, theoretically you can now go back in time step by step and slowly but surely create a Dinosaur.

It is an intriguing concept and the authors do an excellent job of asking the right questions - can we do it? should we do it? what are the benefits? What are the disadvantages? The book also covers the basic science very well and in simple terms explains the principles involved.

The title of the book is slightly misleading since we are far away from actually being able to create a Dinosaur. Many challenges still remain but the possibility of being able to do this in the next 10 to 20 years is very real. More importantly the book will give the reader a better idea of the various possibilities, that a proper understanding of the genetic code will provide humanity.