Heliophage


Do the math
January 22, 2009, 3:12 pm
Filed under: Books, Interventions in the carbon/climate crisis

Reading David McKay’s Sustainable Energy — Without the hot air (Amazon UK|US) is something I would advise people to do. You can get it free from his website, but I must say the physical object is a very nice thing to have in your hands. It’s a Smil-like work, premised on facts, a pocket calculator and a clear head. As well as leading to interesting conclusions which I shall probably blog separately, it also encourages the mindset of making sure the underlying maths behind what you are saying makes sense. Roger Pielke Jr applies this mindset to the Times:

Today’s New York Times has an editorial in which it claims that:

The plain truth is that the United States is an inefficient user of energy. For each dollar of economic product, the United States spews more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than 75 of 107 countries tracked in the indicators of the International Energy Agency. Those doing better include not only cutting-edge nations like Japan but low-tech countries like Thailand and Mexico.

This is just wrong.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration on energy consumption (BTUs) per unit of GDP (PPP) shows that the United States is more efficient than about 68% of all countries. Similarly, the United States emissions of carbon dioxide per unit of GDP is better than 69% of countries.

To be sure, there are a number of countries that make excellent models for how the United States might become more efficient and reduce the carbon intensity of its economy, including Japan and Germany. However, as models to emulate, Mexico and Thailand, as suggested by the Times, are probably not the best examples.

Decarbonizing the economy will be an enormous task. It will be impossible if the problem is fundamentally misunderstood.

The key point is that you need to consider both the carbon associated with the country’s primary energy production and the efficiency with which that energy is used. So for example burning a lot of coal and then using the energy efficiently is a different problem from burning a lot of natural gas and using the energy inefficiently. There are problems in both, but they aren’t the same problems.

All this is more important but less entertaining than the tale of Congressman Eric Massa’s fuel-cell powered drive to DC, a massive math fail reported with relish on Gas 2.0

The fuel-cell car that Massa selected to drive the aforementioned 300 miles only had a range of 175 – 200 miles (depending on who you believe), and there were exactly zero (0) hydrogen fuel cell filling stations en route.

Not to let silly little obstacles like “numbers” get in his way, the good congressman decided that he could solve this problem.  He’d simply drive two (2) hydrogen fuel-cell powered cars to DC.  (!?)

I think it happened like this:  with the range problem solved, Massa could focus on the second logistical barrier standing in his way.  Namely, that he had to switch cars somewhere between New York and DC.  Massa, now faced with a problem he could understand and wrap his brain around, decided that the best way to make sure the second car would appear when he needed it was … wait for it … TO TOW A SECOND FUEL-CELL CAR BEHIND A FULL-SIZE SUV! (!!?)

It gets even better: enjoy.

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A lost world
November 9, 2008, 1:12 pm
Filed under: Books, Published stuff
Michael Crichton, 1942-2008  Jon Chase photo/Harvard News Office

Michael Crichton, 1942-2008 || Jon Chase photo/Harvard News Office

Michael Crichton has died of cancer at the age of 66. To create a number one book, film or TV show is quite something; to sit in those three slots simultaneously, as his friend James Fallows recalls him doing in the early 1990s, must be unparalleled. Nice anecdote from Maxim; apposite insights as offered to The Onion.

“But if we can somehow extract his DNA, then we can replicate him, and all the other dead authors, and put them on display for the world to behold. We don’t need to consider the consequences, let’s just go ahead and do it.”

Climate-and-science-policy-blogger Chris Mooney is debating his legacy over at The Intersection. In the context of climate change it was pretty poor, as plenty of people have already argued. People who focus on the climate side of State of Fear, though, miss the linked issue of how poor a book it is by Crichton’s own standards — flabby and silly and drab and lax. The views-on-issues embedded in Crichton novels were often unconvincing or wrong, but in Rising Sun and Disclosure, to take two examples, the books work as books regardless. Rising Sun works particularly well, in fact; I think it ws the first thriller really to understand what mobile phones mean for such stories, and to incorporate them into both the storytelling and the structure.

I read him from childhood and I think I must have read almost all the novels other than the pseudonymous Lange ones (though for some reason, it now strikes me, I never read Eaters of the Dead). All I can remember ever writing about him was a review of Prey, for The New Yorker, of which I remain fond in that it pretty much nailed what I wanted to say.

Crichton explains more things, with more conviction, than any other thriller writer around. The philosophical ruminations and product specifications are so deftly interspersed in the run, hide, blow-things-up stream of his narrative that, rather than interrupt the tension, they actually heighten it. The effect is like tight crosscutting in a film, although, perversely for such a frequently filmed author, it is impossible for a filmmaker to capture. A director can cut from scene to scene but not from scene to idea. Steven Spielberg nods toward Crichton’s technique when he has one of the velociraptors in “Jurassic Park” stalk through an orientation film explaining its own creation, with projections of the creature’s DNA sequences sliding over its grainy skin. But that’s a joke, not a functional equivalent. What does make Crichton filmable is a happy knack for transforming big ideas into antagonists roughly the size and shape of a man. Velociraptors, killer gorillas, chip-headed cyborgs, gunslinging robots, cannibal Neanderthals, Demi Moore—these are the sort of things Hollywood knows how to make frightening.

(According to the New Yorker’s book blog, these are pretty much the only nice things writers there ever had to say about him; it also fits, I see in retrospect, with my sense of how well he used mobile phones as interruptions-that-aren’t.)

That intercutting and mixing in of real and pseudo-real references and instruction books and print outs and the like, especially in that first great breakthrough The Andromeda Strain, was very much a thing of the sixties, flashed around in science fiction like Stand on Zanzibar and with roots in Dos Passos and the collage-y, found-art aspects of Burroughs and related beats; I remember as a kid being completely baffled by the inclusion of technical specifications from ad copy for a rocket launcher or something similar in a Jerry Cornelius story, and also entirely but somewhat thrillingly unclear about which things in the Andromeda Strain were made up. It makes me wonder if Michael Crichton read New Worlds; seems entirely plausible, not least because of the year in Cambridge in the mid 1960s. If so he found a far more lucrative way to cash in on some of the same experimental techniques and catastrophic concerns. (Parts of Mike Harrison’s New Worlds critique of Stand on Zanzibar in 1969 could well be applied to Crichton: Mike found the Brunner  “…marred by a lack of metaphor. Brunner is an inventive writer; his ability to theorise and document a feasible future is undeniable. But his success in evoking that future through images is limited…”)

Crichton, though, foreswore the future, except to the degree that it was already perceivable in the present (maybe his interest in collages/intercutting bore a trace of Burroughs’s belief that “when you cut into the present the future leaks out.”) This was one of the reasons that I think calling him a sort-of science fiction writer, as Mark Lawson does in a nice appreciation, is as far as one can go in that direction (the fact that Lawson seems quite to have approved of Crichton is another reason to doubt that he was really SF, a genre for which Mark gives every indication of having no sympathy at all). Crichton’s not-quite-SF-ness  was part of the argument of that New Yorker piece (quote contains spoilers)

Crichton is forever describing things that could change the world—but don’t. The Andromeda strain of space germs mutates into harmlessness and goes away; the lost city of the Congo is wiped from the map by lava; in “Sphere,” the discoverers of the extraterrestrial artifact of untold power use that power to wish it into retroactive nonexistence. The fact that Crichton has no interest in showing what might have happened is what makes him a writer of suspense fiction, rather than of science fiction. A science-fiction writer would naturally want to see what would happen if the technologies stayed out of control (as most do), and might even want to ask whether the consequences would be all bad (as they often aren’t). Might not free-range dinosaurs make Costa Rica an even more interesting place than it is today? What if nanoswarms offered promise as well as peril? “Prey,” with its kill-them-all-and-get-out approach, is neither as frightening nor as fascinating as Greg Bear’s novelette of twenty years ago, “Blood Music,” in which the characters, transformed by the nanotechnology within them, become both far more and much less than human.

The fact that Crichton read and brooded over his critics is pretty well attested, and so it wasn’t just an immensely exaggerated sense of self importance that led me to wonder idly whether Next, his last pre-posthumous novel, was in some way a reply to this critique. Like State of Fear it is rambly, but in this case more happily so, and its broad sweep means that its various genies can’t be bottled back up at the end — it has an openness to the future that I hadn’t seen in his work before. It will be interesting to see what the posthumous book is like — and sad there will be no more.

Picture of Crichton by Jon Chase; will be taken down if he objects



Carl Zimmer’s “Microcosm”
July 20, 2008, 10:50 am
Filed under: Books, Published stuff

I just had the pleasure of reviewing Carl‘s “Microcosm” (Amazon UK | US) for the Sunday Times. Excerpt:

If you are interested in how living things work down at the cellular level, then this is a good time to be alive. It is not, however, an equally good time to be reading popular-science books. While evolution gets a lot of ink devoted to it, in part because it is fascinating and in part because some people, absurdly, continue to see it as problematic, the molecular processes that evolution shapes go comparatively unsung. Books seeking to explain quarks or superstrings are easy to find, reflecting the belief that physics is more profound the smaller the scale at which it occurs. But a similar approach doesn’t hold for biology, and books seeking to explain the building of a cell wall, or the mechanics of replicating a DNA molecule, or the central importance of adenosine triphosphate to everything you will ever do, are hard to come by.

This is one of the reasons why Carl Zimmer’s elegant and engaging Microcosm is so welcome. The promise of the title is that highly specific knowledge about the workings of one unobtrusive and unspectacular creature can reveal fundamental things about the world at large, and the promise is fulfilled in more ways than most readers would, I suspect, think possible. It shows quite nicely that, in the right hands, molecular biology is a lot more revealing about life in general than particle physics is about stuff in general…

Perhaps the phrase that will resonate with me longest, though, is the one he uses to frame the discussion of E. coli as a workhorse of biotechnology and a proving ground for the more ambitious redesigns of life – “playing nature” – so much richer in its implications than the tediously Faustian “playing God”. If you want to get a clearer idea of the sort of nature that science can now play with, this is the book for you.

You can read the whole review here. Much more, unsurprisingly, on The Loom, Carl’s blog.



Arthur C. Clarke, 1917-2008
March 19, 2008, 10:54 am
Filed under: Books, Nature writing

From Profiles of the Future

One thing seems certain. Our galaxy is now in the brief springtime of its life—a springtime made glorious by such brilliant blue-white stars as Vega and Sirius, and, on a more humble scale, our own Sun. Not until all these have flamed through their incandescent youth, in a few fleeting billions of years, will the real history of the universe begin.

It will be a history illuminated only by the reds and infrareds of dully glowing stars that would be almost invisible to our eyes; yet the sombre hues of that all-but-eternal universe may be full of colour and beauty to whatever strange beings have adapted to it. They will know that before them lie, not the millions of years in which we measure eras of geology, nor the billions of years which span the past lives of the stars, but years to be counted literally in the trillions.

They will have time enough, in those endless aeons, to attempt all things, and to gather all knowledge. They will be like gods, because no gods imagined by our minds have ever possessed the powers they will command. But for all that, they may envy us, basking in the bright afterglow of creation; for we knew the universe when it was young.

Minehead blue by Gary Neaman, all rights reserved

Pictures: Hubble ultra deep field image from NASA; “Minehead Blue” by Gary Newman, all rights reserved (and with many thanks)



Electric Beeches
January 11, 2008, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Books, By, with or from EtS, Nature writing, Trees

Beech tree by TreehuggerOver the holiday I read Richard Mabey’s Beechcombings (Amazon UK), a fascinating and enjoyable book about which I may well have more to say, but which I currently wish simply to digest and to put into the context of some other current reading.

However, this passage from Edward Carpenter (mystical socialist and, wikilegedly, the man who introduced the sandal into Britain) that he quotes in a chapter called “Electric Beeches” struck such a chord of recognition with me that I thought I’d share it here, along with the passage in Eating the Sun it reminded me of:

It was a beech, standing somewhat isolated, and still leafless in quite early spring. Suddenly I was aware of its skyward-reaching arms and upturned fingertips, as if some vivid life (or electricity) was streaming through them into the spaces of heaven, and of its roots plunged into the earth and drawing the same energies from below. The day was quite still and there was no movement in the branches, but in that moment the tree was no longer a separate or separable organism, but a vast being ramifying far into space, sharing and uniting the life of earth and sky, and full of the most amazing activity.

— Pagan and Christian Creeds, 1904

Now reverse the polarity:

Think of a beech tree in winter, its leaves lost, its architecture revealed in dark lines against cold grey cloud. Do what Robin Hill used to urge his children to do to cultivate the artist’s eye—take away the tree’s established “common sense” context by turning round, bending over and looking at it upside down through your legs. Its growth looks less like something pushed from the earth than it does something drawn from the sky. Its limbs, branches and twigs spread into the air like ink into blotting paper or cracks spreading through glass, embodying something between desire and transubstantiation.

The tree’s form tells the truth. The tree grows into the air because it grows out of the air. The bulk of the tree is not made from the soil beneath it—indeed, the soil is in large part made by the tree. Both soil and tree are made from carbon drawn from the sky above. Trees are built from sun and wind and rain. The land is just a place to stand.

— Eating the Sun, 2007

“No longer a separable organism” strikes a strong chord with me, and “ramifying into space” always seems like a good idea. Most crucially, “Sharing and uniting the life of earth and sky”, as Carpenter had it, is more or less what photosynthesis does, and as such what I set out to celebrate. But it does it by pumping celestial energies into the earth, not vice versa. As in electric circuits of a more mundane sort, the earth is the sink, not the source.

Beech tree picture from Treehugger, under a creative commons license. And while we’re at it here are some more beeches from talented people on Flickr



Review: Jim Lovelock in Prospect
November 23, 2007, 8:22 am
Filed under: Books, Earth history, Reviews received

Prospect cover december 2007After my having written about Jim for a couple of decades, Jim now gets to write about me. And he says kind things (for what it’s worth, I think this piece was almost certainly written before I heaped praise on him in Time).

Adverse climate change makes this a most important and timely book—not just for scientists, but for anyone who can think. Oliver Morton writes so engagingly that it reads as a well-crafted biography of the earth on behalf of the plant kingdom, tracing its evolution from tiny cyanobacteria 3.5bn years ago to the giant trees of today. Unlike a botanical text, Eating the Sun reveals the intricate chemical mechanisms by which sunlight is used by plants and how the sun powers everything that matters on earth.

Morton’s book is also about earth science, my own Gaia theory and the lives of the scientists most involved. He explains why Gaia theory is still regarded as a heresy against orthodox science. From my viewpoint he is very fair, especially since many of his witnesses are passionate defenders of orthodoxy

[…]The key to understanding why the earth is growing too hot for comfort is to understand that it is in some sense alive. Morton clearly presents a vision of a living planet, albeit one that would appear eccentric to life scientists … Soon the incremental heating from the earth itself will exceed our inputs and then further heating is unstoppable. Fortunately for us, earth history suggests that positive feedback will come to a natural stop and temperatures will stabilise five degrees above the present. The idea that we can stabilise rising temperature at some convenient level, say just two or three degrees above the pre-industrial norm, is probably the delusion of computer modellers.

[…] What makes this book so good is the way that Morton, as well as dealing with the issues, gives us portraits of the leading personalities. I was especially moved to be reminded of that rare figure Bob Spicer. Spicer is a real naturalist—one who wears muddy boots. Not one of those whose view is limited to a computer screen, like the environmental scientist who once said, “With a click of a mouse I can change the whole earth.” … A few good scientists bring us what Nasa calls “ground truth”—the solid facts we can rely on. Men and women like them grow rarer, as those who manage science believe that research money is better spent on modelling and brainstorming sessions than on messy and dangerous experiments and observations in some distant field. We … seem to have lost the checks and balances that were part of our earlier class-based society, one that scorned egalitarianism but welcomed merit.

Read the whole thing over over at Prospect.

And while logging media coverage, here’s something nice, suprising and odd — an appearance in a “books of the year” list. Nice for the obvious reasons, surprising because the Spectator is not necessarily a place that I would have expected so to appear (and Gary Dexter is not someone I know or know much of) and odd because I doubt anyone else will ever pair me up with Les Dawson (whose work as a science fiction writer had previously passed me by — a good thing, says Langford). But odd doesn’t mean unwelcome, or unininteresting — IDIC, as we say on Vulcan:

I bought Les Dawson’s Secret Notebooks (JR Books, £15.99) to see if it could furnish an explanation of why Les wrote A Time Before Genesis, the only serious fiction he ever produced, a disturbing novel of alien conspiracy, sexual mutilation and global apocalypse. Unfortunately it couldn’t, being mainly scribblings for his show spots and monologues — but it contained some gems of Dawsonian surrealism, such as: ‘I came from a very poor neighbourhood. Petty theft was rife. It got to the stage where we had to brand the greenfly.’ Continuing with the horticultural theme, Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet by Oliver Morton (Fourth Estate, £25) was a timely book. After 400 wide-ranging pages it was difficult to gainsay the author’s conclusion that the best prospect for future energy generation is solar: ‘new technologies that sit in the space between the photovoltaic cell and the leaf’.



Venteriana
October 21, 2007, 11:44 am
Filed under: Books, Published stuff

Venter book coverA bunch of reviews this weekend for Craig Venter’s “A Life Decoded” (Amazon UK | US). Venter is of direct relevance for this blog because of his interest in using synthetic biology to save the world with better energy sources and carbon sinks. He’s also of relevance because he’s part of one of the great science stories of the past few decades. Here’s an extract from the book in The Guardian (and here’s The Great Beyond’s take on the “synthetic life is just round the corner” news story that went with it).

First review — Clive Cookson in the FT, who pairs the book with Jim Watson’s “Avoid boring people” (Amazon UK | US):

Enjoyment of the comforts of life is one thing that the two authors have in common. Both were born into families that counted themselves as middle class but were financially hard-pressed. Both were motivated initially more by the joy of scientific discovery than financial reward but, as they saw opportunities to accumulate wealth, they did not hesitate to seize them. […]

Watson, born in 1928, writes – and acts – in a way that seems quaintly old-fashioned compared with Venter, born in 1946. The difference shows up particularly in their attitude to love, sex and marriage. Watson’s pursuit of what he consistently calls “pretty girls” remains largely unsuccessful until the age of 40, when he meets and marries Liz Lewis, a 19-year-old student. Venter, on the other hand, describes sex with a series of girlfriends from the age of 16 onwards, in a manner that would be unthinkable for Watson. (At 16, Watson’s passion was spotting rare birds on the shores of Lake Michigan with his father, a keen amateur ornithologist.) Last year Venter became engaged to Heather Kowalski, his public relations executive, who will be his third wife.

While both men are self-evident egotists, Venter comes across as a more forceful character. There is something almost otherworldly about Watson, as if he does not know what effect he is having on people…Venter, on the other hand, knows exactly what he is doing, whether he is taking a physical risk for sheer exhilaration, such as deliberately sailing a yacht through a storm, or a scientific risk by spending many millions of dollars on unproven DNA sequencing machines … Watson and Venter are the first two people to have had their individual genomes sequenced. Watson has revealed his personal DNA on the Cold Spring Harbor website, in the hope that this will encourage the development of “personalized medicine” – identifying and preventing diseases to which we are genetically prone before they appear. The only exception, withheld for reasons of family privacy, is the ApoE gene, variants of which are associated with Alzheimer’s and heart disease. Venter has gone further, interspersing A Life Decoded with relevant revelations about his own genome. For example, he declares that, of the two copies of ApoE inherited from his parents, one is the harmless ApoE3 but the other is ApoE4 – which can predispose carriers to Alzheimer’s and heart disease. “By reading my own book of life, I have been given a chance to address these potential conditions, because they involve a biochemical imbalance that can be treated.” […]

Watson won his Nobel prize with Francis Crick 55 years ago. An award to Venter for his pioneering work on DNA sequencing is overdue.

Venter cover USIn passing, it’s worth mentioning that while the Craig is an egotist/egomaniac thing can perhaps be overdone, the iconography of the US cover (left) doesn’t help. He’s shown as important enough to block out the sun — and yet at the same time well lit from some other source off to his right.

Jan Witkowski in Nature provides another long, entertaining and thoughtful review. He concludes:

I have interacted with Venter over the years since our first meeting in 1990, and have heard many strong opinions of his character. A Life Decoded is a fair representation of the man. It may even be more revealing than he thinks.

But the differing published accounts of the Drosophila and human-genome sequencing projects are reminiscent of the fable about the blind men who described an elephant by touch. Reading the books by John Sulston and Georgina Ferry (The Common Thread: A Story of Science, Politics, Ethics and the Human Genome), James Shreeve (The Genome War: How Craig Venter Tried to Capture the Code of Life and Save the World), Michael Ashburner (Won for All: How the Drosophila Genome Was Sequenced) and now Venter’s contribution, it is scarcely credible that the protagonists lived through the same events. Robert Cook-Deegan’s The Gene Wars: Science, Politics, and the Human Genome provided an authoritative, inside-the-Beltway account of the early days of the Human Genome Project, but what we need is a record of the whole project by a team of historians with no axe to grind.

Such an endeavour should begin with a comprehensive collection of material, along the lines of Thomas Kuhn’s Sources for History of Quantum Physics. Kuhn and his colleagues interviewed the participants in, and found primary documents relating to, the greatest change in our view of the physical world since Isaac Newton. The greatest project in biology so far deserves to be similarly documented. The principals are still with us, as are their e-mails.

Chargaff called the heroes of The Double Helix “a new kind of scientist, one that could hardly have been thought of before science became a mass occupation, subject to, and forming part of, all the vulgarities of the communications media”. Four decades on, our infinitely more vulgar media has called Venter many things: maverick, publicity hound, risk-taker, brash, controversial, genius, manic, rebellious, visionary, audacious, arrogant, feisty, determined, provocative. His autobiography shows that they are all justified.

While I’ve not read the Ashburner, I don’t find the accounts to date quite that divergent (though I haven’t cross referenced them thoroughly). And more specifically, I think this call for a balanced overview is a touch unfair to James Shreeve, who wanted his magnificent “The Genome War” (Amazon UK | US) to be such a book. However, though Venter provided him with remarkable access to the events and their records, subject only to a three year non-disclosure agreement, the public effort was much less forthcoming. Francis Collins, while happy to be interviewed, would not give him the same level of access to the public programme. Nor would he provide access to records of the “G-5” coordinating meetings that the public programme held at the height of the human genome “race”; when Shreeve applied for those records under the Freedom of Information Act he had to work the request for the best part of a year before getting the records, which had almost all the salient details redacted. The reason was that the records were held to contain “commercial and financial information that is privileged and confidential”. As Shreeve notes in his book, “Considering the concerted efforts the Human Genome Project leaders made during the race to distinguish their totally free, totally public version of the genome from Celera’s [ie Venter’s] commercial one, the explanation sounds oddly discordant.”

My own take on the book is in the Sunday Times. Ruminative extract:

Genes will never say everything about a life, but they will say a lot. It will cost as much to lay down a full genome analysis for a child born 10 years hence as it will to lay down a case of port. And like the port, the analysis will improve with time, as more is learnt about the meaning of the subtleties encoded in our genes, and about how the pitfalls that appear there can be avoided with foresight.

These birthday genomes will mostly be read for possibilities; only rarely will a genetic destiny be fixed beyond avoidance. But retrospective readings will also be possible. It will be odd if the next 50 years do not bring molecular biographies of figures such as Stalin, Einstein, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher (and a revised edition of this book, tricked out with more revealing detail, might be expected a fair bit sooner). Odd, too, if a well-resolved genomic dimension does not add something to all these stories. [But] nobody yet has the language for combining genetic aperçus with more familiar representations of character and narrative. In A Life Decoded we might sense that Venter’s apparent genetic predisposition to attention-deficit disorder explains something about him – but we are hard put to say, within the context of a biography, quite what function such an explanation has. It doesn’t change who he was, or even how he was. Maybe it says something about what he could have been or couldn’t be, but how that might make him or us feel is not yet clear.

There is poetry in seeing Venter’s genome through the story of the life that made genome-reading possible and sensing that his genes, these subjects within the story, were also, in some way, its shapers. But the poetry depends on the reader’s imagination – it is largely absent from the text. I doubt any writer could as yet do justice to such a view of himself, let alone one whose interest is primarily in getting his side of a fascinating set of events down for posterity.

That said, at one point Venter does manage to convey something of the excitement we might experience when the stories of molecules and men are mixed more thoroughly. It comes when he describes his first experiments on the effects of adrenaline on cells grown in the lab: “I gradually moved the [adrenaline-coated] beads to kiss the heart cells, which immediately jumped to a new pace. In elation, and due to the same mechanism, my own heart jumped, too.” The molecular life can be a moving one.

For those not Venter’d out, Carl Zimmer is interviewing him for bloggingheads.tv (not yet seen)

Update: Georgina Ferry has a review of both the Venter and the Watson books in the Guardian. I have to say that it seems to me that her position as a co-author of a book about the same events by one of Venter’s adversaries (“The Common Thread” with John Sulston — Amazon UK | US) should have been made clear to the reader.

Further update:Georgina tells me that she made such a clarification in the text buit it was edited out.

Pictures courtesy of publisher’s websites