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the dancing matrix

Marc Langston marcl at titan.oit.umass.edu
Thu Mar 9 09:02:09 EST 1995

Walter Ogston (ogston at HOBBES.KZOO.EDU) wrote:
: Deborah Wisti-Peterson, nyneve at u.washington.edu writes:
: <snip> 
: > has anyone read _the dancing matrix_? if so, what did you think
: > about it?
: > 
: Yes, I have looked at it but I put it down after a couple of
: chapters because I have more interesting things to read.  It
: seemed to me like a publicity write-up for Stephen Morse.  Not
: that I have anything against Morse, but if you want to learn
: about viruses you should go to more than one source for your
: information.  On the other hand it does seem to be the most
: serious "popular" book about viruses out there.  Judging by what
: I have read on the list, the other two (i.e. Hot Zone and Coming
: Plague) are not as good.  
: ----------------------------------------------------------------------
: Walter Ogston				ogston at hobbes.kzoo.edu
: Department of Biology			Phone: (616)337-7010
: Kalamazoo College			Fax:   (616)337-7251
: Kalamazoo, MI 49006-3295

i'm reading "a dancing matrix" now, and i agree that it is better than 
other virus popularizers i've read. it's more science oriented than "hot 
zone" and doesn't have the tabloid feel to it.  i have a beef with it, 
though.  do you ever suspect that some scientists quoted in the press are 
motivated by politcal beliefs, and use questionable evidence to support 
their views? well, that's what this book is like. henig's thesis is that 
human behavior plays a greater role in the spread of viruses than does 
genetic mutation.  she complains that many scientists make humans out to 
be doe-eyed innocents who are attacked by viruses that sort of pop out of 
nowhere, while ignoring human behavior as a factor.  as humans move into 
previously uninhabited envrionments, like rain forests, they become 
exposed to new viruses. global warming, too, brings viruses to people. 

these are good points worth considering. but, henig makes suspicious use 
of facts. she explains that viruses eventually reach an equilibrium in 
nature, and animals can carry them without harm. then, humans intrude, 
get sick, and spread viruses. as an example she uses the marburg and 
ebola reston outbreaks. on page 33 she implies that these viruses had 
reached an equilibrium in their monkey hosts. this isn't true, though, is 
it? i thought monkeys were dying from marburg and ebola reston. yet she 
uses these two outbreaks as evidence to support her thesis.

and then these irritating statements appear in the book, like "the 
average annual temperature of the earth is increasing every year". what 
does this mean, exactly?

there have got to be better books out there suitable for lay readers.
walter, could you please recommend a few?


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