Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

New books

By Stephen Luntz

Your guide to new science books this month.

Icon in Crisis: The Reinvention of CSIRO

Ron Sandland and Graham Thompson, UNSW Press, $49.99

After decades as Australia’s scientific champion, the future of CSIRO came into question around the millennium. After cutbacks in the late 1990s, the 2001 federal Budget saw an increase in money for science, but none of it for the CSIRO. Ron Sandland led CSIRO’s response, the National Flagships Initiative, which he describes as both the biggest shake-up in CSIRO’s history and a huge success. In Icon in Crisis Sandland looks at the benefits CSIRO has gained from the restructure, and the price paid.

Among the Islands: Adventures in the Pacific

Tim Flannery, Text, $24.99

When Tim Flannery was a curator of mammals at the Australian Museum he surveyed the most remote islands of Melanesia for native fauna. The small bats he found there turned out to be much less interesting than the path he needed to take to discover them and the people he encountered on his journey. Among the Islands explains the scientific groundwork that shaped Flannery, eventually leading him to his position at the forefront of the climate change debate.

Sentinel Chickens

Peter Doherty, Melbourne University Press, $29.99

Legend has it that geese saved Rome by warning of invaders, but Nobel Prize winner Peter Doherty argues that modern society is just as dependent on avian alarms. From the disease detectors from which the book gets its name to the canary in the coal mine and raptors endangered by DDT, birds provide early warnings we ignore at our peril.

Combining examples from his own research with work from very different fields, Doherty gives meaning to his subtitle What Birds Tell Us About Our Health and the World.

The Cochlear Story

Veronica Bondarew and Peter Seligman, CSIRO, $49.95

Prof Peter Seligman worked on the cochlear implant for 30 years, in the process helping one-quarter of a million people hear. Veronica Bondarew’s interest lies in organisational behaviour, and the two combine to explain both the technical and institutional challenges involved in this outstanding Australian achievement.

Fallout from Fukushima

Richard Broinowski, Scribe, $27.95

Like his sister, Helen Caldicott, Richard Broinowski is a long-time campaigner against nuclear power. He is also a retired diplomat, having been ambassador to Vietnam and South Korea among other posts. Broinowski has travelled to the area around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant and collected evidence to build a case that the disaster is far worse than has been revealed.

In Fallout from Fukushima Broinowski places the nuclear disaster in the context of events such as Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, and considers the psychological consequences on those he describes as permanent nuclear refugees, as well as the physical effects of radiation.