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See Inside August 2010

Recommended: The Changing Arctic Landscape

Books and recommendations from Scientific American

The Changing Arctic Landscape
by Ken D. Tape. University of Alaska Press, 2010
Photographer Ken D. Tape pairs old and new images of sites in northern Alaska to document the impact of climate change on the Arctic.

EXCERPT
The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years

by Sonia Shah. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

Every year malaria infects more than 500 million people; every 30 seconds someone dies from it. Journalist Sonia Shah examines the various factors that have allowed the disease to flourish despite scientists’ best efforts to combat it. Where malaria is endemic, many people, Shah says, do not accept that the disease is transmitted solely by mosquitoes, or else they consider it largely benign. Here she describes how Malawi’s dominant ethnic group, the Chewa, view it.

“For us, malaria is a disease caused by a protozoan parasite transmitted by mosquito.
For the Lake Malombe Chewa, malaria—which the locals call malungo, and lump together with other malaria-like illnesses—is a disease caused by mosquitoes ... and spirits and jealousy and hexes and bad weather and hard work and dirty water and rotten food, among other things....

“Like intelligent design and other forms of magical thinking, these beliefs are not unrelated to actual shortcomings in the scientific explanations with which they compete. Every time mosquitoes bit Lake Malombe Chewa and they did not fall ill with malungo, their disbelief in the mosquito theory of malaria transmission strengthened. Ditto for every time they took an antimalarial drug and it failed to work. If the drug didn’t work, this meant that the malungo was not caused by mosquitoes.

“What these beliefs mean is that while our malaria is an eminently preventable disease, for the Chewa, as for other rural peoples living traditional lives, it is anything but. Malaria is everywhere, caused by everything....

“It isn’t that the Chewa villagers don’t understand that destroying mosquitoes’ larval habitats, or sleeping under bed nets, or taking prophylactic drugs, or sealing up their houses, helps prevent malaria. And it isn’t that they aren’t interested in preventing malaria.... It is that, as with people everywhere, there’s little interest in fixes that are time-consuming or temporary, or that promise only—in their minds—marginal efficacy. Even if some malungo can be alleviated by people avoiding mosquito bites, they can’t possibly avoid exposure to the weather, or to hard work, or to the envy of their neighbors.”

ALSO NOTABLE
The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements
by Sam Kean. Little, Brown, 2010

The Book of Shells: A Life-Size Guide to Identifying and Classifying Six Hundred Seashells
by M. G. Harasewych and Fabio Moretzsohn. University of Chicago Press, 2010

Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery
by Stephen J. Pyne. Viking, 2010

The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes from a Climate-Changed Planet
by Heidi Cullen. HarperCollins, 2010

Here’s Looking at Euclid: A Surprising Excursion through the Astonishing World of Math
by Alex Bellos. Free Press, 2010

The Artificial Ape: How Technology Changed the Course of Human Evolution
by Timothy Taylor. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010

The Youth Pill: Scientists at the Brink of an Anti-Aging Revolution
by David Stipp. Current, 2010

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