Journalist Rachel Nuwer Takes Readers Into the World of Illegal Wildlife Trafficking

I am thrilled to share today’s guest review of Poached (Sept 2018) by Rachel Love Nuwer. Our reviewer Kimberly Riskas brings us a fascinating look into the world of wildlife trafficking through Nuwer’s book. I think you will enjoy reading her thoughts as much as I did.

About the Reviewer:

Kimberly Riskas is a freelance science writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She is passionate about the environment and has spent most of the last decade working on field-based marine conservation projects. Her PhD on illegal fishing took her to Southeast Asia and piqued her interest in wildlife trafficking. She has written for The Conversation, Cosmos Magazine, Sciworthy and others. Follow her on Twitter at @KimberlyRiskas.


It’s an uncomfortable fact: humans are hunting, trading, collecting, and eating Earth’s wildlife out of existence. Trade in animals and their parts is now a global, multi-billion-dollar enterprise, satiating consumer demand for wildlife-derived luxury items, traditional medicine, and pets. But much of this trade is illegal, and demand shows no immediate signs of dying off. With the fate of so many species tied to humankind’s dubious moral compass, what does the future hold? How did things get this bad? And, more importantly, what should we do next?

Conservation ecologist-turned-journalist Rachel Love Nuwer mounts a globe-trotting investigation to answer these questions in her new book, Poached: Inside the Dark World of Wildlife Trafficking. The result is an absorbing and powerful book that lays bare the forces driving the global wildlife trade. Part travelogue, part meticulous exposé, Poached is an unflinching, first-hand account that is at once confronting, engrossing, and—unexpectedly—full of hope.

To delve into the subject of wildlife trafficking is to open a Pandora’s box of complexity, but Nuwer guides her narrative with a masterful hand. In the book’s first pages, we meet a Vietnamese hunter haunted by nightmares of the animals he has killed. When we learn that he started hunting to finance treatment for his young son’s illness, we begin to see that this dark world may not be so black and white after all.

Later, in Hanoi, we meet a young Vietnamese architect who, defying Nuwer’s expectations of an educated millennial, uses tiger bone paste, bear bile, and rhino horn for medicinal purposes under direction of his trusted family doctor. While there is an understandable (if Western) tendency to villainize poachers and users, Nuwer has a remarkable ability to highlight their humanity. In a South African prison, she finds herself feeling sorry for a homesick Thai man jailed for his involvement with a barely-legal rhino hunting scheme. Though clearly an animal lover, she refrains from making outright value judgments on these people; as we are shown throughout the book, culture and circumstance are powerful motivations, and changing either is a slow process.

Besides, players in the global wildlife trade are as diverse as the animals they exploit. Those actually doing the poaching—like the Vietnamese hunter—are at the bottom of the hierarchy, often trapped in a cycle of poverty that encourages further killing. Further up are the fences, middlemen, dealers, and distributors, who may or may not operate within organised crime syndicates. Add to this list the corrupt police officers, customs agents, airline employees, and politicians turning a blind eye, and the sheer magnitude of the trade stands out with devastating clarity.

There is an international law against wildlife trafficking, but its implementation is not perfect—as Nuwer discovers when she attends a meeting of its signatories. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (or CITES, for short) is plagued by infighting and last-minute deal brokering. Getting everyone to agree to protect a species can be a slow task. Even when positive decisions are made, Nuwer’s former colleague Daniel Wilcox points out that “it’s then up to countries to actually follow through, which is something entirely different.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed with despair at this point, you are not alone. Nuwer herself gives voice to this anguish in a tragicomedic aside: “Oh god, I thought. The animals are all gonna die.” But the antidote to this pessimism comes in the form of the people working tirelessly on the ground. We are introduced to a pantheon of passionate men and women dedicating their lives to stopping the slaughter. We are also reminded of the steep cost paid by those trying to protect animals—exemplified the story of Esnart Paundi, a ranger who was hacked to death by machete-wielding elephant poachers in Zambia.

Despite the gravity of the topic, Poached also includes some beautifully poignant moments. At Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Nuwer meets Sudan, the last male northern white rhino on Earth. Unsure of how to react during her photo-op with the doomed beast, she becomes reflective:

“Beneath Sudan’s bark-like skin, I could feel the slow heaves of his breath. 
I turned and smiled awkwardly at Tim, who had volunteered to be my photographer, unsure of whether I should look somber or happy. It was hard not to think of the finality of extinction in the presence of this deceptively placid animal, who stood so very close to the black hole of oblivion.

“‘Bye Sudan,’ I quietly said instead. ‘Thanks.’” 

Whether you are a die-hard conservationist or a complete newcomer to the field, Poached is a compelling read. Nuwer’s narration is fact laden but well-paced, with gory details used carefully to preserve their impact. The autobiographical glimpses she provides paint a picture of an impressive but endearingly relatable human (jet-lagged, she yearns to sneak a car nap in between interviews at a South African rhino farm). If empathy for others is the way to save the world’s remaining wildlife, then Poached should be required reading by anyone with skin in the game—which is to say, all of us.


Guest reviewers bring new perspectives and important voices to Read More Science. I am always looking for reviewers. Please let me know you are interested and which book you might like to review by sending an email to Sarah at sciencebookreviews@gmail.com.

#SciArt and #Inktober: Week 3 Featured Art

Featured science art has been a part of the Read More Science Book Club monthly newsletter for a few months now, but for #Inktober, I’m bringing it to the blog to celebrate all the science-inspired art of October. Read More Science is proud to support the scientific artists and illustrators working hard every day this month to present beautiful #SciArt to the online community. Artwork is an important aspect of science communication! At the end of each week in October, I will post a round up of work that caught my eye for you to enjoy here on readmorescience.com.

You can help support these artists and their work by following them on Twitter, purchasing artwork (if they sell online), or simply by liking and retweeting their #Inktober work. Follow along with this Twitter list to stay up to date: https://twitter.com/IAmSciArt/lists/inktober2018sciartists. If you see any art you’d like to share or would like your own to be featured, tag me on Twitter or Instagram @ReadMoreScience.

We’re wrapping up Inktober now, and Halloween is just around the corner. Enjoy these little pieces of art – this week includes a frightening marsupial mole, stars and galaxies, bacteria, some anatomy, an impressive hawk, damselflies, an explanation of the stickiness of anemones, and…mud!

FEATURED #SCIART FOR INKTOBER: WEEK THREE









As always, thanks for stopping by the blog, and if you have a moment would you consider signing up for the Read More Science Book Club, my monthly newsletter? By subscribing, you’ll be automatically entered to win free science books in upcoming giveaways. This month’s giveaway includes beautifully illustrated botany bookmarks, as well as a copy of James T. Costa’s book Darwin’s Backyard.

Happy reading!

Sarah

Neuroscientist’s Award-Winning Book Explores the Science of the Teenage Brain

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Source: The Guardian, photo by Graeme Robertson

Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain by award-winning neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore received this year’s Royal Society Investment Science Book Prize. Through her own research, Blakemore reveals the secrets of the adolescent brain in her important book.

Adolescence is biologically defined as the period after which puberty has began to the point at which an individual reaches biological adulthood, around 25 or 27. In her book, Blakemore shares with readers why these developmental years are so crucial for making us into who we are as adults – and why our brains continue to develop from late adolescence onward. Blakemore, a neuroscientist specializing in adolescence, shares her expertise and insight on this.

Perhaps what is most striking about Blakemore’s book is the fact that she draws largely upon her own research. In addition to citing other studies that support her own conclusions, Blakemore’s firsthand experience studying cognitive development in adolescents make her her own most credible source. She’s fully invested in the subject matter of her book, and passionately advocates for taking the behavior of teenagers and young adults more seriously than our society does. We should not be shrugging off such an important developmental stage in our lives — besides, we were all kids at one point.

Blakemore’s writing is reflective on her personal experiences as well as her studies, which she outlines in clear, specific detail. She carefully recounts interesting approaches, findings, and conclusions, speaking in plain and straightforward language. All of this is very useful and informative to the reader, who for the first few chapters will be interested and fascinated by her work. But what Blakemore’s book seems to lack from start to finish are any profound observations that lend further meaning to her book than “Hey guys, let’s not shrug off teenagers just because they’re hormonal”. I kept waiting for a stroke of insight, a moment of surprise, or something climactic. But perhaps because I am young – still technically an adolescent in biological terms – I kept reading her conclusions and thinking, yeah, that makes sense, but didn’t we know that already?

However, the empathy and understanding through which Blakemore approaches her subject matter in this book is simple and wonderful. She earnestly wishes for teenagers to be taken more seriously than they are. Her intended audience appears to be adults who wish to better understand the adolescent brain, and her intention is to disband popular and misleading assumptions about teenage behaviors through sharing  important research on cognitive development. But her book isn’t astoundingly captivating or something that someone without a keen interest in science or the subject matter would be willing to pick up and pour over. Perhaps because of the award I expected something phenomenal – and Inventing Ourselves is certainly groundbreaking – but not my cup of tea.

I would recommend this book if you’re looking for an intellectual read and can take your time with it. I would definitely recommend it if you’ve got any stake in better understanding the brains of adolescents – if you have teenagers or if you are a counselor, or otherwise interested in psychology and neuroscience in adolescence.

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#SciArt and #Inktober: Week 2 Featured Art

Featured science art has been a part of the Read More Science Book Club monthly newsletter for a few months now, but for #Inktober, I’m bringing it to the blog to celebrate all the science-inspired art of October. Read More Science is proud to support the scientific artists and illustrators working hard every day this month to present beautiful #SciArt to the online community. Artwork is an important aspect of science communication! At the end of each week in October, I will post a round up of work that caught my eye for you to enjoy here on readmorescience.com.

You can help support these artists and their work by following them on Twitter, purchasing artwork (if they sell online), or simply by liking and retweeting their #Inktober work. Follow along with this Twitter list to stay up to date: https://twitter.com/IAmSciArt/lists/inktober2018sciartists. If you see any art you’d like to share or would like your own to be featured, tag me on Twitter or Instagram @ReadMoreScience.

Wow, the second week of October gave us some absolutely beautiful artwork! I hope you’ll enjoy the following snippets – I wish I could have included ALL of them, but you can find more on Twitter.

Featured #SciArt for Inktober: Week Two







Fascinating! Something I am currently studying in my marine ecology class this semester.




Thanks for stopping by my website to check out this amazing #SciArt! While you’re here, consider signing up for the Read More Science Book Club, a monthly newsletter for readers of popular science, nature writing, and nonfiction. You’ll be automatically entered to win free science books and other goodies in our monthly giveaways.

Read About the Remarkable Female Scientist Who Fought to Regulate Radiation

Gayle Greene’s The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Alice Stewart and the Secret of Radiation is an incredible overview of the life and work of Stewart, whose voice fills the pages and echoes through time to help readers better understand the field of radiology in the twentieth century.  Through extensive interviews with the indomitable Alice Stewart herself, and thorough research into the controversial issues of radiation and nuclear power in the twentieth century, Greene tells a story that deserves a place in the history books.

Who was Alice Stewart?

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Alice Stewart. Source

Dr. Alice Mary Stewart (1906-2002) “was a British physician and epidemiologist specializing in social medicine and the effects of radiation on health” (Alice Stewart, Wikipedia). She is known for being the first person to find a link between prenatal x-rays and childhood cancer, the reason that pregnant women today must avoid x-rays. She is also known for her study of the effects of radiation on workers at the Hanford plutonium production plant in Washington. Her work is still cited today by those who argue that low-level doses of radiation have lasting negative effects on our health.

Greene begins with Alice’s parents, particularly her mother, “who became a physician at a time when this was barely a possibility for a woman”.  Greene takes us through Alice’s life — the story of their large family, then Alice’s days at Cambridge. Alice was born in 1906, the third of eight children. She went on to study medicine at Cambridge, and shared with Greene the experience of her first physiology lecture:

It was a large room, an auditorium you entered from the rear with a long set of steps descending to the speaker’s podium in the front. I slipped in, hoping to take a seat as close to the back as possible. But when I stepped into the hall and took my first steps, the students, all male, began stomping, slowly and deliberately, in time with my steps. As I took my first step into that room, bang! came the sound of two hundred men stomping their feet in unison. I took my second step and the stomp was repeated. Every step I took, there was this stomp, stomp, stomp. My first instinct was to duck into a seat and disappear, but no — every row was blocked by the men. I was forced down to the front row, where I found three other girls and a Nigerian. These medical students had managed to segregate us out — they weren’t going to have anything to do with women or minority populations. I wasn’t whipped. I was stomped.” Alice Stewart

Although women women had been allowed to study medicine within the past few years, Greene notes, they were still yet to be accepted in the field. Throughout her education, as well as her career, Alice struggled to be recognized by her peers in medicine. Although she would come to be recognized by many as an expert in radiology, she fought sexist stereotypes her entire life — treatment that only served to smother her important, controversial work even further. Take into account the state of the world at her time of research – the budding of nuclear energy, the competition for nuclear weapons – and it seems as though the entire world was willing to turn their gaze away from her argument that these industries were killing their workers from radiation exposure.

Greene does an excellent job exploring this controversy in great detail as she examines the societal obstacles, as well as looking at the way Alice was treated as a woman in her field. As a reader, she is our guide through Alice’s life. But I don’t recommend starting with Greene’s introduction in chapter one. Though I was trained as an English major and always read footnotes, check citations, and never skip the introductions or forewords, I don’t think it’s worth it for The Woman Who Knew Too Much. This biography is much better experienced by diving into the second chapter, where Greene’s wonderful storytelling immediately sweeps you into the story. It almost feels as if she betrayed too much information in the introduction, and you won’t get a good feel for her writing style. However, it does allow the reader to meet Alice Stewart herself and lay the groundwork for how Greene ended up writing her biography in the first place, which is valuable backstory.

Aside from the introduction, the rest of the book is astoundingly intellectual and well-written. Green has put considerable effort into researching Alice Stewart’s work and interviewing the formidable scientist herself. This is an incredibly important biography – Gayle Greene has captured a picture of one of the most important and overlooked female scientists of history, and captured her brilliantly. Alice Stewart shines in Greene’s writing: her voice and personality is memorable, her work is fascinating, and perhaps most important, Greene is careful to put her in the context of culture at the time. Through a mix of reflection and action-filled description, Greene does an excellent job presenting a story worth telling. It’s a documentary and biography in one book.

Why is this worth reading about? Why would Greene have dedicated so much time into getting to know Alice Stewart and sharing her story with readers? The story of Alice Stewart is not only that of a scientist whose work was censored and barred in every way possible by the industry she fought to regulate, it’s the story of a woman who fought hard to be recognized in her field. It’s the story of a female scientist who rose to recognition through hard work, passion, and occasionally, sheer luck.

We need more stories like this to be told. We need more about the women who knew too much, women who were silenced and censored. In the context of our world today, we need women’s stories to be told, now more than ever.

Start with this one.

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#SciArt and #Inktober: Week 1 Featured Art

Featured science artwork has been a part of the monthly newsletter, but for #Inktober, I’m bringing it to the blog to celebrate the science-inspired art of October. Read More Science is proud to support the scientific artists working hard every day this month to present beautiful #SciArt to the online community. At the end of each week in October, I will post a round up of work that caught my eye for you to enjoy here on readmorescience.com!

You can help support these artists and their work by following them on Twitter, purchasing artwork (if they sell online), or simply by liking and retweeting their #Inktober work. Follow along with this Twitter list to stay up to date: https://twitter.com/IAmSciArt/lists/inktober2018sciartists.

Enjoy!

Featured #SciArt for Inktober






That’s it for this week’s featured #SciArt! Thanks for stopping by the website, maybe check out a book review while you’re here, sign up for the monthly newsletter, and start reading more books about science.

Happy reading (and inking!)

Sarah

 

Why Do Women Leave Science? Eileen Pollack’s Memoir Has Answers

Eileen Pollack was the first woman to graduate with a B.S. in physics from Yale. In many of her physics courses, she was the only woman in the room. Constantly doubted, discouraged, and underestimated, Pollack struggled to find her place in the world of physics. Instead, recognized for her talent as a writer, she decided to turn away from physics entirely and pursue a graduate degree in writing. The Only Woman in the Room is her attempt to understand why.

Pollack’s raw and vulnerable memoir is like a cold white light shining illuminating the harsh realities many women pursuing STEM careers have experienced. Her memoir rings true because it isn’t just her story. She’s addressing the elephant in the room: the real reasons that many talented, intelligent women ultimately turn away from STEM.

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Source: Uprising Radio

In one scene, Pollack recalls bringing a cooking pan, spoon, aluminum foil and a battery to her junior high science class. Her teacher gave the failed experiment a disappointing  grade. But without an adult’s guidance, she had struggled to complete the assigned experiment. Pollack argues that this is just one example of how young women are not encouraged to go into sciences — if she had been a boy, an adult would have been more likely to guide her through the experiment safely and successfully. Without this crucial source of mentorship and encouragement, the young and bright Eileen was left behind — all while her male peers received the resources and support they needed to pursue science.

“A child needed more than a copy of the World Book Encyclopedia to pull off a project like the one I attempted,” writes Pollack. “Even the brightest kid needs a sympathetic grown-up.”

Pollack’s memoir is powerful because her recollection of these seemingly small childhood occurrences — ones that many women can relate to — pieces together the full picture of her frustrating experience trying to pursue science. The mosaic shows sexism, stereotypes, and unjust expectations that the young Pollack desperately tries to overcome and ignore. But with all of her mental energy spent on competing with boys, standing up for herself, and trying to prove something, the idea of doing that through a graduate degree (and for the rest of her life) makes her sick to her stomach.

Physicists are expected to dedicate their life to their work. Men in physics during Pollack’s time didn’t need to wash dishes, do laundry, or take care of children. And Pollack was attracted to many of the young physicists she met — what if she married one, she wondered, who would take care of the children then? While a male physicists could get away with having a wife to take care of him, who would have dinner ready for her when she came home from the lab? These seemingly insignificant details build up to form the wall that many women, instead of trying to climb over and get into to the sciences, end up turning away from. Pollack is a gifted writer and has done great things with her life outside of physics. But her memoir isn’t a success story.

Her experience is like that of many other women who tried to pursue physics and felt put off by the environment, their male peers, and the way they were treated. Nautilus has an illuminating essay called The Parallel Universes of a Woman in Science by Kate Marvel that also addresses this issue. While reading it recently, I was struck by how much she reminded me of Pollack. If Marvel’s essay and beautiful writing fascinates you, it’s worth taking the time to read The Only Woman in the Room and explore the topic more in depth. Again, this kind of memoir-writing addresses the elephant in the room — why women leave science. And we need to talk about it.

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The Parallel Universes of a Woman in Science

“In high school, my physics books had been composed of words, while the same chapters in my college textbook were filled with diagrams and equations. Rather than see this as a warning — not only had I not learned the material in this book, I had not learned the material I would need to learn the material — I couldn’t wait to confront the first real academic challenge I had ever faced,” writes Pollack. But later, “[t]hat excitement turned to alarm as [the professor] raced across the stage, weaving equations I couldn’t unravel and telling jokes the humor of which eluded me. I hadn’t understood anything he said the spring before, but I figured I had arrived at the movie late, and if I came in at the beginning, I would understand everything I had missed. The truth is, if you don’t know the language in which a movie is being shown, you won’t have any better grip on the plot if you come in at the beginning than at the end.” Worst of all, the boy to her left leaned back and muttered, “Jesus…we covered this shit in high school.”

Pollack’s book explores the fear she feels from perceiving herself as behind her male peers. But as she comes to find out later, her lack of confidence stems from incorrectly perceiving of her abilities. She’s behind her male peers because she’s been denied the same learning opportunities they’ve been freely given.

The Only Woman in the Room shines in the final chapters. Pollack’s writing is vulnerable, honest, and logical. It’s unclear whether she set out to touch her reader or better understand herself, but she seems to have achieved both by the end of the book. It’s worth reading whether or not you studied science in college. It’s worth reading whether you are a man or a woman. And it’s absolutely worth reading if you are a lost, anxious college student like myself, worrying about whether I am making the right choices.

Eileen Pollack’s memoir is one that will withstand the lengths of time as one of the most important accounts of women’s experiences in science.