Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The human genome war from a fun perspective

So I was browsing around Amazon because I have a new Evolution Textbook that just came out. And when I searched for "genomics" and "evolution" up popped a "Listmania" list (which I had never heard of before) for Books about J. Craig Venter. And then I saw a new book by Craig - his autobiography "A life decoded: my genome: my life" coming out in October. And that's when I discovered that the people who bought his book (even though it has not come out yet) also bought
So people apparently link Craig to atheism and Einstein. So I said to myself - what about other books by the genome-war folks? What else did people buy when they bought them? This is where the fun began.

Francis Collins: The Language of God.
So apparently, Francis has the religious readers on his side but nobody seems to link him to science in much of any way.

John Sulston's a Common Thread
So it seems Sulston has gotten all the people interested in science history.

Michael Ashburner's Won for All
So I guess Ashburner gets the people interested in the science itself.

I am sure there is more fun to be had here with these. And as my brother pointed out - the Amazon function here of listing what other people bought does not say it is representative in any way (that is, they are trying to sell books so perhaps they list the most popular other books not the ones most commonly linked to the book in question). But it is kind of voyeuristic and fun to see the types of books people are buying in association with these books.


  1. I love this kind of informal social anthropological study. I think the results aren't far from the truth and can be considered a rather accurate zeitgeist!

  2. Well, I'm not sure that Ashburner really "got people interested in the science" so much as the people who would read "Won for All" are more likely to be professional biologists than in the cases of the other books you mention.

    "Won for All" is a fun book, containing the sort of gossipy stories that most scientists limit to chats over beer, but unless you have a good idea already about who the various players in genomics and Drosophila genetics are, the anecdotes would lose a lot of their humor.

    The Craig/atheism link isn't that surprising -- if I recall he contributed a back-cover endorsement to one of the recent books on atheism.

  3. Well I guess this is what I get for not having a copy editor for the blog - Jonathan what I said for Ashburner is "So I guess Ashburner gets the people interested in the science itself." What I meant was that the people who buy his book are the people interested in the science ... not that he ges people interested in science by reading his book.

  4. I agree it's fun to do this with Amazon, but let's keep in mind that it is nothing more than a ploy to sell books. In particular, these links are not bidirectional. If you look at Christopher Hitchens book, "God is not great," it doesn't link to Craig Venter. It does link to "Einstein: His Life and Universe," though (as well as Dawkins book, "The God Delusion", Al Gore's new book, and others). Ditto for the other books - they don't link to Venter.
    By the way, Hitchens' book is excellent, I just finished it. It's quite a rant, but an incredibly erudite one.

  5. Well, I agree the Amazon function is designed to maximize $$$$ for them. But as for the lack of reciprocity - I would not want it to be reciprocal anyway. I do not care what all the people who bought some linked book bought. I think it is curious to see what the people who bought these books also bought. Now if only Amazon was Open about their database we could see if it was just 1 person who bought the Einstein book, or a lot of people. Even better it would be fun to know where they work/are from. I will add the Hitchens book to my list, but the next one I want to read is Ashburners.