Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ellen Prager's "Chasing Science at Sea"

Ellen J. Prager is currently the chief scientist at the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius Reef Base, in the Florida Keys, and a freelance writer. Among her publications are The Oceans and Furious Earth: The Science and Nature of Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Tsunamis; a series of children’s books including Sand, Volcano, and Earthquakes with the National Geographic Society; and a children’s novel, Adventure on Dolphin Island.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Chasing Science at Sea: Racing Hurricanes, Stalking Sharks, and Living Undersea with Ocean Experts, and reported the following:
With consideration to Ford Madox Ford's statement "Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you." My answer has to be a politically astute, yet aggravatingly vague answer, all to appropriate just before an election – Yes and No.

Okay, I’m going to cheat just a little bit and include one sentence from page 98 as well:

“Our experiences and what we have learned from them far outweigh any of the discomforts or frustrations that we have had to endure. And when those moments of wonder, discovery, or scientific enlightenment do happen, it makes all the obstacles we’ve dealt with seem inconsequential and simply fodder for funny stories over cocktails. But surely it is worth it, both personally and for the invaluable knowledge we gain about the sea.”

Actually, that is all there is on page 99 as it is at the end of the chapter entitled, Overcoming Obstacles. While it is not exactly illustrative of the whole (there are only two full sentences on the page after all), this passage does reflect in many ways what I have tried to do with the book.

Science is often described as a boring, methodical process devoid of fun, adventure, or humor. And the scientist is still widely thought of as that white-coated, gray haired stereotype whose personality must have been removed in conjunction with their obtaining a PhD. The stories in Chasing Science at Sea are from my own field experiences and those of my colleagues, and they are solid evidence to refute those last two statements!

It is in facing and overcoming obstacles that much of the humor, adventure, and wonder come into play in science, and in particular fieldwork. From equipment stealing sea lions to actual thieves along with hurricanes, sharks, dangerously bad decision-making, laughable predicaments, amazing animal life, and unexpected surprises, ocean science has it all. I hope readers of the book will come away with a feeling for why my colleagues and I love what we do (some might say it is an obsession), find the stories fun and engaging, while also learning about the wonders of the sea, how science really works, and the importance of experiencing nature firsthand.
Read an excerpt from Chasing Science at Sea, and learn more about the book and author at Ellen Prager's website.

--Marshal Zeringue