Book reviews



by Arthur C Petersen

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Mathematical simulation modeling is the most controversial method used by environmental scientists. It is very seldom used to model toxic effects despite the availability of models such as AQUATOX. It is used for chemical transport and fate modeling, but even there, it is frequently challenged as unreliable (e.g., when used by the US Environmental Protection Agency to model ozone formation from defined sources of precursor gases). This book begins by describing an attack by a statistician on the simulation model based assessments of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency as an “imaginary world.” An amendment from the Republican-controlled US House of Representatives would have forbidden basing regulations on models rather than observations. A reviewer of one of my own assessments referred to fish population modeling as “an illusion.” The most contentious use of simulation modeling is in climate change assessment. Recently, the State of North Carolina banned coastal land use restraints based on models of climate-driven sea level rise but allowed linear extrapolations of current trends. Climate change skepticism is, to a large extent, an instance of model skepticism.

Arthur Petersen, a climate modeler and contributor to the Intergovernmental Program on Climate Change (IPCC), takes on this problem directly. He argues that simulation modeling is necessary both to explain what has happened and to predict what will happen. However, he does not minimize the uncertainties inherent in models of complex natural systems. Rather, he digs into the philosophical bases for confidence in models and science in general and progresses to addressing more specific issues in climate models. He begins by describing modeling as a scientific practice analogous to laboratory experimentation. For example, he relates the controversy over the practice of parameter tuning to Popper's admonition against ad hoc corrections to theory to accommodate new findings.

The core of the book is 2 chapters that present a typology of uncertainty in modeling and then use that typology to address the presentation of simulation uncertainty in policy advice. The typology and related discussions are based largely on the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency's Guidance on Uncertainty Assessment and Communication ( that builds on Jerry Ravetz and Silvio Funtowicz's NUSAP system for characterizing the quality of information. I have admired and recommended the NUSAP system since I met Ravetz many years ago, but I must admit I have never used it. It would be time consuming and there have always been higher priority tasks based on the demands of mangers, stakeholders, and peer reviewers. This book certainly makes the case that a more complete and systematic accounting of uncertainty would be a good thing to do. Maybe next time.

The chapter on uncertainty for policy advice makes an important point concerning the nature of such communications. Policy makers in general do not press their assessors for more information on uncertainty. They want authoritative results and they are often unfamiliar with probabilities and the techniques that generate them. However, scientific authority comes not from an absence of uncertainty but from peer review that requires acknowledgment of uncertainty. In the end, assessors must aim to provide, in Sheila Jasanoff's term, “serviceable truth” which is both scientifically acceptable and policy relevant.

The Introduction, Section I, and the Conclusions of this book are relevant to any use of models in environmental regulation or management and even to assessments that do not use simulation. Section II is concerned with applying the concepts to climate modeling. I recommend that anyone involved in environmental science for decision making find a copy of the book and read at least the first 92 pages. It condenses the wisdom of a modeler and assessor who has hard experience in the most contentious scientific issue of our time.

2012. 208 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-1-4665-0062-4. $60. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

Glenn Suter

SETAC Reviews Editor


by Judy Helgen

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In 1995, a state agency research scientist answered a phone call that would eventually propel her into the national and international spotlight and immerse her in a dysfunctional scientific and management arena for much of the rest of her professional career. When Judy Helgen, PhD, a middle-aged wetland biologist in Minnesota, picked up the phone, she heard the voice of a school teacher alarmed by a freakish discovery of her students. On a field trip to the Ney wildlife area near Henderson, Minnesota, in August of 1995, her students found numerous deformed frogs. Now retired, Dr. Helgen has written a book, Peril in the Ponds, about her experience working on the deformed frog issue.

I remember first hearing about this experience from Judy Helgen when I was working in North Vancouver, British Columbia. She had been a colleague of mine from graduate school at the University of Minnesota, and I happened to call her just as the deformed frog story was breaking. Minnesota was a hotbed of frog malformations. Frogs were being found with partial or missing rear legs, extra legs arising at weird angles, missing eyes, and a particularly bizarre malformation of an eye in the frogs' throat. As Dr. Helgen and her state, federal, and academic colleagues would discover in the ensuing years, this was a mystery without a smoking gun.

Several hypotheses were put forth to try to explain the frog malformations, including: parasites (particularly the immature stages of the fluke Ribeiroia), predators (e.g., dragonfly nymphs), chemical pollution (e.g., pesticides), thyroid-disrupting chemicals, and ultraviolet light. One researcher was particularly adamant that parasites solved the mystery. There was competition among researchers to try to find the reason and/or reasons for the malformations, sometimes at the expense of collegial interactions.

The book is best when it is deep into the investigation and reveals personality clashes with other researchers and her own managers, who impeded her research and apparently siphoned some of the legislative funding for the frog research for other agency priorities. The school children who discovered the deformed frogs at Ney Pond were among those who testified for this legislative funding, and an elderly legislator was the main champion for funding research into the deformities until he died in 1999.

The deformed frog story was covered widely by local, national, and international media for which Dr. Helgen and her colleagues gave numerous interviews. Her agency's Public Information Office took some live deformed frogs against her wishes and created a frog cam where people could log on to view the hapless creatures; it became a sideshow hit as the agency's most viewed Web site. Dr. Helgen details other frequent run-ins with management and the fear that she would be fired for her research.

By June 2001, the state agency where Dr. Helgen worked ended the investigation into the deformed frogs due to “budget constraints.” Judy Helgen wrapped up some of her other wetland work and retired in 2002. She kept a detailed journal and made frequent audio tape notes of the investigation while it was underway; she poured over this information in her retirement for preparation of this book.

I highly recommend this book for those interested in environmental mysteries, particularly with amphibians. The book had some minor downsides for me, particularly in that it meanders a bit in the initial chapters with snippets of Dr. Helgen's personal life and with the environmental context of the laws that protect wetlands, some of which might have worked better as footnotes or sidebars to the main text. The passion she has for wetlands is evident, and she provides the back story for how she became interested in wetland ecology and ended up in Minnesota with her first husband and 2 sons. Later divorced, she sprinkles in mention of a romance with a man who would become her second husband while the frog investigation was in full swing. General readers may appreciate this view of her as a “whole” person and not just a scientist. Less personal information would have worked for me, but it is now more poignant since her second husband recently passed away (August 2012).

The only pictures of deformed frogs are given on the book cover in a murky blue background that heightens the mystery of what could be causing the deformities. However, because this book is targeted to laypeople and others concerned about amphibians, I think the content of the book would have been enhanced by the inclusion of pictures of deformed frogs and some of Dr. Helgen's fieldwork. In addition, inclusion of a map of Minnesota showing the major hotspots of amphibian deformities would have been helpful. The book provides a useful epilogue to bring the reader up-to-date on current research into deformed frogs that continues to perplex researchers as to its cause and/or causes.

Two other books have been previously published on the deformed frog story that started in Minnesota. One book published in 2000 by Hyperion Press, A Plague of Frogs: The Horrifying True Story, is by journalist William Souder. The other book is by one of Dr. Helgen's academic colleagues, Michael Lannoo, PhD, who in 2008 published a 288 page book on Malformed Frogs: The Collapse of Aquatic Ecosystems (University of California Press). I have not read either book, but anyone interested in amphibian malformations may want to consider them for another perspective on this environmental story.

2012. 243 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-1-55849-946-1. $24.95. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA.

Judy L Crane

St. Paul, MN


by Richard Louv

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Richard Louv wrote a surprise best seller, Last Child in the Woods. That book introduced the concept of nature deficit disorder, a diminution of intellectual and emotional development in children deprived of contact with nature. That book, which was based on little science and much emotional appeal, struck a chord with me. I spent much of my boyhood in the woods behind my home, but when I walk through the woods behind my current home, I never see children and see no signs of their presence.

This new book extends the concept to adults. It follows the same pattern of a little bit of science and a lot of anecdote and speculation. The anecdotes are lovingly presented and the science is knocked off in lifeless lists of results. The book is longer and is filled out with stories about the cool people he knows and their very green ideas. The book is also replete with irrelevant personal anecdotes. I cannot imagine why we should care about the ugly wall paper that his interior decorator installed or how much he enjoyed watching the sunset with his wife.

That is, of course, the opinions of a cranky scientist. Others have praised the book and I must admit that it inspired me to put the book aside and go outside. I also found myself wishing someone would publish a good critical and synthetic review of the literature on the benefits of exposure to nature. Those benefits may be the ultimate ecosystem service but, in the absence of a mechanism, of high quality epidemiology, or of a convincing weighing of the evidence, they are just appealing concepts.

2012. 330 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-1-61620-141-8. $15. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, NC.

Glenn Suter

SETAC Reviews Editor


edited by Philip Wexler, Jan van der Kolk, Asish Mohapatra, Ravi Agarwal

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Chemicals, Environment, Health: A Global Management Perspective is an excellent reference book for chemical managers, environmental health safety specialists, regulators, and policy makers. It differs from other books in the area by emphasizing the history of landmark international meetings addressing chemical pollution, the environmental conventions generating protocols, the international organizations developing regulations, and the regional and national programs implementing regulations.

The book discusses the state of the environment and chemical management since the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Section I gives a brief history of chemical revolutions, industrialization, and the need of controlling measures for chemical hazards, which sets the tone for following chapters. Sections II–V cover important conferences, conventions, programs, and organizations for chemical management. Section V describes the roles of national and international organizations and their initiatives in chemical pollution prevention and hazards regulations. Sections VI and VII are worth to read as they provide useful information about the current status of regional activities, policies, and management practices in developed and developing countries. Section VIII includes invited essays from experts on the broad topics of chemical management including global management of emergencies, chemical policy, financial mechanism, and information resources. Finally, Section VIII discusses the future outlook, challenges in chemical management, and policy development.

The authors have successfully captured the key points under each chapter. The provided contents and information are just right. In many instances, examples are provided which help readers to follow complex policy discussions and practices associated with chemical management and environmental protection. The authors are well known experts in their field from different regions of the world. They have in depth understanding of regional policies, hazards, issues, management practices, and challenges that is evident from the discussions under various chapters. Impressive details are covered from a range of countries.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in chemical management, policy development, and regulation of chemicals. This book has several strengths. It is easy to read. The sections and corresponding chapters are well organized. The topics are interesting and the presentations are concise. The book has equal emphasis on global and regional issues related to chemical management and environmental protection. For future editions, my only suggestion to the authors is to include a summary table listing important events in chronological order, their outcomes, and relevance.

2012. 820 pp. Hardback. ISBN 978-1-4200-8469-6. $140. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL USA.

Shahid Parvez

Toxicology Excellence for Risk Assessment


by Judith Li and Michael Barbour

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In Wading for Bugs: Exploring Streams with the Experts, Judith Li and Michael Barbour present the stories of 23 scientists, including themselves, from diverse backgrounds and regions who have been brought together by the study of insects and streams. The writers describe their discovery of stream insects as well as personal and scientific exploration. Their stories hover between the personal and technical, and lend a human touch to objective observation and research. In some instances, the writers' descriptions span lifetimes, whereas others focus on a single powerful or important experience in the field. The personal narratives invite the reader to understand the marvels of stream insects through the lens of passionate scientists who seldom get heard in such a casual context.

Every section begins with a simple sketch of a focal insect and a short description of its biology and life history. This background information gives the writers the freedom to write freely and lends a narrative flow to what otherwise would be narrowly appealing scientific writing. Although this information opens each section, it is not the focus of the book; instead it provides context that amplifies the words of each expert.

The editors and authors emphasize the importance of insects in our understanding of water quality and health of the streams. In many of the stories an overabundance or lack of insect presence could be an indictor of adverse water conditions. For instance, editor Michael Barbour's describes the swarm of mayflies, which most would consider a nuisance, as a “good thing” because it indicates that the water is healthy. The book's informality makes it an accessible and interesting read for all who are interested in streams and insects, from the scientist to the layperson; its message drives home to all the vital role insects play in our increasingly fragile environment. Wading for Bugs is an informative read that focuses on the discovery process and the importance of scientific curiosity in the world of what too many uninformed readers consider the lowly and pesky insect.

2011. 176 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-0-87071-608-9. $19.95. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR.

Brigid Dunn

Bates College Alumna


by Frances Harris

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In the 2nd edition of Global Environmental Issues, Frances Harris provides her readers with an informative description of the world's complex environmental problems, including how local choices affect the global environment. Through a collection of articles by experts in the field, the editor uses an interdisciplinary approach to reveal the multidimensional nature of the Earth's environmental problems. Harris clearly lays out the scientific, political, economic, and social dimensions of our world's environmental issues and how the science informs policy and in turn how policies affect society. The book covers an array of topics including environmental agreements, energy, climate change, biodiversity, food production, pollution, and sustainable development.

The authors emphasize that the difficulties we face in addressing these problems are political and cultural, as well as scientific. The divergent goals and agendas of stakeholders and the lifestyle changes that would be demanded of people around the world to help mitigate some of our worst environmental problems are formidable political challenges. The book covers important topics from biodiversity to sustainable development, highlighting everything from global climate change to more local environmental justice issues along the way. The case studies scattered throughout the book help ground many of the large intricate topics by using real situations like “Bangkok's water budget” and “aquatic biodiversity and food supplies.” Although Harris presents the facts on sustainable development in her concluding chapter, she does not present any strong personal opinions, but rather leaves it up to readers to process the information and draw their own conclusions.

The book works to bridge the distance between scientists and policy makers, by presenting both fields side by side in an interdependent manner. Given the breadth of its topic, the book would be a valuable and informative read for policy makers, scientists, students of environmental science or politics, and any readers who are interested in gaining a greater understanding of the multidimensional complexity of environmental issues and the policies and actions that are supposed to protect our environment and future.

2012. 358 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-0470684696. $79.95. Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, UK

Brigid Dunn

Bates College Alumna