Wait, the Royal Society gave this book a prize?

June 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Nick Lane’s Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution, winner of the Royal Society Prize, has me rolling me eyes on the first page of chapter with the witticism “The earth was named badly. ‘Sea’ would have been better.” On the next page:

“If the probability of life in the universe is one in a million billion, then in a million billion planets there is a chance of exactly 1 that life should emerge somewhere.”

If I ever have a job again, I’ll ask my upper division students to find (i) the correct number assuming independence and (ii) bounds without assuming independence.

(There’s a much less questionable use of probability in chapter 2 when he says that though we share 50% of our genome sequence with bananas, we’re not 50% banana, because we’d expect 1 in 4 bases to match up by chance. But then aren’t we one-third banana?)

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