The Best of Science Culture This Month

Extreme mammals, animal justice, the indie version of the Matrix, and more

By Amy Barth, Andrew Grant, Stephen Cass|Sunday, April 26, 2009

Movies

At last year’s Sundance Film Festival, this small-budget indie garnered rave reviews and the award for the best science-themed movie. It also impressed the science junkies at October’s Imagine Science Film Festival in New York. The film is set in a dystopian world that makes 1984 look like a walk in the park. A corrupt government has harnessed advanced robotics to bring Matrix-style computer-brain-interface technology to Mexican sweatshops, where workers remotely control machines in the United States. Meanwhile, military drones hunt down those perceived as the slightest threat to security and blow them to smithereens. Although the film lacks the polished visual effects of Hollywood sci-fi thrillers, the timely political themes—including out-of-control wiretapping, job outsourcing, and border security—make the plot both engaging and chillingly plausible. Perfect for those who are burned out on Watchmen but can’t wait for the new Terminator, the movie is open in major cities.  —Andrew Grant

Games

Fans of Spore, Electronic Arts’ wildly creative evolve-your-own-world video game, can crank the action up a notch with this expansion pack. New accessories and abilities are now available for your creature (we recommend the Plasma Pulser for those frustrating times when diplomacy fails). The pack also includes new quests and improved terraforming options.

startrekmedia
startrekmedia
Image courtesy of CBS Consumer Products

Toys

  • Star Trek Collectibles

This month’s release of J. J. Abrams’s cinematic reboot of the Star Trek franchise means a vast amount of new Trek merchandise, including a life-size replica of Captain Kirk’s chair from the original TV series: $2,717.01 from Diamond Select Toys & Collectibles. For those on a more sane budget, these 33/4-inch action figures from Playmates are $7 each.  —Stephen Cass

Museums

  • Extreme Mammals American Museum of Natural History, opening May 23

If you thought dinosaurs were the coolest creatures to walk the earth, lock eyes with a life-size model of the largest land mammal that ever lived: Indricotherium, a relative of the rhino, which stood up to 18 feet at the shoulder and had four times the heft of an elephant. Other highlights of the show include a full skeleton of the six-horned, saber-tusked Uintatherium and a model of the “walking whale,” Ambulocetus. Interactive displays and touchable fossils round out the experience. Following its run at the AMNH, the stunning exhibition will travel to other locations, including the California Academy of Sciences, the Canadian Museum of Nature, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  —Amy Barth

Books

Jan Hendrik Schön was a science rock star whose world suddenly came crashing down. After his string of high-profile breakthroughs in molecular transistors and superconductivity at Bell Labs in the early 2000s, researchers discovered that Schön’s most celebrated achievements had been faked. Reich’s engrossing and thoroughly reported account traces how Schön was able to dupe respected journals and colleagues and how sharp-eyed investigators exposed the truth behind one of the biggest frauds in the history of physics.

  • Wild Justice by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce

Humans think of themselves as the only moral animals. But what about the elephant who sets a group of captive antelope free, the rat who refuses to shock another to earn a reward, and the magpie who grieves for her young? Cognitive animal behaviorist Bekoff and philosopher Pierce argue that nonhuman animals are also moral beings—with not just building blocks or precursors of morality but the real deal. The research gathered here makes a compelling case that it is time to reconsider yet another of the traits we have claimed as uniquely our own.

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