SIMON LEVAY's "When Science Goes Wrong" (Plume: 298 pp., $15 paper), despite its provocative title, will not give particular comfort to proponents of intelligent design. It's no anti-secular screed. LeVay is a scientist himself -- a neurobiologist who has taught at Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies -- as well as a longtime science journalist and author, best known for his 1993 book, "The Sexual Brain." In this latest effort -- written perhaps as a gentle warning to those on the other end of the spectrum who regard science and its practitioners with almost religious awe -- he has collected a dozen examples of well-meant but disastrous scientific bungling.
If you are at all into schadenfreude, you will thrill to these spine-tingling and occasionally gruesome accounts of unsuccessful neurosurgery (resulting in hair growth inside the patient's brain), nuclear-reactor meltdown (radioactive corpses, one of them impaled), lethal and insufficiently monitored gene therapy and the adventures of a gung-ho field geologist who "led a party of scientists to their deaths in the crater of an active volcano." Not even weathermen are spared: In October 1987, British meteorologists failed to predict the advent of a storm whose winds reached 121 mph, killing 16 inhabitants of southern England and uprooting 15 million trees.