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Father, daughter collaborate on book to promote bioliteracy

As scientists who are fascinated by biology and enjoy communicating its wonders, David and Ilona Barash are concerned that many people don't know their DNA and RNA from their ABCs. So in a somewhat unusual literary and scientific collaboration - the Barashes are father and daughter - they set out to promote what they call biological literacy or bioliteracy. The result of their efforts is a new book, "The Mammal in the Mirror, Understanding Our Place in the Natural World," published last month. "It occurred to me that people in the sciences are bombarded with terms, phrases and innovations, and that there is a new world. Many people are not literate in this new world. They just pretend they are," said David Barash, a zoologist who is a professor of psychology at the University of Washington. "I'm struck by how many public and political decisions have to be made about such topics as AIDS, genetically engineered food and teaching evolution. Decisions should be based on knowledge and understanding, not fears. I believe in democracy, and part of the idea of this book is empowerment. One way or another these decisions will be made, so they should be informed decisions." When he began talking about the idea of bioliteracy with his daughter, he realized that she had expertise that complemented his own and the two decided to explore the book together. The collaboration brought together a team with vastly different levels of publishing experience. David Barash is the author of more than a dozen books, as well as popular articles in the New York Times, Psychology Today and Playboy. Ilona Barash is just starting her career and is a student in the M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of California, San Diego. She is a graduate of the Early Entrance Program at the University of Washington and the author of a research paper on the obesity hormone leptin. "I was very interested in getting a book out there for people who didn't have a lot of science background to help them understand the new ideas about biology," said Ilona Barash. "The book is about our place in the natural world and shows how everything ties together and how we fit into it." The title of their book, as they explain in the preface, stems from a scene in Ray Bradbury's science fiction novel "The Martian Chronicles." In it, a human family that has escaped to Mars from an impending nuclear war peers into the "canals" of their new home expecting to see Martians. And they do, seeing their own reflections. "Like Ray Bradbury's Martians, we can all profit by looking carefully at our own mammalian reflections," the Barashes write. Those reflections are quite extensive. The Barashes have put together a primer that explores and explains the biological world that we live in and the vast strides that science has made in recent years in understanding biology. It's a book that roams over an expansive territory extending from the cellular level to humanity's role on Earth. "The Mammal in the Mirror" looks at a landscape that the Barashes have divided into three major sections. It begins at the microscopic and submicroscopic level discussing DNA, genes, viruses and cells. Then it looks at human biological systems of sex and reproduction, the brain and behavior, and food and energy - systems they say that are not as familiar to most of us as our automobiles or televisions. Finally, the book takes a longer view and examines human life, and life in general, in the larger context of ecology, evolution and sociobiology. "I would hope that people get a sense of excitement of what's going on in biology," said David Barash. "What we wrote about is not rocket science. There is nothing in the book that a typical person can't understand. We just want people to know more about biology and that there is nothing to be afraid of. Biology is quite astounding. " ### For more information, contact David Barash at (206) 543-8784 or dpbarash@u.washington or Ilona Barash at (619) 297-5794 or