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The book, To Know a Fly, is about a scientist and his lifelong fascination with science and the fly. Vincent Dethier is a biologist that loves science and sharing it with the world. The book explains how flies work, shows how science works, and shows a researcher genuinely enjoying his job. He goes into great detail describing his experiments, observations, and discoveries of flies. Dethier chose to study flies for many reasons such as: "the fly is always with us... there are about 50, 000 kinds of flies sharing 'our' world," the fly has many amazing and interesting characteristics, and flies are free, easy to come by, and very cheap to use for experimental purposes, plus animals rights activists do not usually harass scientists for experimenting on flies.

Of course, Dethier did mention at least one drawback of working with flies, which is that they have an "uncanny knack of escaping." Dethier says, "An experiment is a scientist's way of asking nature a question," and in this book, he asks nature numerous questions about flies through his different experiments, the first of which set out to discover why a fly walks about in its food and constantly sticks out its tongue. This observation led to speculation that flies taste with their feet. By "gluing" a fly to the end of a stick and dipping its feet into a sugar water mixture, one can observe that the fly has a natural reflex of flicking out its proboscis. Modified versions of this test also proved that flies can distinguish between different kinds of sugars, and that they reject salty, bitter, and sour tastes. Flies ignore artificially sweeteners, and are gluttonous over a rare sugar called fu cose.

Flies are similar to many people in the fact that they "prefer what tastes good to what is nutritionally best." Other experiments were performed to learn more about a fly's tastes and feeding habits, and the role the fly's tiny hairs play in taste. By applying tiny drops of sugar mixed with alcohol to the tip of a fly's hair, the proboscis was extended. Also mixing a bit of salt with the drop showed that the same hair tasted salt as well as sugar. Thus, it was determined that the hairs were actually complex sense organs. Other experiments were conducted to find out how much a fly eats in a day and what factors regulate its intake. It was observed that flies have no mechanism for regulating calorie intake or the concentration of its body fluids.

Numerous other experiments were conducted to learn a variety of other important information about flies and how they function including: hunger and food preferences, thirst, satiation, food-searching patterns, effect of light on flies, dancing patterns, and brain complexity. The final experiment discussed involved determining whether or not flies could learn through either conditioning or habituation. Unlike humans and many other animals, the fly cannot be conditioned to respond and has no capacity for learning, so basically the fly is stupid, but aside from that, it really is a fascinating and interesting creature. The book ends by discussing how important a scientist's work is to him or her, and that all the research, experimenting, and publication are well worth the reward of knowledge obtained and shared with the world. Analysis: Dethier wrote this book for the non-scientist in an attempt to communicate the fascination and methods of science to as many people as possible.

The Professor wanted to clear up many misconceptions that people may have about scientists and the scientific process. Dethier uses straightforward and easy to understand language to describe the experiments and discoveries of flies, which gives the reader a whole new perspective on both flies and science in general. Dethier sets out to teach the general public how amazing and interesting even the smallest and seemingly insignificant creatures can be. He also wants to demonstrate the steps and processes of the scientific method by applying them to specific examples. Dethier is trying to gain respect and appreciation of scientists from society in general. He wants people to see a scientist as a human with a family, a job, and problems just like anyone else.

His job just happens to deal with science, and it is important to note "he probably spends a greater period of his life preparing for his career and works longer and harder at it, at a lower salary than many of his fellow men." A scientist devotes his life to a search for truth and knowledge because of an insatiable curiosity and hunger to know. In this book, Dethier is exposing the day-to-day work of a scientist, or more specifically a biologist, and is showing society that like any occupation there are frustrations, successes, and rewards. For scientists rewards often are not monetary, but in feeling that they are contributing to the wellbeing of society and providing new knowledge to the world. 

Dethier had a great talent for writing as well as for scientific experimentation and exploration. He made this book understandable and interesting to the non-scientist, which is a great accomplishment. Dethier did a wonderful job of portraying the way the scientific method is implemented to learn and discover new things. He succeeded in making people aware of the importance of science as well as all the animals that share our world, no matter how small they may be.

He made the perceived "insignificant" fly seem significant and interesting. Dethier makes his readers more aware of the world around them and helps them to appreciate how intricate nature is, and that science is our way of unravelling the mysteries of our planet. Vincent G. Dethier succeeded in making his voice heard, and helping to spread his knowledge and love of science to others.


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