“Zoobiquity” earns finalist spot for 2013 Excellence in Science Books prize
By Kelly Nakashima | Staff Writer
December 9, 2012
Polar bears with herpes. Mares with nymphomania. Dobermans with OCD. Reindeer with a taste for magic mushrooms.
DP alumna and science journalist Kathryn (Sylvester) Bowers has a name for this strange amalgam of whimsical wildlife and modern maladies: zoobiquity.
The story behind this word—and now the best-selling book—is no Aesop’s fable: it took years of medical, evolutionary, and veterinary research for Bowers and her co-author Barbara Natterson-Horrowitz to solidify the theory that health-wise, animals and humans have a lot more in common than we think.
In short, “zoobiquity” embodies the belief that “noticing, naming, and studying these connections could profoundly change how therapists, teachers, parents, and patients” address mental and emotional issues such as drug abuse and depression, physical ailments such as cancer and heart disease, and even social behaviors such as adolescent bullying and risk-taking.
For Bowers, the blurring of inter-species lines has always been a part of the way she thinks. The heart of it, however, is linked to the place she grew up.
“I’ve always liked animals,” she says, citing a multitude of dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, hamsters, and hermit crabs as her childhood companions. “Growing up in Goleta, however, gave me ample opportunity to observe nature literally in my own backyard.”
Bowers, who graduated from Dos Pueblos in 1985, says the school laid the groundwork for the intellectual curiosity that has served her in both her scientific and journalistic pursuits.
From fulfilling the role of features editor of the school paper—“back when it was literally on paper”—to reciting Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales in Old and Middle English—“this is more than just a party trick!”—to studying “interconnections across politics, geography, art, and philosophy” in history and sharing the “strong community” and “intellectual camaraderie” with her fellow students, it’s easy to see where Bowers cultivated her panoramic perspective and interdisciplinary approach, skills she further developed as an undergraduate at Stanford.
While living in Moscow with her husband Andy, a former correspondent and bureau chief for National Public Radio, her journalistic experience secured her position as assistant press attaché at the U.S. embassy, for which she received a State Department Meritorious Honor Award.
“I jumped at the chance to work [there],” Bowers says of the experience. “I learned so much in that job, mainly about the give-and-take between news ‘makers’ and news ‘reporters.’”
According to Bowers, however, that process of news making and news reporting has changed rapidly in the past decade.
With the amazing technical tools of the Internet and social media, it takes less money and resources than ever before to communicate fast and vast quantities of information from “just about any place on Earth.”
For “motivated, smart, ethical reporters,” Bowers says, the knowledge that “anyone can be a reporter” can be liberating.
For unwitting news consumers, however, a widening source selection can be threat to reliability.
The remedy, Bowers advises, lies heavily in the pens of young journalists: “Find reliable sources…speak the truth and always fact-check it.”
It was then Bowers’ journalistic background assumed new value in the scientific field.
In what she calls a mere “overlapping of skill sets.” Both professions seek fundamental truths about the world we live in, whether through hypotheses or interviews, experiments or fact-checks.
It was this meticulous process that earned “Zoobiquity” a finalist spot for the prestigious 2013 Science Excellence in Science Books Prize, awarded by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a premier, peer-reviewed science journal with the highest circulation in the world.
For Bowers, however, “Zoobiquity” has extended far beyond her research and lent compassion to her personal outlook.
“Because of ancient shared genetics and shared environments, we are deeply connected to every other living creature on Earth—from plants to humans,” she remarks.
“To me, that’s exciting. It’s profound.”