Reading Rascha Peper

8 Dec


I just finished a book by the Dutch author Rascha Peper, called “Handel in Veren”. I really like the book. Peper is just an amazing storyteller!

Peper died last year and it was not clear if she would be able to finish this book. In fact she was planning to write a series of two books but she only finished the first one.

One of the things I like about this book is that two of the characters in the book are biologists. Her descriptions of these scientists are really great. I think she must have known a few scientists really well to be able to write about them so accurately.

One of the scientists in the book is an evolutionary ecologist who works in the Netherlands. He works on fluctuating asymmetry and is obsessed with his h-index, which is 60. Even though he’s not the main character in the book and only a few pages are about him, it becomes clear that he started off as a well-meaning and honest scientist but then he turned into a fraudulent and cynical senior scientist. The second book, which Peper never wrote, was supposed to be mainly about this character. I think I would’ve loved to read that book.

Who was it?

It is fun to think about who could’ve been this scientist. In an interview, Rascha Peper says the character is like Diederik Stapel, but Stapel was not a biologist. When I hear fluctuating asymmetry, fraud and a high h-index, I think of the Danish scientist Anders Paper Möller (h-index 113!). Moller was accused of scientific fraud and had to retract a paper from Oikos. I guess we’ll never know for sure who the character was based on.

If you can read Dutch or German, I recommend reading anything by Peper! At least two of her other books feature scientists too (Rico’s Vleugels (which I didn’t read) and Wie Scheep Gaat). As far as I know, no English translations exist.

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