Unzicker unsuccessfully attempts to bolster the credibility of his own sweeping generalizations by claiming the mantle of...

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BANKRUPTING PHYSICS

HOW TODAY'S TOP SCIENTISTS ARE GAMBLING AWAY THEIR CREDIBILITY

With assistance from science writer Jones (The Quantum Ten, 2008), theoretical physicist and neuroscientist Unzicker compares the current state of theoretical physics to a bubble economy.

"Governments can delay an economic disaster by printing money,” writes the author. “Physics, to avoid the bankrupting of its theories, can resort to experiments with ever-higher energies.” Unzicker buttresses this statement with further accusations, taking special aim at peer reviewers who black ball " 'risky' ideas that run contrary to established views…while boring, technical papers are usually waved through." While carefully separating himself from cranks who deny special relativity or quantum theory on the one hand and religious fundamentalists on the other, the author offers a broad dismissal of modern theoretical physicists, whom he accuses of having "gotten lost in bizarre constructs that are completely disconnected from reality, in a mockery of methods that grounded the success of physics for 400 years." Unzicker also targets the massive expenditures of funds on high-energy particle accelerators. Unfortunately, the author's invectives are not matched by equivalent scientific depth. He simplifies the complexities of quantum physics and the Schrödinger equation to a "sophisticated technique, which boils down to the same math one uses to measure how springs—just like your Slinky—oscillate in three dimensions," and he ridicules attempts to explain anomalies in astronomical data by inferring the existence of dark matter and dark energy, comparing them to Ptolemy's use of epicycles to describe planetary orbits. He also disparages the failure of modern science to explain the discrepancies in size of fundamental forces such as gravity and electromagnetism.

Unzicker unsuccessfully attempts to bolster the credibility of his own sweeping generalizations by claiming the mantle of esteemed physicists such as Roger Penrose and Lee Smolin, who seriously question the direction of current theory.

Pub Date: July 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-137-27823-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

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Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all...

THE GENIUS OF BIRDS

Science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold, 2010, etc.) looks at the new science surrounding avian intelligence.

The takeaway: calling someone a birdbrain is a compliment. And in any event, as Ackerman observes early on, “intelligence is a slippery concept, even in our own species, tricky to define and tricky to measure.” Is a bird that uses a rock to break open a clamshell the mental equivalent of a tool-using primate? Perhaps that’s the wrong question, for birds are so unlike humans that “it’s difficult for us to fully appreciate their mental capabilities,” given that they’re really just small, feathered dinosaurs who inhabit a wholly different world from our once-arboreal and now terrestrial one. Crows and other corvids have gotten all the good publicity related to bird intelligence in recent years, but Ackerman, who does allow that some birds are brighter than others, points favorably to the much-despised pigeon as an animal that “can remember hundreds of different objects for long periods of time, discriminate between different painting styles, and figure out where it’s going, even when displaced from familiar territory by hundreds of miles.” Not bad for a critter best known for bespattering statues in public parks. Ackerman travels far afield to places such as Barbados and New Caledonia to study such matters as memory, communication, and decision-making, the last largely based on visual cues—though, as she notes, birds also draw ably on other senses, including smell, which in turn opens up insight onto “a weird evolutionary paradox that scientists have puzzled over for more than a decade”—a matter of the geometry of, yes, the bird brain.

Ackerman writes with a light but assured touch, her prose rich in fact but economical in delivering it. Fans of birds in all their diversity will want to read this one.

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-59420-521-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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